Divine Intervention in an Old Navy Parking Lot

Photo Credit: Mike Graham via Flickr

That damn teddy bear nearly ruined my morning. Sitting front and center inside the doors of Old Navy, it proudly flaunted its blue scarf and beckoned to be cuddled. It was at least as big as my two-year-old son so, naturally, he just had to have it.

“Honey, we aren’t getting a teddy bear today,” I feebly replied to his pleas. “We are just here to get you new mittens.”

But my son was relentless, like most two-year-olds are, and I was tired. I was so very tired. Not just bone-tired, but soul-tired. It was the fall of 2008 and, like every other American, our family was feeling the crushing weight of financial stress and job insecurities. I had grown weary from the constant daily strain of it all.

I was tired, I was weary, and I was broken. Spirit-broken and heart-broken. Having just suffered my third miscarriage in six months, I was angry at just about everyone and everything – angry at the bad luck, angry at the horrible circumstances, angry at my body, angry at God and whatever or whoever was responsible for this wretchedness.

I was tired, I was broken, and I was weak.

So I caved.

“OK, fine,” I said, reasoning that I would just let him carry the bear around the store for a few minutes while I searched for the aforementioned mittens and then we would place it back on the shelf. With careful planning and clever psychological maneuvering, I rationalized that I could save the tantrum for our exit from the store and not our entry.

My son grabbed one of the bears and we headed to the back of the store, where I quickly found a cute pair of fleece, red mittens in just the right size along with a matching hat. We made our way to the front of the store to pay for our purchases, all the while my son proudly and gleefully carrying that damn white teddy bear behind him.

The red hat and mittens on my son

I confidently strode up to the checkout aisle, patting myself on the back for our quick tantrum-free shopping excursion. I set the mittens and hat on the counter and gently pried the bear from my son’s tiny hands so that I could give it to the clerk, politely telling her that we had changed our mind about the bear. But when I picked it up, its round bottom was now a dingy black, evidence of the dirt and grime that lies on Old Navy’s floors.

I let out an audible groan and meekly asked the clerk how much the bear cost, knowing that because we had ruined it, we would now be buying it.

“Twenty dollars,” responded the young woman.

I let out another, louder groan. Goddamit! I did not want to spend twenty dollars. I did not want my son to think that he could get whatever he wanted. And I did not want this beastly teddy bear taking up more space in our already cramped home.

“OK,” I sighed. “I guess we’ll be buying that as well.”

As I was pulling out my wallet and trying to keep my grabby-hands son from making any more unintended purchases, I heard a voice nearby chide, “That’s what you get.”

I looked around and quickly realized that the acerbic voice was coming from the shriveled, elderly woman behind me. And the voice wasn’t stopping. She continued to tell him how I should have known better, how I should have done better, how I should have been better. Her litany of callous advice went on and on.

Rage – pure, unadulterated rage – boiled up inside me. The fighter in me instantly came to life. I wanted to scream. I wanted to slap her. And I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob.

I took a breath, summoned every ounce of peaceful strength I could find, and turned to this silver-haired prune of a woman.

“Are you a mother?” I asked.

“Yes, of course I am.”

“Perhaps then you might understand just how hard it is,” I squeaked in a mouse-like voice.

“I would never have let my kids drag a teddy bear around the store,” she retorted. “You need to set limits.”

What had I done to deserve such harsh criticism? What had I done to deserve getting berated by a stranger when I was merely trying to buy a pair of mittens?

What had I done to deserve any of this – the criticism, the miscarriages, the infertility problems, the financial setbacks, the loneliness, the cruelty of strangers?

Why did the universe seem to be so against me? Why, in God’s name, was everything so damn hard? And where was this supposed God to help me through this crap? Enough, I thought, enough. I give up.

I was tired and broken and weak. I had no fight left in me.

“Thank you,” I responded, surrendering myself to something outside of myself, something bigger than my own fragile emotions. “I appreciate your advice. I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.”

I turned back to the clerk and handed her my credit card. After signing the receipt, I grabbed my purchases, took my son’s hand as he clutched that damn white teddy bear, and shuffled out of the store.

More tired, more broken, and weaker than ever, I tried to hustle my son to our car so that I could have my emotional breakdown in private, but we weren’t more than a few steps out of the store when a red sedan pulled up and its passenger window went down. A round-faced man, who looked to be in his early forties, leaned over across the seat.

Photo Credit: gridmaster1 via Flickr

“Excuse me,” said the man as I braced myself for another confrontation. “I just wanted to tell you that I saw what happened in the store. I was humbled and amazed. You handled that situation beautifully and I am inspired. You have inspired me. I will carry that with me the rest of the day as I try to be a better person. Thank you.”

