Childhood Family

The hollow threat

I went to the grocery store recently, and I apparently went on rowdy toddler day.

Now, lest you assume I am going into a Harumph! rant about these kids today and how those dagblasted parents should bygum do something about those misbehavin’ younguns, I assure you I’m not.

Rather, as I strolled the aisles, basket in hand, picking up items for the evening’s dinner, I thought to myself, “I remember that!”

There were several packs of rowdy shoppers. Mostly there were moms, and they were handling the kids the way my wife would: With patience and that monotone approach that mothers innately have when they say those run-on sentences like, “No, we are not getting whipped cream and stop touching your brother, Sarah, and, Kyle, seriously, get your foot out from under the shopping cart before I run it over and hey, who put the whipped cream in the cart but one of you better put it back in the next five seconds.” Amazingly, the moms can do this while continuing to push the cart and check their grocery list.

Then there was the dad. He was there with his two young daughters. I passed him on one aisle, and he had that exasperated look of someone who could think of roughly 8 billion things he would rather be doing, and that includes getting his hand stuck in a garbage disposal.

His daughters were riding the side of the carts, which is really a dad way to travel. We are fine with that to start, mainly because we have not thought through the implications of having a small child on either side of the cart, both able to reach the items on their respective sides. Most moms, and certainly my wife, would have said no from the get-go, as she is smarter than I am.

A few aisles later, I passed them again. And that’s when Dad unleashed the Fury of the Dad in Public (and Publix) that I have known all too well: The hollow threat.

“Girls, seriously! Stop taking things off the shelf. Or. I. Will. Cancel. The. Vacation.”

Been there, brother. Been there.

I do not know where their vacation was planned for, but I do not believe for a second he was planning on canceling it. Why? Because if I had canceled every vacation I had threatened to, we would have traveled a grand total of zero miles in our life.

I have threatened to cancel Disney, the Keys, Washington, D.C. and many others. Now I know some of you old school hardliners are saying, “Well then why didn’t you cancel? Teach them a lesson!” Because those trips were paid for. And I wanted to go, too.

Truth of the matter is that threats of this nature are our last ditch effort to salvage a simple shopping trip. And you also have the fallback of letting the kids “earn” the trip back. When they’re little, they have no concept of, well, anything. So you sometimes throw a Hail Mary hoping to make them stop grabbing bags of Cheeto’s off the shelf.

I didn’t see the dad for the rest of the shopping trip, but I certainly hope that his daughters took the threat seriously, even if we all know there was no teeth to it. For one thing, I can only imagine what it would be like if he got home and told his wife, “Sorry, honey. Disney trip is canceled. Mallory wouldn’t stop grabbing Little Debbie snack cakes.” Her response would contain the phrases, “Do you know how much we paid for that?” and “Seriously?” and possibly, “The nuclear option was your choice?”

I have decided that the girls got their acts together and the rest of the shopping trip was a delight. And their vacation was salvaged. And, if not, I am also hopeful that they “earned” it back with good bedtimes or clean rooms or the like. And I hope Dad was just having one of those bad days where he is doing his level best, but isn’t quite wired for one of those even-handed Mom addresses. At the end of the day, most of us parents are just doing our level best to get through the day with some peace and harmony. And in defense of dads, sometimes we come heavy handed with the threats hoping to put an end to the madness. One day our kids will look back on this and remember that we were just doing our best, and we never did cancel those vacations. They will probably really remember it when they are parents and threaten the exact same thing.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Mt. Pleasant. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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