It was a mistake from the start. I know a lot of people say that in hindsight, but this time, the whole story did start with a mistake. Somehow, no one knows exactly how, my veteran online shopper mother screwed up a Walmart order. Instead of having her Glucerna diabetic drink delivered to the house, or to the Walmart we normally visit, she somehow instructed the conglomerate that we would be willing to pick up the product from their superstore in Rosemead, and that we would do so within a five-day time frame.
Not such a big deal, right? So someone has to go out of their way sometime during those five days and pick up the Glucerna. No problem.
Enter the complications.
1. Two of the five days were already passed by the time Mom forwarded me the email requesting that we pick up her stuff.
2. One of the remaining three days was Sunday, which is out for errands such as this.
3. The other two days were both days that Ducky was going to be on the ski hill all day long. I would be the lone caregiver of our girls.
4. Walmart won’t give the Glucerna to just anyone. They will only give it to the person who ordered it, and only after checking their photo ID.
I picked Saturday as the best day to head to Rosemead. Saturday is an errand day anyway, and since we were headed to a Super Walmart, I figured I could double up on the errands by adding the regular weekly grocery shopping to the Glucerna pick up. Because I’m resourceful that way.
So we go through our Saturday. Ezri has basketball practice and her Christian club meeting. I make the menu for the week and create the grocery list. We wash the rat cages, tidy out the backpacks and the shoes that somehow get trashed during the week. We visit the library to get new books to read at night. We drop by the dollar store for some of our favorite lunchbox assortments.
We have lunch and then I try to get the children to take a nap. This usually works with the little one. Ezri, admittedly, at six years old, is getting too big for naps. I continue to try because that’s a chunk of my afternoon that I really don’t want to give up yet. She stayed down for half an hour before getting up and trying to talk me out of the coloring book I got for Christmas. Her arguments were surprisingly valid. “But Mom, you don’t have as much time to color as I do. I’ve never seen you color at all!”
All this means that we’ve had a pretty full day already, and it’s about five o’clock in the evening before we even start getting in the car for the Walmart trip. I’ve only visited the Rosemead Walmart once in my time in California, and it was when I was still pregnant with Ezri, coming from an entirely different direction. In other words, I have no idea where it is or how to get there. Which wouldn’t be a problem either now that I’ve got a smartphone, but coming home from Idaho after Christmas did some major damage to our data plan, so Internet use outside the home is not quite but sort of definitely forbidden until February. So I look up how to get there before we leave the house. Looks pretty straightforward. Head east on Las Tunas, turn left on Walnut Grove. Drive south for a thousand miles. Easy.
In a minor miracle, I only pinch my fingers twice while wrestling Mom’s wheelchair into the trunk of my borrowed car. Why am I driving a borrowed car? Because my real car has been with my mechanic, unable to start, since the end of July. Last July. But that’s another whole vent unrelated to this story. It carries another set of frustrations, not the least of which is how the trunk on the borrowed car is smaller than the one I’m used to, and I constantly bang or bruise my hands while getting Mom’s wheelchair / walker into and out of it. I’d like to say I’m getting better at it, but really the only improvement is that I manage to keep the swearing only in my head when it happens. I’d work harder, but I keep thinking that maybe this time will be the last time before my beloved Buick returns to me. How’s that for false hope?
Back to it, kids buckled, minor mishap when my mother somehow can’t get her seatbelt buckled, so I throw a small daddy fit involving some slamming car doors as I get out of my seatbelt, get out of my seat, wave to the neighbor walking his dog, buckle my mother in, slam her door (which is actually necessary for this vehicle if you want it to close properly) and then reverse everything to get settled to go once again. One more tiny fit as I realize halfway down the driveway that I’ve forgotten to lock the front door.
Since the children have been in the car for five whole minutes before we even pull away from the house, we get about two blocks before the questions start. “How much longer?” “When are we going to be there?” “Is this where we’re going?” I take deep breaths like my yoga teacher taught me and patiently answer the rotation of questions about five times through before I start to snarl at my lovely daughters. Mature things like, “You’ve driven all the way from Idaho in one day, surely, you can make it twenty minutes to the store! Quiet down, when I park the car and get out of it, you’ll know that we’re there, ok?”
