Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shoe Shopping and the Path to Spiritual Enlightenment.

It was supposed to be a quick in and out visit to the shoe shop.
Ella needed new school shoes.
But doing anything with three children in tow is never quick - irrespective of how quick it is 'supposed' to be.
It is a privilege of sorts to be blissfully ignorant that say, in twenty minutes your life is about to become unadulterated misery. But at the point I pulled the car into the shopping centre, I was unaware of my future, in fact, I was just congratulating self on what a successful day I'd had with the little urchins. My mistake, I realise that now. Self congratulations are just asking for it.
I know, I know, I know.
Or, at least. I do now.

In retrospect, it is a terrible time to go shoe shopping for school shoes at 4PM on a Friday afternoon.
Terrible time.
But I was in super mummy mode, I was in, 'We will nip in, nip out, and sort this in a jiffy," mode.
It was supposed to be a quick trip.
It was supposed to be just to get Ella shoes.
It was supposed to be.

We had already waited in line for thirty minutes before the lady behind the cash register called the next "number." I had spent most of that thirty minutes chasing Cuba around, trying to stop him pulling all the shoes off the shelves. Ella sat barefoot at the shoe-trying-on station, eagerly waiting for her little feet to be measured up . She had selected three different pairs of black school shoes and they waited, lined up in front of her for the sales assistant to get the correct size.

I had waited while the man next to me had his ten year old son try on five different types of Nike sports shoes. I had waited while the lady next to him, had her twin daughters try on several pairs of brown school shoes, followed by sports shoes, followed by some other sort of shoe. Frankly I'd lost interest in how many pairs two little girls could try on in one visit. And mostly, I was concerned with the speed and agility that Cuba was dismantling the shoe displays. He was on fire. First his little chubby hand would grab one shoe, and then, in some sort of fit of shoe grabbing, that befitted a woman at her first David Jone's mid year sale, he would grab the next shoe, then the next, and throw them, gleefully aside, as his little fist reached out for the next one.

To say I was stressed out of my mind would be a supreme understatement.

Lola and Ella, bored of waiting had started to climb on the seats and pretended to be cats scratching at the wall behind them. The only thing was, the bench-style seating was 1.5 metres from the ground, accessible only by a flight of steps. They were both perilously close to falling backwards and sustaining cranial injuries. So I would in turns, scoop Cuba into my arms and dash back to the girls, admonish them for standing on seats, get them to sit back down and again find self chasing after boy child who had found an entire new row of shoes to dismantle.

"Number 97!" the lady at the front desk yelled again.
About five more couples with children had entered the shop since I had been waiting.
I was the next to be seen - as soon as Nike boy had sorted out his final shoe selection. I'd given up on the twins, they were onto the next shoe type. They would be still be sitting there at Christmas.
I eyeballed the sales assistant who was now moving towards the shoe-trying-on station, "I forgot to get a number when I came in." I said in my most genuine, endearing tone.
The sales woman was not to be charmed.
"You need a number, there are lots of people here. How am I to know who is to be served next?"
I glared at her, all charm evaporating as Cuba struggled in my arms for his freedom, "I have been waiting here for thirty minutes. I am the next person in line to be served. I was here before all these other people."
And I waved my one free arm to indicate the entirity of the shop.
The sales woman returned to the front counter and pulled a paper number from the number machine. She walked back towards me and handed me a ticket that had a number printed on it in black ink, "Here, hopefully it wont be too long."
Hopefully it wont be too long?
Are you kidding me?
I glared at her again. Actually let's be honest here. If looks could kill, I was the equivalent of super strength Baygon for Cockroaches, I mean, I was filthy, I would have ravaged this woman with my nails, if I were not so busy digging them into Cuba to stop him pulling shoes off the shelf next to me.
I handed her back the ticket, "I wont be buying shoes here today."
The woman who had arrived after me, with her teenage daughter handed me her ticket, "Please, take my number."
I tried my best to smile, but the only thing coming out of my facial muscles was a fairly taught grimace. "No thank you, I have no intention of giving this woman my custom today."
My custom? (I think perhaps in moments of high stress I am reduced to Jane Austin style speech, when really what I would much rather prefer would be Rambo style destruction. God to have been Cuba for five minutes, to have screamed my head off at the surly, smug sales lady and ripped at her stupid pony tail bobbing behind her head.)
I turned to Ella and Lola still perched up on the bench, "Girls we are leaving."
Ella started howling, "NOOOOOOO!"
The woman with the teenager offered me her ticket again.
Honestly half of me wanted to take it. But I looked at the sales lady and she was back to shouting out the next number in line. God, I wanted to kill her.
Instead I shook my head at the woman offering her ticket, and firmly instructed Ella,"Get your shoes on, we are leaving."
I bent down to put Cuba into his pram. He was having none of it. He back arched and screamed his head off. I pushed him hard in his middle to counteract the arch of his back, and deftly (as only a mother who has a pram hater can do) managed to get his little rigid arms into the pram straps, and lock him in.
He opened his mouth and did one of his Cuba, famous, blood curdling high pitch screams.
Most excellent.
Was hard to know what was worse. The poor woman standing next to me, still holding out her ticket to me, awash with empathy, sympathy and pure unadulterated awkwardness. Or the sales lady, who stood behind me, and whilst I couldn't see her, I swear I could feel the smugness evaporating into the same wash of awkwardness that comes from watching an unpleasant scene where you are powerless to intervene.

By this stage, the whole shop had stopped talking to watch our little performance.

