Approaching Walmart, I was spouting orders as fast I could while staying on the road.
“Now kids, LISTEN to me! Behave like gentlemen.”
(No offense to my one little girl, but she gets lumped in with “the guys” many times.)
There came a single reply.
“But we’re not gentlemen.”
Sighing inwardly, I met honesty with steely resolve.
“You will be.”
At least by the time I get done with you, son . . .
My idea of Walmart is slightly different from my boys’. They would love nothing more than to take off their shoes and slide down the aisles in their socks. Wrestling in front of the cheese department would be right down their alley. Laying on the bottom rack of my shopping cart would give them great pleasure – especially when you could reach out and grab the ankles of unsuspecting customers.
However, I’m trying to raise gentlemen. And gentlemen never grab ankles. Ever.
Of course, I suppose I could always leave them at home or a babysitter’s house, but then who knows what havoc they might wreak the first time they went through Walmart. No, it’s better I train them now – from tiny on up. Your children might come already programmed to walk through the grocery store without causing heads to turn . . . but mine have needed training. And while I don’t like to do training in the public’s eye, sometimes there’s no getting around it. How can they truly learn unless they are in the middle of it?
Before we head into a public place, we have a conversation that goes like this:
“Ok, kids. What are the rules?”
Bored little voices who have said these rules umpteen times reply:
“No wrestling, no touching each other, no getting on the floor, no begging for stuff.
No sliding on the floor.”
However, there is no way I can make up a rule for every behavior. Those all go under “behave.” One time I was naive enough to not give them another rule: no sliding your shoe boxes on the floor to see whose goes the fastest. Silly me, why didn’t I think of that? Or this one: do not eat candy off the floor. Shudder. I do not need to say how much that last one grossed me out! What is it with the floor and my children?
In case you haven’t guessed by now, we are still very much in the training stage of this learning curve. But we’re not giving up!
I personally like to go shopping when there will be the least amount of people there. I don’t feel as stressed, and I can take the time to explain why certain behavior is acceptable or not. These are just some of the things I’m trying to teach my children as we do our weekly shopping:
- Be courteous. If an elderly lady drops something, pick it up for her. When someone needs the door held open, hold it for them. If somebody speaks kindly to you and I’m around, respond politely. They all know the “no talking to strangers” rule, but if I’m right there, they are encouraged to reply like gentlemen and ladies. However, my children can sometimes talk a strangers ear off, so that is also when I must put the brakes on and remind them that you don’t need to tell everybody everything.
- Watch where you’re walking. I don’t know what possesses them, but my children have a real problem with this. They are absorbed in looking at what we’re passing or what their sibling is saying and will sometimes walk right into someone coming from the opposite direction. I cringe every time….but it is usually helped by the next rule.
- Walk behind Mom. Usually Derek, our 11-year-old, pushes the cart while I lead the way. Between him and I, there is supposed to be a string of littles walking in a nice straight line. That’s my dream, anyway. Their perception of “straight line, behind Mom” rule does not match mine. Hence, many times I must stop the whole procession and remind them to once again walk behind me. This keeps them out of other customers ways and I know where they are at all times.
- No begging. There is nothing that can dampen a mother’s enthusiasm for training her littles than when she has five kids that beg for something on every aisle. They are allowed to ask respectfully one time, and then I will answer. Sometimes they have saved me a few grey hairs by remembering items that forgot to make it to my grocery list. But begging for toys and candy over and over is not allowed. We deal with toys in the next training exercise . . .
- Learn to spend your money wisely. Our children are not given an allowance. We feel it’s best to require chores simply as being part of the household. But there are certain extra jobs that are available to them if they want to earn money for toys, arrows, or other items. This money they earn is then divided three ways: 50% goes to their store (which they can spend), 40% goes to a savings bank account in each child’s name, and 10% goes to tithe. So once their “store” gets enough in it, I will let them know in advance that if they want to take their spending money along on grocery day, they are welcome to do so. This is such a rich lesson in learning to use their money wisely. After trial and error, they are coming to realize that some items they purchase don’t last long or lose their pleasure quickly. Sometimes they will save up their spending money for months with a goal in mind. We highly encourage that they think deeply before spending their money. What they don’t learn now . . . . they must learn later – and with worse consequences.
- Everyone helps unload the cart and carry in groceries. Having five children can truly be a blessing when it comes time for all the lifting and loading! Think of it like this: you now have ten arms, plus your own.
- Learn to use a public restroom the right way. This is one that is very important to me! When my boys were little, I did not trust them enough to use the men’s restroom by themselves. Even now that they are older, I send them in to the men’s room together. I should say it this way: it’s not my boys I don’t trust . . . it’s the public I don’t trust. So I taught them how to use a public restroom, including the “no talking to strangers rule” while staying as germ-free as possible.
- Look out for the siblings younger than you. Moms with many littles, listen up. You will not know how much of a relief it can be to have older siblings who will also be your eyes for you. This is one that must start at home, however. When our oldest was only 5, it was drilled into him that he must make sure his 3-year-old brother did not go on the road. We have explained to every child what can happen to someone who goes out on the road in front of a car. I was also keeping watch, but a second set of eyes is invaluable. Even at that age, he learned a protectiveness that has translated into being responsible for four younger siblings. We don’t want our children scared of every person or situation they meet, but we like to prepare them that there are people who do evil things and therefore we must keep watch when out in public.
- Be friendly. We have the love and the joy of the Lord in our hearts, and it should be shining forth from our faces! Sometimes all another customer needs to see is a great big smile from a little child to brighten their day.
- This one is for Mom: relax. What you don’t get taught to your children on this shopping trip, you can teach them on the next. Too many times I find myself snapping at them and worrying about how we are appearing to the public, when I should be more concerned about our hearts conditions. I had one lady tell me: people aren’t watching the child throwing the temper tantrum, they are watching to see what the mama does about it. And although our children know temper tantrums are wrong, I also know people are still watching to see how I respond to my children in the situations that arise.
Now you know how very imperfect we are in training our redneck gentlemen some manners in the great big world. But we have a goal in sight and each year takes us a little closer!
Do I snap at my kiddos in Walmart? Yes.
Do I sometimes come away so stressed I want to vow never to take them again? Yes.
Do I have fun with them? More times than I can count. I’ve found if my attitude is relaxed and cheerful when I enter the public’s eye, my children will also be relaxed and cheerful.
But will I give up? Never.
May the ornery little boys of today . . . be the gentlemen of tomorrow!