This is how you can tell our age and domestic status. Married, four kids, pushing 50… yup, date night means a trip to the grocery store.
And because we are this family, with our various auto-immune challenges, ranging from gluten, soy and casein sensitivity to Vitiligo to Type 1 Diabetes, with some lactose intolerance thrown in for good measure, we were having our “date night” at Sprouts, the Valhalla of special ingredients, stocking up on gluten-free pancake mix, dairy-free “yogurt” and the all important Bio-K to balance out our digestive tracts.
Don’t worry, that’s as TMI as I will get about digestive tracts.
I always look forward to a visit to Sprouts, because with all the dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, MSG-free, hydrogenated-oil-free foods they offer, it feels like they speak my language. And a couple of times a year, they speak my language for half-price for a full 8 days, so that really makes it fun to shop there.
Except we missed the memo that this Friday night was “take your overwrought and fussy children shopping” night.
I heard him before I saw him. I heard him running from one end of the store to the other. From my position in the juice aisle I paused and looked toward the center aisle of the store. Sure enough, I caught a glimpse of him. A small, black-haired boy, running, just as his footsteps had suggested, full-tilt, waving both arms above his head yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! MOOOOOOMMMMMMY!”
He was not lost. He was not distraught. He was obviously having the time of his life. I stood there with a bottle of organic lemonade in my hand and tried to project authoritative displeasure in his direction the next time he sped by the end of my aisle, but he went by so fast I barely saw him, so the “Thou Must Stop With Thine Misbehavior” vibes apparently bounced right off him.
I contented myself with packing things into my cart while vehemently thinking the things I would like to say to his mother about the importance of Keeping One’s Children In Check In Public Places.
Now, you would think, with four of my own, and with a small nephew who almost exactly fits the description of this little boy, apart from hair color, that I would have a modicum of sympathy. Or at least understanding. And see, NOW, from the comfort of my home, after the fact, I do. I totally get it. But I’m getting ahead of my story here.
Because at the time, I was supposed to be having ALONE TIME with the hubby. And this whirlwind of a child was distracting me from my date.
In 20-20 hindsight, it does not escape me that while half the problem here might have been this boy’s mistaken assumption that the grocery store was a playground, the other half might very well have been my mistaken assumption that the grocery store was a venue for Quality Time With One’s Spouse.
However, at the time, it was all about how little his mother was doing to curb misplaced exuberance.
It didn’t help that there was another lady there at the same time with no fewer than six 5 to 8 year olds in tow. I must admit that she was doing a spectacular job at keeping them polite and orderly, despite the fact that Whirlwind Boy was flying by with distressing regularity and tempting her youngest beyond the poor child’s ability to resist. A quick, “Hold my hand NOW!” from Mother was necessary to prevent the hand-waving cavorting from becoming epidemic.
Which, by comparison, made Whirlwind Boy’s mother look even more lax in her duties and added fuel to my vehement mental fire.
I finally took refuge behind a display of Christmas treats, actually feeling thankful that they were on display two months early, since they made such an admirable shield from possible collisions with flailing five-year-old arms and legs. There I waited for the ruckus to subside, and eventually it did.
My date, on the other hand, was bravely shopping for cheese as if nothing was amiss. He’s bigger than me.
Once the store was quiet again, I assumed the Whirlwind Family had left the shore, heaved a sigh of relief and ventured out from my hiding place, rejoicing that while I was there, I had discovered gluten-free Toaster Pastries in two flavors.
I met back up with the hubby and we had a conference that went something like this:
ME: Is that it?
ALAN: Ummmm… I don’t know, can you think of anything?
ME: I don’t know. Did you get cheese?
ALAN: Yep, I got cheese. So… what else?
ME: Ummm….. I don’t know.
ALAN: We should go home. We sound pitiful.
ME: Yeah, we should go home. We can always come back later. After we have slept.
Let’s just say it had been a long week.
