20 August 2009

Beware the ice cream man

Did you know that the ice cream man, that Pavlovian staple of childhood, is A PREDATOR?

Neither did I!

This is the sort of thing that really chaps my ass. Yesterday the New York Times Dining section devoted a front page article to the latest target of the mommy police: When Parents Scream Against Ice Cream.

There are many worthy child rearing causes to be passionate about, but this is not even remotely one of them. The article features Vicki Sell, mother of Katherine, age 3, who: "tenses when the vendor starts ringing his little bell, over and over."

All this, because Katherine once had an "inconsolable meltdown" because her mother had the temerity to refuse her a cone.

Says Ms. Sell: “I feel kind of bad about having developed this attitude...I want Katherine to have the full childhood experience and all. But it’s really predatory for them — two of them — to be right inside the playground like this.”

The ice cream man is not predatory; he is trying to earn a living. One of the first rules of retail is know your market. I'd say any ice cream man who sets up shop in a park, or on the playground, is simply a smart businessman.

I have two very simple pieces of advice for the anti-ice cream man crusaders: JUST SAY NO. Nowhere is it written in the parenting manual that you have to buy your child a treat every time the ice cream man cometh. Saying no to your children does not make you a bad person; it makes you a good parent.

The second piece of advice: GROW A PAIR. Three-year olds don't just have tantrums; they excel at them. I believe it is written into their job description. The sooner you are comfortable with this, the easier it is to endure their tantrums with grace, and, the easier it will be to say no, when you think it is in your child's best interest.

It is our job as parents to set limits, and our children's job to occasionally protest those limits. So holding the ice cream man accountable for the fact that your child had a tantrum is an abdication of responsibility. You can dress it up by saying it's out of concern for children's health. But really, it's an inability to accept that as a parent, you have to teach your children how to navigate the world as it exists, not as you'd like it to be.

So the next time an ice cream truck crosses your path, if you don't feel like shelling out, instead of cursing his insensitivity, think of it as an opportunity to teach your children an unfortunate truth that will serve them well throughout their lives: not everything goes your way all of the time.


  1. oh man.
    jared needs to read this and apply it to the cat. i foresee myself being the 'mean' parent in the future -- refusing icecream and what have you left and right.

    it's totally important to create boundaries for your kids and yourself!

  2. Hmm. Perhaps you are getting to the root of Cathcart's...behavioral issues?

    And unfortunately, mom is generally the bad cop; especially if you are the one home with the kids. As Sarah once put it: moms are for work, and dads are for play.

  3. I read that story in horror! I can't believe that any parent would blame the ice cream man their kid's behavior. Maybe we should do away with Drs. since kids seem to meltdown quite often in the Drs. office....

  4. I only loathe him when he parks outside of the (sleeping) baby's room window blasting his tune and ruining nap time. Otherwise, the ice cream man- or rather the ice cream- has actually saved me from melt-downs with hungry, over-tired, sweating kids too many times for there to be any hate there.

  5. NYC playgrounds aren't analagous to anything here. The issue is that the Latin ices ladies roll their carts up between the slide & swings in overcrowded playgrounds, & another's over by the sandbox. Like the long-suffering pretzel/hotdog men (or the always-welcome Chicken-and-Rice guys), they just need to *stay on the streets & sidewalks* not smack in the center of the playground where it's already a zoo &, oops, vending is prohibited. The complaint is about the use of particular public spaces.