(written June 16.2007)
I don’t know what it is about Wal-Mart on a Friday night that seems to draw every varmint in the county out from under their rocks. I go to great lengths to avoid shopping at night, particularly on the weekend, because of all the interesting (to put it nicely) people that seem to congregate at the local Wal-Mart at those times. Inevitably, however, those shopping trips are sometimes unavoidable. Last night was one of those times.
With family visiting from out of state and all the flurry of activity that accompanies times like this, a lot of last minute runs to Wal-Mart seem to be necessary. Yesterday I began the morning with a trip to the store at 6:45AM to get supplies for a spur of the moment trip to the river for the day. The day was a ball of fun, watching the kids splash in the shallow, cool, clear water of the river in the hot Arkansas sun. When it started to cloud up and thunder, we retreated to our vehicles for the long drive home. Sleepy, filthy, grumpy children (and parents!) piled out of the vans to shower and rest until dinner.
Grandma prepared a huge barbecue meal, which definitely perked everyone back up again! Rested and with bellies full, the children broke out into games of hide-and-seek and tag and football. This is always a treat to watch, especially since these cousins only get to see one another a few times each year because of the distance that separates our families. The adults enjoyed the peace and quiet of the house while the children were out in the yard, and were able to have some nice conversation. Around 9PM, we decided it was probably time to put the sleepy heads in the bed (mainly our own… more so than the children’s) and we rounded up our crew to head home. One of the cousins wanted to join us for the night, so she packed a few things and came along. On the way home, it hit me: I absolutely HAD TO GO TO THE STORE before I could go to bed. Let’s just say that there were some very necessary personal products that I had forgotten to purchase earlier in the day, and really, really needed them before bed.
Hubby was gracious enough to offer to put the kids to bed, which required setting up sleeping arrangements for our guest, as well as getting our three dressed in their pj’s and teeth brushed. I dropped them off at the house, and grudgingly set off again for Wal-Mart. Thankfully it is not a long drive from our house to Wal-Mart. (I often wonder if there is a home in the U.S. that isn’t within just a short drive from a Wal-Mart?)
I’ve seen a lot of strange things while shopping at WM at night. Teenagers riding around the parking lot on the motorized wheelchairs that are intended for disabled shoppers to use; teenagers riding on the motorized carousel and other toys that are available near the front doors; groups of kids playing what appears to be hide-and-seek throughout the store; kids riding bicycles from toy department throughout the store; kids playing with toys such as balls and Frisbees, also from the toy department, throughout the store; scary looking teens with multicolored hair and makeup and piercings of all sorts just hanging around watching people (I know they’re most likely completely innocent, but it still creeps me out!); various rednecks of all shapes and sizes doing the things that put them in the category of “redneck”, beyond a shadow of a doubt; and one time I even was horrified to witness a young man driving very slowly through the parking lot with a dashboard DVD player displaying a pornographic movie with the volume up extremely loud – where anyone who happened to glance his direction was subjected to an eyeful of garbage and filth. Thank goodness my children were not with me that night.
That brings me to the number one reason I HATE going to Wal-Mart at night, which is the observation of so many parents who appear to be doing such a poor job of parenting. Many times I have seen parents dragging their little ones into the store very late at night. I realize that a lot of people have no choice, for whatever reason, whether they do not have a caretaker to keep the children at home; they work odd hours and that’s the only opportunity for them to get groceries; there is some reason why they MUST go to the store at that moment and can’t avoid taking the children with them; etc… I understand that. What bugs me is when a child is so obviously tired and needs to be in the bed, and the parent(s) continues to shop and meander through the store, browsing and stopping to chat. When the child fusses or cries, he is not dealt with tenderly, but is told to “shut up”, and it’s often said with even more harsh words than that.
Teenagers come to the store with their tiny babies in tow, sometimes the daddy is the one hauling the little one around, showing him off to friends as if he’s a new toy. They don’t seem to have a clue what’s best for the baby. Much of the time they don’t even have proper clothing or at least a blanket around the poor thing.
Last night, what I saw disturbed me so greatly. Our Wal-Mart now has those shopping carts with the little compartment for children to sit in just in front of the handlebars. An older man was pushing one of those carts with a little curly-headed girl sitting in it. The man was dressed in a filthy pair of jeans and an even filthier shirt. His hands and face were dirty, his hair was shaggy and he wore a dirty hat on top of his head. The mom of the little girl walked beside him. She looked to be in her early twenties, and as I said, the man appeared to be “older”. The mom was scantily clad, but at least she was clean. As they pushed the cart along, the little girl somehow managed to slip out of the compartment and land in the floor, banging her head on the ground. As she cried, the man picked her up and shoved her back in the cart. The little girl might have been 2 or a very petite 3 at the most. As he tossed her in, he scolded her very loudly for falling out of the cart. He told her to “get in there and sit on (her) a** and not get up again”. I wondered what she had done earlier in the evening to deserve such a harsh scolding instead of compassion.
Our paths crossed several more times during the course of my shopping trip. At one point I saw the little girl out of the cart walking around. The two grown-ups were looking at clothing, and the mom snapped at the little one with a warning that she was NOT going to chase her so she’d better stay put. I observed her as I looked through a rack of men’s shirts (Father’s Day shopping – may as well since I had to go to the store anyway.) She crouched down close to the floor, almost sitting down but not letting her bottom actually touch the floor. She yawned. She looked up at me with bright blue eyes. I winked at her, but she didn’t smile. She just stared at me, tired. I noticed that she didn’t have any shoes on her feet, and her feet and legs were nearly black with dirt. I just wished that I could scoop her up and take care of her. As I left the store, I noticed the family again, getting into an old, beat up van. The little girl was not buckled up, of course. I wondered what kind of home she was returning to, and if she had a warm bed to cuddle up in.
I don’t know what else to say. I'm thinking that this post might sound pretty snotty, although it's not the way I intend it. God loves every single human being, regardless of class or color or geographical location. And our greatest calling is to love one another, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It really makes me sad to witness things like this innocent child being mistreated, and I know that there are much, much, much worse situations throughout this country, and the world. I can’t change the world, but I can help. In situations like the one I have described, I only wish I knew HOW to help.