“Keep up, Gabe,” I said, tugging my middle child gently by the hand as we scurried across the parking lot. He kept trying to slide his hand out of mine, so I grabbed the edge of his sleeve as my eyes scanned for errant cars.
I had just picked him and his brother up from school, dropped Nick off at the park district, then swung by home to pick up snacks. Now we had 30 minutes to find Gabe a new pair of sneakers because we had discovered at 7:45 this morning that his feet had grown a full size in the night.
“Can I ride in the cart?”
“Oh no, sweetie,” I dismissed his request, pushing the cart ahead of me. “C’mon. We have a bunch of stuff to pick up.”
I half-dragged him to the shoe department where I snatched the first pair of decent-looking size 10’s from the shelf.
“I wanted ones that light up.”
I exhaled impatiently.
“I looked. I didn’t see any. These are good enough. Let’s go.”
As we passed through the grocery aisle, Gabe’s eyes grew large as he saw all of the forbidden snacks that lay just beyond his grasp.
“I want Cheetos.”
“Not real food, Gabe. I’ve told you that before.”
“But Nana – “
“No, Gabe. Now keep moving.”
I glanced at my phone. We needed to move faster if we were going to get through our list. Almond butter…where would I be if I were almond butter –
My musings were cut short by a primal, rage-filled scream reverberated through the hallowed halls of Target.
I rolled my eyes. Some poor kid had hit the wall.
Then I froze.
Wait, was that my son who had released that unholy sound?
I turned slowly, half-expecting to find some mutant devil spawn, complete with spinning head and spewing vomit. But no, it was still Gabe, albeit eyes wild, fists clenched, teeth bared.
“Heeeeeeey buddy…what’s up?” I tried to sound sweet, but it came out more like what the f-?
He unleashed the litany of wrongs which had transpired within the last 5 minutes.
“You didn’t get me Cheetos!”
“I wanted to ride on the cart!”
“I don’t want to hold your hand in the parking lot!”
And the final blow – his pièce de résistance – which he delivered with an accusatory finger jabbing the space between us to underscore each precious word.
“You’re not coming to my BIRTHDAY PARTY!”
(He had clearly forgotten that he had already uninvited me from his party yesterday.)
“Well, sweetie,” I began, pushing my cart to the side. “I understand that you’re upset, but here’s the deal: I’m not going to buy you Flaming Hot Cheetos because it will burn your tongue off. You’re going to walk because you are 4, and don’t even fit in the carts anymore. And finally, my dear, dear sweet boy –“ And for this last explanation, I crouched low, encircling him in my arms as I drew him closer. “You need to hold my hand because that’s how I keep you safe. You are just too important for me to let anything bad happen to you.”
The crazy dissipated from his eyes as his body slumped and he leaned into my hug. I rubbed his low afro, and pressed a kiss into his forehead.
“You are my special helper, remember?”
Whether I said it for his benefit or mine, I couldn’t be sure.
A wide smile spread across his face. In my haste to finish shopping in time to grab his younger sister from daycare then swing by to get his older brother from basketball, I had forgotten that Gabe needed time too.
To go at his own pace.
To have his own thoughts.
To breathe into the space of who he was…
And who he was becoming.
I gave him a final squeeze before fishing in my pocket for the shopping list I knew he couldn’t quite read yet.
“So we need to get 3 more things – dog food, detergent and waffles. What do you want to look for first?”
He stared at the list – perhaps able to identify a few letters despite my chicken-scratch writing.
“Skippy needs food.”
I stood slowly, lamenting the pop from knees. As we entered the pet aisle, Gabe stopped in front of the first bag of dog food.
“Is it this one?”
“We need a green bag, sweetheart.”
“No, that’s dark green. We need light green.”
“That’s not even green, Gabe.”
I could feel it starting again – the need to move a little faster, so we could knock off the other items on the list. Then I heard a little giggle, as he pointed to a red bag.
“This one, Nana?”
“Very funny, Gabe.”
We spent another 10 minutes there, playing his little game of I-bet-you-thought-I didn’t-know-my-colors-but-I-totally-do. This kid has a quirky sense of humor, I thought.
Thank goodness I had the time to appreciate it.