All of this as I’m driving and looking at the street signs. San Gabriel. Santa Anita. Baldwin. Rosemead. Blah blah blah, no Walnut Grove. It’s getting dark. I worry that I won’t be able to tell I’m at my turn before I’m already on top of it. We continue to drive and I grow more and more convinced that I’ve passed it somehow. By the time we hit the turn off for the San Gabriel Medical Center, I’m absolutely certain I’ve passed my turn. I pull into a handicapped spot in the med center parking lot and pull out my phone.
The children see it and chirp for it. “Can I play a game on your phone?” Nope! I’m using it! I need it to tell us where to drive. I whisper an apology to Ducky for the possible fee I may be incurring by figuring out where I’m supposed to go. Then I spend the next five minutes trying to get my phone to route us from my current location. It kept asking me to input a starting point, which was messing me up. It wasn’t until I started typing San Gabriel Medical Center that I saw the tiny little option “route from current location.” I pushed it and saw that we still were 25 minutes away and I had indeed passed the road I wanted. We set out again.
After some more traffic ridiculousness where I hate turning left and the one part where I managed to turn at the wrong place and somehow ended up in another parking lot where I could see where I needed to be but couldn’t maneuver out of the labyrinth of speed bumps.
At last, at long last, we get onto Walnut Grove and head the right way. Just in time too because the chorus from the peanut gallery in the back has changed from “I’m hot. Are we there yet?” to “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom.”
It is 5:45 pm by the time we reach the Super Walmart, and I see immediately that we have planned badly. The cars! The pedestrians! We, as human beings, are the worst sort of herd animal ever. Plodding behind carts in leopard print pants, clutching McCafes and oversized bags, heavy-lidded eyes deliberately NOT looking at the cars coming, trusting stupidly that as a pedestrian, those of us in cars will just wait for them to mosey along. I try to get over it and not start this procedure by foaming at the mouth.
I do eventually find us a parking spot, far away on Judea’s plains. This isn’t something I mind, normally, but when the number of people who need mobility help exceed the number of hands I have, then it becomes tricky. We perform the ritual of releasing the children from their carseats and forcing the wheelchair from the trunk. Fortunately, since the kids have been in the car SO LONG, they are willing to walk all the way to the entrance. Not that they would have had a choice in that, but it’s better when they are walking without whining as though I’d asked them to cross the Serengeti with no water or sunglasses. So I push Mom with Meridy’s help, and Ezri trots along beside us. We DO look and wait for cars, memorize where I’d put the car so we can find it again, and duck into the entrance.
I remind Mom that since we’re getting groceries, I’m going to need a cart and she’s going to have to propel herself through the store. She knew this beforehand and has acknowledged that this whole trip wouldn’t be happening without her online mishap so she’s quite compliant with the plan. I try to find a spot to get out of the way while we figure out the place we need to go to pick up online orders. I pull up the barcode we’re going to need on my phone (what the heck, right? I mean, I’ve already used Google maps all the way here) and spot the right place, naturally located as far away from us as possible. We make our way, amoeba-like, through the store, past the writhing miserable entity that is the customer service line, past the opposite entrance, and into the little kiosk receptacle place with the sign indicating online service. There is miraculously no line. There is also no one at the desk.
Fortunately, someone pops out from a back room just as I’m wheeling Mom into position. This portion of the trip is the bit with the least amount of drama. The woman helps us pleasantly and quickly, checking Mom’s ID, bringing out our Glucerna, bagging it, and even allowing my kids to pat her skunk keychain for a bit. I think if she’d been less cool, it might have put me in the right mindset to just get back in the car and get our groceries at the usual place a block away from our house. But no, she was great and gave me this false sense of security that the worst was behind me, that we were here now and everything was going to be fine. I relaxed, long enough to tell the children that yes, we could look at the toys, but then my guard was right back up after the kiosk lady warned me nicely that I should hide the wallet in my cart and that I should keep a very close eye on my baby if I wanted her to come home with me.
Now, if those aren’t the right words to say to get someone to head right back home, I don’t know what would do it. But the kids still had to go to the bathroom, conveniently placed by marketing behind the toys, and I had already told them that we could look. Not to mention I didn’t really want to get back in the car yet. I thanked our friend, stuffed my wallet down the sleeve of Ezri’s coat, and we started all the way to the back of the store.
