Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lessons in Fear

True confession: Grocery shopping with Grayson has never been my favorite activity.

As Grayson enters toddlerhood, I find myself more and more impatient at Kroger. He refuses to be contained in a shopping cart. He simply must pull every single package of tortillas off the shelf in his own effort at comparison shopping. He begs for strawberries
(when they're out of season and sprouting strange molds) with eyes which could only be compared to a SPCA commercial and it seems as if Sarah McLachlan is actually yodeling her strange "la-la-lalalala" as I look at him. He insists on pushing the cart (and veers dangerously close to the octogenarian who is politely minding her own business as she vacillates between chamomile and cinnamon spice tea).

This evening, as I stocked up on canned green beans, bottles of apple juice, a box of diapers and, truth be told, a bottle or two of chardonay, Grayson found a frequent fascination. The automatic doors.

I purposely chose the check-out counter closest to the automatic doors, as I am not stupid. And, I know that my son is a sucker for the marvel of the doors "which go open and close now, Mom." I figure, if I can occupy my son with the simple pleasures, the simple joys of the door opening and closing, then I can have two blessed minutes of check-out bliss.

Now, I am a diligent parent. I watch my boy closely. I don't let him just randomly open and close the door willy-nilly (although, really...could that hurt so much if he loved to do it?). No, instead, I insist that he stands aside and merely watches the people come in and out, in and out, in and out...while Mommy scans her Kroger card.

Most people understand. They smile politely at my very-well-behaved-boy who just likes to stand, sociologist that he is, and observe others.

However, most people are not the check-out lady in aisle 11.

Apparently, the store was not busy tonight. And as young Harry Potter look-alike boy scanned my purchases, and Grayson stood politely watching people go in and out the automatic doors, Ms. Aisle 11 made her move. Having heard me call Grayson earlier she said, "Grayson? Is his name Grayson?" I smiled politely and nodded as I watched my yogurt being drug across the scanning machine. She approached Gray and in a benign and grandmotherly fashion handed him a "I've been Krogering!" sticker. And then I heard Harry Potter cashier mutter under his breath, "I'm sorry, Ma'am. I hate it when she does this. She does this all the time...."

Puzzled, I looked quizzically at my cashier who motioned with a nod and turn of the head to Ms. Aisle 11 who stood with a tiny Grayson staring obediently into her eyes.

"Oh, Grayson..."she drawled, syrupy sweet, "Here's a nice sticker for you. But you see, if some strange man ever came up and offered you a sticker and you went with him it would be VERY BAD and you could be HURT and you need to STAY NEAR YOUR MOMMY or BAD THINGS COULD HAPPEN."

Before I knew it, Grayson had scuttled back to me, before I could even get the credit card slip signed. I paused and stared at the child who had attached himself leech-like to my thigh.

"I'm really sorry, Ma'am." Harry Potter boy repeated. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you," I said. "She means well," I repeated under my breath.

Seeing Grayson return obediently to me she smiled, happy to have scared the living hell out of a toddler. "Grayson," she said with a conspiratorial grin," You listened so well that I want to give you another sticker..." Grayson took it hesitantly, and I forced a kind look.

And then we got outside and Grayson said forcefully, "Mommy...I want NO stickers. Let's give stickers back now. No more."

Usually opposed to litter bugs, I made no mention of the fact that his tiny hand let go of his previously prized possessions and I allowed both stickers to fly away in the winter wind.

The fear of strangers was taught to Grayson today. But not as his teacher may have imagined. And I pause and wonder how to protect a child from fear-mongers, especially those who have the best of intentions.