I don't think I am allowed back in KMart. At the very least, they are going to turn all security cameras in my general direction if I ever darken the doorstep again - enough to make me think twice. And we have already stopped going to Walmart as a family. Maybe that's a good thing. I should just stop shopping at the big box stores altogether.
I know this.
But Lucy had $5 of birthday money burning a hole in her pocket, and I promised her she could go to KMart and pick something out. I didn't tell her the $5 was barely going to cover a pack of gum - she would figure that out eventually - because I knew the trip would only take 10 minutes. And when she asked and I agreed, it bought me 3 hours of peace and quiet last week.
Or at least, I thought so.
Looking back, I see that I should have put it off another day or two. I had promised to take her Wednesday, after cooking class and soccer. But last Wednesday, after that cooking class, I was already rattled. feverish and achy, sipping a cup of tea and basically struggling just to get through the day. I had spent an hour sitting on the field through soccer practice, and now we were on our way to KMart. Lucy was giddy, Max was sweaty, I was dizzy and nauseous.
We walked through the door and headed straight for the toy section. Lucy took a hard right into "the pink aisle" as we call it in our family. The aisle filled with baby dolls and Barbie dolls and Easy Bakes and Disney Princesses. We took our time, perusing both sides of the aisle. Max gave a wave and headed down to Legos.
Lucy chose a toy right away - one of the huge doll heads that you can practice hairstyles with, because she is learning how to braid her own hair. But she wanted to look a bit more. After a few minutes, I noticed Lucy was.......dancing. Not quite grabbing her crotch - she's a bit old for that - but sort of.....bouncing, with her knees together and a pained expression.
"Luce? Do you need to pee?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yep you need to pee, or yep you're sure you don't."
"I don't." She never took her eyes off the shelves, but she continued mincing around, knees locked together and then suddenly, she looked at me, as though my question had taken several minutes to actually permeate the cloud of pink and reach her brain.
"MOMMY." she almost gasped, as the color drained from her face. "I have to pee RIGHT NOW."
There was no delaying this - I could only hope she wasn't going to pee as we ran at top speed to the far end of the store - exactly opposite where we were standing. I was afraid to pick her up, I just decided we were going to run for it.
But I had to get Max.
"MAX!" I shouted as I ran through the toy department. "MAX!"
There was no reply. But remembering the cloud of pink that appeared to dull my daughter's senses, I thought perhaps there was an equivalent in Legos.
Still nothing. I was racing back and forth, looking down each toy aisle, and he was nowhere. I looked back at Lucy, who's face was reflecting a combination of panic, terror, and pain.
We had to go. We had to leave Max.
This was a fucking nightmare.
I raced across KMart with a firm grip on Lucy's wrist - she was practically airborne behind me as I whisked her through the store and towards the food court. I spotted a huge display of Easter baskets and threw the dolls head into it as we ran by. Just as we passed the main entrance, Max came tearing into the store.
Tearing INTO the store.
From. The. Parking. Lot.
I had to prioritize. Lucy to potty, THEN I could give him hell.
But I had time to warn him. I shouted over my shoulder as we ran towards the bathroom door, with an orange cone out front. Why was there an orange cone out front? Was it out of order? Closed for cleaning? I didn't care why the cone was there. We ran past it, and I was still shouting as the door closed behind us, leaving Max standing outside by the water fountain.
"Where the HELL where you dude? You went OUTSIDE? You left the STORE? I AM GOING TO KILL YOU JUST AS SOON AS YOUR SISTER PEES."
As soon as I got Lucy into a stall, I ran back outside - lest he decide to exit the store again.
"Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You left the STORE? Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?"
I was panting slightly, achy and woozy from the running and the fever. And I was completely bewildered. Max was near tears, dirt smudged across his face, hair pressed to his head with sweat.
"Mom," he started.
"DID SOMEONE TAKE YOU OUT OF THIS STORE?" I wanted to be sure I understood what had happened.
"No, Mom, I-"
"So you went out on your own? You left the store of your own free will. You just LEFT THE STORE? This is what you are saying? Please tell me I am misunderstanding this. Please tell me someone tried to kidnap you and you wrestled away from their grasp. TELL ME YOU DID NOT LEAVE KMART AND WALK OUT TO THE PARKING LOT ALONE."
"I, uh, I was just checking on something."
Just checking on something. My mind was reeling. He was 10. What was he doing in the parking lot? What was he checking? Had he stolen something? Was he smoking? WAS I LOSING MY FUCKING MIND?
Lucy came out of the bathroom slowly, looking greatly relieved.
I glared at Max, and turned to leave the bathroom alcove. And that is when I realized that every single person in the food court, and the front of the store, and possibly even the back of the store, had heard me.
The parents looked at me with sympathy. Their kids all grinned at someone else getting busted. The cashiers looked horrified. The security guy stood there staring at me.
I put my head up and straightened my shoulders, and marched back to the registers without making eye contact. I plucked the doll's head out of the display of Easter baskets and got in line. Max was behind me, looking miserable.
"Please explain to me," I began again in a (slightly) quieter voice 'what the heck you were doing outside alone." The woman in line behind us looked back and forth, hanging on every word, waiting for his answer.
"I was looking for the car."
"WHY were you looking for the car? You were with me when I parked it."
He looked sheepish. "I thought you had left."
I shot a quick look at the woman behind us in line, who was covering her mouth to hide her smirk. "You thought I had left. Really. You thought I would leave a store and drive away without my kid? Have I ever in your entire life ever forgotten you anywhere? EVER?"
He looked down. "No." he muttered.
"So you want me to believe that story?"
silence. The whole line was silent. The cashier stopped ringing up the Friskies for the lady in front of us, and everyone stood there for a moment.
"I would never EVER forget you." I spoke very calmly and firmly now that the crisis had passed. I looked at Lucy, and back at Max. "I would NEVER leave a store without you."
"Yes mom." he spoke in a low voice, and scuffed his feet.
The cashier went back to scanning the cans, and the customers let a collective breath, and Max looked up at me. "Hey mom, I saw some Legos that I wanted. Can I go ba-"
"Max, not only can you not go back, but I am pretty sure we will never be coming here again."
"Right." he said, nodding.
"Right." I said.
"Whew." Lucy said. "I am so glad I got my dolly first."