Your Kid In My Store, Part 1: Basic Safety and Etiquette

About Above Title: Actually, it’s not my store.

If the big box store I worked in were really my store, I wouldn’t be blogging right now.

I’d be body surfing in Hawaii .

But insofar as my current job is customer service and cashiering in a Very Big Bookstore, and since I have worked various forms of retail for a combined fifteen years of my life (gosh…that’s kind of depressing. Although wasn’t it Tennessee Williams who said something like, “If you want to be a writer, your day job should be a shoe salesman?” Okay!)

Insofar as I have worked retail on and off for fifteen years, and since I am raising three children right now even as I type (don't worry, they can feed themselves), and because I type things off-an-on for this ersatz mommyblog you now see before you, I have formulated what I think is a smashing fine blog post outlining what I'd like to call Halushki's Basic Guidelines For Shopping With Children: A Parent and Retail Employee’s Steps For Success!

And so I will!

You’ll thank me later. Or not. You might be out to dinner.

In Part 1 of this three-part series, I’ll start off by reviewing my thoughts on nitty gritty safety and etiquette for shopping with kids. A lot of these scenarios are specific to my current job at a bookstore, but most of these rules will work almost anywhere, the only exceptions being stores and restaurants which cater exclusively to kids - where the etiquette and rules are more lax, whoohoo - and places like Knife World or Live Sharks R Us  - where you should at least double if not quadruple your parenting vigilance.

Reading some of these rules you will think, “Well, duh, that’s common sense.” Please bear with me. After fifteen years of retail work, my understandings of what the average person considers to be common sense safety and shopping etiquette are a bit effed up. Can I tell you how many people lick their fingers to sort through their money, and then hand me the money all soggy and licked? Enough to make me realign my definitions of “common sense”. And enough that I don't need immunizations anymore.

You may also think, “Fer real? All these fascinating yet horrifying stories you are telling me are merely vents about the one or two rare situations you‘ve encountered in fifteen years, right?” No. I assure you, I’m not even going to touch on the rare situations (well, maybe one or two purely for the side show fun of it). If I tell you that children younger than five or six years old are left alone in the kids’ section of our store while their parents go have a coffee waaaaaayyyyyy across the store - and with four doors to the outside parking lot between them and their kids - it’s because this sort of thing happens often enough that I’ve already FREAKED OUT about it, and am now calm enough to write in grammatically correct sentences. More or less.

But I’ll try not to vent. I will try to explain why certain rules and etiquette benefit, Oh! Just Everybody! beyond simply ticking off the various peeves of cranky retail workers. 

Here goes.

1. Retail Stores Are Not Completely Safe To Use As Indoor Playgrounds*

*Unless, of course, you are shopping in a playground store.

Otherwise, it’s probably just asking for trouble and tears and boo boos when you turn your back long enough for Junior to shimmy up the freestanding reading glasses display.

Many necessary safety precautions are taken and bunches of legally established guidelines are enforced which keep retail businesses as safe as possible. No one likes hurt customers. Even more so, no one likes a law suit. I mean to say...of course, the customers’ safety is always our top consideration…with keeping our money out of lawyers’ hands running an extremely close second.

Anyway….an example:

In the bookstore where I currently work, all the bookcases are bolted down and bolted in. The shelves can absolutely carry the weight of forty ten-pound art photography books. However, a ten year old boy scaling these same shelves for the pure joy of it will apply laws of physics to an entirely different effect than a row of coffee table-sized photography books just sitting there minding their own business. And although some children just can’t hold back from a fun time, and other children are bursting with out-of-the-box creativity when it comes to finding a gymnasium where others don't, well...when the books come tumbling down onto your shelf-climber, quoting Attractive Nuisance Doctrine to complain about Injury Via Annie Leibovitz may be pushing it a bit…I don’t know. I’ll consult my in-house counsel.

