It was a rare occasion that found me at Target with my six-year-old a couple of weeks ago. I mean, it wasn’t rare that I was at Target. I’m very basic in that I enjoy lattes, leggings and trips to Target.
What was rare about it was that I didn’t have the baby with me. Typically my trips to the store involve wrangling both my kindergartner and my one-year-old through the aisles.
But on this day it was just the two of us and she was bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of a Mommy-Daughter day. It had started at the local bounce house and was going to end with a new chapter book that she could pick out all on her own.
We were just inside the doors when my daughter looked up at me and asked, “Mommy? Since Bubbie isn’t with us, can I sit in the buggy today?”
(For all of you non-southern folks out there, that translates to: “Since the baby isn’t with us, can I sit in the shopping cart today?”)
(I am mentioning this tidbit on account of how I was in my twenties before I discovered that non-southerners do not, in fact, call shopping carts “buggies.”)
The front seat of the shopping cart is usually occupied by her baby brother, strapped into the patterned seat cover I bought on account of my slight germophobia, which he consistently lifts up to lick the plastic handle underneath. I can’t win for trying.
It’s been a long time since she’s sat in that seat, relegated to walking after her sibling came along, another routine piece of her little life that shifted as we added a new member to the family.
I think she’s been feeling a little out of balance.
I looked down at her hopeful face and I said, “Sure!”
Sure, because why not?
Sure, because I don’t get to indulge her on a whim often these days.
Sure, because one day she won’t fit in this small seat anymore.
I could see her earnestness and knew that she needed this, because sometimes it’s tough to be a big sister when you’re still so little.
And so I pushed the buggy over to the side and lifted her into the seat.
I admit that it took a teensy bit longer than I anticipated, mostly because I’ve grown accustomed to plunking my chunky little guy straight on in and her long legs and lack of coordination proved to be a formidable task.
Which is why I turned to apologize when I heard the exaggerated sigh behind me. I thought I had tucked us out of the way but the struggle to convince my lock-legged daughter that bending her knees was required to sit down in the seat inched us forward until about a fourth of my cart was blocking the cart wipes.
(I mean, sure they were accessible from the other side but listen, I get it because I am an avid user of those cart wipes myself. Please see aforementioned germaphobe reference. I love those things.)
“Oops, I’m so sorry, I thought we were out of the way over here,” I said as I strolled us backward.
I assumed that was the end of the benign interaction, until the woman stepped forward, grabbed a wipe and said over her shoulder, “Don’t you think she’s a little too big for that?”
It’s almost humorous now when I think about it, because remember when she was born a mere pound and a half and fit fully in my doctor’s palm? I sure never imagined the day she’d be ‘too big for that.’
But that is what she said, through her disapproving pursed lips, “Don’t you think she’s a little too big for that?”
And because I am very suave and savvy and good at snappy comebacks, what I did was: I stood there and stared at her blankly.
(I am only good at snappy comebacks in my head, hours later when I rehash confrontations alone with myself in the bathroom mirror.)
Scarlette looked hesitantly between us and I realized that she felt unsure, like maybe we had broken some sort of rule. To be honest, I felt sort of the same for a minute, as though we’d been properly chastised.
And then I realized that was absurd.
I thought about how interactions like that used to make me feel insecure, like I should shrink inside myself, mumbling my apologies.
It made me want to be invisible but invisible is not how I want to raise my daughter.
I want her to stand tall, to speak truth in love, to draw strength from a deep well of self-assuredness when she finds herself stared down.
I want her to see that someone else’s poor attitude or misplaced disapproval can’t intrude on our own happiness.
So I smiled kindly at the disgruntled lady and replied, “No. I don’t think so.”
And then I headed towards the chapter books as my daughter happily swung her legs in the front seat of that cart.
*first photo by Ashley Mushegan