It was near Mother’s Day and I was so excited. I was finally allowed to walk up to Meadowbrook (the local drug store) with my older sister and her best friend. They always complained I was too young and couldn’t make the mile and a half journey on my stick legs. Now I was a big fourth grader. But they were right, the walk was tough. Many times I wanted to sit down but I couldn’t let my sister know I was a baby. I walked through the shin splints. I walked on the grass instead of the hard concrete. I drank plenty of Pepsi.
We finally got to Meadowbrook and all three of us piled into the card section. I wanted to make sure I got my mother a really fantastic Mother’s day card because the one’s I made her in the past were less than fridge worthy. She deserved a spectacular store bought card and I finally saved enough money and made Grandma buy enough of my junk to get her one.
I didn’t find any worthy of my mother. I got a package of Reese peanut butter cups instead. I put my change away and walked over towards my sister. She told me getting chocolate was the dumbest thing to do because it would have melted by the time I got it home. I walked away from her.
Her friend, Susan, said to me, “Put this in your bag.” It was a card for her mother. I couldn’t understand why she needed my bag. Didn’t the clerk give her a bag for her card? I shrugged and did what I was told.
We got about half way down the second block away from Meadowbrook when I remembered I had her card in my bag. I didn’t want it to get chocolate on it from my Reese cups. I handed it to her and she screamed, “I told you to put it back, not in your bag!” She turned me around and made me walk back into the store and tell the sales clerk what I’d done. All I kept thinking about was how stealing was a sin and I just created a black circle of sin on my grey soul.
Ten Years Later
I am a clerk in a bookstore. The store is longer than it is wide and mothers with strollers always complain about the inability to navigate throughout the store. I tell them I’ll let management know and that seems to settle them down.
On this particular day, we open a few minutes ahead of time. The mall walkers are finishing their last laps and a mother with her cumbersome stroller comes in the bookstore. She is frazzled but I can tell she is trying to keep herself together.
She buys a romance book and waits for me to ring her up. It is a new week which means I have to change the bestseller list on the wall. I hurry to her and smile. She stretches her lips across her teeth. Her child is quiet. The cash wrap is a bit higher than the rest of the store. There is a solid wall that hangs down. I don’t see her stroller or the child.
I hand her the bag and she shoves it in the back of the stroller. Her child is still strangely quiet. They leave.
Twenty minutes later, she comes running in with her upset child. She throws the chunky book version of, “Goodnight, Moon” at me and says, “You should really watch the kids in your store better.”
I give her the same look the sales clerk gave me all those years ago when I had to return the card. It’s an honest mistake. She returns the book. No harm; no foul.
What occurs to me now is the change. When I was growing up, if you did something wrong, you were forced, even to the point of complete humiliation, to admit your mistake and own it. Now, when someone makes a mistake, they don’t point the finger at themselves, it’s the lazy sales clerk, the distracted babysitter, or the stupid teacher. No longer are we a society who makes their children accountable to their mistakes. It’s always someone else’s fault, never our kids. And it’s never because we as parents didn’t watch our kids, it’s because someone else neglected them.