All the Bubbles in the World

Little bottles with pink, blue, or green soapy bubble solutions were calling on Robert from the shelves of every toy or grocery store.  They called  in the same way the honey jars were calling Winnie the Pooh.  It seemed that as soon as we entered the store, Robert was able to localize the bottles, even if they were placed in the opposite corner of the store.  He must had either heard them, smelled them, or felt their mystical vibrations because as soon as I turned my attention to items on my grocery list or to a developmental toy I was considering buying,  Robert was out of his seat in a shopping cart and off on his quest for bubbles. Don’t ask me how this tiny peanut could climb out of the shopping cart and disappear among store alleys in a fraction of second.  I didn’t turn from him for longer than that.  My hands could still reach the shopping cart he was in or he was supposed to be in!  And yet, he wasn’t!

I found out that it was  no use to ask store’s employees  if they had seen a little, quickly running boy.

Nobody had ever seen him!

What made sense was to ask where were the bubbles. Where the bubbles were, Robert was.

I decided that to avoid Robert’s bolting, we would start every trip to the store with getting  three (one for each color)  containers of bubbles and buy everything else later.

That approach worked  on  maybe 3-4 trips to the Puritan Supermarket.  But on one of the next trips, the fact that three small bottles of bubbles were resting in a shopping cart, behind his back, didn’t satisfy Robert. Before I finished going down my grocery list, Robert was out again. I followed him to the bottles.  When I reached him he  was  carrying five or six bottles – as much as his little hands could hold.  I allowed him to  take only three.   Again one of each color.  I placed the bubbles and Robert in the shopping cart.  Robert was not happy!  He was  agitated and anxious.  As we approached the cash register and I started placing food on the belt, Robert got out of his seat and went down, inside the shopping cart stepping on the groceries.  He was checking the bottles. Clearly not satisfied, in the blink of the eye, he was out. As I tried to decide if I should take all the items  from the belt or ignore them and run after Robert, my son was back caring another batch of colorful bottles.  He dropped them inside the shopping cart and turned  to run for more.  But I got him this time.

I held this wiggling creature, who kicked, pinched, and bit.  I grabbed my purse and ignoring the cash register, the shopping cart, and all the food I thought I needed,  I carried Robert to our van.   He screamed.  He banged his head into mine.  He continued pinching, kicking, biting,and hitting all the way to the car.  I buckled him in his car seat.  He still wiggled and kicked the seat in front of him.  I closed the car door but stayed outside turned back to the door so Robert could see me but not see me crying.   I stopped crying and got inside.  I waited a few minutes longer to calm myself.  Robert stopped kicking.  He became quiet.  We drove home.

I felt so powerless and humiliated that I entertained the though of  never going shopping with Robert.   I made myself a tea and thought about my options. Not taking Robert shopping was NOT one of them. Although I could  go shopping alone in the evening or rather at night when my husband was home, I couldn’t give up  on the idea of my son being a part of the community.  I could postpone taking him with me until he gets older and behave better.  That was not an option either. Robert would get older, bigger, and stronger but he might not behave better. I realized that the longer I would postpone dealing with this behavior the more scared and powerless I would feel.


1. When I finished my cup of tea, I took Robert to a convenience store that didn’t sell bubbles. We bought just three basic items.  One was what he wanted.  The shopping went smoothly.

2. I called my husband asking him to come home earlier and take Robert back to Puritan. We discussed the issue and decided that Robert still could buy three bottles of bubbles.  If, however, he would take more than, both of them would leave the store without any bubbles at all.  They came home empty-handed.  Jan never told me how much protesting Robert did that day.

3. We repeated similar actions the following day.  I bought a few more items in a different convenience store.  One item was of Robert’s choosing. Jan took Robert back to Puritan. This time, Robert satisfied himself with three bottles of bubbles.

4.I went back to Puritan with Robert.  We bought eggs, milk, bread and three bottles of soapy solution.

Since that time until today, I had never had a problem with Robert insisting on buying something I had reasons not to buy.  Not once, he took something from the shelf and held it in front of me to ask in his wordless way if he could buy it.  I would either say “yes” or “no”.  “No”  always came with an explanation.”No, we have it at home.” “No, it makes your stomach hurt” (Soft cheese in a can.) Every time, he heard, “No” Robert calmly put the item back on the shelf. Every time.

I have to add, that many years later we encountered another behavioral bump during our trip to supermarket.  Although Robert didn’t mind putting the item back on a shelf during shopping, he DID MIND taking it back from the CASH REGISTER BELT when it was already in the hands of the cashier.  But that is another story.

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