shopping at christmastime: the fires of mount doom

Looking back, I see now that I made some mistakes.

Perhaps a down coat inside a heated store wasn't the best call.

In hindsight, drinking that entire bottle of water half an hour before we went in? Poor judgment.

Now that I think about it, bringing Chicken and Buster into a store full of art supplies, beads, buttons, stabbers, chokers, blinders, stranglers, scrapers and scratchers, in the hopes that we could sit quietly and wrap Daddy's Christmas presents at the group table, yeah, that was wishful thinking. That's on me.

But all of those mistakes were recoverable. The game wasn't over. We were still laughing (if a little madly) and using positive parenting techniques (if through gritted teeth) and singing the clean up song (if in the style of Rammstein) and feeling festive (because it's fucking Christmas okay? Now let's wrap these fucking presents and get the fuck out of here.)

But then Nukpana* came into my life.

*Nukpana isn't her real name. I mean, I guess it could be. I didn't catch her name. Nukpana is a Hopi name meaning Evil. To be clear, Nukpana wasn't Hopi. She was white. But to be fair, I'm guessing that the original Nukpana was probably also white. That's what Howard Zinn and I think. I mean, history, people.*

Let's take it back to one, so you get the scene.

I took the boys to a cool store called Recreative where people donate art supplies and bric-a-brac, and where they host 3 for $5 holiday gift wrapping, where you can use anything in the store to wrap your presents. Buttons, bells, fabric, ribbons, yarn, vintage magazines, candles, stickers, you name it. I thought it would be fun. Silly rabbit.

and it was fun
(she said
wiping away a tear
and revealing
that she has only four fingers
on her left hand...)


See, I forgot that I don't have that kind of kid. I don't have the kid who says, "Sweet Mumsy may I sort these ribbons into grosgrain and other?" I don't have the kid who asks, "Darling Mum-mums, please may I look at that bin of loose buttons without touching them? Please, may I take this opportunity to silently reflect?"

Like I said, that's on me.

So after an hour of Buster stuffing a handful of marbles in his mouth, Chicken waving scissors (ACTUAL SCISSORS, PEOPLE. THEY LOOKED DICKENSIAN) in the faces of other, alarmed gift-wrappers, and me just grabbing anything I could to slap on the packages that I wrapped in between removing choking hazards and stabbing tools, we were Done. (Capitalization intended for dramatic effect.)

I was like, "all I wanted to do was wrap these presents with you guys, and you just couldn't hang."

They were like, "all we wanted to do was play with all the awesome toys at the place where YOU BROUGHT US, MOM, and you just couldn't hang."

I said, "OK, we need to go now," and I think they heard, "we are standing in line to have your fingernails removed. Also, we will never again have snacks in our house, and Daddy's not coming home."

So there we were, in line, each of us doing our part to create a prototypical Unhappy Family at Christmas Spectacle. It takes a village y'all.

Me? I rocked a solid clipped, seething rage, with a soupçon of passive-aggressive holiday cheer.

Buster channeled a floppy car wash balloon man who had just watched as a cigarette truck rolled over a paper bag full of baby bunnies. Only more devastated. And more floppy.

And Chicken? He'd gone Orc. Full Orc. Snarling, chest-thumping, nose-wrinkling, battlefield-screaming, axe-swinging, bloodthirsty Orc.

All we needed was Ryan's trademark The Children Are Screaming In Public/I Am Buried Alive In A Mine Hopeless Sad Face, complete with joyless, vacant expression, cartoonish frown, and the slumped shoulders of a really superb Willy Loman.

I held a child's wrist in each hand as Buster dangled, boneless, and Chicken writhed and screeched like a caged opossum. My basket dug into my forearm as the wire handles pushed together and pinched me. I had to pee.

There was one woman ahead of us, bagging her bric-a-brac, wishing the cashier a Merry Christmas. It was almost our turn.

And then Nukpana slid into line, right in front of us.

She was sixtyish, with white hair swooped back in a Mrs. Robinsonesque knot. She wore some kind of furry woven poncho with like an eagle on it or something. I don't know. Honestly, her choice of poncho was not the most offensive thing she did that day.

Perhaps she didn't see us, I thought hilariously, as Chicken wound up and slapped a box of postcards that had been neatly organized by state.

Me: Excuse me? EXCUSE ME?

She turned around, leveled a cool stare at me and my brood.

Her: Excuse you.
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I just had to hit enter like fourteen times because you probably needed a minute to process that.

