“Mess!”

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The other day I was in the store and ended up in line behind a young mother and her little boy, who looked to be around 16-18 months.  Of course he caught my eye, being adorable…okay, the fact that he was a little kid helped, too, as I seem to be unable to ignore them these days.  I guess that’s what happens when you become a mother.  You notice all the other little munchkins and (without even realizing it) compare them to your own.  In my experience seeing other little kids makes me miss my Little Miss, since more often than not she’s in daycare when I’m running errands.

At any rate, the mother had a large wicker three-panel divider/screen in her cart, and, it being too long for the cart, she had to keep one hand on it to keep it in the cart, at the same time trying to get her wallet back in her purse and keep an eye on her son.

Just before I walked up to stand in line, the little boy had dropped a plastic bottle of juice in such a way that the lid just shattered.  Apple juice was in a puddle on the floor under the shopping cart, and the little boy looked all innocence as his mother awkwardly tried to hold the screen/divider and pick up the broken bottle pieces at the same time.

Two cashiers, one on either side of the cart, looked over and stared at the puddle.  The mother, embarrassed, asked if she should go get some paper towels.  The cashiers ignored her and had their own conversation, in tones that expressed irritation and being inconvenienced.

“Well I can’t break right now…”

“Me either.  Ummm…”

“Uhhhh…I guess…ummmm…we need to call so-and-so.”

“Yeah, cuz…uh, I can’t take care of it right now.”

“Me either.”

Meanwhile, the mother is trying to get out of the way so the next person in line (me) can be helped.  Not wanting to run the cart through the juice and track sticky liquid down the aisle to the door, she balances the divider/screen and lifts the cart wheels over the puddle.  At this time a third (wheelchair-bound) employee happens upon the scene.  The two cashiers look at him and one says, “Hey, so-and-so, this needs to be cleaned up…(insert semi-concealed sigh here)…but you can’t get through there.”

What really made me smile (aside from my smile of understanding at the mother) was the little boy’s response to the whole thing.  He pointed to the puddle of apple juice and looked at his mom and said, “Mess!”  His mom nodded and said, “Yes, mess!  I know!”  I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Since the cashiers seemed to be completely unaware that the mother was still standing there, trying to figure out if she could somehow help (“I have paper towels in my car…I could go get them…”), I turned to her and said, “Don’t worry about it.  They’ll figure it out!”  She gave me a grateful look and turned with yet another apology to the cashiers before heading out of the store.  They still said nothing to her.

By this time I had finished paying for my two small items.  I left the store and because I wasn’t balancing a half-empty lid-less bottle of juice, a purse and an oversized item in a cart, I caught up with the woman and her little boy in the parking lot (they had parked across the aisle from me).  As I passed them, I asked if I could help with anything.

“Oh, no, it’s okay, thank you. I just feel bad…I would’ve cleaned it up…”

“Don’t worry about it!  That’s part of their job – they can take care of it.  My daugher dropped a jar of baby food in the grocery store the other day,” I offered as a means of saying, It happens to everyone – it’s fine.

“Really?” she asked, as though she needed to hear that she wasn’t the only one whose kid made a mess on a store floor.

All the way home I was seething at the poor customer service those two cashiers offered the poor embarrassed woman.  From the very instant the incident happened, they should’ve been smiling at her, grabbing paper towels (or the phone to call another employee to do it) and cleaning it up themselves.  Everyone in line would’ve understood and it wasn’t like it was the Hoover Dam had cracked and leaked.  It was a small puddle that would have taken only 30 seconds to wipe up.  While they gathered cleaning supplies, the cashiers should have then told the woman not to worry – it didn’t matter and was no big deal and they would take care of it.  She should then have left the store feeling as though it really was okay, and probably would’ve forgotten about it by dinner.

Instead, they stared at her and the mess her son had made as though it was some sort of hazardous material and she was a bad mother.  Then they openly talked about how they didn’t have time to clean it up, making the woman feel as though she had imposed upon their lives in some awful way. 

So, in closing, a message to mothers everywhere: All children make messes in public places.  Even the most well-behaved, obedient children will make mistakes and have accidents.  Regardless of how those around you react, take a deep breath, give your child a hug and a smile, and remember – it’s happened to all of us.

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