My original plan had been to let Mom watch the girls in the toy aisle while I did the rest of the shopping as quickly as possible, but the caution about losing Meridy decided me against that. We were all going to look at toys. This isn’t something I mind, honestly, except the part where I have to say no to the requests to bring things home. The girls are generally good about accepting this answer, but they will ask about Every. Single. Item. Even weird stuff. Stuff I know they don’t like or want. It’s just a reflex thing to go down the aisle and ask for everything on the off chance that This One might be the one where Mom breaks down and says yes. (Ezri has actually confessed to me that this is their plan.)
So they ooh and ahh over things, and I also enjoy a few items that they’ve brought back from my own childhood. Hello Popples, nice makeover! Hey, look, the Puppy Surprise hasn’t changed at all! Ezri and I have a lengthy discussion about the one Baby Alive doll they have in the store.
See, Ezri has become enamored with these videos on Youtube. There’s a girl, Kelli, who has about seven Baby Alive dolls (she has way more dolls than that, but Ezri likes watching the videos revolving around these seven). Kelli makes videos of her family of dolls, and Ezri eats it up. In fact, I think this weekend we’re going to be making our own doll videos (which I admit is kind of up my alley too). Anyway! She’s never seen one in person and went right over the moon about it. I looked at the price and went over the moon too. And thus the discussion about how it is WAY too expensive (I refrained from telling her that in addition to being too expensive, the entire Baby Alive mold is the ugliest doll I have ever seen in my life – because that’s below the belt for arguing with a six-year-old). I explained that I was not going to buy it for her, but I would not prevent her from saving up her money that she gets for chores to buy it herself.
This brought to her memory the $10 that Grandma Vivian had given her for her birthday. Ten. Whole. Dollars. (Which is about 20% of what she’d need for her Baby Alive doll, but who needs math when you’re six?) She let the doll go, but started looking around for something that she could afford. I followed her and worried that it was going to be something I really didn’t want her to buy, but would have to agree to.
Let’s back up so you can get my theory on letting her spend her money as she likes even though I am the mom and I can say no. When I was young, not sure how young exactly, but my dad was involved so I was younger than 10. When I was young, there was something in a store once that I wanted to purchase. I wanted to use my own money for it. I remember exactly what it was. It was a Mapletown figurine. A baby mouse that came with some sort of basket bed, blanket, and a bottle. It was tiny and flocked, adorable, and a whopping $2.99. My father, for reasons of his own that were never explained to me and which my mother cannot figure out, denied my request for this item. Flat out refused to let me buy it with my own money. I believe this is the only time I was ever taken out of a store for my behavior, but the point of the matter is that I was not having a tantrum for something my father wouldn’t buy for me. I wasn’t actually having a tantrum at all, but I was crying. Perhaps I’m remembering incorrectly how loudly I was crying, but something made my father take us out. I was completely distraught at the injustice that my father would not allow me to spend my own money. This injustice has remained with me for several decades now and it makes it very difficult for me to say no to my kids when they want to use their funds, even if it’s for something I’d rather they not buy.
The girls keep looking (since Meridy also has $10 from Grandma Vivian) and they choose something. Ezri picks a collapsible doll playpen that stores nicely in a flowery pink zippered case. I like this choice. She has many, many dolls, but not a crib and the fact that it folds up and stores so nicely is a plus. I agree to her selection and let her know that it will take all of the money Grandma gave her. She acknowledges that this is ok with her as she really wants the crib. Fine.
Meridy picks out a wee Waterbaby mermaid, less than $10. I double check them both. I ask them if they are sure. They are sure. I then proclaim it’s time to get on with the grocery shopping. Content with their treasures (they really don’t get to buy stuff often, and as we’ve discussed before, I hardly EVER say yes to their requests for things), they are willing to go with me without comment. I text Rich to let him know that we will be bringing toys home because I let the girls spend their money. Instead of lamenting that more stuff is coming into our house, he congratulates me on my parenting. I’m encouraged.
