Compliments of Another Shell-Shocked Parent

I sat on the floor of the grocery store with the sobbing, young mother partly in my arms, partly sprawled across the aisle, her yowling toddler in the arms of her equally young husband, a mess of cans all around us, young store clerks looking alternately confused and like they wanted to be somewhere else. Somebody handed me some ice for the growing lump on her forehead that was trickling blood down my shirt.

Someday they would laugh about this one, but not today.

“He’s always fussy about this time of day, but today he was being such a sweetie and he’d HAD a nap and Tom needs to be at work at four!”

Her sobs are turning into hiccups, now, and the bleeding is slowing down. She still looks like a victim of a bar brawl and so do I.

Tom sits down on the floor, puts the little boy down and puts an arm around his wife. She un-sprawls and huddles onto his shoulder. I snag the still yowling toddler out from around her.

“Hey!” I say. He, startled, stops yelling. I cuddle him onto my knee. “Hey, little man, cans aren’t for throwing.” I don’t sound mad and even though he really doesn’t understand what’s happened, just that he made quite a noise pulling the can from the side of the display and chucking it at his mother, he has the vague idea that something isn’t quite right with the world. His thumb goes into his mouth. We all crowd over to the side of the aisle, so the clerks can pick up the debris.

The store manager hunkers down in front of the young parents, telling them about the time when HIS son not only pulled down a display, it was glass pickle jars, and THEN the kid threw up all over everything and everybody. The hiccups are joined by a tiny giggle from the mom and a much heartier chuckle from the young father and from me. He grins and gives them the can that caused the lump, “compliments of another shell-shocked parent”.

Yes, someday they’ll laugh about this one. I tell them to take a picture of the young mom – lump, blood, can, and all – and threaten to show it to his girlfriends when he’s a teen.

I take the whole young family to the emergency room, because that lump is still bleeding, despite the ice, but I leave them there since it’s going to be a while before they’re seen and they insist they’ll walk home after.

Yes, THEY! They’re still a family, despite this. When I leave them, they’re curled up onto a loveseat in the waiting room, toddler across both laps, thumb still inserted, blinking sleepily.

I recently saw his wedding picture from the paper. His mom, no longer so young, twenty years worth of worse upsets later, sent me the clipping and a letter that told how they had indeed taken said picture and prominently displayed it, poster-sized, on the gifts table at the reception.

Yes, today they can laugh.

Page created and published 3/5/2021 (C) M. Bartlett
Article (C)2006 M. Bartlett
Last update 3/5/2021