I felt completely unprepared to be a new foster mom to three children all at once. I am far enough removed from this particular event that I don’t break out in a cold sweat thinking about it, but it’s not quite far enough along to think about it with fondness. Regardless, it’s a story worth telling and I hope you or another foster parent can learn from my many mistakes.
I was a new foster mom for about 24 hours by this point. I had phoned in favors from friends to acquire most of what we needed that I had forgotten. My sweet spouse was away on business (poor planning on our part, but unavoidable) and we needed quite a few things to make it through the next few days. If I had needed it, I’m certain I could have called a friend to go to the store with me or make the trip for me. I did neither.
Under normal circumstances, I probably would have thought twice before taking an infant and two little boys into a brightly lit, noisy, overstimulating big box store. These were not normal circumstances. We needed quite a few things, and I didn’t want to overburden our friends with what I imagined to be a routine shopping trip.
I hadn’t even considered that the boys had never in their recollection set foot in a store before. I instructed them to hold on to the cart’s sides as we walked through the store picking out toothpaste, new toothbrushes, food, clothes, diapers, baby bottles, pacifiers, and sneakers among other things. We had to go through every department in the store to complete our list.
My first mistake in this series of truly unfortunate events was even entering the store. I should have turned around and left when I saw the boys’ eyes go round as saucers as they immediately ignored my request to stay close. They ran into the store with a speed I was truly unaware they would be capable of. They only stopped because they saw a police officer and ran to hide under the shelves. You know that gap beneath most store shelves that’s only a few inches high? They tried to squeeze into there. They almost made it too. I had the baby wrapped against my chest. With great difficulty, I snagged their ankles and gently tugged them out. Now they were covered in dust. Whatever, little kids get dirty. It’s part of the gig.
I convinced them (with bribery) to stay close as we went aisle to aisle plunking things into the cart. We nearly made it through the store with only a few disappointed grumbles. I was feeling rather smug as I wandered past the candy aisle. I told the boys to go pick their favorite candy for having behaved so well. This did not go as planned.
Faced with an overwhelming number of choices my younger son’s brain short-circuited. He started pulling bags of candy off the shelf like he was playing supermarket sweep. I stood by slack-jawed for a moment, thinking perhaps I could just buy all the candy being chucked into the cart. I did a few mental calculations and decided our bank account could not sustain that. I tried as gently as I could to ask him to pick one bag. This was simply one request too many in a day of having to make choices while being faced with a vast array he had never contemplated before. He’d been asked to pick one pair of pajamas, one breakfast cereal, one pack of Spiderman underwear. This was one injustice too many in his mind and it would not stand. However, this was not my loud, dramatic child. This was my silent, violent child. He began to throw bags of candy around the aisle. I asked his brother to please put all but one bag of candy back. With a bit of grumbling, he complied. My younger son decided the very best way to demonstrate how unfair the proceedings were was by throwing himself to the floor and refusing to move.
We may have even been able to recover from that if his brother hadn’t started yelling. The yelling startled the baby who had been to that point contentedly sucking a pacifier and nuzzling into my chest. Her pacifier dropped to the floor and she screamed. So now I had two screaming kids, one silent flailing kid, no backup adult, and a grocery cart full of things we needed.
My tolerance at that point was fairly low. I simply wasn’t prepared for the stares of other shoppers. I started to cry. That disturbed my older son enough that he stopped yelling. My younger son was still silently flailing on the floor. I knelt down, picked him up (he was a very tiny 8-year-old), and carried him surfboard style over my shoulder, one hand holding him still, the other protecting the baby. The older brother followed, confused. We left the aisle and walked out to the car, leaving the groceries behind. I felt bad leaving things for some poor employee to clean up. As one final indignity, the baby’s diaper blew out as I was walking to the car.
Now, years later, I recognize all I did wrong. First and foremost I should not have taken the kids into a busy store the second day we knew each other. I should have bought the few things we needed and gone to the store again later when my husband was back. Alas, hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy now to spot the defects in my plan as a foster mom.
I don’t shop at that store, even now. Thankfully there are others just like it that I have no traumatic memories from (or life would be more complicated than it already is). Some traumatic memories are tied to that specific place, and I know it wouldn’t be good for me to go there.
Maybe one day I’ll look back on that day as a new foster mom and laugh. For now, I just look back and cringe.