I was at Target the other day, and for some reason my ears honed in on all the kids that were there. I heard so many statements, questions, and stories straight from the mouths of babes that I wondered if I were in some kind of Twilight Zone. It’s unusual for me to pay attention, for sure: after all, my own “kids” are 21 and 24 and the days of taking care of every single need they have are long gone. These days I’m terribly good at ignoring children (not to be mean, mind you: I just tune them out because I focus on other things). On the occasions when my focus on anything BUT the children around me is interrupted by a tantrum (or in the case of a baby too young to know about attempted manipulation but cries uncontrollably because of basic needs), I exercise patience and understanding while I try to catch the parent’s eye to give her or him a non-verbal “Good job! Keep it up!”
This day was different with the children. It was similar to the way you notice alllll of the pregnant women once you become pregnant yourself, or the way that after you finally buy the car you’ve been eyeing for a while, it seems like that same exact model is suddenly all around you in traffic. Some of the sweetest moments infiltrated my typical focus on the shopping list and all the other ideas swimming around in my head and presented themselves to me:
1. In the paper goods aisle, a little girl who couldn’t have been more than two was dressed in a ruffled shirt and the sassiest cropped jeans, one pant leg higher than the other. She was blocking my passage because she was trying to unstick the edge of the shorter pant leg from above her knee and move it back down into place, and she was getting extremely frustrated, tears springing to her eyes. Her mother apologized profusely and went to grab her so I could get by, but I stopped her. “She’s having a pants problem. It’s okay; I can wait. She’ll get it!” And she did, smiling from ear to ear when she was done.
2. In the baking aisle, a little boy was sitting in the cart with his mom’s notepad, crossing off items as she took them from the shelves. “You’re such a good helper!” she told him. He nodded in agreement and asked her when she was going to grab the cookies.
3. In the water aisle, another little boy was telling his dad about a playdate while he yanked on a pack of plastic bottles to get them off the shelf and into the cart. He was unsuccessful with the second part.
4. At the checkout, a mom said to her little girl (who was around five), “Popcorn or cake pop?” It was a tough decision, deciding between those two rewards for good behavior, and the girl’s face showed it. She crinkled her nose and looked towards the in-store Starbucks (home of the cake pops) and then glanced over at the Target snack counter (popcorn). “Both?” she asked slowly, as if the clarity of her caution would magically make her mom give her the okay. It didn’t, but she handled it like a champ when her mom insisted that she pick just one. The winners? Cake pops and the little girl, who skipped as fast as her little legs could carry her towards the Starbucks.
There were more moments I observed, including the usual tantrum or two. As I was loading my groceries into the trunk of my car, I wondered why the children of Target were in front of everything in my head. It occurred to me that, with the stress I’m currently under personally as well as the collective stress much of our nation is under since the election, the innocence of childhood seems like a pretty sweet deal. Of course you couldn’t offer me a sum of money high enough to make me want to go back and live life all over again from childhood if that were an option, but kids sure do have it pretty great (and they don’t even know it). The ability to have all of their needs taken care of by their parents, the ability to be carefree and have all the time in the world just to be children…it’s enough to make an adult in the 21st century wish that she could go back even for a little visit.
Maybe that’s what it is, and maybe it’s deeper than that. Perhaps all of the hate that’s been rearing its ugly head in the world has been weighing heavily on my mind (spoiler alert: IT HAS), and I’m concerned about the children and the mess that is being created for them to clean up. It shouldn’t be like this. We weren’t “there” yet: there was so much work yet to do to eradicate racism and discrimination, but we were making progress. Now the country is taking a few huge leaps backward and the to-do list is growing, too large for us to fix before the children are on their own. It makes me sad.
For now, I’ll just try and do what I can from my little corner of the world while others do what they can in their little corners. Hopefully all of us making little waves will contribute towards a tsunami that will wipe out hate and wash in all the love. The children deserve that.
Here’s a gratuitous picture of my own boys when they were innocent little ones, having a tickle fight with their dad. (Who’s winning? Depends on what your idea of winning is.) Oh also, both kids are laughing, not crying.