By Lauren Gonzalez
I’ve never really loved shopping. It always made me more anxious than anything, watching my bank account slowly dwindle away as my bags grew heavier.
In the movies, I always see groups of girls shopping together, like it’s a fun activity. But chronically indecisive people, such as myself, don’t make good shopping partners. I could never find anyone to sit patiently with me as I obsessed over two differently colored sweaters, as though the fate of the world hinged on my choice. And anyway, the decision making process wears my little brain thin, and I end up just putting everything back, walking out empty handed, and very “hangry.”
My husband hates shopping with me, because I insist on putting every item back where it belongs if we decide against its purchase. I’m the type of person who simply cannot leave that dishtowel lying lonely amidst the knee-high socks. He belongs safely with his buddies, where his price is clearly displayed for whomever does choose to take him home.
I’ll admit, I’ve taken this obsession a bit too far – my rock bottom would have to be the day I found someone else’s six-pack carton of eggs sitting on the magazine rack at the grocery store, and literally ran across the store, abandoning my own cart in the line, just to return them safely to their refrigerated case. I mean, reeeally – what are we, CAVEMEN?
Children don’t seem to understand the courtesy of leaving things the way they found them. I’ve seen firsthand the absolute disaster that one child can make of a store. Haven’t we all worked retail at some point in our lives? Don’t we all know the unbelievable irritation of a toddler tossing a full display table of shirts we’ve painstakingly folded?! I can’t do that to another human being. I just can’t. But this OCD behavior – what I like to call “conscientious shopping” – has become somewhat of a problem, now that the mess-making children belong to me.
I accompanied my husband to the mall today to buy a “Mr. Rogers sweater like the one Tom Hanks owns,” and had no choice but to tote along my 19-month-old hooligan of a daughter. My husband and I got separated in the shoe department at Dillard’s, and by the time we’d found him just 10 minutes later, June had tripped and busted her way through a paper advertisement for chocolates standing at the entrance to the store, earning herself a scraped left cheek, and me a well-intentioned but slightly shaming talking-to by a complete stranger.
You see, once again, my conscientious-cum-obsessive-compulsive, fix-it mentality sent me in a tailspin about the advertising sign June had ruined, rather than about my actual daughter who stood there crying angrily. While I knelt there on the cold tile outside of Payless Shoes, hurriedly struggling to fit the paper sign back together inside its metal frame, June was turning circles underneath a heavy chalkboard stand-up showcasing holiday coffee drinks. When a fellow shopper pointed out the almost assured disaster of my decision, I met her words with a sarcastic, “Thanks for helping, Merry Christmas,” carrying June away like a football as she wriggled under my arm. My face burned hot as I practically sprinted away from the scene, refusing to slow down until I’d reached Santa’s village, where I could gather my thoughts behind the relatively safe cover of Christmas trees.
No energy left to find a bench, I plopped down on the floor outside of JC Penney, June on my lap, and together we ate banana chips in complete silence. Folks walked casually past us, casting confused glances, probably wondering why the hell I was too lazy to find a chair. I sat lost in my thoughts. At first, I thought I was angry at the woman who offered me the unwanted advice. How dare she? But I had to admit that nothing she’d said was technically offensive. Her tone was kind, she went about making her point in a thoughtful way. So, my issue had to be ME.
I felt ashamed, not at the events that unfolded, at June’s behavior, or at the well-meaning advice-giver, but at the way I’d reacted to it all. Of course June is my first priority, of course I don’t want her to sustain further injury from a 10-pound chalkboard. But in that moment, my brain told me to clean, organize, fix the broken items before tending to my child.
You see, I’ve always dreaded being that mom – the one whose kids tear apart the store, and who leaves it all for someone else to clean, making it someone else’s problem. The mom whose tornado of a daughter knocks over a display sign, and who just walks away without concern. In that moment, I cared more about the barista at the coffee bar watching the entire incident unfold. I was concerned that she might think of me as lazy, irresponsible (or worse) if I just walked away from the whole mess. I didn’t see that there was a third, more logical choice: to comfort my sobbing child, confess to our mistake, and apologize to the store employee tasked with cleaning it up.
Sometimes I feel like having children forces me to make a bigger mess of an already messy world. They spill things, break things, put things out of order. They bring chaos wherever they go, and I can’t always leave my kids in the cart to run across the store and return my unwanted mascara to its display hook, or pick up an entire display of French’s soup mix while Joey is two seconds away from knocking over yet another.
It is my job to take responsibility for their behavior, and their mess. It isn’t always feasible to clean it up. And while my brain is screaming at me to put the shopping cart back in its row, sometimes the best I can do is plant it safely onto the grass median before my toddler runs into traffic. So, to the well-meaning shopper whose advice I shunned, and to the MANY store employees who will bring order to my kids’ chaos, I am truly sorry. Take comfort in knowing that my kids may one day be those teenage store employees cleaning up after tiny hooligans, and vengeance will be yours.
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer and blogger whose kids provide ample inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles on motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides to enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for a daily peek inside the head of a nutty gal just free mommin’ it.