By Krystle Ricks, parenting and family-life podcaster
I’m beginning to think I could write an autobiographical anthology of horror stories entitled, “One Mom, her slew of kids, and Walmart.” My newest chapter would sound a little like this:
Currently, our house is out of all the staples, so I thought, why not load up the three kiddos and zip over to the store for some bread and milk? I should’ve just turned the car around when we pulled into the parking lot and my 3-year-old was already whining. Foreshadowing?
The sky was just on the cusp of snowfall, and I stood outside the open van door hefting a one-year-old, cradling the five-year-old against the cold, and facing off with the three-year-old who refused to unbuckle. Somewhere between our living room and Walmart, she discovered a metal, sharp, pointy marshmallow- roasting stick and naturally thought, “Ooooh, a toy!” As I stared at her, just out of reach in the back of the van, she begged for permission to take this “toy” inside the store.
Then the water-works started, as she explained that she couldn’t walk without it. What?! I reasoned, I begged, pleaded, and demanded. But she couldn’t hear me over the wailing pain her suddenly “un-working legs” were causing. By this point, my coat was already saturated with dripping baby snot, and those of us on the outside of the toasty van were shaking like an old washing machine. My toes were about to snap off (wearing flats in winter time… genius.) So, I succumbed to the most debase of all bad-parenting moves: bribery.
“Well then, I guess you don’t want a sucker. I was going to buy a sucker for you all…”
Miraculously, her legs healed, and instead of taking a dangerously sharp metal stick inside, we settled for a purple plastic Halloween pumpkin (ten months out-of-season). As we stepped into the store, my feet warmed up but my temper was red-hot. I loaded the kids into the cart, and the three-year-old started crying because she wanted to walk. I set her on the ground and she didn’t want to walk. I set her back in the cart and pressed forward to the bread aisle.
For a moment… all was well. The purple pumpkin was held out to passersby and my daughter jokingly shouted, “trick or treat!” It was adorable, and I sighed. Ahhh… Out of the storm. But that cursed bread aisle held a tantalizing display of powdered donuts, and the storm erupted into a category-five, donut-shrieking, whirlwind.
(Note to self… did I really just attempt to brave Walmart at lunchtime… WITHOUT snacks?)
Naturally, the aisle was full of innocent shoppers, so I stood tall, and gracefully ignored the raging hurricane in my basket. We happened to pass by the same woman in nearly every row, and each time our eyes met a mental conversation passed between us. Sympathetically, she eye-told me, “You poor thing.”
And I would eye-tell her, “I know, right? Kids!”
And she’d say, “Good luck. See ya next aisle.”
And my eyes would say, “Wait! Don’t leave me here! I’m too young to die!”
But somehow, I survived. In record Walmart-shopping time, I retrieved all my items and zipped to the checkout line, relieved to have the misery soon behind us. As we waited, I felt something tug on my coat. With puppy-dog eyes, my five-year-old innocently asked,”do we still get suckers?”
I pointed to a string of the candies hanging above the checkout stand. “Hurry and pick one!”
She asked me to read all the flavors. After naming off each wrapper, she pointed to another stand of suckers and asked, “Can we try that one?” Since she had behaved so well, I caved. We moved to the next checkout stand, and I read off all the suckers. Her eyes lit up as she asked, “can we go find the big box of suckers instead?”
“Just pick one of these suckers.”
“But I don’t like any of those suckers,” she said, forlornly.
We traveled past eighteen checkout stands to the big display box of gourmet suckers. After perusing them all, the children selected their flavors (all of which hung on that very first display) and we finally stepped into line. The kids joyfully placed their treats on the rotating band, and watched as their suckers moved closer to the cashier. And I joyfully listened to the final beep of our groceries, the sweet sound of my stress-levels about to drop when we got out of this place. I pulled out my wallet, a big, dopey smile on my face, reached down to extract my debit card… and it was gone.
Only then did I remember, it was resting on my kitchen counter.
The kids watched in confusion, as the cashier removed our groceries. I tried to explain in kid-speak that I forgot my debit card which meant we’d have to wait to get our stuff, but all they heard was, “the suckers are no longer yours, Suckers!”
Their smiles melted, and the three-year-old and I turned into a reenactment of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, when the bad guys pull that kid away from his dying best friend. The scene was miserable. We all trudged back to the van, the girls mourning the loss of their candy, and me mourning the loss of my sanity! After loading up, the five-year-old reminded me to pause the movie because it was distracting other parties from buckling their seat-belt. Part of me just wanted to toss that remote out the window! But I paused their movie instead, feeling the urge to practice some breathing exercises.
Then, from the back of the car, I suddenly heard laughter. And not the conniving, maniacal kind that makes your skin crawl, but the happy, joyful kind, bubbling out of my five-year-old. Through a fit of giggles, she told everyone to look at the movie. Begrudgingly, I craned my neck to look at the tiny screen. She pointed out that the characters had all paused with funny faces. When they saw what she meant, the other kids joined in the giggle-fest. I couldn’t help it. I joined in. Glancing back at my kids, we all laughed together and I basked in the moment. My oldest daughter looked at me and said, “Good one, Mom!” And my heart melted.
That one simple moment erased an entire hour of frustration. And I realized I am more than willing to go through a thousand metaphorical trips to Walmart to feel those euphoric, wonderful, perfect moments. Those are the moments when you realize life isn’t a horror story but a beautiful, messy, fairy tale.
Krystle Ricks is a Ring Leader and expert juggler of four children. She and her husband host the parenting and family-life podcast, “The Clown Car”. You can find their show on facebook, iTunes, and at theclowncar.net