You knew she meant business when she was talking but her teeth weren’t moving.

Let me just start by saying that Wal-Mart is the center of all evil. While I've never been to Bentonville, Arkansas, I imagine there must be a thick black swirling vortex of inexpensive and shoddily constructed items hovering just above the city. Residents have to check the daily evil index before venturing outside, or risk choking on the diabolical fumes of soda shelved directly next to laundry detergent.

I try to keep all this in mind, and I expect it accounts for at least part of the reason why my son acts like such a rotten brat every time we shop there. (Hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.) When he was an infant, Eliot loved Wal-Mart. Loved it. Sometimes when he got superbly cranky I would strap him in the car and drive him to the store just so that we could pace the aisles, with him gazing up at the lights and the colors from his chicken bucket. (Some people call it a pumpkin seat; I call it a chicken bucket. Eh huh.
You're actually required to read that line with a Billy Bob Thornton Slingblade accent, in case you didn't notice.)

But at some point, the tide turned, and now I dread taking Mog with me even if it's just to run in for a gallon of milk. Especially if it's just to run in for a gallon of milk. He inevitably refuses to sit in the section of the cart that's actually designed to hold a child, kicking and screaming, and yelling, "No! It hurts, Momma, It HURTS!" if I make any attempt to get him to sit there. Instead, he wants to sit in the grocery part of the cart, which is fine until he gets bored and stands up, leaning out to snatch items off the shelf or knock them to the floor. At this point I think we can all agree that it is Wal-Mart's aura of evil provoking him to do these things, and not a failure of my parenting, which is stellar. Ha. Ha.

In fact, there is very little that makes one feel more like a crummy, useless parent than having a child throw a tantrum in public. First, people look at you like it's your fault that you can't control your kid, and they look at you like that because that's exactly what they're thinking. Regardless of whether these people are parents themselves, they will give you the most hostile stares of scorn and even pure disgust when your kid makes noises as though you're pulling out his toenails and trying to feed them to him, even though you AREN'T EVEN TOUCHING HIM FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY JUST GET IN THE FREAKING CART. And secondly, the whole situation coats you with the stench of double failure, because let's face it: what's your recourse at this point? What is the "good parent" supposed to do here? Most of the time my answer to that question is remove yourself and the kid from the situation. Leave the cart, leave the groceries, and just get the hell out of dodge. Go home and put the kid to bed. And then threaten him with bodily harm if he ever pulls such a stunt again. (Ha—yeah, like he cares! But whatever.) But want if you NEED tampons? Or chocolate? Or something else equally important? What then?

Sometimes my answer is to bribe Eliot with promises of new matchbook cars if he'll just shush and get in the cart. And when I hear myself doing this, when I sort of step outside my brain and watch myself and think about how I would narrate the events unfolding (do other people do this too, or am I just a weirdo?), I feel like I totally deserve those deprecating glances from fellow shoppers. Let's face it, if I were them, I'd be giving me the stinkeye too.

So today, before we ever got out of the car and headed into the store, we had a talk about BEHAVING. I told Mog he would have to behave in Wal-Mart while we did our shopping or else he would not be coming into the store with me again. So he nodded his head and agreed, that yes, he would behave. I told him that if he could be a VERY good boy while we were shopping, he could choose a new car when we were finished. This tactic seemed to work, and actually, I think the whole trip would have gone off without a hitch if it hadn't been for the infernal sensor going off on our way out.

He only needed one reminder about BEHAVING, when we were in the aisle looking at razors and he stood up and reached out to grab a package. I bent down and whispered in his ear (because quiet threatening is way scarier than a raised voice; a raised voice is much too predictable), "If you don't sit down now and stop grabbing, you will not get a car." Magically, he let go of the razors and sat back down without a word of protest.

Even more impressive, when we had finished our shopping and were in the matchbox car aisle, eyeballing the possibilities, Mog pointed at a giant plastic crane: "I want THAT," he said, clearly impressed. I gently replied, "No, we aren't getting a big toy today. Today we have to choose a little car." (And why do I do that—that annoying plural pronoun nonsense? I just can't help myself.) And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, the child said, "Okay." And chose instead a very lovely tiny blue forklift.

And all would have been, should have been, could have been well. Except for the sensor. Dear God in Heaven, the stupid sensor. It said something garbled and unintelligible as we passed through, something like, "Please report to the customer service department where an exceedingly bored teenager named Tricia, wearing a blue vest with a yellow smiley face sticker will proceed to frisk you in order to retrieve the twelve Kenny G CD's that we KNOW you have stuck in the waistband of your pants." (Okay, I'm lying. They don't wear blue vests anymore; they wear navy shirts and khakis. Cause you know, they're all upscale now. Pfft!)

So the elderly door greeter lady, armed with her giant gray sensor-y wand, comes over to us, and I'm digging for my receipt, which I had already stashed in my purse, when Mog totally loses it. Because now that he has his forklift, all bets are off, right? He starts scrambling like a lunatic, trying to get out of the cart, throwing himself against me and making noises like a cat in heat. When I lift him out of the cart he goes completely boneless until he slides down my body and onto the floor. Every parent of a child old enough to stand knows the boneless trick. Somehow, unfathomably, they become rubberized and loose so that any attempt to grasp them is fruitless. So Mog is thrashing around at my feet, while I'm simultaneously trying to get ahold of him and dig the receipt out of my purse, and greeter lady and other shoppers are giving me looks of stern disapproval.