And just like that, the red sedan drove off. I stood there on the curb for a few moments, stunned and marveling at the profound impact that this odd group of strangers had all had on each other.Afterwards I sat in the car for what felt like hours, but was probably just a few minutes. While I clutched that damn white teddy bear, a few tears rolled down my cheeks. And then I smiled, finally knowing that everything would be alright.

I needn’t have wondered about the hostility of the universe or the cruelty of humanity. Everything that I had doubted was clearer now than ever before. Because on that cold fall day, Grace  showed up in an Old Navy parking lot dressed as a round-faced, forty-year-old man driving a red sedan.

And, yes, it might have even been in that damn white teddy bear too.

That Damn White Teddy Bear (long since forgotten by my son, but never to be forgotten by me)

Linking up with the writers who blog and bloggers who write at Yeah Write.

Tags from the story
,

61 Comments

    • Oh, wow! Thank you so much for your kind words, Mary. They brought a ray of sunshine to my day, evidence that the human connection forever continues.

  • I kinda wanted to punch that old woman for you…I’m always astounded when I hear that strangers give parenting advice in the middle of stores. But, that man at the end was wonderful and your story was written beautifully.

    • Thank you so much. It was a difficult post to write actually. Not because it was a painful memory or anything, but more because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the profound impact that this man had on my life. I think of him often as proof that even small gestures can have a profound impact.

  • I can’t get over how rude that lady was. “That’s what you get” — seriously??? I’m so glad you came across the man afterwards, to balance things out.

    • I know! Can you believe the audacity of some people?!? But then again, can you believe the profound kindness of some people?!?

  • Wow. This was such a moving post on so many levels. First of all it was wonderfully written. You had me riveted when you shared your miscarrage. Such a vulnerable time. And then I could SO relate to the internal struggle of those random parenting moments. Should I say “Yes-and-what-message-will-I-be-giving?” And I used to do the same thing. Let my boys hold on to the toys while we shopped. So by the time you got up to the register, as a reader, I was on your side for so many reasons. Interestingly, the woman’s acerbic words were made even more powerful by your peaceful (albeit broken-down) response. And yes, I do agree, the man in the red car was the Grace you needed at that moment. Thank god the world is filled with such people. Very powerful story, I loved it.

    • Thank you so much, Leslie. It was a difficult post to write. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the immense impact that this man – and the entire situation – had on my life. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope that you will visit again.

  • You built the story so well I was getting all anxious and angry with you. We never know the impact we could have. Not that it justifies anything, but maybe that prune lady’s kids or grand kids treat her like dirt and she took it out on you. Great post, thanks!

    • Gosh, you are so right. We just never know what is going on in a person’s life. All we get is a snapshot in time. That said, that man really had a profound, lifelong effect on me. It was such an inspiration for me to try to be the best person I can because you never know who is watching and how you might affect other people. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  • Great story and, having been a single dad for some years now, I can relate to the situation. I’ve been the one handling the comments from the peanut gallery before. One thing though, and I realize I’m probably projecting, but I can’t help noticing how old you make the 40 year-old man in the red sedan sound! I’ll be 40 in 4 days and it is hitting home, I suppose, lol. My sedan is silver.

    • Ha! I didn’t mean to make him sound old at all. In fact, he was rather young looking with his round, friendly face. I am not that far from 40 myself (ok, a couple years, but still). Happy early birthday!

  • Sometimes our bodies and our spirits know what is best for us, even if we don’t.

    You atypical reaction sounds a lot healthier than the atypical reaction I had that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago — the one where that cranky old man was yelling at us in a parking lot.

    My body kind of took over for me then, too, because I’d definitely lost my mind.

    Happy New Year!

  • It may have felt like caving or giving in at the time, but had you argued are berated that old crone back you would have just made yourself feel bad (or worse than you already felt). What a lovely man though to stop and give you that much need pat on the back.

    • You are so right. I would have felt even worse. At least this way, I felt like I took the high road by not fighting back.

  • Christie, what an amazing story. The beauty of the man in the red sedan’s comment made tears well up in my eyes. And you are amazing – I would never have had the wherewithal to come up with such a composed response to that lady. Awesome!

    • Thanks, Jocelyn. I’m not sure where my response came from either. It was like I had an out-of-body experience or something.

  • Wow!! I’m so angry on your behalf that I can hardly breathe. I would have lost it. Completely lost it and the only thing I would have regretted would have been doing it in front of my child. You’re a stronger person than I am by miles. Wow!

