Meghan Cox Gurdon: Nothing like ice cream to boost self-esteem

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

The hard sell may work, from the seller's point of view, but it can make the buyer feel bruised and resentful. The soft sell may work, too, though it leaves more psychological room for the would-be purchaser to wriggle out of making a commitment.

And then there's the hybrid technique that you might call the hard-soft sell with chocolate sprinkles. It leaves its victims lighter in the wallet but laughing nonetheless.

A campaign of this sort began the minute the car doors opened on a recent afternoon. The three girls who jumped into their mother's car had obviously just finished a strategy session. They were practically shimmering with Madison Avenue persuasion.

"Since it's such a nice day please could we go for ice cream?"

"Please?"

"Pleeeease?"

"O Great and Wonderful Mother?"

"O Most Terrifying and Supreme of All Mothers?"

"Please O Most Great and -- what was it?"

"Girlies," said the terrifying and supreme parent, as she shifted the car into gear and drove away from the carpool collection point, "It's just a normal school day. We are not getting ice cream."

"You don't mean that!"

"She doesn't mean that!"

"Guys, I think she means that."

"It's just -- well, we should celebrate!"

"Yes! Celebration! OK, what can we celebrate?"

"I got an A minus on my spelling test! So we can celebrate with ice cream!"

"Yay!"

"Hurrah!"

"That is not a reason to go get ice cream," said the no-fun progenitor, but inwardly she was smiling.

"What do you mean that's not a reason to celebrate? Mummy, you're hurting my self-esteem!"

"Yeah, and she needs ice cream to restore her self-esteem!"

This brought another torrent of giggles.

"I can't very well give you what you want, even if I wanted to, which I don't," said the mark, logically. "Children who whine to get what they want will only get worse and do it more often if they get the thing they desire."

"Oh, we're not whining!"

"No! Listen to how melodious we are -- !"

" -- and mature -- "

" -- and unwhiny!"

"Please, mother dear, may we -- that is, would you be so kind as to bring us for -- "

"Ssst! Don't say it!"

"Yeah, she won't take us if we say You Know What."

"Frozen substance?"

"Maerc ... eci ... "

"What?"

"M-a-e-r-c-e-c-i"

"Merci?"

"No, dodo! Ice cream! Spelled backwards."

"Gah! Don't say 'ice cream!' "

The car hummed along the road for a while. The salesgirls kept extravagantly silent. This involved much pursing of lips and rolling of eyes and sudden explosions of laughter.

The driver's inward smile crept outward, where it could be seen. The car kept going.

"Hey, we just passed our road!"

"Oh my gosh, are we -- ?"

"Guys, Mummy likes opera. Let's sing!"

"Santa Lucciiiiiaaaaa ... "

"Oh soooole miiiiiioooooo ... "

The caterwauling was reaching its crescendo when the car made a fateful left-hand turn. Their mouths still open, the girls looked at one another in astonishment. They'd actually done it! The campaign had worked!

"Thank you, thank you!"

"O Most Terrible and Wonderful of All Possible -- "

"Ice cream!"

"Now, remember," their mother said warningly, "It's just this once."

The funny thing is, she actually believed it.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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