Don't ever take your 5 and 6 year old children with you swimsuit shopping. Swimsuit shopping is torture enough. And yet, today, I made the attempt.
Children don't keep their promises, even when you buy them a hotdog for lunch and bait them with a lollypop in the car and buy them a snack-sized Carmel Corn to share after nap (if they have a good nap and stay in their rooms at least an hour). Children are physically unable to prevent themselves from groaning and moaning, whining and complaining, pinching each other, touching things they shouldn't, begging for this ORDEAL to END, can't we just go HOME? While I search, end of season, through the dregs of swimsuits to find something that will hide the stuff I most want to hide and show off my precious assets. In my size and not hideously floral.
You can imagine me, now, children in tow, at the Mall, my very very least favourite place to go other than WalMart, with a single bathing suit in my hand, the one possible fit, and then we can go home oh please please fit, just look halfway decent and I will BUY you, please! Calling: children, stay with me, children, with me, keep your hands off that, slow down, come back please, guys, you are giving me a hard time, please don't try my patience more, come on, hold my hand, thank you. Now may be a good time to mention that we have been to three other stores already.
My son asks me, Mom, do you LIKE kids?
He asks stuff like that with a sly little smirk, like a bratty enlightened master putting me through my paces. He makes a sport of reading me and feeding me back to myself. I don't call it mindreading, more like intention reading. He loves me enough to pay that much attention, so I try not to let on when I feel defensive. He knows anyway.
I dodge. I say, I like you guys.
Yeah, he says, but do you like KIDS? Like, other kids?
Well, I say, I like some kids, but I don't know very many kids. I'm not really a kid kind of person, a person who would spend all day with lots of kids, but I like you guys, and I'm glad I'm with you.
We enter a strange maze of the smallest possible box-like change rooms imagined by man (and you know it was a man). Certainly no place for me to wrangle a swimsuit without elbowing small faces. I ask them to wait in the hall. I point to a mirrored corner. I say, amuse yourself making faces in the mirror, don't leave this spot, wait here. Maybe sing a song so I can hear you. He says, nah, I don't want to sing.
She insists on coming in with me. I tell her, if you come in, you're staying in. It's tight in here. She's already squeezed herself beside me. She whines like a puppy and holds her hands like puppy paws. She tilts her head to one side. She stays.
I try to strip without crushing her. I ball my clothes in a heap at my feet. I call out, Whatcha doing out there? No reply. I try again, already reaching for my clothes. HEY! What are you up to? This time he replies.
Nothing. Just looking. He's close. Okay, stay by the mirrors, right?
I can hear that he's totally nowhere near the mirrors. He's in the last change stall. There were no other customers when we came in, but there might be now. I call out, don't get in the stalls! Please, go stand by the mirrors! I add "please" to soften the impatience which leaks through my best defenses into my Tone. I don't think it helps.
I call again, Are you by the mirrors? YES! Okay, I'm just asking.
I'm completely undressed and examining the leg-holes on my swimsuit find. Little Girl reaches for the barely-locked door.
"Do NOT open that door," I boom at her, already at the high-alert stage on first warning. She's not used to that, so I startle her into obeying for 3 seconds. I start struggling into the spandex "belly tucker" suction-suit and have it halfway up my thighs when she reaches for the door again.
STOP! Do NOT open that door. She looks up at me lazily, her finger on the trigger.
It's just for a second, she assures me. I'll close it really quick. My eyes widen and my head shakes side to side. No. No you won't. You will leave the door CLOSED. I'm kind of hissing to avoid yelling. Clearly an unhappy voice.
Now, the whine. I don't WANT to stay in here!
Her hand hasn't moved. I try to tell her it won't be much longer, but she's too busy groaning and rolling her head from side to side in frustration, eyes to the back of her head.
"Well, you will stay here anyway. Maybe you should have stayed out there when I asked you to. But you wanted to be here, so now you are here and you will stay here until I am finished and I hate this suit..." I peter off. DO. NOT. TALK. YOUR. THOUGHTS. OUT. LOUD. STOP. breathe.
I put a stranglehold on my frustrated inner being, thrashing around ready to lash her tail. breathe.
Then I hear it:
A woman, slightly tentative. Oh no. What is he doing? What has he done? Did he peek in on her? Is he still out there?
"Um, yes?" I ask, nervous.
And she says:
I just wanted to say that you're a really good mother.
My brain does a quick once-over on the last five minutes. Not my moments of shining glory. The booming. The hissing. The whining. And yet.
I stammer my thanks. She doesn't stop.
Your kids are really well behaved, and you pay attention to them, and...I just want to say that you're a good mother.I thank her again, embarrassed, half-dressed, in my stall-cell. Tears sting my eyes. My heart, which has been tightly closed and protecting itself throughout the Mall Mission, remembers to beat warm. I have no idea what to say.
My daughter asks, What did she say?
She said I'm a good mom, I tell her, trying not to sound surprised. Isn't that nice of her?
Like "nice" describes it.
Who is she? my daughter asks. And I find myself saying something I never would have expected to come out of my mouth. I say, maybe she's an angel who just goes around making people's days better. She made my day.
We burst from our confinement to find my son making faces in the mirror. I look for the woman, but the three faces that turn my way are tired, bored and a little hostile, like, what are YOU looking at, lady?
I give them each a smile anyway.