Parenting is hard enough in the privacy of your own home. Going out in public with the kids is like putting your parenting skills on a leash and trotting them around the Westminster Kennel Show stage, with all of the judges marking each misstep on their clipboards. On yesterday's trip to Costco, not only did I trip and drop the leash, but that puppy pooped all over the stage. My parenting skills took a serious dive in the scoring, I believe.
It started innocently enough. Brad and Noah had some allowance money burning a hole in their pocket, and I needed some milk and (in all honesty) a churro, so I loaded the four kids in the minivan and headed to Costco. The two older boys headed for the candy aisle, while I pushed Zack and Darcey in the cart, loading up with groceries. They were both sitting in the front seat, and Zack would randomly announce which thing he had to have as we walked past.
We were heading to the dairy section when we walked past a large display. "I want one of those!" Zack said.
"A kayak? Where do you plan to use a kayak, the bathtub? We're not exactly a kayaking family." I said this as I rounded the corner and passed a sample lady, setting out her display. She must have kids herself, because she caught my eye and we both smiled at each other. Kids, right?
As our cart passed her down the dairy aisle, Zack, whose back had been to her, sees the sample lady and in his loudest outside voice said "Hey! Look at that big guy! That guy is really big!" He's pointing straight at the sample lady. I go into shush-overdrive as I try to get him to shut the heck up, but naturally, it just makes him talk all that much louder to be heard over my shushing. "Look at that big guy, mom! That's a really big guy!"
May I take this moment to remind you that she was, in fact, a woman.
Alarm sirens in my head are wailing as I try to get this situation under control. I want to run out of there as fast as possible, and I want to mitigate the damage as much as I can. I am in mental torment. I end up quickly walking down the aisle just to try to get Zack out of the woman's earshot, or at least give him the chance to be distracted by something else. And then I pull over and give Zack The Lecture.
This is the same lecture I had to give Noah a couple of years ago, strangely enough, also at Costco. He had been staring at a 5 year old boy with an eyepatch (not the piratey kind, the medical problem kind). I tried to distract him but Noah wouldn't stop staring. Finally, the kid started crying and told his mom, "That boy is staring at me!" Which was completely true, of course. I apologized and left before I could start crying myself.
This is also the same lecture that I had to give Brad 4 years ago, shortly after we moved to this neighborhood. I was big and pregnant with Zack at the time and while we were outside chatting with a neighbor who happened to carry her extra weight around the middle. I was hoping a hole in the earth would open up and swallow us all when he asked her "Do you have a baby in your tummy too?"
The lecture goes something like this: Don't say someone is really big. It hurts their feelings. Okay? Don't say someone is big, it's not nice to say it. Okay?
Naturally, this lecture is completely adaptable to any embarrassing situation that a kid might put you in - Don't stare at the kid with one eye, Don't ask our 45 year old neighbor if she's pregnant, etc. And the kids' responses are all pretty uniform too: But she is really big! He only has one eye!!! But how do you teach tact to a 3 or 4 year old? It starts here, with the lesson that not all truths need to be announced at the top of your lungs in a warehouse store.
I gave Zack The Lecture while we were in the same aisle as the woman, so that hopefully she saw that I was taking his comment seriously and trying to teach him some manners. And then I had to get some milk from the case where we were standing. But I only grabbed one instead of two to speed things up, and then I slunk out of there just as fast as I could slink.
I felt horrible. I was so embarrassed. Mortified. The last thing in the whole world I wanted to do was make eye contact with that woman again. So I stuck to the backs of the aisles as I walked through the store and found the older boys in the candy aisle. They both had decided on gigantic bags of candy which on any other day I might have tried to bargain them out of, but not today. No, today's goal was get the heck out of there as fast as possible.
I left without confronting my shame, which I think is probably the natural response. I harbor a microscopic hope that somehow she didn't hear his comment, or thought he was talking about some big "guy" which couldn't possibly have been her. Or maybe she is good-hearted enough to keep the kids-say-the-darndest-things attitude that she showed about the kayak and apply it to something personal.
Whatever the case, let me just throw out a blanket apology - I'm sorry, world, for all of the things that I haven't thought to forbid my children from saying. Let me apologize for the future wrongs against society, too - for when my kids are teenagers and don't leave a tip for the waitress at Denny's, or think it's okay to talk to their friends in a movie theater, or make fun of the fat kid in the pee-wee football game, until the kid finishes the game and ends up sitting with his parents one row in front of them, who must have heard every word. (True story, but not mine thank goodness.) For picking flowers for their mom from someone's flower garden. Kids are kids, they don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings - they are just now figuring out that other people have feelings. And if we don't train them to be out in public, can you imagine the havoc they'd wreak when they are adults and haven't learned these things? For now, though, maybe I'll keep a shorter leash on Zack. And carry a pooper-scooper to Costco.