Shopping with Children: Don’t

There are many places not to take your children shopping. The first and foremost is clothes shopping. There is nothing in it for them. They hate to try on clothes, pick out clothes, fold clothes or put away clothes. All they like to do with clothes is throw them on the living room floor moments before your mother-in-law’s arrival. To take them clothes shopping with success is to do the impossible.

The Dressing Room Ritual
Although dressing rooms are armed with security cameras, they prove to be an excellent place to completely lose your mind for a moment while shopping with children. I find that cornering my children in a cubicle with a growl and bared teeth gives me a lurch of satisfaction not found anywhere else.

The dressing room ritual comes after maybe five minutes of trying to shop with anyone under the age of 5. Upon entry and pointedly bolting the door, I sit them down on the bench (having commandeered the handicap room – a stroller and a wheelchair being one and the same in many ways) and take one of three tactics (depending on how many threats I’ve already tried):

1) Completely Crazed Mother at Hand. This is my favorite because I get to blow off a lot of steam. In this scenario, the children wonder if they’ve gone so far as to make me disregard female-only security staff and let them “have it” with film rolling. I rant and rave, threaten and swear, point and grimace. I do all this while trying to squeeze a size 12 person into an 8. This weakens the gusto but it’s imperative that moms multi-task at all times.

The crazed tactic feels good in the moment but always brings a rush of regret later, in the van, when you wonder what the security staff had to say about it. You never really touched them per se, but they might prosecute you for what you did to their hangers.

2) Mom Willing to Negotiate. This is like a police standoff with a suicidal person. You are pretty much willing to do anything to get the train back on track. This includes pretending you still like them. But it must be done when things are on sale and you have an additional 30 percent off coupon.

This tactic usually involves offering to buy them a toy for their cooperation. You might try limiting it to “a trip to the dollar store” or go so far as “a new bike, with an engine!” It’s easy to get out of hand at this stage. You are, after all, in an emotional state. Be very clear in what they must do to get this toy. “No hitting” is not specific enough. Be sure you note all variations of hitting such as “slamming a hanger against your brother’s head.”

Note: This tactic rarely works because they will likely screw up their end of the deal before you even get out of the dressing room. Be willing to offer the bike, take it back, offer it again, take it back. Repeat as necessary until sanity snaps and resort to Tactic 1.

3) Practical, Sensible, Mom In Control. This is a complete farce, but sometimes the surprise factor will work for you. Just when they are expecting you to lacerate them with the ties of a bikini you’ll never get into, you offer them love and understanding. “I know you’re tired, honey. What can Momma do to help?” They will look around and wonder when and where Momma will drop the other shoe. This is your moment to try on clothes.

While they consult and try to backtrack to where they last saw their real mother, you’ve ripped the waistband on a size 10 bikini and settled for the size 14 in despair. When they start sniffing out your plan, there’s no shame in lying to them and telling them this is the very last stop in today’s shopping bonanza now a whopping 30 minutes long. This, too, will make them wonder what has happened. You’ve caved too early in the game, they have much more work to be done here in the mall. It’s a terrible thing to look into the eyes of your children and lie to them. But sometimes your best defense is to utterly confuse them.

Next up is standing in line, in full view of half the store, with the children lapping you like wild animals. You stand nervously, wondering when they’ll move in for the kill and if you’ll have made it to the front of the line before bloodshed. This is when most of us get very surprised at the goings on of our normally darling children.

In other words, this is when we stop lying to our children and start lying about our children.

Listen carefully and you can hear lines with young children and mothers peppered with such catchalls as:

1. “My, what’s gotten into them?” (spoken with a becoming and flabbergasted laugh, one for the baby books indeed this crazy day)
2. “Did Grandma give you more candy?” (spoken loudly as if talking to Grandma in another state)
3. And my favorite: “Where is your father? Probably on a lake somewhere enjoying himself!” (spoken in a bawdy and challenging way, garnering sympathy from women everywhere, married, single, divorced or dead.)

Speak loud and speak proud. You have, after all, survived another shopping trip with children.

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