We then begin the grueling process of grocery shopping in a store where we don’t know where anything is. I try to be slow about it, because I only want to go through each aisle once. Meridy sits contentedly in the cart with her baby, asking every now and again if I can remove her from the box. Ezri is the real star of the show for this part. With her crib tucked on her shoulder like a purse, she cheerfully went through every aisle and actually pushed Mom’s wheelchair for me. I didn’t even know she was strong enough for that, but it really helped a lot.
Just when the girls are starting to say they are starving, we reach the end of the grocery list. I send Ezri and Mom to the McDonalds for fries for everyone while Meridy and I very quickly race to the other end of the store for toothpaste and shampoo. Then we get in line. A very long line, like all the other lines at every single open check out.
Did I mention how many people were shopping with us? Probably not, because they were legion. Masses everywhere, arms and carts and purses everywhere you turn. Hordes and droves and swarms of people. The kind of crowding that makes you want to sanitize your hands every two minutes and makes your skin prickle. (might be just me, though).
So it’s not surprising that there’s a huge bottleneck at the checkouts. Since it’s not surprising, Meridy and I just chill in line for our turn. She proudly puts her waterbaby on the belt first thing and watches it anxiously as it crawls slowly toward the cashier, asking every once in a while when she can have it back. I assure her that it won’t be long.
The cashier, Harry, who looks like he’s thirteen, picks up the mermaid and scans it first. It makes a bad sound as it goes across his scanner. A loud beep that is remarkably close to the buzzer they use in game shows when someone gives a wrong answer. Harry frowns at the doll and scans it again. Same sound. He looks at me and explains the beeping.
“It says the item isn’t found,” he said.
“What’s that mean?” I pressed.
“It means the system can’t find the item.” NO?! Really?
“I mean, what do we need to fix it?”
“I, um, don’t really know.”
Then Harry did this funny little dance where it was obvious that he wasn’t allowed to leave his register, but he couldn’t get anyone’s attention from behind it either. So he’d take a few steps away, stand on tiptoe, glance around for someone to notice that he needed some help, then tuck himself into the register again. Someone did notice us, said they’d send someone for a price check, and he continued checking the rest of our stuff out for us.
Harry, bless his heart, is not a speedy cashier. I’m thinking he may be sort of new to this (what with just turning the legal age of employment last week or something), so the mobile employees, you know, ones not babysitting a register, had plenty of time to walk back to the toy aisle and get the price for him to put into his system. Except they don’t come. All our items are scanned and bagged and in the cart and no one is there. Meridy asks about her mermaid. I tell her to wait a few more minutes while we try to buy it.
Harry flags down another employee, one wearing a white instead of a blue vest, a matronly type woman who looks like someone who has worked at Walmart a long time. Someone who knows the ropes. He shows her the mermaid and asks what to do if it can’t be found in the system.
“Then she can’t have it,” the lady says, very simply in a voice that indicates clearly that she does not appreciate lowly cashiers talking to her. “It’s not for sale.”
“It was on the shelf,” I protested. “That usually indicates that it is for sale.” I’ve had something like this happen before at a different Walmart, and the manager used a miscellaneous code, typed in the price, and scanned it not as the item it was, but just as some random item that they were going to sell to me. I suggested this course of action while the older woman looked at me like I was speaking Klingon.
Before I was finished, she threw up her hands and then made this sweeping gesture that meant she was done with us and our problems. Then she walked off. I looked at Harry. He looked at the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Meridy started to cry. Not loudly. Just the sort of tired, hungry, disappointed cry that we probably all feel like engaging in when we’re standing in a long line at a Walmart. But she’s three and can get away with it better. I might have let it go. I’m not usually the sort to pick fights or anything, but that dismissive gesture really got to me and I am actually prone to rage.
“Call someone else,” I told Harry. He looked terrified, but he did flag down another person and we explained the situation again. Paige took the mermaid and said she would put it in the system. It would take about fifteen minutes. I said ok and started off with my cart of groceries.
Meridy was upset, but I told her that we just had to wait a little bit longer for the workers to sort out the issue. We met up with Mom and Ezri, and we all went to the car. I put the wheelchair in the trunk, put everyone in the car, and divided up the fries. Then I told Mom that I was going back into the store for the mermaid. She asked why I was bothering, and I honestly didn’t have a good answer. I locked them in the car and went back inside. I dodged my way through the slow-moving shoppers, actually getting whacked with a case of beer by a large, lumbering man who was taking up the entire aisle with just himself and his swinging case of beer. I ducked and darted my way back to the toys, found the mermaid, and took it back to the front to try again.