We made our way to the checkout, and as soon as we got in line, who should pull her cart up behind us but… yep, you guessed it. Whirlwind Boy’s Mom. With son. And daughter, who was a slightly toned down version of her brother.
Our stuff was already on the conveyer belt, so we were stuck. Whirlwind Boy ran around us and stood where we needed to stand to pay and struck up a conversation with the checker.
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME? HEY! WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”
The checker took it all in stride and chatted with him, while I, feeling slightly huffy, had to maneuver my cart around the boy to get it to the end of the checkstand.
“My name is Cory. What’s yours?” bantered the checker.
“MY NAME IS COLIN!” he announced to everyone in the store except for those at the far end in the dairy section, who were probably out of earshot, what with the humming of the refrigerators.
He finally threaded his way between Alan and I to stand by his mother, who had been quietly but firmly trying to get him to return to her this whole time. As he walked past Alan, Alan said, ‘Hi, Colin!”
The boy whirled around, mouth agape, and said, “How did you know my name?”
At this point, just like the Grinch when he hears the Whos singing in Whoville despite his attempts to steal Christmas from them, I began to feel the ice around my heart begin to crack. Because this kid was undeniably cute.
I was still judging, of course, because when we are tired and not reining ourselves in and fall back on our natural inclinations, judging comes so much easier than, oh, reasoning, or empathy, or connecting with our fellow human beings.
“He has probably had too much sugar,” I mused, feeling superior because I never took MY children shopping when they were all sugared up. (In order to think this way, you understand, I had to conveniently forget the Sideways Tipping of a Full Basket of Groceries Incident, as well as the one that involved a two year old colliding with a sweet lady’s cart of vegetables. And we won’t even talk about how an entire department store was locked down when another two year old of mine hid under a rack of girl’s clothing.)
Selective memory is so comforting, but it always comes with a price… that inevitable fall before which pride goeth.
Almost as soon as that judgmental thought had crossed my mind, the friendly checker grabbed a container of Organic Lollipops and offered them to Whirlwind Boy and his sister.
The sheer panic in their mother’s voice stopped my self-righteous self in its tracks.
“NO! No, please, don’t give them sugar!”
So. Apparently this child’s behavior had nothing to do with the mother’s inattention to healthy diet. The fact that she was shopping at a store that carries healthier food than most should have clued me in. Apparently this mother knew all about the evils of sugar and red food dye and nitrates and all the other crazy-making ingredients being sold by Evil Big Business Food Companies.
Which left only one conclusion: this child was just like this. All. The. Time.
Within a split second, I went from judging the mother to my heart going out to her.
This child was not a monster. This child was a delightful, outgoing and very intelligent young man. He was the type of piano student I love to teach, even though he would most likely fall sideways off the piano bench or get his fingers stuck in the lid while sitting on it. The type of teen I love to have in my English classes, even though he would most likely stir up enough of a ruckus that building maintenance personnel would feel the need to remind me on a regular basis that There Is A Class Below Yours And You Are Shaking The Building.
The type that is often misunderstood by the system and those who cling to the status quo, who gets shackled with labels and drugged into submission but ends up growing into the kind of adult who can change the world for the better. The type whose mother should be awarded instant Saint status when the child comes of age, along with a life-time membership at a spa and a free yearly vacation in Hawaii.
This is what Ty Pennington looked like as a child.
And apparently, it was very, VERY bad to give this child sugar and his mother knew ALL about that.
Without hesitation the checker whisked the lollipops out of sight with one hand and offered a box of stickers with the others. Whirlwind Boy declined politely and commenced trying to hang upside down off the neighboring checkstand. Alan and I picked up our groceries and left the store, but not before I caught the mother’s eye and smiled at her. A little nod of solidarity. A little glance of, “Don’t worry, he’s awesome.”
And although she probably didn’t know it, a little moment of, “I am so sorry for judging you and I vow I will never, ever, ever do it again.”