I’ve spent a good portion of my parenting career trying to answer this important question: why do all children cry in Target? Is it the must have aroma of containers and bulk snacks? Is there some sort of subliminal hypnosis happening between the children and the red Target target logo that sends a beacon like message to the small people telling them to lose it in aisle 4? Or, and I will admit this is the answer I’ve settled upon, is it that all children are tiny little dictators who actually cry everywhere they go but we only notice it at Target? Yes, that’s probably it.
I don’t even go to Target that often, but it seems when I do there is some sort of kid situation happening in full swing. Somebody’s three-year-old is lying in the area rug aisle melting down because mom said there would be no area rug purchase that day. The toddler doesn’t need a plush, purple rug with black zebra stripes, but she’s going to cry about it anyway.
Siblings get into all out fistfights while mom pretends like she doesn’t know them having had to come to Target during her “free” time only to find both kids came down with fevers, so join her they did. And then there is the inevitable meltdown when mom dares to purchase something at Target that is not for her children, which is how I found myself thinking the other day, “Why do all children cry in Target? Including mine.”
See, Margaux had a few birthday parties coming up. I needed to go to Target to pick up the presents and decided to take her with me. One of my pet peeves about being a mom is feeling like I’m cheating on my children if I have anything to do that isn’t solely focused on their supreme joy (my own work, sleep, and say nourishment included.) So I sometimes make the choice to bring my children along with me on an errand or two (which are usually for them anyhow.)
I only have one rule for errands and that is I’m not buying my kids the entire store just to get them through the store in a timely fashion. I tell them ahead of time what the purpose of the errand is, for whom we are there buy (not them!), and explain my expectations. It never works, but it makes me feel like I’m one of those professional parents whose got it all dialed in.
I don’t mind offering the inevitable snack as pay off for them enduring the errand, but I’m not buying toys or the other things they set their sights on that they don’t actually need. Like a comic book for the one who can’t yet read, the yo-yo for the clumsy one, or the purple area rug with black zebra stripes.
So I had some time to kill with Margaux and I explained we were going to buy her friend a birthday present, but she wouldn’t be getting a toy for herself. Immediately, she dug in. “I don’t want to go to the party,” she said. “Then I can just keep the present for myself.”
“Well, couldn’t I get something small for me,” she continued, “Like an American Girl Doll or Barbie house?”
We walked into the store, passing the college dorm aisle on the way back to the toy section. “Well, why can’t I get a laundry hamper?” she asked as if this was a must-have on the kindergarten circuit. “What about a panini press? Dog food? Toilet paper? How about that lawn mower? Trash can liners? Anything? Something? Pleaaaaaase?”
The answer was still no.
She silently glared at me all the way back to the toy aisle, while pretending like she didn’t know me for the duration of the walk past the paper goods and storage container sections. There was a momentary reprieve when we got to the toy aisle and she forgot she was mad at me, her loathing replaced by excitement over the toys.
After settling on a game for her friend, I noticed she had put two of said game in the cart. I took one out, reminding her that she already had that game and that we weren’t buying anything for her. That’s when shit started to get real.
“Well then I don’t want to be a part of this family anymore!” she shouted.
I remained calm, even kind.
“This is just the worst day ever,” she continued.
Believe me. I was a mom getting beaten down by a 6 –year-old terrorist in the middle of the board game aisle. I couldn’t have agreed more.
“I’m never going to live with you again,” she shouted before starting to cry.
There is no human being that understands the desire to purchase for no reason more than me. I’ve mourned shoes I couldn’t buy as if they were a relative who had passed on to the afterlife. I spend at least one hour a week pre-spending the lottery winnings I don’t have. I understood exactly what my daughter was going through. She’s genetically inclined to spend based on her relation to me. So I said, “I feel ya girl, but we’re not getting you anything new today.”
That’s when she began what can be best described as the Social Services meltdown. This is the mother of all meltdowns, which only occurs in public, that every mom is sure will lead to someone calling Social Services on her. But still, I was determined not to give in. Plus, I was already invested in this tantrum. We had come this far. We were in it together. I was determined to see it through.
“Hey Marg,” I said. “It’s time to go.”
She snarled at me and said, “Don’t walk with me.” She followed about ten feet behind me, like a very angry Secret Service agent, for the length of the store. When we got up to the front of the store, she was still crying. Louder, for dramatic effect.
The woman checking out in the front of the line gave me a look. I knew the look because I’ve given the look and I’ve received the look. It’s the look that says, “Aren’t you going to do something about your crying child?”
I gave her a look back. It’s the look I’ve given before and I’ve received before. It’s the look that says, “I am doing something about my crying child. And what I’m doing, is nothing. Because there’s nothing you can actually do about a crying child in Target.”
Instead, I picked up a People Magazine and started to read.
As we got closer to the front of the line, the very sweet cashier looked at me and said, “Why is she crying? Does she want candy?”
“No,” I said. “She wants the entire store.”
He smiled and joked, “You must be a very bad mom.”
“Every mom’s a bad mom at Target,” I said.
Hearing this Margaux stopped crying, turned to me, and said, “You’re not a bad mom. You’re a good mom. I don’t like that he said you are a bad mom.”
I patted her on the head and said, “He was joking, kiddo.”
“Well I’m mad at him,” she said before turning her 6-year-old fury his way.
Finally, my kid had someone to dislike more than me. We were united, us against the cashier. Sure my kid had spent the past hour telling me I was a bad mom, but that doesn’t mean she wanted someone else to agree. So I seized the moment, looked her straight in the eye, and said, “Thanks for standing up for me.”
Marg grabbed my hand and said, “You’re the best mommy ever.”
I winked the checker’s way as we exited and whispered, “Better you than me.”
He smiled back, “Happy to help, bad Mom.”
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Margaux and I left the store hand in hand as a symphony of other children melted down behind us while their bad moms ignored their tantrums away. Clearly children cry in Target because there’s safety in numbers. No matter how badly you’re crying in Aisle 3, somebody else is crying worse in Aisle 4. Target is a safe haven for all the underprivileged children of the world who need nothing and want everything and their awful bad moms trying to raise them.
I left knowing we’d be back soon. One of us would be crying, but at least we’d be together.
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