Which of course is always rather nice. I mean if you're going to make a statement, tell someone to go get stuffed, that you'd rather slash your own wrists than buy shoes in their shop, well what you want is the whole shop watching. I had planned to make graceful, haute-y style exit, one that said, I am above this petty shoe store. One that said, I shall tell all my friends never to shop here. One that said I shall be back, aka 'Pretty Woman', with bags and bags of shoes, saying "Three children, lots of shoes, $150 a pop... lots of money spent... your commission... ZERO."
But that was not to be my exit strategy that day.
No, I was not going to be leaving gliding out the store with my three, beautifully behaved children, all giving her 'the finger' as we walked out the glass doors. No, that privilege was not for me.
If Cuba had put on a show, Ella was not going to be outdone. She was not going to leave her shoes without a fight. Like a woman who had just found a 90% off tag at an Alannah Hill sale, Ella was not be parted from her selection of three black school shoes.
"Noooooooooooooooo! Mummmmmmy! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease! I'm not leaving! I. AM. NOT!"

I physically picked Ella off the bench. And she yelled loudly, "MUMMY PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME LEAVE~ I WANT MY SHOES!!!"

I had one of those Buddhist moments at that point. Oh I've been reading about them for ten years. I just never really got to experience one before. Instead of feeling the twenty pairs of eyes locked on me. Instead of feeling the rush of pure humiliation take over me. Instead of being totally overwhelmed by it all. I just took a little step backwards. Metaphorically of course. If I'd actually stepped backwards I would have knocked into Cuba screaming his head off in the pram.

I remembered that this was just suffering. You know, for now. In ten minutes I'd be somewhere else suffering. Probably in the ladies toilets crying. But for now, this suffering was just suffering. It would be over soon, only to be replace with a different suffering next week, next month, in the next five minutes. So I took the Buddhist view of not suffering over my suffering. Or rather of recognising the impermanence of suffering.

I lifted Ella off the bench and focused on her.
"Ella, we are not buying shoes here today. There are lots of places that sell shoes in this shopping centre and we are going to buy ours somewhere else."
Ella calmed down.
Ha! Who knew this Buddhist thing really worked?
She turned half around in my arms, towards her shoes and stretched out her arms and screamed, "I AM NOT LEAVING~!"
OK, I was wrong, perhaps one needs to be born Buddhist?
I put her down, put my hand on her back to guide/shove her along and pushed Cuba's pram in front of me, "Ella, we are leaving."
Ella stood barefoot and I handed her shoes to her.
Whilst I might have been applying new Buddhist approach, I wasn't prepared to wait for ten minutes while we put her shoes on in front of the crowd still speechlessly watching.
"You can put these on outside."
And we hautily march to the front of the shop. Ha! I was going to make it out alive after all!
I heard it echoing behind me....'Muuuuuuuummmmy!"
I turned around.
Lola was still standing on the bench. I had left her behind.
This required turning pram around, taking Ella and Cuba to the back of the shop.
Where the shoes, all three, lined up in a row, were.
Bug. Ger.

"Mummy you forgot me." said Lola in her happy sing song voice.
The crowd watched. Really, could it get any better than this they wondered? Why doesn'tt she just take the number, they wondered? I'm glad I don't have three kids, they must have all murmured to themselves.
I lifted Lola from the bench.
"Ah yes, sorry about that Lola."
"Ella isn't going to get to wear her new shoes is she Mummy?" said Lola in her sing-song voice.
Ella reminded afresh of her beautiful shoes, started wailing and dramatically threw herself over the top of her shoes, like one might strap self to tree in manner of Green Activist.
"I'm not leaving them!" she wailed.
The Buddhist in me, was evaporating at a rate of knots.
I dragged 'the shoe activist' bodily along to the front of the shop.
I knelt down at the front counter and held Ella, crying and sobbing in my arms.
I took a deep breath, this moment was just a moment. I would live through it. I would live through it, and, I would drink a really, really large glass of wine in an hours time. The thought cheered me considerably.
"Ella, that sales lady was very dismissive to Mummy. I have waited here for half an hour to be served, that woman was going to make Mummy go to the end of the queue and wait again. That isn't fair, and I don't have to accept that sort of treatment. There are lots of places that sell shoes, and we will go to one of those and buy you just as beautiful shoes there. And, what's more, we will give our money to someone who treats Mummy with respect."
Ella sniffed, "What if they don't have those shoes?"
Mummy (crossing fingers behind back), "They will have those shoes. I promise."
And with that, I stood back up, flicked my hair, tried desperately to look as though this sort of palava happened every day and was absolutely nothing to get in a tizz about, and exited the store.

After we had been to three further shoe shops only to find no similar shoes, Ella said, "I think Mummy we should just go back to the other shop. They have the shoes I like. Let's go back."
Go back?
Pfft... over my dead body.
Ella undeterred; "So Mummy, if the problem was that you hadn't taken a ticket, why don't we just go back take a ticket and wait in line?"
I looked at her.
It seemed like such a simple suggestion now, so zen, so peaceful.
So Buddhist.

Buddhist it may have been but it was not for me. Instead, I was hell bent on finding Ella her shoes from somewhere else. I was not going to go back. No, way. Not now, not ever. And even if it was going to take me until 6 o'clock at night (which it did), I was not going back to that shop.

One had to wonder though, as I poured myself a third, rather large glass of wine later that night; if perhaps the genuine Buddhist, non-suffering way would have been to have accepted that lady's ticket and just got on with it? But as I expounded the details to Mr Husband, over very bad, home cooked and overcooked pasta, not only was I quite sure that I was never going into that shop again, I was also sure that based on the evenings culinary efforts, I should never be let allowed anywhere near our stove. Ever, again.