Every parent goes through this in one form or another, at one time or another. Yet just because something is a rite of passage doesn’t make it less excruciating when it’s your own child, your proverbial turn at bat.
The silver lining, if one was to look for it, was the fact that we were in the grocery store. At one time I believed grocery stores hired children to randomly cry and throw temper tantrums in the aisles, as at any given time there is always at least one child in the midst of a grand mal meltdown. Being an employee in that environment must surely mean that one is a little inured to the sound of small, shrieking voices and the little people from whence they come in general, and perhaps a little more understanding as to what comes forth from their gloriously unpredictable mouths.
My daughter, although not sobbing or flinging herself onto the ground like some of her peers in an over-tired last ditch effort to get her parent to say yes to something at the cash register, was hopping about in bored, typical fashion.
I began to load our items onto the conveyor belt.
“Mom,” said Mia, clamoring up and down the wheel base of the cart like she was in a step aerobics class, “Can we have this flashlight?”
“No, sweetheart,” I answered, “We have enough flashlights at home.”
“Please, Mom? We don’t have one like THIS! All my friends would LOVE this one. Pleeeeease?”
“I know, Mia, but the ones we do have are just fine. The answer is no.”
I continued unpacking my cart. Mia was considerably quiet all of a sudden, so, enjoying the chit chat holiday for a moment, I worked more efficiently in the blissful respite. Popping the last of the tissue boxes on the belt, I glanced over at my daughter.
Her eyes were wide and transfixed; her mouth slightly agape. She blinked slowly, and I could see the wheels were turning furiously in her head. I followed her gaze and what I saw sent shivers down my spine in dreaded anticipation.
The poor female cashier had a balding head. Hers was not the slightly thinning variety either; the receding tide had ebbed and there had apparently not been a reciprocal flow for quite some time.
I literally held my breath.
“Mom,” Mia began, her eyes still glued to our cashier.
“Not now, honey,” I shot back nonchalantly, my heart pounding a little. “I just have to concentrate right now.”
The woman and I made eye contact and smiled at each other. “Hi, how are you?” she asked sweetly.
“Fine thanks, how about you?” I replied.
“I’m good,” she said.
“Mooohhhhm?” it came again, a little more insistent.
“Mia, not now!” I desperately tried again. I moved to the credit card machine as the woman slowly rang up my purchases, hoping to distract my youngster, as she loves to swipe my card for me and thought maybe she’d want to do so now. “Why don’t you help me with the credit card?”
But the train had left the station.
“Is that a lady or a man?” she inquired.
I winced, and did the only thing that came to mind. I completely ignored her, and hoped to God that there was enough background noise to cover up her remark. Not my contribution to nomination for mother of the year, I know, but I was too deep in mortification mode to react any other way.
This was the second incident of its kind at this very store. The previous run-in had involved a liberally tattooed cashier whose earlobes were stretched quite significantly from the huge plastic discs lodged within them, and who also had a large bolt protruding from each side of his bottom lip. Mia’s assessment of this gentleman was, “Mommy! He looks like a monster!” After I hissed at her and gave her the SHUSH face, she responded with a contrite smile and sweetly said, “Well he looks like a nice monster.”
There are naturally several options for dealing with this kind of occasion in future. I could try and check out the checker more carefully to head this off at the pass by simply choosing another checkout line, or keep at least a pound of salt water taffy in my purse at all times so that I can shove several pieces of them into her mouth at once when I hear the first “Mom.” Or, I could use this opportunity to teach her that even if someone has a horn growing out of their left cheek, an arm where one of their ears should be, or three eyeballs, she needs to hold her tongue.
As soon as we exited the building, I pulled the cart over to the side to give my daughter a little lesson in the art of being tactful. I knelt down so that our faces were level.
“Mia,” I said, “It’s not nice to say things like ‘is that a lady or a man’ because it can hurt the lady’s feelings.” In fairness to Mia since she is very young, and the woman did have a very sparsely sowed scalp, I could understand a small child’s confusion so I gave her an out. “In future, even if you notice something like that and you want to tell me or ask me about it, please wait until we get outside. Okay?”
“Okay Mom,” she agreed. “I promise.”
This particular cringe-fest had officially come to a close, and to her credit, my daughter has made good on her promise so far. In a recent outing to a frozen yogurt store Mia asked if she could tell me a secret. I immediately took her up on her offer, expecting the sweet, hotly breathed “I love you” into my ear as usual.
Cupping her hand around my lobe, and punctuated with giggles and chortles as she spoke, she uttered, "That man has holes in his shirt for his boobies to stick through,” and then giving in and cackling in a stage whisper, “What a weirdo!"
On another occasion she did have the grace to wait for the sanctity of our living room before asking me what a douche-bag was.
However, as a parent of a little one, it’s never truly over.
One merely lives from one event to the next, hoping that your child will not publicly repeat in perfect context all the filthy swear words they hear at home, or ask completely inappropriate questions about private body parts in front of your boss, or remark about others’ misfortunes or shortcomings in front of them.
Therefore one can only take a deep breath and wait for it in terrible suspense, and be sure to write it all down for future entertainment when it does inevitably unfold.
I’m personally still considering the taffy alternative.
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