Another example! The spinning displays (in retail parlance: “spinners”) which hold the 8”x8” Berenstain Bears and Scooby Doo books do look like a merry-go-round, and if you spin them fast enough the books do fly off at entertaining trajectories. However, a 30-lb preschooler attempting to take an amusement ride on the lovely spinny book display will not have a happy go of it

Kids climbing the  three-dimensional wall murals and breaking them, children stacking benches to precarious heights and trying to scale them, scamps building forts or walkways with the books…

Listen, I have three children. I have lived through two weeks solid of rain and sleet and bitter cold. I know how desperate I am to get out of the house before I resort to duct-taping kids to their chairs to stop them from scrambling up my own walls. I have stared longingly at bottles of gin on day four of the school snow  cancellations. You do need to get out of the house and you do need to do it right now.

My own experience is that - barring extreme weather (level 5 hurricanes, tornadoes, nuclear winter, etc.) - layering my kids in fleece and wool and a slathering of lard and then encouraging them (i.e forcing them) to play outside or walk around the block for twenty minutes is most always possible in most weather. After the kids have thusly worked out their sillies and spinnies and climbies and jumpies, we’re all much better set for a more quiet and noticeably more sedate visit to the bookstore. Or the pizza palace. We might even make it through H&M or Target without looking like Cirque Du Soliel has just arrived.

2. Encourage Your Children To Walk

It doesn’t happen every day. It doesn’t happen often. But I have seen children flying and flitting through stores with such speedy and breakneck joie de vivre that it makes my heart ache for my own childhood...only for that fond reminiscence to come to a screaming halt when a kid trips and smacks his head (eyeball) on a display table. Or turns a corner and crashes into an 80-year-old guy walking tentatively with two canes and an oxygen tank. Or hits a customer at knee level and there goes a venti latte onto the customer and/or onto the kid and/or onto floor and/or and onto the last five copies of the latest Oprah Bookclub selection. Walking through a store is such a peaceful and other-human-friendly option to all this. Coexist, and all.

3. Encourage Your Child to Use Her Inside Voice   

Everyone loves children, right? How could they not? The little chubby cheeks, the open smiles, the way children giggle their belly laughs filled with such pure joy that everyone listening once again believes in things like Santa and God and Milli Vanilli.

Well! I was surprised as anyone to find out once I left the Neverland of playdates and Gymboree and hanging out exclusively with people who co-existed with poopy diapers on a daily basis that there are, in fact, other people out there in The Real World who don’t think that my kids - or, really, any kids - are precious and adorable in just every gosh-darn thing they do and say. And one of the things some (well, quite a few, actually) people in The Real World find the least adorable and precious is they way that my kids say really adorable and precious things at a consistent 110 decibels.

These people are, of course, soulless droids.

However, in most stores that don’t specifically and exclusively cater to children and their loud adorableness, it’s probably best to err on the side of pure self-preservation from the laser beam glares, exasperated sighs, and under-the-breath comments to the effect that enough children aren’t spanked as hard and as often as they could be these days - and just encourage your children to use their indoor voice. This is not a hill to die on, it is an easy gift of tranquility to pay forward with interest toward your own empty nest days or Holy Mary Poppins, We Found A Babysitter! date nights, and admit it: other people’s loud kids indoors sometimes drive you a bit bonkers, too.

Encouraging library voices won’t always work, of course. And anyone who expects a baby to hush up at all times - well, I have an entire different bullet point on those prickly farts…I mean, pratty folks.  However requesting that children from advanced toddlerhood on up speak at 30 decibels instead of their usual 110 decibels will help them to effectively modulate their dulcet voices at around 55 decibels.

Most adults keep their cell phone headset volume at about 60 decibels, so your kids’ adorableness will essentially be drowned out.

(Note: Stated decibel levels are all approximate, not measured, and more or less completely made up to sound scientific and fancy.)

That should get you started for the time being!

In Your Kid In My Store, Part 2, I’ll write about
  • Trying To Fit In One More Errand Past Nap Time
  • Just How Long Your Child’s Invisible Leash Can Safely Extend
  • Bathroom Safety 101

In Your Kid In My Store, Part 3, I’ll discuss
  • Otherwise Ignoring People Who Are Soulless Droids (Tantrums, Poop, and Vomit in Public)
  • How To Get Away From the Train Table Without Your Child Pitching A Fit 
  • How To Check Out at Cash Register with A Child Who Is Pitching A Fit Anyway, and finally
  • Getting To the Car In One Piece

You’re Welcome!

