The TCBY Incident

The Tour de Lawrence bicycle races happened this weekend. Today were the kid races, & Ramona entered the two-to-four division. She wasn’t the fastest kid, mostly because she is a very courteous rider & kept letting other kids pass her. She can be really fast when she lets loose. But she was definitely the best endurance rider. She didn’t stop when she got to the finish line (it was a half-block race for the little ones). She just kept going, & Jared had to chase after her. She got almost a block away before he caught up to her. All the kids were given participation medals & she was thrilled with the whole thing. She loves riding her bike. (She’s three, for the record.)

But it was really hot & unbearably humid today. We all brought water bottles downtown with us, & we all finished our water before the races started. Ramona started crying because she was still really thirsty. Ordinarily, we would go to Wonder Fair in such a situation. They are a local art gallery/gift shop & they are always great with Ramona & super-accommodating with us as a family. But it was Sunday morning & they weren’t open. I decided to go to the closest food establishment, thinking it would give me a better chance of getting tap water from a sink that was not in a bathroom, to try to get a refill for her.

I left Ramona outside with Jared so her crying wouldn’t disturb the customers (with the races going on, it was a lot louder outside than it was in any business). It was surprisingly dead for as hot as it was & as many people as there were milling around downtown. There were only two other customers in the shop. A man emerged from the back & asked if he could help me. I held up Ramona’s water bottle, which is a small Mason jar with a handle, fitted with a straw. I know. That sounds really hipster-y. We went through A LOT of water bottles, trying to avoid the whole Mason jar cliche. But if you can show me a water bottle that is better at being washed by hand (we don’t have a dishwasher), I’d like to see it. Every other bottle we tried was too narrow to accommodate a sponge, or had a plastic spout that trapped moisture & grew mold, or had some kind of double-sealed lid situation that also trapped moisture & grew mold. We used a double-walled plastic cup from the library for a while, but the exterior wall cracked & then part of the lid broke off. It had to replaced & Ramona chose the little Mason jar with the handle, which has worked out really well so far.

This is relevant to the story.

I held up Ramona’s Mason jar & asked if I could get it refilled with tap water, or if there was a water fountain nearby. The guy was like, “No. No. We can’t do that. We sell bottled water.” Well, I didn’t want to buy water when I had a reusable bottle that kid likes & all I needed was tap water. I explained that it was for my three-year-old, who was outside & crying because she was thirsty & hot, & that it was 96 degrees out. He said, “No.” I said, “Okay. I will never set foot in here again.”

Because who the hell denies a child water on such a hot day?

We did end up getting her some water & we had a nice morning. But I was still upset about the TCBY situation after we got home. I asked an online mom group what they thought. I wanted to know if I was overreacting. Because the voices of anti-mom idiots online are totally in my head. I didn’t know if the guy at TCBY was being a dick or if he was just following a “no free tap water” corporate policy, but I could just imagine me complaining & all the anti-mom/anti-kid people pouring out of the woodwork & being all, “Typical moo cow thinks her crotch dropping deserves special water privileges.” I mean, right? Isn’t that exactly what they would say? & it’s not that I think my kid deserves special privileges because she’s a child. I think she deserves basic human rights, like tap water on a 96-degree day, because she is a person.

One mom suggested I call the store & get to the bottom of whether the guy was following policy or what. Maybe it was just a grumpy employee on a power trip? Maybe he needs some retraining? Or maybe it actually was corporate policy, which is also good to know. So I called, & I discovered that this man who refused to give my sobbing three-year-old tap water on a 96-degree day was the OWNER. He had full latitude to do whatever he wanted. He could given her a free fro-yo if he wanted to! & he chose to deny her water.

WOW.

So. I shared this information with all the local parenting groups I am in. I posted on the local TCBY Facebook page. I posted on the corporate TCBY page. I dusted off my long-neglected Twitter count & tweeted the corporate TCBY account. I wrote a Yelp review. TCBY corporate HQ got in touch pretty quickly. They apologized & said that this was a violation of corporate policy & that they would be in touch with the franchise owner first thing in the morning to offer better training. At least a dozen local moms, most of whom I don’t know at all, left reviews on the local TCBY page detailing the ways their own families have had shitty things happen to them at that shop (mostly along the lines of the owner refusing to let young children use the bathroom, resulting in public potty accidents).

