I took my 4-year-old, Eddie, to a big-box store whose name I dare not say for fear of repercussions, though it starts and ends with a "T," and its logo is a bull's eye. As I pushed him past a display of string cheese, he pointed and yelled, "I want that!"
I've bought my son string cheese many times over the years, and he's never eaten it.
"You don't like it," I said.
"I love it," he said.
Perhaps his taste has changed, I thought. And I do like to feed him when I shop because if he's eating, he's preoccupied and less likely to say, "Mommy, I want this," and "Mommy, I want that," from one end of the store to the other. It's actually the reason he was in a shopping cart rather than on foot, despite his stellar walking skills. Restraining him in a cart limits his ability to wander and find things he wants.
While he was pointing to the cheddar string cheese, I noticed that the mozzarella cheese sticks came in single packets. I preferred to spend $.79 than $4 if he was only going to spit it out. I handed him a mozzarella stick. He spit it out.
"I want the orange one!" he whined and handed it back.
I grabbed the bag of cheddar sticks, opened the pack and handed him one. He bit into it and didn't say a word. The kid knows what he likes, I thought, and pushed the cart forward. We got halfway down the next aisle when he handed me a half eaten stick and said, "I'm done."
"You didn't like it?"
"No," he said.
I looked at the $4 bag of cheddar cheese sticks now in my cart and thought, "I don't want to buy this." A few aisles down was the Easter aisle, with rows of plastic eggs, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and peeps. I abandoned the cheese sticks in a pile of wicker Easter baskets.
I got about halfway down the next aisle when I thought about Easter and Jesus and a malodorous stench that would be coming from the Easter basket in about a week, when no one had found the cheese sticks, and I walked back to retrieve it.
As I rounded the corner, I saw a store employee unpacking boxes. I decided to plead my case.
"Sir, I bought this bag of cheese sticks for my son because he said he wanted them, and it turns out, he hates them. I know it's my fault that I opened the package, but if I have to buy then, I'm only going to throw them out when I get home. It seems silly," I said. "Is there any way I can not buy it?"
"You opened it?"
"I did," I said.
He paused for a moment as he did some mental calculation, perhaps remembering whatever action he took wasn't going to come out of his pocket, and he took the bag from me and went back to his work. I felt unburdened.
As we turned down the next aisle, my son spotted a box of flavored apple sauce that came in a squeeze bottle.
"I want that," he said.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Yes. That one," he said, pointing a boney little finger at the mango-flavored box.
I cracked open a bottle and handed it to him. A few minutes later, he handed it back and said, "I'm done."
The bottle was only half eaten. And he now had apple sauce all over his mouth.
"You didn't like it, did you?" I asked.
He shook his head "no."
I threw the half eaten squeeze bottle into the cart and nearly ditched the rest of the box on a shelf near the sheets and towels but changed my mind. Honesty is the best policy, I thought, and decided to go to the customer service desk before I went to the register.
I finished shopping, and wheeled over to the courtesy desk. There were four people ahead of me. After 10 minutes, a young girl called me to the desk. Holding the box of apple sauce in my hand, I told her how I thought my son would like it, but he tried it and hated it.
"I know it's my fault that I opened the package, and I'll buy it if I have to, but my son really didn't like it, and I'm only going to throw it out when I get home," I said. "So basically, I'll just be buying it to go home and throw it out."
I thought my logic was flawless. The young girl looked at me blankly and turned to an older woman at the far end of the desk. "Sarah!" she yelled. "She opened something, and her son doesn't like it. She wants to know if she has to buy it."
The older woman walked over to us with a swagger of authority. "You opened it?" she asked.
"I did. I know it's my fault, but really, he won't eat it. I'll only be--"
"But you opened it?"
"Yes," I said.
"Then you have to buy it," she said, and walked off.
"Fine," I yelled after her. "But that's no way to treat customers!"
I pushed my cart toward the registers. As I unloaded my groceries onto the conveyer belt, I picked up the box of apple sauce and held it for a moment. I quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching, and seeing no one was, I dropped the box into a plastic green shopping basket that was lying on the floor underneath the conveyer belt. I then plucked a magazine and a pack of gum out of the rack and dropped them on top of the apple sauce. Someone had left a can of chicken soup by the register. I threw that on top of the magazine.
Just then, the older woman from customer service walked over to the check out area and began manning a register a few lanes down from mine. I feared she would look over and see that the apple sauce was not on the conveyer belt, and she would want to check my receipt as I left the store. I paid for my items quickly and pushed my cart out into the long aisle that leads to the exit.
"I want water," my son said as we passed a water fountain.
"Okay, fine. Go," I said.
"I can't reach," he said. He was still seated in the cart.
I lifted him out of the cart to let him get a drink but put him back before he'd finished.
"Let's go," I said.
As we left the store, I saw Starbuck's and wanted to stop but it was too dangerous. I kept moving. I should just have paid the $5.49 for the apple sauce, I thought. It wasn't worth forsaking the water fountain or the coffee.
When I got to my car, my heart was still pounding. I threw my packages into the back, threw my son into his car seat, jumped into the driver's seat and threw the car into reverse.
When we were a safe distance from the store, I picked up my tape recorder and began recounting what happened, in case I wanted to write a blog post. When I got to the part about wanting to just jump into my car and get away from the store because I was afraid, I heard the little voice of my son behind me. "Why were you afraid?"
"Because I didn't want to buy that apple sauce, and so I threw it in a basket, and then I was afraid they would catch me," I said.
My son paused and then said, "Well, if you don't want to buy something, you can just hide it, like sneak it. You can just hide it somewhere where no one can see it, like on a tree branch, where no one can find it."
A few weeks ago, my son started lying, about stupid things, like, after he's pooped, I might ask, "Did you wipe?" And he'd say, "Yeah," and yet there wouldn't be any paper in the toilet. Or I'd ask if he'd put his toys away, and he'd say, "Yes," and yet I'd go into the living room and see them strewn across the floor. I like to think our time at the big box store taught him a valuable lesson: if you're going to lie, cheat or steal, make sure you hide the evidence.