So, as part of our Advent preparation and focus on thinking of others, the girls will help assemble gift stockings for people in our community. We've made food bags in the past for people asking for change at street corners, and they were generally well-received. So we decided to do gift stockings for them for Christmas. The girls helped brainstorm a list of items that might be appreciated by people who spend their lives out in the cold, and our activity after school today was to go shopping for those items. Sounds good so far, right?
So I took them to Ocean State Job Lot. For those of you who don't know OSJL, don't worry. Your home area probably has something similar. It sells a hodgepodge of everything, mostly deeply-discounted closeouts. So if you need a wide assortment of practical items, you'll find them there. It's the cheapest local place to go, since I live in a city that hates Wal-Mart. (Ok, maybe the city doesn't. But you have to travel more than 30 minutes out of the city to find one.) It's a slightly overstimulating place to begin with. But I went there late on a Wednesday afternoon with 3 girls, aged 6 and under. Are you starting to feel a premonition of danger yet?
You never know what you'll find when you're there. So you can't really write a detailed shopping list and stick to it. You sketch out a broad list, and suspect you'll find maybe half of the items on your list, plus a bunch you never imagined you'd find. And you never know the price you'll pay, so you have to look at everything and consider prices when you're assembling a gift assortment. In other words, it's a constant mental juggling act. What's a better value? The leather gloves or the waterproof Thinsulate-lined? Do homeless men prefer wool socks or these thicker ones with only a small amount more artificial fibers in them after you actually read the labels on the "Marino wool socks." Hmmm, get one of those thick sweat shirts for $7, or not risk getting the wrong sizes and get other things instead that might actually fit in the stocking better? The mental juggling act is constant in OSJL, even without kids along. And of course, there are countless temptations along the way. $8 ladies leather gloves to match my new scarf? I don't mind if I do! Add the kids, and my brain explodes.
I think it's the sheer overstimulation of my internal monologue plus the 3 overlapping conversations from my children that just causes the trouble. Have you met my children? They are all girls. They are all chatty girls. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I used to pride myself in the early and prolific speech of my children. Now I just curse myself.
An hour later, we leave the store with 5 stockings that we will fill with hand-warmers, gloves, thick socks, first aid kits, rain ponchos, and candy canes. We also leave with some candy for one of MeToo's teachers, and a few bags of Bob's Red Mill products, because they're awesome and pretty cheap at OSJL for some reason. But I didn't leave with Vital Gluten. Because apparently they don't carry it anymore. And I looked at their BRM offerings in two different places 5 times. It should have taken me 2 minutes to do that. But instead I:
- Convinced the 6 year old that asking me to guess about minutae from her day while trying to read package labels to find the gluten was counterproductive and would keep us from actually leaving.
- Found a snack to stop the toddler's shrieking, doled it out to 3 girls, and kept the open bag from being spilled on the floor.
- Returned the toddler to a sitting position in the cart 5 times. The seatbelt was broken.
- Refereed a fight between the 5 year old and 6 year old about who got to stand where on the cart.
- Stopped 5 and 6 year old from pushing the cart while the toddler was standing up in the seat.
- Investigated who was lying about who was or was not pushing that cart while the toddler was standing.
- Delivered a stern message about the dangers of lying to the liar, while holding toddler in her seat to keep her from hurting herself while I was trying to discipline her older sister. Tried to ignore the indignant screaming of the toddler.
- Tried to manage the remorseful crying of the liar.
- Handed out more chocolate animal crackers to all unhappy parties.
- Didn't ever find gluten.
Let's not discuss how long it took to:
- Look for sizes on the gloves and socks.
- Try to determine which glove and sock would be warmest for those who live on the street.
- Compare sizes, prices, and styles of stockings.
- Search for candies that the girls' teachers had identified as their favorites.
- Convince the girls that we could only look at toys at the END of the shopping trip.
The good news it that we now have some well-stuff Christmas stockings full of practical gifts that will be supplemented with some homemade treats and hopefully a warm cup of cocoa or coffee. And hopefully I can be emboldened by my children to share a treat and a gift with some total strangers that may or may not want to be recipients of our gifts. But that's a concern and blog post for another day.
Remind me not to shop with 3 little girls again. I need a big glass of wine. Or two.