A few people have pushed back. All men, it’s worth noting. Because mostly the world is not anti-parent. It’s anti-mom. These guys suggested that I am a shitty mom for not bringing enough water for my kid. As a family we had like 40 ounces of water, & it was so hot, we drank it all in half an hour. & assumed it would be okay because we were in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, where fresh drinking water is reasonably plentiful. & it was okay–we got water for her somewhere else.

The owner’s argument was that I didn’t have a kid with me (I had left her outside with Jared, remember), & I had a Mason jar, not a proper sippy cup. Reading between the lines, I assume he thought I was lying about the child & was just trying to get free water for myself. 1) It really was for Ramona, who really was outside, crying, & that really is the cup she uses. & 2) so what if it was for me? I’m 37 so it’s fine for me to be denied water on a 96-degree day?

This whole thing made me think about how rare it is for me to pipe up in defense of myself or Ramona, which is a tremendous change from the person I was ten years ago. Last week, I took Ramona to nature school. There was a grandmother there with her two granddaughters, & she (the grandma) was SO disruptive. She talked over the kids, she talked over the teacher, she asked so many questions that the hour-long class ran over by a full half hour. At one point, the kids were invited to look at some turtles swimming in an aquarium. The grandma hustled her grandkids to the tank & blocked Ramona’s access to it. Ramona is a pretty quiet, meek kid when she is around strangers. She just stood there quietly, her eyes level with this woman’s backside, while all the other kids learned about the turtles. I pointed this out to a friend I was with, & she instantly got up & asked the woman to move so Ramona could see. & I was like, I could have done that. Why DIDN’T I do that? Ciara from ten years ago definitely would have done that.

I think it’s because I’ve internalized these critiques of pushy moms trying to get special treatment for their little snowflakes. I’m like, “Well, that lady just wants her grandkids to get a good view, I shouldn’t expect my kid to be more important to her than the kids she’s with.” & she shouldn’t, but she should maybe be cognizant of the other kids in the room at this kid event, right, & maybe not stand directly in front of them? & with this water thing, I was like, “He was probably just following policy, it’s not his job to care that my kid is thirsty.” Well, it wasn’t policy, & obviously I don’t think he needs to devote his life to ensuring that my child is properly hydrated at all times, but when it’s that hot outside, maybe he can spare a few ounces of tap water & I shouldn’t be made to feel like an unfit mother or an entitled asshole for asking.

I really want & NEED to start sticking up for Ramona more. & for myself. Sometimes people are WRONG. & sometimes I am wrong too. But what is to be gained by just letting everything go, by saying, “Well, that sucked, but it’s over now, so oh well”? I am STILL angry with myself for not turning some of Ramona’s NICU nurses into the charge nurse. Like the one that wouldn’t let us hold her, or all the ones that literally stood over me while I was trying to breastfeed, telling me that it would never work & that I was wasting my time, preemie moms just don’t make milk. (Tell that to the twelve babies BESIDES Ramona that subsisted almost entirely solely on my donated breast milk.) I have a DAUGHTER. I need to raise her to stick up for herself & be a badass! What kind of example am I setting if I let a local business owner get away with refusing to give a child water during a heat advisory, or a self-involved grandma shut Ramona out of a learning experience I have arranged for her?

