While paying for my groceries at the local corner store, I noticed a tiny tot, no more than two years old, jump off his tiny bike, and head into the store as if on a mission. He was wearing his helmet as he strode up to the lolly section checking the goods on offer. The shop assistant and I couldn’t help but smile; the boy had the swagger of a cowboy in the body of a wee pixie.
I was just receiving my change when I noticed the boy leave the shop with a packet of sour chews in his hand. He jumped on his bike and rode off, just as quickly as he had arrived. The shop assistant and I looked at each other.
‘Did that kid just walk out with the chews?’ he asked.
‘He certainly did,’ I answered laughing. Our eyes met and we both smiled.
‘I’ll have to run after him,’ he said. He was clearly amused.
As I walked out of the shop, I could see the little kid next to his mother.
‘Did he not pay for the lollies?’ she asked as the shop assistant approached.
I could see that they were talking amicably so I turned and left them to it.
I know this story has turned out well for the little boy. The shop assistant was kind and the mother sympathetic. They both understood that exchanging money for goods is an abstract concept which a two-year-old can’t possibly grasp. Mum would have taken the boy back to the shop to hand over the coins and he would have been handed the lollies in exchange.
This incident reminded me of a similar story which did not end so well. I must have been about four years old when I was shopping with my mother at a market in Madrid. We walked from stall to stall buying vegetables when I spotted some delicious strawberries. As we walked past, I helped myself to a large juicy one that beckoned to be eaten. I have always been attracted to red as a colour, and this strawberry was a deliciously passionate, vibrant red. Just as I bit into the forbidden fruit, the grocer yelled at me, calling me a thief! I had no idea what this meant, only that he was shouting, angry and threatening me with a crooked finger coming towards me. My mother shouted back and pulled me away hard, which hurt my hand and shoulder. Tears welled up, and I could no longer enjoy the fruit I had so desired only moments earlier.
I won’t claim that we live in more enlightened times. To debunk that myth, you need only to look at the juvenile justice system where ten-year-old children can be locked up for shoplifting. But maybe there are an increasing number of people who understand that most children go through this stage and the best way to treat them is to approach with the love and compassion that all young children deserve.
And so, I hope that the little boy enjoyed every last mouthful of his carefully selected lollies after handing over the cash.