One of the things I hated about working in the Mercantile was dealing with unsupervised children. Even parents who were physically in the store sometimes paid no attention to their kids and simply let them run amuck. In these cases, it became my job to make sure the kids didn’t hurt themselves or the store’s merchandise. I spent a lot of time saying things like Be careful, sweetheart! or Oh! That’s breakable! while parents were paying attention to something other than their children.
One afternoon a family came into the store. The mother and father seemed to be in their early 30s. The little girls was a toddler, probably under two years old, and the boy was a little older, maybe six or seven. The dad wanted to wander around unencumbered, but the mom wasn’t having it.
Look, she told the fellow, I can’t handle both of them. You’ve got to take one.
The dad said he’d take the boy, but the mom said the boy would be easier for her to deal with and she wanted to take him. The dad seemed exasperated but agreed. I felt sorry for the little girl. It seemed both parents were rejecting her because she was too difficult. I hoped she was too little to understand what was happening.
Instead of holding the kid’s hand and leading her around the store while explaining that there would be no touching, the dad picked her up. She didn’t want to be carried and began venting her frustration by screaming. The mom and the boy walked away to browse in the store. The dad carried the freaking toddler outside.
At some point I lost track of the family. I don’t think the mom bought anything, and I didn’t notice when she and the boy left the store.
The next time the family came to my attention, it was because the kids were running up and down the wooden ramp that went from the parking area to the Mercantile’s porch. The kids were not trotting or jogging or sauntering. They were full-on running, as if they were competing in the Kiddie Olympics. The boy was faster because he was bigger, but the tiny girl was doing her best to keep up. She was also squealing with excitement.
The children didn’t run up the ramp just once. They ran up the ramp, down the ramp, up the ramp, down the ramp. They kept running, just like the Energizer Bunny.
At the bottom of the ramp was a concrete parking pad for a vehicle carrying a passenger with a disabled access pass. I immediately imagined one of those little kids tripping, falling, and cracking a head on the concrete. Why weren’t the parents of the children as concerned about the prospect of a cracked skull as I was?
When I looked out the door, I couldn’t see either parent, and I thought the adults had wandered off and left their young athletes on our doorstep.
I bustled outside saying, Please! No running! Oh, no running please! Someone could get hurt! I was hoping to sound like a concerned elderly aunt, but I think I probably came across more like a deranged Mary Poppins.
The children’s mother was nowhere in sight. I think she’d gone to the restroom. I didn’t think I’d see the dad either, but there he was standing at the corner where the long ramp turned onto the deck in front of the store. He was messing around on his phone, but surely he knew his kids–including his tiny daughter who’d obviously learned to walk only recently–were running like maniacs. As far as I could tell, he’d done absolutely nothing to stop them.
No running please! I said again to the children, and this time the dad echoed halfheartedly, Yeah, no running.
The mom walked up about then, and I went back into the Mercantile. When the family left our porch, I whispered fiercely to the other clerk, The dad was right there! He knew they were running! He probably would have sued us if one of the kids got hurt!
I don’t understand people. There was a whole forest those kids could have run in. Whey let kids run up and down a wooden ramp with concrete at the bottom when they could have been running in the dirt?