An Embarrassing Show

The crying child in the cart at Walmart – you’ve all been there. The heat rises from deep inside your collar and spreads like a sunrise across your face – the “sailor’s warning” kind (a red sunrise in morning?).

My middle son was in the cart. He was three. His father and I had thought we’d got off lucky because he made it through the Terrible Twos with little mishap. That’s when we realized the Terrible Threes was the real deal.

I don’t remember what he wanted. It could have been a toy, but it could have been a floor tile. He wanted it and he wanted it right that second. And that boy had healthy lungs. The sound of his unhappiness travelled up and down the aisles, from one end of the store to the other. I got eye rolls, head shakes, eyebrow raises, and worst of all head aversions. I was pushing a metal cart across a horrifying stage, and my audience was not appreciating the show. Thank goodness this was before someone started feeding Walmart-camera shots to YouTube…

It was not past his bedtime, and there was no sign of sickness. This boy was just testing his mama. And Mama’s face was on fire.

An elderly woman had the nerve to make eye contact and smiled cautiously. “Good for you for holding your ground,” she said. I gave her a look that was both grateful and full of fear.

Good? I was doing something good? It sounded like I had beat my child repeatedly with the very thing he craved so much. It looked like I had no control over such a small creature.

But that one lady saw and heard something no one else seemed to recognize – she saw courage in this mama. The easy response to this display of deprivation would have been to buy his floor tile and move on. Stifle the noise with a few dollars – it would be worth it, right? But, no. As my one brave supporter pointed out, I held my ground.

I’m not sure it was a full win for me that day because my shopping errand came to a screeching halt shortly after the lady’s encouraging words. Because really. Encouraging words don’t make the siren stop or the other customers from shooting their looks of contempt and judgement.

I very likely left the items I really needed in the cart and abandoned it in the pain medication aisle, pausing for a brief, longing gaze at the beautifully stacked row of relief. And that Walmart camera wouldn’t have captured a warm, loving motherly face gently embracing her little monster; or recorded audio of whispering words of educational explanation, forgiveness and mercy into his sweet ear. No, chances are, my face was fraught with anger and, yes, embarrassment, as I plucked him out of the front of the cart, pulling off a shoe in the process, which I then had to juggle along with the squirming, screaming child (because abandoning a good pair of shoes was not in the budget). Rather, my thoughts were hissed, with large puffs of steam helping enounce e-v-e-r-y w-o-r-d. Love, forgiveness and mercy were buried too deeply to find them between the lines of my heated jabbering. To the uninvolved audience member, my performance in the whole situation may have been perceived as an epic Mother Fail.

Yet, my boy did not grow up crying for everything he wanted. He is not the colleague who uses the “squeaky wheel” tactic at work, stepping on people as he selfishly insists on getting his own way. He is a very successful young man who can speak up for himself for justice or promotion, but thankfully, the act of kicking up a stink to get what he wants got left in that Walmart cart with the shampoo and cleaning products, no longer a part of his repertoire of self-fulfillment strategies.

Let’s be honest, there may have been more carts, car rides, church pews; a few other opportunities to drive this lesson home, but in the long run, that long-ago day in the department store was not a Mother Fail. It was irrevocably a Mother Win.

My embarrassing show on the Walmart Stage paid off, Moms.


“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

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