I stood in line, this time the speedy check out line. I waited and waited for my turn, which was fine because it meant that way more than fifteen minutes had elapsed since Paige had gone to fix the system. Yet despite the time, the familiar buzz sounded when the new cashier scanned the mermaid. “Item not found?” She said to herself, and I sighed.
We started over with the explanation of how I’d been in before, how it wasn’t in the system, how Paige had gone to put it in the system. We started another checkout dance with the whole taking a few steps away to get someone’s attention thing. I offered to make a scene.
“I could start yelling at you,” I told the cashier, and her eyes got huge. “Nothing personal, of course because it’s not your fault. But if you want someone’s attention over here in a hurry, I can make it happen for you.”
“Um,” she said (it was her favorite word with dealing with me).
“I’d be pretty easy,” I went on. “Like this” I raised my voice “What’s taking so long? I just have one item!” She put up her hands to shush me, but just that little bit was enough. Paige was back and looking at the mermaid.
“Were you here a little while ago?” She asked me. Yep, still want this mermaid, thanks. It’s been fifteen minutes. She told me that no one had been available to enter it, so if I wanted to wait, it would be fifteen to twenty minutes. I impatiently informed her that it had already been fifteen minutes when she’d told me that the last time. She took the mermaid and disappeared again.
“I should have just walked out with it,” I told the cashier, impressed that her eyes could get Even Bigger. “It’s not like you would have known. It’s Not In Your System.”
Then I stood by her bagging station, texting Rich, talking to Mom who had her cellphone and was giving me updates on how she and the kids were ranking on the Lord of the Flies scale in the car. I stared at the cashier. I stared at everyone behind me in line, quickly and efficiently making their purchases without incident. I got bored and mad. I pretended to call Ducky so I could say out loud all the stuff I wanted to say. Not mature stuff. Not nice stuff.
When the man came through buying a huge bottle of whiskey and a gift bag, I pretended to reach out for it as he was pocketing his wallet. Like I’m not Mormon and pregnant. He laughed at me and left. The next guy was an older man. I helped him put his bags in the cart in hopes that kindness might reverse the horrible bad karma my impatience was bringing to me. He told me I was very sweet. I tried to smile in a way that was actually a smile and not so much baring my teeth. I bowed at the monk buying yogurt and bananas. He wished me peace. And I waited and waited and waited, giving updates to the cashier all the while. 18 minutes. Twenty minutes. She’s not coming back is she?
Finally, in desperation to get rid of me, the cashier pointed out another manager who happened to be walking by. I raced after her and tried to remember that she knew nothing about any of my problems so I shouldn’t take her out at the throat or anything if I wanted some help.
I flagged her down. She looked surprised and defensive, so I tried to keep the crazy out of my voice. I explained the whole thing with the dumb mermaid and suggested that if they had no intention of selling something then it shouldn’t be on the shelf with a price tag on it. I told her about my three-year-old who wanted to buy it with her own money that her grandma had given her. I told her how long I’d been waiting for someone to help me and about how that older woman had just brushed me off and how Paige kept saying fifteen minutes and then walking away from me in the hopes that maybe I’d just go away or something and didn’t she think that this was just ridiculous?
She nodded as proper customer service representatives are supposed to do. Then she asked me to follow her as she tracked down Paige, practically ripped the doll out of her hands, had me come with her to a kiosk where she told me in a confident way that she was going to check me out right now. She pushed in some buttons for a MISCELLANEOUS ITEM, told me the new price for the mermaid was now $3, and at last handed it to me. I thanked her, told she was the most competent person in the store, and fled.
I handed Meridy her mermaid, buckled the kids in, and we finally left super Walmart at 9:40 pm, vowing never to return. My only comfort is that Meridy has had the mermaid with her constantly since I snipped it from its box. In the bath. In bed. With her all the time. I realize that’s only going to last a few more days, but when you’re doing something ridiculous like waiting around a Walmart to buy a toy, you take what you can get that you didn’t completely waste your time.
Even though it was totally a complete and utter waste of time.