Excuse me, I said.
Excuse you.
EXCUSE YOU.

YEAH. FOR REAL. SHE SAID EXCUSE YOU. Obviously, she had no idea how badly I wanted to hit somebody right then.

That's actually a pretty good burn though, because the best I could come up with was,

Me: Actually, excuse YOU!

And she tossed me a face like, "yeah I already said that, so..." before turning around and setting her basket on the counter.

The cashier looked nervous but excited. She didn't say anything. I think she was hoping I'd give Chicken a white-paint-face-high-five, and toss him an iron spear as I bellowed "FROM THE FIRES OF MOUNT DOOOOOOOOOM!"

I said again, "Excuse me, but we were in line before you."

She put a hand on her hip, looked over her shoulder, and said, "Do you mind?"
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FOR REAL.
DO YOU MIND.

Like, "do you mind? I'm trying to buy fabric scraps for $2."

Or, "do you mind shutting up your kids?"

Or, "do you mind that I cut you in line? Oh, you do? Well, that's on you. Because I'm not responsible for your feelings. Nobody can make you feel bad without your permission."

It didn't really matter how she meant it because the answer to any possible meaning was YES.

I MIND.

I MIND EVERYTHING.
I mind your poncho.
I mind your attitude.
I mind your scent (you smell like old wool that has been peed on by seven generations of dehydrated cats by the way).
I mind my children acting like the savages they are.
I mind that I have to pee and also that I have already peed a little bit in my pants right now.
This is me, minding.

In any other store, I would have walked away from that basket, put my kids in the car and sent Ryan back for it later. I couldn't. I had wrapped Ryan's presents in the merchandise from the store, so I really couldn't leave without paying for it, and the longer we stood there, the more I felt pretty certain that I was going to have to make the choice between being a role model and an Avenger. The green one.

I said, as calmly as I could, "I do mind. If you can't tell, we need to leave now, and we can't do that without paying first.

And she said, in the breathtakingly entitled voice of #notallmen tweets and "all lives matter" protesters, "I need to leave now too. I have a hair appointment in fifteen minutes and I like to be early."
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FOR REAL YOU GUYS.
I have a hair appointment.
In fifteen minutes.
And I like.
To be early.

It was as if she had spoken from the bottom of a well... her words echoed and swam in the air, and through the hideous, looping echo I heard the demon voice of Sauron as he roared with black delight, Nukpanaaaaaaaaa!

Not really, I had to google, "female names meaning evil" when I got home and started writing this post. It was more just a primal roar sound. I think it might have been Chicken, who had spotted a coil of wire across the room without which he could never reach full actualization, and whose wrist remained clamped in my grip.

But at that point, I made my choice. This woman sucked. But being there sucked more, and I really was choosing to stay there. Nukpana cut in line, but short of assaulting her I had no recourse but to hope that God/Santa was watching. I knew how much we owed to this store and I had the cash money to pay for it. I made an executive decision to bail.

I handed Chicken two $5 bills to put on the counter, and he held them out to the cashier, silenced for a moment by the responsibility of a job. "Here you go," he said, in his normal voice. I'd almost forgotten what it sounded like. Sweet, small, bubbly. Aw. He's a cutie.

She shook her head and waved her hands as if she were a nun and he was offering her a Fifty Shades DVD. "Oh, no. I'm sorry, but you have to wait your turn."

THAT WAS IT.

Oh, so we have to follow the rules, but Nukpana can just insert herself into the most convenient location, both temporally and geographically, so that she can be fifteen minutes early instead of twelve minutes early to a hair appointment when her hair already looks honestly really nice, actually? So we have to stew quietly in our own personal hell, but she doesn't have to abide by the fundamental rule of order and mutual respect that all individuals must honor if we are going to live in a motherfucking society?

No.

Nope.

No, no, no. I didn't need a receipt. I didn't even need change. I just needed to get the fuck out, before I told Nukpana that I hoped her hair appointment went really well... not!

I took the money out of Chicken's hand and dropped it on the counter, and we swept out of the store, leaving behind us, I imagine, sighs of relief, a few raised eyebrows about these coddling parents today, and possibly a few drops of pee.

Ryan better unwrap the shit out of those presents.

Merry Christmas to all.

Or rather, most.

Nukpana, pumpkin, you may have cut me in line. But I cut you in WORDS. And the internet lives forever. Ho. Ho. Ho.


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