In the shoe aisle of the Target, my two-year-old son Henry is laid out on the floor making filth angels, which are basically like making cold clean snow angels in the freshly fallen snow; except instead of lying in fresh powder, he lies down on the grubby floor of the mall or the supermarket or wherever and flaps around down in the thin gruel of weirdo sneeze and potato chip crumbs and lord knows what else.
My wife Monica tries to persuade him to try on these Chuck Taylor knock-offs that we are hoping will fit him, not so much because they look kind of cool (which they do), but more because they have huge flexible mouths like a fat sow largemouth bass and they are Velcro, which…I don’t care what anybody says….is waaaaaaaay better than shoelaces for trying to put a shoe on a toddler with the soul/sole of a wild raccoon.
Henry screeches and shimmies. He doesn’t like change, my boy. At two, he has the same spirit of an old VFW guy sitting at the bar with his 8oz glass of Budweiser and a cellphone that his daughter makes him carry, which he has no idea how to work. Henry could care less about anything new or different.
Except toys. He’ll take new toys.
Henry, I mean. Not the VFW guy.
Anyway, I wander over to the next aisle to tell my four year-old daughter Violet to come away from the mirror she has found and come stand back by the rest of us as we try and take care of what ought to be a simple task, but is quickly becoming one of the fairly typical anarchist picnics which happens on a lot of our family outings lately.
“Violet, come back over here with Mommy and me please,” I tell her as she sticks her tongue out towards the ground level mirror where people look at their feet and try and decide if these new Shawn White kicks make them look fat-ankled.
“Don’t lick the mirror, Violet! That’s super gross!” She ignores me and my quest to get her attention. She doesn’t acknowledge me at all.
I stand there like an idiot, certain that other people in the shoe zone are now judging me, judging my family. I can just picture them slowly thumbing the clean hard rubber of a brand new loafer as they eavesdrop closely in on the father who has no control over his daughter, the Mirror Taster.
I imagine them rolling their eyes and congratulating themselves on the very fact that it has been years since their own kids (in college now) laid down on the floor and refused to get up. YEARS! And as for that little boy of ours making Filth Angels and half-laughing/half-crying himself into an emotional tornado, well, I can practically hear the tsk-tsks of complete strangers.
Or can I?
“Violet! NOW!” I holler through my teeth so that it sounds more like: “VRRR! NRRR!”
She turns and looks at me, probably to make sure I’m not actually having the stroke it sounds as if I’m having, and then smiles at me. It disarms me and I get even more confused and that makes me even more desperate to come up with a serious solution to this mounting dilemma of having my daughter in one aisle and my wife and son over in the next one.
I turn on my hot heels and march back over to Henry and Monica. As I turn the corner from Violet’s row, I picture a team of child kidnappers descending on her as her lame-o father leaves her alone to the easy pickins of the box store demons. And in my twisted vision, of course, the whole thing is caught on CCTV and the world quickly comes to unanimous agreement on who the worst dad of all time is. Moi.
Henry is on his belly now trucking like a young frog across the tiles of Converse Row. Monica seems cool, unfazed by his antics, nonplussed by his refusal to try on the damn sneakers.
But what bothers me most is that she seems organically programmed not to give a rat’s ass what anyone else in this entire store might possibly think or conclude from the fact that there are two kids acting like kids back in shoes.
Wtf?! That isn’t fair, I tell myself! I don’t want to worry about what other people might be thinking either! But I am!
Why am I the one thinking of society as a whole, of my fellow Saturday morning shoppers, when my son is mopping up the floor with his winter jacket and crying the cry of a POW because he’s deliriously happy and over-stimulated by the world at large and my daughter is staring into a knee-height mirror and touching it with her tongue?
I look around me, around us.
No one is looking at me.
No one is looking at my kids.
There is a guy at the end of the aisle who has serious serious spatial difficulties (He stands in front of the size 5 sneaks for days at a time, even when you are peering over his shoulder trying to get at them.), but to be fair, I think we are invisible to him. He’s got a toddler with him too, I notice. He is probably crying on the inside, same as me.
Other than that, there is no one around. At one point, as I am trying to sweet-talk Henry into standing up and trying the shoe on with a promise of Hershey’s Kisses, an older woman with a matronly look appears around the corner of our aisle of chaos and smiles gently as she looks at Henry and then into my eyes. I feel a warm feeling from her look. But only after I convince myself that it wasn’t a death stare.
Fatherhood is hard.
Parenthood is hard.
Kidhood is hard.
We all do our best, most of the time, but most kids are pre-programmed to test the limits and the boundaries that have been set up for them. It’s a natural thing (not something to let run rampant, mind you), but not the scenario in which any good and decent parent should find themselves gnawing on their own arm to try and save a bit of face, if you know what I mean. For me, it’s way easier said than done, but truth is that there is a Zen to be had at the worst of times. And now that I’m a dad, I’d best be working on finding it in my many moments of doubt, huh?
We get the shoes in the end.
Henry looks awesome in them. I don’t remember if he tried them on though. I don’t really recall much, to be honest. I only remember panicking and being a dumb hot mess thinking to myself, “This isn’t how I pictured any of this going.”
No duh, dumbass. Welcome to the world.
A big hot mess: the only one in the whole damn joint.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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