I usually do my best to avoid errands with children. With a work schedule that allows for shopping during weekday hours, I aim for that, but it doesn’t always work out. Also, memory of the misery fades over just enough time to take the chance again, which pretty much never ends well.
Sunday’s errands actually started out with a compliment from the friendly Trader Joe’s employee, “Wow – you have great kids. Usually they all fight over who gets the cart, but the little one got it and the girls both put their arms around him.” I smiled, appreciating the greatness of my children, while knowing that moment could have just as easily gone sideways.
At one point, I did have to throw out an empty threat to the 3-year-old recklessly racing around corners with his cart, “If you don’t slow down, they are going to kick you out of the store.” It was a half-hearted, desperate attempt at discipline in my drowsy, Sunday morning state of mind. Lo and behold, I noticed him walking remarkably slow afterwards, telling his sisters he is not going to get kicked out. One point for empty threats! We should have stopped there.
Instead, we dropped off my husband to do stuff around the house while the kids and I went to Target with a confidence that would prove brief. For good measure, I asked for a review of the rules in the car and the 6-year-old nailed it: “stay together, no grabbing stuff and saying I want that!, no crying, and listen to Mommy.” We jumped out of the car, and the rules became a distant memory. I clutched the 3-year-old escape artist’s hand in the parking lot, and the girls went running to jump on top of the red concrete balls, before one started walking through the automatically opening doors. “What was our first rule?” I say sternly. Oh yeah – she backward-walked out of the store to wait for me.
We negotiate all potential configurations of body space to fit three in the cart and head off to buy new socks. Within minutes of comparing some pretty cute sock choices and deciding on an economical package that would give both girls good options, the middle child was on the floor sobbing because she wanted socks with aggressive tassels.
I stay calm, offering her new undies to sweeten the deal for a compromise, and she resisted with commitment to her stance as being gravely wronged. Sobbing. On the floor. I don’t make eye contact with any other shoppers, but I keep browsing and parading the cuteness of days-of-the-week undies with pandas. Eventually, she gives in and quietly walks over to grab the panda undies. We head off to cleaning supplies.
This is where I make a fatal decision, but I don’t know it for several more aisles. I swing around the three aisles of cleaning materials, the weight of three children working my biceps, and I’m talking to myself because I can’t find what I want. I absent-mindedly put a couple of cleaning products in the cart, multi-tasking my directives to the kids: “move over . . .watch where you put your foot . . . be nice.” Giving up on what I can’t find, we veer into pretzels, and then ice cream, where we enter a lengthy debate and negotiation process because darn Target has quarts of ice cream with Batman and Wonder Woman, so there’s no bypassing that.
We survive negotiations with one Batman and one classic cookies ‘n cream, and now I have to find a rare ingredient my husband needs for dinner: red curry paste. I scan the aisle labels while continuing to issue orders: “no teasing . . . watch where you step! . . . be careful . . . personal space.” As I walk down the baking aisle (don’t ask – I have no idea where to find red curry paste), I almost slip and look down to see a puddle of clear liquid.
Fortuitously, two red-shirted Target agents are walking right by me so I get their attention and let them know a clean-up is needed. The female agent looks at me and says, “It’s coming out of your cart.” What? I pull over, start moving my children unceremoniously, picking up socks, toothbrushes, and baking soda and then I see it: my shower mold and mildew cleaner was right under the bottom of my 6-year-old.
I hear the female agent on her walkie talkie issuing an urgent message: “we have a bleach spill . . . repeat, we have a bleach spill!” She looks at me, “Ma’am, are you okay? Is anyone hurt?” “No?” Should we be? She rushes to procure me a new cart, several red shirts racing around to undo this apparent danger I have posed with my negligence. My eyes start to sting, my nose burns, and I re-think my planned purchase of this toxin. As we move my children and stuff to a new cart, my daughter says her blue sweater is wet . . . and red. Indeed, it has been ruined by bleach.
One of the Target men is shaking some powder over the liquid, and I make a corny joke in between apologies, “I just didn’t want you to be bored!” He laughs politely, exemplifying the Target brand superior customer service. Meanwhile, other shoppers veer around and look at me with annoyed accusations in their stares – condemning me and my unruly children. I kind of want to disappear, and I kind of want to stand my ground and stare back with the message: “Hey! This is hard! We all make mistakes!”
As the female agent officiously keeps giving orders to get this threat resolved, I seize my opportunity: “could you tell me where to find the red curry paste?” She smiles at me with the patience of a very seasoned Target employee, punches it into her machine, walks me to an aisle, and sadly informs me this location does not carry it. I’m relieved because it means I can leave and stop looking for it.
We take our replacement cart, and head for the checkout line where the 3-year-old runs away while I pay, I send the 6-year-old after him, and she practically runs into an older man who definitely gives me a dirty look.
We get out of the store, one reusable bag strap wet with bleach cleaner, and I hobble with full shopping bags, my purse, and holding as many hands as I can through the parking lot. As the girls get in their seats and I strap in my rowdy preschooler, I feel calm. They are safely encased in this minivan and now all we have to do is get home. And never go back.