Images taken from the fabulous movie My Neighbor Totoro  by director Hayao Miyazaki


Fairly Odd Mother said...

I haven't even read this post yet, but I'm screaming TOTORO! I just saw this movie and, lordy lou, how I love it.

OK, now I'll actually go read your words of wisdom. Although I've had two beers, so I may have to wait until tomorrow. TOTORO!

D.B. Echo said...

#2 applies with an increase of several orders of magnitude to restaurants, where children playing tag among the tables can easily collide head-on into the legs of servers carrying trays of sizzling fajitas. I've seen that scenario nearly come to pass at a Chili's. (Oddly, this is the Chili's they MUST be referring to in The Office, since it's the only one in NEPA, though as it is in Wilkes-Barre it is a good twenty miles from the Scranton setting of the series. Extendo lunches!)

ckaiserca said...

With this post, you have now become my all-time favourite blogger. And I've never even worked retail.

I look forward to reading the future posts in this series.


Alexandra said...

I can't wait for the skating teacher version: "if his fall does not cause him to bleed from the eyeballs, then your precious flower does NOT need a trip to the emergency room." and "geez, how loud can she scream when she's actually hurt?" said...

LOL! Xan, so true.

It's a skating rink. Ice is slippery. And hard. What were you expecting?

I am, of course, much, much, much more sympathetic of younger children. And far less patient with older kids who make safety decisions based upon what looks "coolest". Please refer to our hockey skates versus "regular skates" discussion. ;-)

Bejewell said...

All sage advice and I would love to follow it, but my very active almost-three is keeping me a little busy chasing after him as he runs through the aisles of your bookstore and crawls under the display table and screams "BOOBIES!" and makes loud fart noises and laughs because FARTS ARE FUNNY. So, yeah. Sorry.

BPSmith said...

Dear Jozet,

I can assure you that my remarks made about your childs behavior or anyone else's for that matter would not be said under my breath. That being said:

Having 3 of my own, 16, 15, and 9 well, yeah, the 16 year old has yet to learn how to use her indoor voice but then again, she has no interest in dating boys eithers so, I shall not complain. But look out if she find the Anime or Manga section of the store.

And that is why I carry a Taser; government issue of course.

~B said...

Bejewell, lol!

Well, you know, I can only preach it.

I didn't even mention farting because the sound of gassy expulsions doesn't even register to most bookstore employees. Because this:

I think it even comes with a volume control that goes to 11.

toyfoto said...

This is a great read. Yet I have such a hard time with this stuff as a concept.

Everyone is so distracted. That's not an excuse for negligent parenting, but out of control kids just seems so different than a parent having to divide their attention in a store that's trying to sell them stuff.

When I was a kid a shopkeeper told my mother to keep us off the riding toys that were for sale at the grocery store. She told him No. They were "Toys" on the floor, what did he expect? The next week they were on the top shelf.

From a business perspective, I wonder how much it would cost for them to entertain the kids a bit while parents shopped? said...

BP, re: loud voices, it's all a balancing act, isn't it?

For instance, even though it shouldn't bother me that my girls walk around with bird-nest hair, for all my own hippy-drippiness it bugs me like heck.

I'm thinking that even Robert Pattison with his own bed head still is more interested in girls who occasionally comb their tresses.

But maybe these are lies I tell myself. :-)

Also, a loud toddler is easier to find in a forest. said...

Toyfoto -

I agree. In the kids section, we do have a train table for everyone. And some of the Melissa and Doug puzzles have been opened, and so now the store sorta/kinda keeps them out as "in store play."

