It had been a long time since I’d taken all my children to Wal-Mart at the same time. This weekend, I remembered why.
We were packing a box for Operation Christmas Child, and I wanted the children to help pick out the items. I thought it was important for them to go into a store with the sole purpose of buying something for somebody else, without buying anything for themselves. And so I risked my own sanity for the sake of teaching my children altruism.
On Saturday, I took the five younger children to Wal-Mart. Stay with me. ThingTwo, please hold BabyThing’s hand and don’t let go. Boys, do not climb on the cart. We are buying things for the shoebox; do not ask for anything for yourselves. Watch out for other people, and stay out of their way. I reviewed expectations before we left the van.
And really, they weren’t bad. It’s just that there were five of them – and one of me. And every time I moved from one aisle to the next, I had to count and make sure I had all of them. And usually I didn’t, so we had to stop and retrieve the straggler.
When we stopped to look at things, we took up so much room in the aisle. So I kept reminding them, Please scoot over. You’re blocking this nice lady’s way, kids. Even though that lady didn’t look nice at all as she shot arrows at us with her dark eyes.
As I pushed the cart down the aisles, ThingFive kept climbing on the side. With a forced patience, I would stop and remind him, Please don’t climb on the cart. You’re too heavy. You’re making it hard to push. And he would obediently hop off. Then two aisles later, he would climb back on. Either this child has Dory-like short-term memory issues or he is quite persistent and eternally optimistic that I’ll change the rules for him.
There was much debating about which HotWheels car to choose. Ten hands were pulling the packages off the wall to inspect each closely. ThingFour bounced a large ball. That won’t fit in a shoebox! big sister ThingTwo reminded him.
ThingFive deliberated forEVER over which toy he should add to the box. Meanwhile, the others had chosen a slinky, a yo-yo, a car, and a brightly-colored squishy plastic frog. All the good stuff that was inexpensive and fun had already been chosen. I sensed a meltdown by ThingFive. Thinking quickly, I announced he would choose the items on the school supply aisle. Come on, let’s go to school supplies! I turned the corner. One, two, three. I counted children. Come on boys! Catch up!
Down one aisle, ThingFour walked backwards. Sweetie, look where you’re going. There’s a woman behind you. ThingThree noted what he wanted to buy for himself as we walked past toys and movies and clothes. We’re not thinking of ourselves today, remember? We’re buying things for the shoebox child.
ThingFive climbed on the cart. I stopped the cart. He hopped off. ThingFour held onto the side of the cart and tried walking in one direction while I walked in another. Bicycles hanging from the ceiling had a magnetic pull on him.
In the school supply aisle, BabyThing let go of his sister’s hand and ran squealing to the CARS notebooks. We’re not buying anything for ourselves, remember? The shoebox child.
ThingThree and ThingFour turned school supplies into airplanes, which they held high as they jogged around, their airplane noises filling the store. ThingFive slowly, meticulously chose the items for our box. I tried not to rush him. I closed my eyes and promised myself I would begin the shoebox purchasing in August next year, bringing them one at a time to choose gifts.
We chose a t-shirt. No, we cannot buy you the Darth Vader one. Nothing for us. Only the shoebox. We picked out a toothbrush. I forced a smile as I explained why we’d “waste space” by packing a bar of soap and a washcloth in the box.
I pushed the cart, turned a corner, counted children, retrieved the ones lagging behind. I pushed the cart, ThingFive climbed on the end. I stopped. He hopped off. ThingThree walked in front of the cart and abruptly stopped. I halted a centimeter short of banging his heels. ThingFour zig-zagged down the middle of the aisle, obliviously bumping into other people’s carts.
ThingTwo held fast to BabyThing’s hand. Their good behavior buoyed me.
As they piled the items on the checkout conveyor belt, excitedly explaining to anyone listening, All of this stuff fits in this box!, I remembered that sometimes what’s best for my children is riskiest to my own sanity. Sometimes I have to force the smile, speak patiently and remind them of the rules in order to teach them the important lessons in life.
But boy am I glad we only do this once a year!
How about you? How do you teach your children to serve others? Do you pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child? Have you taken multiple children to Wal-Mart? Did you live through it? Did they?