Somehow I managed to make it back to our car without dying of shame.

I find myself wondering how in the world my own mother achieved such silent acquiescence from me and my sisters in public settings. I don't remember ever causing a scene in public, and maybe that's because my memory is faulty, but I really don't think any of us girls ever threw a tantrum while out on the town. In fact, I don't recall any tantrum-throwing at home either. Whatever my mom did to us—I don't recall ever having been spanked or physically punished in any way—it was enough to ensure our tacit obedience. I remember that all she would have to do if tempers began to flare was put the squeeze to our upper arm and whisper through clenched teeth into our ear. The mystery of just how much she was capable of was scary enough that we didn't dare push her past her limits. We didn't want to find out what she would do. (Well, except for Adriane, of course. I'm fairly sure I do remember Adriane getting slapped hard across the face on more than one occasion, but that was during the teenage years. That was a whole other story. And the sound of the contact of my mother's hand with Adriane's cheek was so shocking that I think it ensured Elecia's and my behavior for at least several years afterwards.)

I'm left home again, with Eliot, now safely out of the public eye and back to his sunny self, to ponder discipline and obedience. I don't want my son to grow up to be disrespectful or to feel the sense of entitlement that I see in so many of the young adults who are my students. But I also don't want him to become fearful and easily cowed. (This is not to say that my mom erred on this side—not at all. On the contrary, I think I was lucky to have been born to two people who were such wonderful parents.) But how does a parent strike a balance between the two extremes? How do we walk through the shadow of the valley of Wal-Mart and not knock every colorful box along the way off the shelf?


Elecia said...

that's funny, I remember you getting spanked. Mostly for crap you did to me. I also remember that moms arm was long enough to smack us from the front seat of the car.
try giving him small tasks in walmart like picking out which cereal he wants or playing eye spy.
This morning Zayda picked out Hannah Montana cereal, I can see why they named it after her, it's fruity and over priced.

Elecia said...

Ok so maybe you should be the one to spy things and he should find them, because Zayda always seems to spy strange looking people and then point at them and loudly announce what she thinks is strange(for instance this morning, when she broadcast to 50% of the store that she saw a MAN with a ponytail)

Terri said...

Ooh, my mom had a SNAP. She'd hold her hand down low against her side and snap the loudest sound you have ever heard...except that no one but me and my brothers ever seemed to notice. That snap could freeze us in our tracks!

She also had this phrase: "It's low profile time," which meant that she better not hear your voice or see your face for the next 30 minutes.

But it's funny you should write this post because I've been thinking a lot about the WalMart problem lately. As we get ready to have a baby of our own, I've been thinking about how I'll handle those tantrums that always seem to erupt in WalMart (because you're right about the face from the other customers...I've given it, but eventually I'm going to be on the other end of it!). I suppose I'll just leave the store, but the trick, it seems, is to not make that a "win" for the tantrum thrower.


Adriane said...

This is absolutely hysterical, sad, and true all rolled into one. I never feel like such a crappy mother as I do when I am in Walmart. I don't have a solution, let me know when you figure it out.

Anonymous said...

kate said...

I witnessed the most amazing thing at walmart -- a miracle of sorts:

it began as I was picking out milk -- a very low whine, steadily escalating to heaving, SCREAMING sobs. I had no idea where it was coming from, except that it was nowhere actually near me.

I continued shopping, and eventually ignored it, then WHAM. In the bread aisle. Mother, 5ish year old daughter walking along, and the reddest, MADDEST 2 year old I have ever seen in the cart. Howling his head off. For at least 15 minutes.

And mom? couldn't have cared less. (Truth be told, I'm sure she was mortified, but simultaneously incredibly jaded by the entire experience)

Screaming child, left to scream his guts out, while mom and well-behaved daughter push him along and continue shopping. As if ear drums weren't rupturing around them.

It was inspiring.

ajbwinters said...

Sorry, Sweetie! I'm laughing to hard (in the been there and done that way) to offer any advice at this moment! I can assure you that the crying, screaming, wiggling thing stops and then you have the slouching, dragging of feet, bored stares, shrugging of shoulders if asked any questions, and the "MOM, are you done YET" followers. However, there is some satisfaction in making those same followers carry in and unpack all your Walmart booty, LOL! Oh, don't forget to practice your EVIL EYE, you will need this, so practice, practice, practice! Love ya!

Elecia said...

I love kate's post.
I have to say, I have been that lady too. When I used to watch my ex-nephew all the time he was about Eliot's age and I had to go to wal-mart. He wanted to ride the horse when we got there, but i didnt have any quarters so i told him maybe when we leave. Of course he had a fit and I carried him like a sack of potatoes kicking a screaming all the way through wal-mart. People looked at me like i was nuts, but i had to get a couple essentials and needless to say, we did NOT ride the horse on the way out.