“Hannah! Hannah! HANNAH! I’m not going to tell you again!”

Oh, yes you are. I’ve only heard that five times now, and I know you are going to say it again in about 3 minutes, tops. I shudder to think how often Hannah has heard it.

It is none of my business how customers bring up their children. My concern in this kind of situation is only to try to protect the stock, keep the kids from getting hurt in any way that could lead to a lawsuit, and hope that the other customers are not run off by it.

But it does make me think about childrearing.

I am not the strict one in my household. My husband’s childrearing philosophy is remeniscent of that of Yul Brynner in The King and I (a favorite movie in our household, where everyone laughs and says it is just like Daddy). Early in our engagement, I was reading a bedtime story to a group of his nephews and nieces. Their parents did not read English, they owned no books, and it might well have been the first bedtime story they had ever experienced. My husband-to-be — their 23 year old uncle — came in and told them to go to bed, and they instantly got up and left.

I was astonished. This is not a level of obedience that we expect in America. In fact, I wouldn’t even want it. I would have expected polite negotiation, and I always accept that from my own children. My husband — in common with other immigrants — despairs of his American children. When he told our 20 year old daughter that she had to finish college before she could get married, he expected her to obey him. She said she would do so, in fact, but her fiance (who had been transferred to South Carolina) was able to change her mind. I continued preparing for the wedding.

Do you suppose that American ex-pats in Asia despair of the excessive obedience of their children?

I was brought up to obey my parents, and to behave in public, and I brought my children up to do the same, by American standards. Different people have different ideas of appropriateness. When we have customers whose children are completely unfettered by convention, I respect that parenting philosophy.

But the ones who constantly tell their children to do this or that and are ignored are making an error. There ought to be some difference in what happens when you are good and what happens when you are not. Otherwise, there is really no way for the child to know what constitutes “good.” “If you do that again, we’ll leave,” has no effect when the child knows from experience that they will not leave. It’s just nagging. In the world at large, there are different results for different kinds of behavior — not just from people, but from the law, our bodies, animals, and everything else except perhaps the weather. Shielding children from that truth by surrounding them with insincere nagging just makes the discovery more painful when it does take place.

It has always seemed to me that the so-called “terrible twos” are about this. The two-year-old has just developed enough language to get what he or she wants on a fairly reliable basis. You say “cookie” and someone gives you a cookie. You say “up” and someone picks you up. It is way more effective than crying ever was — crying just got random results, but talking gives you enormous power. They must feel like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Almost immediately, however, they discover that it is not complete power. Sometimes you don’t get a cookie. Sometimes no one feels like picking you up. Sometimes you refuse to go to bed and they put you there anyway. No wonder they get cross.

My own theory is that those who learn the limits of their power quickly and consistently don’t end up being terrible at all. Those who learn that talking won’t always get you what you want, but that screaming often will, or that saying “cookie” many, many times, perhaps in combination with a tantrum, will get you that cookie — they are the terrible ones.

But I could be wrong about that. I also believed that good parents did not have trouble with their teenagers, until I had some of my own. I was wrong about that, I think. Now I subscribe to The Empress’s views on teens: your job is to keep them alive till they are 18. And look forward, during those months or possibly years of difficulty, to their reemergence as wonderful young adults.

The little ones, though, would be better served by a clear and quick response. Our eldest once begged for something in a store, and my husband immediately picked her up and took her home. I thought he was over-reacting at the time. She wasn’t pulling things off the shelves or screaming, just doing that “please? please?” thing you so often hear. But he was right. She never did it again, so she never got in trouble for it again, and we were able to take her everywhere without stress or unpleasantness. He didn’t get angry with her, either, or nag her. He just removed her from the situation. As the kids grew up, we had the ritual of stopping before entering a place and reminding them of the rules for whatever kind of place we were in. By the time they started school, they had a great deal of confidence in many situations. This seems kinder than constant public reprimands.

The T-shirt? Oh, I frogged the two inches. I won’t show you pictures again till I get back to where I was, though. Too depressing.