However, some parents will also allow their children to "play with" the sticker books, and then not purchase the de-stickered books. Or open origami kits or craft kits and let their kids play with them. And although having stuffed animals at kid-level is somewhat of a marketing decision...? On the other hand, every single kid in the store at stuffed-animal level puts their hand and then mouths on the stuffed animals, or empties entire shelves to play with them...and they get kinda gross and unsellable. On the other hand, I'm not a business person...I believe there are things called "loss leaders" for which most successful businesses have a very exact formula. I'm sure that stuffed animals and "permanently borrowed" train table trains have been considered. :-) If/when the formula gets thrown off, money will make the decision.

Believe me, the kids's section in the bookstore has a very, very high tolerance for normal and even kooky kid behavior. I'll talk about this more in the follow-up posts. But, with only so much square footage, sometimes having in-house childcare - and all the legalities that involves - again, I'm sure it's a very precise marketing decision.

However - and happily! - grocery stores and some malls now do have in-house childcare for shoppers. Maybe we'll see more of these in the future, even at strip malls and larger big box stores. There is also a cool coffee shop in our neck of the woods that is for moms and their little kids. Frankly, I'm all for it. Mothers spend a LOT of money, and uh...the reason we're mothers? Hello? Kids.

Jenn P said...

Thank you! I am a parent of 3 children 9,6,3, and am always surprised at the way other parents allow their children to act in stores. I look forward to your other 2 posts. said...

All right, not *every* kid mouths the stuffed animals.

And, yes, I am going to write about the difference between the expectation that the an entire retail store should be a safe playground for kids as opposed to parents who are in the *Kids* section and who get evul glares because, uhm, they dared to bring kids - you know, small people who are still practicing how to be civilized - into a supposedly kid-friendlier section of the store with them.

Kids need to practice being civilized. Maybe Le Bec Fin is not the place to do it; however, Applebees...well...I set my patience/understanding meter a bit differently.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

The behavior you write of? I've seen it in homes, museums, classes, playgrounds etc too. I think it's a style of parenting that is so laissez-faire, it borders on non-parenting.

And, I think bookstores are SOOOO much more kid-friendly than when I was younger. That said, they are stores, not jungle gyms, and certain behavior should be expected. Or, just go to the bookstore at night, without the kids.

Toyfoto said...

I don't in any way wish to condone behavior that is inconsistent with civility, and being in stores for considerably less time than employees my perception is different. As a consumer I might even think at times stores are using our children to make it nearly impossible to go shopping without a tantrum. The huge amount of character-based marketing is really astounding. My kids don't generally pitch fits in stores, but I honestly think that has more to do with thier temperament rather than my parenting because I'm as lax as they come.

jess said...

Ha! Nice. I worked in bookstores for years. :) To this day I can't walk through Borders without compulsively straightening out books.

DBUlrich said...

Well said Jozette, As a store owner, I have a children's play area and cookies/candy available for free with the parent's permission of course! But a 6 year old, running the length of a 3700 sq ft store, making a game of going underneath every rack of designer clothing at top speed to see how many they can knock off the hangers while the mother slowly counts to 1000 from the door is difficult to handle. The wreckage left behind is time consuming. I love the little buggers and want the Moms to be able to shop but some people are oblivious to common courtesy when it comes to shop owners and other customers. said...

"As a consumer I might even think at times stores are using our children to make it nearly impossible to go shopping without a tantrum."

Absolutely a valid point! And yes, I do think there is a Catch-22 in that stores put goodies where kids can see them knowing/hoping - ? - that kids will pitch fits and harried parents will just give in. Of course, the parents who don't give in risk feeling judged for having a kid who throws a fit.

When we were going through "a phase" with one of my kids, I actually drove a few extra miles to the grocery store that had check out aisles with no candy/toys. Not that I gave in to my kids all the time - it was just a hill I didn't want to die on every time I ran out of milk. :-)

Kyddryn said...

Oh, gah...the Evil Genius is seven, and I have only just begun to permit him time in the kid's section of our bookstore without my hovering presence. Under five? No bloody way. Also, there's only one exit at our store, and he can't get to it without walking past me. I don't even let him into the store before we go over the rules, and if he breaks the rules, we leave.