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6 responses to “The TCBY Incident

  1. Here, here!

    One year, my NY resolution (I don’t make many and when I do it’s with the rider that they never be punishments for myself) was that if I cared enough about something to complain about it to a friend, then I had to write a complaint letter to the business. It was good practice and helped me find a proper tone to complain without feeling pushy or shrill. I generally go for a ‘hey, you may not be aware of this thing that happened that wasn’t acceptable, so I am letting you know so that you can fix it’. That usually gets good results. Also I find not expecting anything to be fixed this time helps – so like, I will complain about something and be like ‘I know you can’t do anything about this now, and that’s fine, but please consider it for next time’. It reassures the business that I’m not complaining to get a free thing, and also helps me feel ok about it because I am helping future patrons rather than just being whiny for myself, you know? All of which is silly, but the patriarchy is in my head too…

    I do not have any advice on how to advocate for your kid and your appropriate space because, tbh, that sounds like my worst socially anxious nightmare! A worthy goal, though. I am trying to find a better way to politely take up space myself but I am only good about doing it passively – for instance I regularly refuse to get out of the way when a guy is walking towards me and clearly expects me to move. Result: they walk right into me. They are always SO shocked, it’s clearly the first time it’s ever happened to them, people have been moving out of their way forever. I am so so so bad at asking people to move for me, though. I need to get better.

    • That’s a really good resolution! I like it.

      The weird thing is that Ciara From ten Years Ago was completely fearless about this stuff. Somehow, as I have gotten older, I have gotten quieter about things. Isn’t it supposed to go in the other direction? I mean, there’s something to be said for not constantly being in ten different fights with people, but sticking up for yourself or sharing your opinion shouldn’t intrinsically result in a “fight,” & feeling like it will is a problem in & of itself!

      Definitely one of my “laying awake at night” anxieties is thinking about how I have gotten quieter & maybe more scared somehow as I’ve gotten older, & why is that happening, & who am I if I’m not an opinionated loudmouth, & what example am I setting for my child if I’m not sticking up for her, etc etc. Today was a great big lesson in putting that stuff into practice. I hope it heralds a major change.

  2. An experience that has left you bruised and reflective, however, rather than compare yourself unfavourably with your former self, I would offer a different perspective. Instead of being bad ass, be smarter, teach Ramona the power of words and how to use them to get what she needs (different to wants). I don’t condone the behaviour of the guy behind the counter, he sounds like a jobsworth, but a quick assessment before you spoke to him would have given you a clue as to what approach might work.

    It’s not easy being a parent and it cuts to the quick when we encounter rudeness or inconsideration toward our children. There’s a couple of old sayings that I’ve found helpful: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar; Choose your battles.

    Good luck!

    • Hmmm. I am not sure what approach would have been more effective, since our entire interaction was, “My daughter is outside crying because she’s thirsty. Would it be possible for you to fill her cup at your tap?” “No.” Maybe if I had brought her in with me, he would have accepted that the water was for a child, but since he’s the one who took one look at me & went with “lying grifter,” it seems to me that he was in the wrong across the board.

      I think the point of this post is that I have been choosing my battles for way too long, to the point that I’m pretty much just not choosing any anymore, & that is a big problem. That’s not the person I want to be, that’s not what I want to model for my daughter, & it’s not the person I once was. I know most people who read this blog won’t know that, because it seems like most people are reading for the sewing aspect, which is a relatively new development in my life. But people who have known me for ten or fifteen years, & remember what I was like when I was doing a lot of political organizing & making zines, will see it.

      I also rather feel like the whole “you catch more flies with honey” thing is something that people work really hard to instill in women & girls, in particular. I think there is a difference between being nice, which is what underlies that concept, I think, versus being kind. I see kindness as an active choice & niceness as a passive expectation. It leads to things like me requesting water in the exact same fashion that I would have ordered a fro-yo or asked a stranger if they had the time or whatever, & people suggesting, “Well, maybe you could have done it more nicely. Maybe then he would have helped you.” I think the world would be a better place if we could all just expect a base level of human decency without having to be performatively “nice”. Bit of a tangent, I know, but as the mother of a daughter, this is something I think about a lot.

  3. I wasn’t implying you weren’t ‘nice’, whatever that means, rather saying that communication, verbal and none verbal, is complex. Using NLP techniques is effective in achieving results and fascinating to see in action.

    • We’ll, I’m not nice, but that’s okay. It’s intentional. I just don’t see how “communicating” differently would have changed the outcome in this situation. It’s okay though, because it was a kick in the pants to learn to be a better advocate for my daughter.

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