April 04, 2007

Shopper's Non-Remorse

I was happy not to be a parent three times this weekend.

Once, only passively, as I was walking by the germ pit play area at the mall, knowing I wouldn’t have to bandage or Purell any of those children, much less feed them, much much less raise them to the age of voting adult. These thoughts took a combined four seconds, registering merely as “happiness.”

The second occasion I was walking by Things Remembered, purveyor of finer engraveable wedding kitsch (and former employer—hi, teen years!). In the breath it takes to walk past the doorway, I saw a child drop something, breaking it, his mother’s reaction, his mother’s retribution, the child’s reaction, and the shopkeeper’s resulting embarrassment. I entered Forever 21 giddy with liberation, wishing I could get course credit for picking up on the metaphor of how fast your life can change.

That afternoon, I decided that as long as I was spending money, it would be wise to spend some on groceries. I had been in Target about ten minutes when, somewhere in the vicinity of the frozen aisle, someone started screaming. To the point of defying all adjectives everywhere.

Blue murder? No. Bloody murder? No. Bio-hazardous genocide? Closer, but still no. It was… you know that scene in Terminator 2 where Linda Hamilton dreams about judgment day, and there’s this shock wave of flame that engulfs everyone in the playground as they turn to ashes and—

Listen. I know I dabble in hyperbole. But I am not doing it right now, because I don’t need to. I have never in my life heard anything like this before. I didn’t write it off as ‘some kid crying,’ because it was not a sound made by a child. It was terror, and pain—something that tears out of a person undergoing surgery without anesthetic, or a veteran who just snapped out of shock. I walked toward the source, hoping it would stop, that some soon-to-be-fired associate in the AV department was testing the subwoofers by screening The Hills Have Eyes. No. That sound came out of a four-foot, blond-headed human, all its limbs still inexplicably attached, at a volume reserved for sirens warning people that the Germans are coming.

I remember my Grama once saying grandpa was snoring so loudly, he snored “to beat the band.” This child was screaming to kill the band, the conductor, the conductor’s mother, both teams waiting to take the field and everyone packed into the stadium. Her voice trickled into corners and filled the cracks. Customers peered around corners, looking for the child whose mother was repeatedly slamming her head in a freezer case (or, in some cases, wondering why in hell she hadn’t). Employees were stationed in nearby aisles, just in case—for whatever reason—an ambulance needed to be called.

Eventually—and by that I mean forty-five minutes later—the adult responsible for the banshee-let has had enough. She closes the distance between them, goes face-to-face with the child, and in a measured tone, declares “YOU. ARE. DONE. SCREAMING.”

The child looked like she might disagree, but was transfixed by the magical stare of parental authority. The parent knew it, too, knew the second she returned to her shopping, the kid would start wailing again.

Now, if I were this child’s mother (and death were not an option), this is where I’d insert that gentle threat, the ‘and / or’ statement that buys you time until you get home, i.e. “Behave and you’ll get ice cream” or “Behave or I’ll turn you into a tote bag.”* This woman didn’t. This woman, whom I don’t know and can therefore make no general character statements about other than I would not be her for all the condoms in Japan, did not pick up this option. The child continued to wail, but less heartily; most likely because her larynx was now shredded to ribbons than as a result of discipline. Naturally, everyone in the store rushed the check-out.

I bet that kid slept all the way home.

*This is my own personal choice, although I don’t really mean it. I hate tote bags.


crdrue said...

I adopted a 4 month old last week, but after reading this I'm going to return him.

Ian said...

People look at me oddly when/if I say that I don't want kids, ever. True story. I reserve the right to change my mind, but I doubt it.