Today in the supermarket I saw a good boy. Well, I think we all did — heard him, anyway.
He stood two checkouts away, with his mother. His head was about the height of the counter-top, and he was a sturdy little kid, so I guess he was maybe two-and-a-half.
With concentrated anguish, through tears, loudly and with increasing desperation his head turning slowly to right and left but his eyes fixing on nothing because his interior world had entirely overwhelmed him he kept grinding out insistently that he was a good boy.
His mother, ignoring him studiedly, stood in determinedly relaxed mode beside him, chatting to the cashier. She looked as if she had been here many times before, the veteran of a never-ending series of outbursts and meltdowns.
He didn't fall to the floor, and though his wails were full of despair and his eyes full of tears, he held it together enough to use words — as, in our family, my daughter always reminds her own son to do. I think this little lad was probably using every ounce of strength he had to convince his mother in the supermarket that he was a good boy. "Nevertheless she persisted", not listening.
I wonder what had happened.
I guess he saw something he wanted and couldn't have. Maybe he'd been promised a treat if he would be a good boy. In the world of grown-ups, a good boy is quiet, patient, responsive, obedient, waiting quietly and following on, standing aside, standing back, standing . . . standing . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . What no boy ever has been by nature, especially at two-and-a-half, under pressure of the universal stimuli of a supermarket.
I guess his mother ran out of patience, and when his behaviour failed to conform to requirements, the treat was withheld, put back on the shelf. Or maybe he just wanted some sweets and he'd already had his allocated amount for the day.
He reminded me of my grandson, who melts down similarly in anguished tears. I remember the day his mother was struggling to preach in our chapel while he larked about and got into a fight with another child over which one of them got to play with her visual aid. I took it away. He was distraught. He summoned all his control to ask for it back politely — and I said, no. So he curled up on a chair next to his mother (nevertheless persisting with her sermon) tears streaming down his face, glaring at me in helpless rage. And I glared back. I am the wrong kind of adult for this kind of child. I am implacable. So is he. Even so we love each other, and respect each other immensely — it's just, neither of us ever gives in. I believe in it as a strategy, and I think I may be completely wrong.
Today in the supermarket, as I listened to the futile protests with their concentrated misery, "I'm a good boy . . . I'm a good boy . . . I'm a good boy . . .", my heart hurt for him. And for his mother. For all humankind.
On the way home, I thought about how they say God is our Father, and I wondered how this played out with me and Him. I cannot imagine myself insisting, before an implacable God, that I am good. I don't feel good; nor bad, either, particularly. Most of the time I am just afraid — of losing Him if I take my eyes off Him for one second, of automatic doors closing between us and shutting me out, of losing hold of His hand in the crowd. Am I a good girl? How the hell would I know? I am only lost without Him, because I belong to Him, I have nowhere else to go.
I prayed for the little boy on the way home from the supermarket. God agreed with him, he is a good boy; but he is a good boy with ADHD or ASD or something, in a world swirling with traffic and sugar and tempting, brightly coloured mass-produced plastic objects — a world where it's no longer safe for a little boy to roam and run free. I prayed for God to help him out, to bring some kind of a positive outcome from a miserable afternoon.
God bless that good boy. I bless him with the love of the Lord. Please give him a break, Father. Please help his mother. Please give them both what they need. And may both of them, their whole life long, manage to hold on to a firm belief in their own goodness.