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Toddlers don’t understand the concept of chance

By Staff | Jun 25, 2010

I read a quote somewhere recently that made me smile.

“The fundamental job of a toddler is to rule the universe.”

That phrase couldn’t be more true in the Mullally household these days. We have two pint-sized busy bodies trying to rule our universe. I must admit that sometimes I think they are succeeding.

Take the 3-year-old. She’s all about control. She wants to control her world and the world around her. The other day we visited the grocery store and she spotted the giant gumball machine at the end of the checkout aisle. She marveled at the colorful assortment inside and proudly announced that she wanted a pink one and a blue one. I tried to give her a brief explanation of the concept of chance. I told her that just because you want a certain color of gumball, doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

I simply said something like this, “Sweetie, you put your quarter in, turn the knob and take your chances on which gumball you get.”

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Well, she wouldn’t have any of that silly talk. What she heard coming out of mommy’s mouth was, “Sweetie, blah, blah, blah, blah, gumball, blah, blah.”

A toddler does not appreciate, nor understand, a game of chance. They want to control everything and in this case Abby wanted to control the gumball machine.

So, knowing how badly she wanted a pink gumball, I took out a quarter, shoved it in the slot, said a little prayer and turned the knob. Well, out pops an orange gumball. She was less than thrilled. So we decided to take our chances again. With another turn, much to her disappointment, a yellow gumball rolled our way and plopped into Abby’s hand. She was not happy and again proclaimed, rather loudly, her desire for a pink one AND a blue one.

At this point we were getting in everybody’s way and had to get going so I figured that she’d be satisfied with the two giant gumballs and we were on our way. But catastrophe was just ahead.

On our way out, Abby dropped the yellow gumball and it shattered as it hit the floor. She was beside herself. Right then and there in the middle of everything, Abby had a complete meltdown. Not only did she not get her pink or her blue gumball, she just lost her yellow gumball. Her world was spinning out of control.

So in order to pacify her, I walked back to the gumball machine, put one more quarter in, said another prayer and turned the knob. God heard me this time, and lo and behold, a pink gumball rolled my way. Figuring this would make Abby’s day, I handed it to her and what was her response, you wonder?

Any parent reading this will not be the least bit surprised that her response was not a simple, “Thanks, Mommy.”

Instead of being grateful, in between her sobs, she yelled, “I want a blue one, too.”

So I finally did what I should have done in the first place. Amid all the glares from the other shoppers and the stares from the staff, I picked up that kicking and screaming three year old tucked her under my arm, and hauled her out to the car and drove her home.

Once she calmed down, all she could talk about all the way home was how next time we go to the grocery store, she wants to get that elusive blue gumball.

She said to me, “Mommy, when we go back to the grocery store tomorrow I want a blue gumball.”

To which I reiterated, “Sweetie, you put your quarter in, turn the knob and take your chances on which gumball you get.”

Again, all she heard was, “Sweetie, blah, blah, blah, blah, gumball, blah, blah.”

As the quote above explained, a toddler’s job is to rule the universe. It was driving Abby crazy that she couldn’t control that gumball machine.

So keep your fingers crossed that next time we put a quarter in that machine, a blue gumball comes rolling our way.

If not, Mommy will have to diffuse another bomb in the middle of the grocery store. Just stay clear of us. There’s nothing quite like the wrath of an angry toddler.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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