So my wife and son and I were out yesterday, at Wal-mart (ugh) because her stereo broke and she needed to get the receipt so that she could invoke the warranty. Wal-mart keeps their receipts forever, but you have to go in and give them the date of purchase in order to get the receipt. Fat chance, right? Except we found the box that it came in (we had used it to store unused picture frames), and because it was shipped to the store, it had the date of arrival on it, and they were willing to search the few days after that and find the receipt.

Anyway, we also happened to have a phat check from my Dad to spend on Giovanni’s birthday present, and we were considering taking him to Toys-R-Us to pick out some faves. We didn’t tell him that, though — we told him we were going to a Special Place™. But we told him that if he wasn’t calm and obedient in the store, we weren’t going to go the the Special Place™.

He stayed mostly OK until we were on our way across the parking lot back to the car, when he basically went crazy for no apparent reason, jumping and tripping over himself and being particularly unsafe. So when we got to the car, we told him “Now, because you chose to be disobedient, we’re not going to the Special Place™.”

He had a fit — not a tantrum, but a wail of despair and a gnashing of teeth that seemed indefinite. Probably the most extended cry ever — he was still crying half an hour later when, after a stop at Trader Joe’s, we got home. He tried to refuse to eat his snack even though he was hungry, but his tummy won out eventually. He was fully distraught.

But here’s the thing: he made a choice. And while initially both of us were considering reneging and going to TRU anyway because, well, we wanted to, we had to respect his choice and let him suck up the consequences of his own actions. He wanted to go to the Special Place™, but it was more important to him, in that moment, to be a monkey in the parking lot than it was to go — and we explained to him in great detail that it was his choice, that he had decided that he wasn’t going to go where he wanted to go.

The thing is, it’s hard — super hard — to catch yourself right before you make a stupid decision. I know this, because I still start yelling sometimes before I catch myself and choose to smile instead. And I know that, and I know that he didn’t actually decide not to go to Toys-R-Us so much as he didn’t catch himself in time. But I don’t want him to think that it’s OK to not catch himself.

When I don’t catch myself in time, I end up alienating my son and he doesn’t want to be around me. I want him to have the “catch yourself in time” skill well honed so that he doesn’t have to learn it on the fly when he’s 34.