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.
1. Retail Stores Are Not Completely Safe To Use As Indoor Playgrounds*
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.
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.
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
- OH MY FREAKIN’ GAWD MY KID IS LOST, and
- 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
Images taken from the fabulous movie My Neighbor Totoro by director Hayao Miyazaki