The other day I went shopping with all four of my children.
If you have any children, or have ever been around any children, or have ever seen any children from afar, you already know that this is probably not a happy ending story. You are not expecting me to follow that statement with, “We had such a lovely time.” If you had been around when I embarked on such a journey, you might have joined my husband in saying, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
Of course it wasn’t a good idea.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I go out with all of my kids alone all the time. We go to the park, friends’ houses, the movie theater, the children’s museum, even four hour long road trips for the weekend. But there is just something…special...about shopping with them. Somehow, walking through the doors of Target, or the grocery store, or any place you buy things, transforms them into unmanageable miscreants and me into…The Ogre Mom.
Maybe it’s that I have an objective other than “have fun.” Maybe it’s that I’m trying to pay more attention to the coupons and the shopping list than the kids. Maybe it’s just a conspiracy. But it’s usually something that we all come back from looking like we’ve crossed a desert, fought a small war, and endured a siege. We come back as survivors, not victors.
I know all of this, but that still didn’t stop me. I had a few errands to run, some things to buy that actually required a couple of the kids to be with me (shoes, pants) and with my husband working on the weekend anyway, I decided we were going.
Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Nobody wet their pants. Nobody laid on the floor and screamed like a banshee because they had to ride in a regular shopping cart instead of the race car cart. Nobody made loud, rude observations about fellow shoppers. Nobody choked on and then threw up cheese samples onto the floor. These have all happened on other trips, but not this time.
But it wasn’t lovely.
Here’s a condensed review of what did happen:
Kid 1 hates shopping and reminded me of that fact every two and a half minutes. Kid 2 constantly pestered me to ride in the back of the cart even though she weighs half a ton and kids 3 and 4 were already in it. Kid 4 didn’t want to ride in the cart and kept trying to climb out. Kid 3 kept poking kid 4 to elicit laughs but got high-pitched “stop it!”s instead. Kid 2 joined in until the two were laughing like hyenas and the one was screeching like some rare tropical bird. Kids 2, 3 and 4 all started making primate noises when I told them to stop acting like monkeys escaped from the zoo.
Then, Kid 2, who needed shoes, couldn’t decide what she liked. Kid 3, who didn’t need shoes, kept finding the “most prettiest, sparkliest, perfectest, beautifulest” pairs for herself and pouting when I told her no. Kid 4, on being let out of the cart, promptly took off her shoes to try on a pair that would fit a 6 month old, and decided to put her own pair of shoes behind the shelf where they fell down between the racks and were only found by me getting on my hands and knees and looking under all the shelves. Kid 1 protested and argued about trying on pants because he doesn’t think it matters if you have outgrown your jeans and they don’t come down past your ankles.
By that point, I agreed.
That was just the first stop. There were three more to go with pretty much the same results. In the end, we mostly got what we needed, I only heard two “You sure have your hands full” comments, and I made it back with the four kids I left home with and all in their original clothing.
Sadly, though, I was annoyed and frustrated with them almost the whole time.
For some reason, I want them to behave like miniature adults in those situations and when they don’t, I start to feel like I’m not doing a good job parenting. I feel like people observing us must think they are not trained to properly behave.
But wait, that last part is true.
They are still in training. I’m not done yet. When I am done, they’ll be adults, buying their own clothing, pushing their own carts instead of swinging precariously off the end of mine. So it’s way too early in the game to declare myself a parenting failure. Because most of the annoying or embarrassing things they do, aren’t even bad things. They are just kid things. They don’t have the same control over volume, movement or emotions as we adults. They certainly don’t have the reasoning ability we have. (“Hey, it seems like a good idea to throw the old shoes behind the shelf because I’m planning on going home in these tiny new ones that I can’t even fit half my foot into.”)
And the behaviors that are “bad”? Aren’t they really just an outward display of the contents of the heart? Selfishness. Anger. Impatience. Lack of consideration. The pouting (or screaming, or complaining) isn’t really the problem (though Lord knows I want it to stop!); but the selfishness is.
And that’s when I see that I have exactly the same issues as my kids. The only difference is in how I display them.
As adults (most of us anyway), we’ve learned which behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not.
Tantrums in the floor? Not ok.
Giving my husband the silent treatment because I’m angry with him? Well, he earned it.
Throwing toys and screaming at an annoying person? Wrong.
Speaking sharply to my kids because they are driving me absolutely crazy? If necessary.
So even though I’ve learned to adjust my behavior, I’ve not completely gotten rid of the “bad” stuff. I’ve just figured out that if I don’t display my selfishness using childish antics, it’s a lot easier to rationalize. Since I don’t stomp my feet and shout, “I want you to do it my way!”, I can convince myself and others that it’s ok to be rude to my husband (as long as it is done in an adult-like, dignified manner and for a good reason.)
But in the end, rudeness is rudeness. And maybe trying to cover it up and make it look like something else, something justifiable, is even worse than shouting it out at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear.
So I guess I’m still in training, too. I’m still relying on my Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit, to guide me to better things. And while I want my actions, and those of my kids, to be seen as kind, loving and respectful, I want it to be because we have kindness, love and respect in our hearts. Because we’re daily being conformed to the image of Christ. I don’t think the need for that is something I’ll ever outgrow.
And just as I need His grace for my own shortcomings, I want to pass that gift on to my children as well. To daily remind them that they are incredible people. People who may need a little more training before I want to take them out again for an all day shopping expedition. But incredible, cherished people nonetheless.
And hey, who wouldn’t put up with some obnoxious noises and boisterous running in exchange for the spontaneous hugs, unearned smiles, and unconditional forgiveness that kids so readily give. Because, thankfully, they haven’t learned to keep those expressions of emotion under control yet either.
So the next time I’m brave enough to darken the doors of Target with my miscreants, maybe, just maybe, I can avoid awakening the ogre within. Or at least keep her more in check.
And if you happen to see me out with a bunch of rowdy monkeys that vaguely resemble children, don’t tell me I’ve got my hands full. I know. Ogres are hard to manage. Just smile and say something nice like,