The rules? No running. Be quiet. Do not leave the kid's area unless you are coming to me in the cafe or going to the potty. If another child beans you with a toy or book, do not retaliate and try not to bleed on anything expensive...come get me and we'll sort it out. No leaving the store with anyone who isn't me, no eating anything I didn't give you, no opening anything that is sealed (I don't care how many other kids are doing it) and if you move a toy or book you must put it back or I will let the nice Borders employees chop you into sausage meat. Finally, the Borders folks all know us and have repeatedly told me it's OK to let him hang in the kid's area because he behaves himself and minds them.

One of these days, though, I'm sure I'll get the glare of doom from someone and the muttered "Geeze, take that monster to Chuck-E-Cheese and leave us in peace"...sigh...being a slacker mom is such hard work...

Shade and Sweetwater,
K (who is looking forward to the rest of your series) said...

"If another child beans you with a toy or book, do not retaliate and try not to bleed on anything expensive."

I LOLed at this! :oD

It's usually never random kids giving each other the smackdowns; almost *always* siblings.

And c'mon now...with that list of rule you call yourself a slacker mom? You sound normally perfect!

I'll talk a bit about leaving kids in the kid section on their own later, but for this, I can only talk about things as I see them in our store - other stores might have different rules, employee coverage, and floorplans (which can make a huge difference. It sounds like your bookstore's floorplan is much different than ours.)

Just giggling again at the "bleed on something expensive" comment.

Mary P (Barnmaven) said...

Some days it feels like a trip through the grocery store with my kids is a litany of "Stop! Walk!" "Use your inside voice!" "Don't fight with your brother!" "Don't fight with your sister!" As ill behaved as my kids are, I at least take pride in that I stay on top of where they are and what they are doing. I don't let them run amok - or at least, I don't have that intention. If one escapes while the other is being dealt with this can sometimes be an issue.

Looking forward to reading the rest of the series! said...

"If one escapes while the other is being dealt with this can sometimes be an issue."

Ah yes. And most kids are very smart in knowing exactly when mom is busy dealing with sibling and how to take advantage of it. In fact, I'm convinced my kids plan it all out ahead of time.

I don't know why. I'm the one with the money. :-)

Julie Pippert said...

OMG you met my children "...other children are bursting with out-of-the-box creativity when it comes to finding a gymnasium where others don't, well..."

My children are ENGINEERS! who find ways to retool existing objects into more fun and entertaining objects to the point that they are someday not going to continue to be able to escape the label GIFTED! and TALENTED! but for now I'm doing my best to keep them from being labeled in as much as I can even while the professionals keep telling me someday we are going to need some extra help (no TODAY, I need help TODAY, they can already outhink me).

And this is why I take *my* temperature before we go anywhere because I know taking my kids, even at their ages, will stress me to limits unmeasurable by science's current stress-o-meters.

We are well known at our own local equivalent to your store. This is because I am the Mom Who Keeps Up a Running Commentary and Hovers Over Her Children, the Engineering GT ones.

We are the quarterly entertainment. Or biannual. I dare not go more often than that. This store in particular is filled with things that BEG to be touched, used, played with...and not all of them are okay for that.

"Look with eyes not hands..."
"Let's not and say we did..."
"We can discuss in theory what would happen if you did X and Y but we can't test out the hypothesis in the store..."
"If you do you will buy it from your allowance and that sets your American Girl doll purchase back 2 years..."

We make noise. I confess it. And sometimes it's a little on the loud side. But overall as I leave the staff thanks me and I have to say I dearly like to believe it is in appreciation of my clearly massive effort to remain Good Citizens of the Store and not just for our departure.

They key of course being taking my own temperature first, not just the kids.

Metaphoric temperature, of course.

Magpie said...

Love Totoro. And all of his others.

You might should go read Bipolar/Lawyer/Cook:

bipolarlawyercook said...

Someone posted a link to this post after my (far more profanity-laden) recent post (also mulling on licked currency) on the joys of big bookstore work.

Well said, sister in retail.

Shawna said...

Can't wait for the next 2 installments! When are they coming?

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