I don’t know if it’s an introverted thing or not, but I don’t do well when I’m put on the spot. I’m a delayed-reaction thinker. I need to ponder, consider, and sort things out before I can make a decision. Rarely is there time for that when I’m put on the spot. Add to that the sense of confrontation, and the only thing I can think is, Get out. Now. I also can’t stand when I’m at the grocery store and the person bagging my food puts heavy items on top of the produce, or bread at the bottom of the bag. That’s not an introverted thing, though. That’s OCD. But groceries are really expensive, so I often bag them myself. Or I just stand there and smile as my produce gets mangled because the cashier is super-sweet, and new, and hasn’t gotten a hang of things yet. Probably the ideal time to give pointers. But again. Conflict.
Anyway, after a long grocery trip in a crowded store with a 5YO who was unhappy because her sister was on a playdate and she was with me, I was relieved to be pushing my cart toward the door. And then I noticed that my new, super-sweet cashier forgot to ring up the juices nestled in the bottom of my cart. I looked up. She had just started ringing up a woman who looked like she was shopping for a family of eight. It would take forever. So I went over to the empty courtesy desk to try and pay there.
I immediately wished I’d waited at the register. The manager approaching me was one I try to avoid. I once accidentally clipped the back of his heels with my cart because I was rounding the corner as he stepped back from lifting something from a high shelf for an elderly lady. I apologized profusely, but he just glared at me, waved me away, and limped off. I get it. I would’ve been mad, too. But I’ve avoided him ever since because that is how I deal with conflict.
He turned to me. I quickly explained what happened and asked if I could pay him instead because the line was so long. He waved me away and told me not to worry about it. I paused for a moment. Asked him if he was sure.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
“Okay…thanks.” I paused again. My thought process finally kicked in. It was a nice offer, but I didn’t want to take the juice. I was going to ask him to ring me up anyway when he was suddenly out from behind the desk area and right next to me.
“Who rang you up?”
I felt like I was in a spotlight.
“I’d…rather not say. “
He stepped a little closer. “It’s okay.”
“No. I don’t want to get them in trouble.”
He sighed, annoyed. “They won’t be in trouble. We have a lot of new cashiers and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
It was probably true. Maybe I was doing the grocery store a world of disservice. But he was standing way too close to me.
He glared at me and waved me off again. I wondered if that was the grocery store equivelant for the bird.
I hurried TWO and our food toward the exit, anxious to GET OUT. And probably never come back.
“Mama? Are we stealing the juice?”
“No, Sweetie, we’re not.”
She considered this while I rolled her toward the car.
“I don’t like this, Mama. I’m scared. What if they killed you for taking the juice? Would I have to go to work with Daddy every day? Will ONE be the boss of me? I don’t want ONE to be the boss of me. Please take them back and pay for them.”
I looked down at her. “Baby, remember that man? He was the manager. He said it was okay for me to take them.” Even I could hear that the words sounded wrong. But I stood my ground. I was not going back in.
We drove home. She kept asking me to pay for the juice and I kept insisting that I didn’t have to, sounding more and more like a thief with every sentence. That’s one of the downsides to being a delayed-reaction thinker. In one impatient moment I taught my child that it was okay to take something from a store if someone working there said to. I justified myself. There was a lot of gray area in this argument, and she was still a black-and-white thinker. But she pondered like a champ, so the fact that she kept bringing it up meant that she was really, really thinking about it.
I went home, resuscitated the produce and bread, and put the groceries away. Except for the juices. They stayed in the bag. I couldn’t drink them now. And I certainly couldn’t serve them to TWO. I thought about returning them later in the day, calculating the earliest possible shift change. Or maybe to the same store, one town over. Or maybe I’d just leave the bag in the lobby and run.
I felt nauseous. Not just because my choice was to either be a thief to my child, or a crazy woman to the workers of the grocery store. Or because what I did went completely against the faith I try to live by and instill in my kids. But because the heart of the situation was about me facing this seemingly small conflict. I felt cornered and ran, purposely avoiding the natural moment to stand up for myself. Now I needed back-pedal. Next to conflict, there’s nothing I hate more than back-pedaling.
I called TWO into the room and thanked her for telling me what she thought and how she felt. She was right. We needed to be honest, especially when it was hard. She beamed. And back in the car we went. She chatted me up the whole way there about why she told me how she felt and that she was proud of me. I half-listened. I wasn’t looking forward to this, but at least I’d had time to ponder, consider and sort things out.
We walked into the store. No one was behind the courtesy desk. I started to eye the express lane. I could pay there. That cashier had no idea. But TWO stood firmly at the desk, looking for the manager. He spotted us and came over.
“I wanted to pay for these,” I said, taking the juices out of the bag. His expression was flat. He didn’t move. So I continued. “My daughter was afraid that we’d stolen them and was really upset and so we came back to pay for them.”
He sighed loudly. Oh, the agonies of being forced to deal with crazies like me.
“Fine.” He said.
“And I’m sorry I wouldn’t tell you who rang me up before, but–”
He cut me off.
“Oh, I already knew who it was. You weren’t doing her any favors by not telling me–”
I cut him back off.
“I don’t do well when I’m put on the spot like that.”
He stopped. Looked up at me for a moment. Looked down at TWO. She smiled at him.
“Well, it was a good lesson to teach her.” He mumbled something else. Something about not wanting to teach kids bad things, even by mistake. Whatever. All I knew was that it was starting to feel like too much. I needed to get out of the store before I somehow managed to find myself back on the spot again. But at least now could drink my juice guilt-free. And even though TWO hadn’t the slightest clue of what was going on for me, if she remembers it at all, hopefully it won’t be as the time her mom stole juice, but as the time she helped her mom make the right decision to go back and pay for it.
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