    • That is my typical response. I have always been a fighter at the ready. I’ve become much more of a pacifist in my old age 🙂

  • It’s troubling when people get so far away from their parenting years, or have never even experienced them to begin with, that they can’t be objective as they watch others struggle. I hope I will never be that old woman who makes someone else feel bad when all that someone is trying to do is make it through her day.

    A beautiful, well-told story. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Yes, definitely. You never know who is watching and the impact that we can have on others. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • This absolutely gave me chills. The universe has a way of righting itself, doesn’t it? Of knowing what we need when we need it. I’m so sorry about your miscarriages. I’ve had three myself. Sending hugs. And I know you don’t want to hear this, but that bear is awfully cute! (P.S. I would have done the same thing!)

    • Oh, that bear is super cute. I was able to clean off most of the evidence of the dirt and grime and it now proudly sits in our guest bedroom.

  • OUTSTANDING! You have proven that you are a better person than me, for sure. It’s hard to remember that we are always setting an example, and not just to our children.

    My daughter is eleven and disabled and wears diapers. Once, in the store, when my daughter bent over to pick something off the floor and her diaper showed at the top a little, an old woman asked me if she (my daughter) was a little old to be wearing diapers. True story. I asked her if she (the old lady) wasn’t a little old to be so ill-mannered and meddling.

    See? You are a better person, and you got the proof of it from your red sedan man. Well done.

    • Thank you so much. But my goodness, what is it with old people and their rude behavior? It sounds to me like your response was spot on for the situation.

  • This is so wonderful Christie! I’ve missed seeing you on the grid. I am so sorry about your miscarriages. I only had one, and that was hard enough. I am glad that man was there to make up for the awful things that lady said. She has no idea. She doesn’t know you. I’m also glad you bought the bear, I really am! Great post!

    • Thanks, Stacie. I haven’t been on the grid lately largely due to the fact that my posts haven’t really fit the criteria. It is so nice to be back though. I am glad I bought the bear too. I will forever treasure it.

    • Thank YOU for reading and commenting. The divine human connection continues with all of the positive energy that the post has generated.

  • I’m convinced that as you age, the filter between mind and mouth weakens considerably, resulting in “nosy old lady syndrome.” I tend to adhere to a slightly more sassy treatment plan for those ladies than the one you chose, though! Good on you for being the bigger person.

  • Oh, this is a great story! I can totally identify with being out in public and being judged by some mean person. I love that red sedan guy for turning that situation around for you. God bless that man!!!

  • This made me cry a little. What a wonderful man to say such kind things! And that woman, well, let’s just say you are a kinder woman than I am and I would have probably unleashed hell on that old hag. How awful of her. Glad good came of the whole thing though!

    • He was a wonderful man for taking the time to stop and say those things. He could have easily just driven off. I only hope that I can do the same for someone one day. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Standing up, applauding, on behalf of those of us who wouldn’t have been able to manage anything better than a stony glare, much less an actual “thank you.”

  • Wow. I have been victim to those kinds of purchases. I have even opened grocery purchases in line to soothe a wailing 2 year old. I always say out loud, “ok but we are buying this so it is ok to eat, you are hungry, mamas gotta do it”, to justify myself amid a crowd of rude stares. But then the states continue cause I am now the mom that talks to herself.

    I have learned, as a mother, to not judge other mothers. To give a look of sympathy,not rolled eyes, at the tantruming child or screaming baby in the store. I habe learned to try and ignore people giving me that look, like I am a bad mom.

    I think all moms need that angel, like the man in the red car, to assure us.

  • This was beautifully written and I love the wisdom in your words, but gol’ darnit, I am still peeved that she would say that! I have a co-worker who did the same thing to me when I told a story about my one-year-old throwing a tantrum in the store, resulting in me leaving without my groceries. She never would have allowed that to happen, oh no. Moms need to stick together, amIright?

    Thanks for sharing!

  • You are so honorable – I would have told the woman off right in the store. In fact, I think I have a time or two. I have learned, though, that as women – as mothers – we need to support one another more. We need to keep our “advice” to ourselves because we never know what another person is going through. In my three and a half short years as a mother, I’ve learned to take unsolicited advice, to not give advice though I feel that I should, and to offer a helping hand to a new mom struggling to get through the day.

  • Christie,
    This is an amazing story, and it has inspired me to “do the right thing” and to “take the high road” when faced with difficult circumstances where it might be easier to “vent” and speak out inappropriately. Everyone has a story, don’t they? (–even the lady that verbally attacked you in the store.) I will think of this the next time someone acts harshly towards me — and ask God to help me show grace instead — as you did. Another thought strikes me… the man in the car. Sometimes we need not just to show grace, but… to show up — and be a presence in a perfect stranger’s life — simply in the form of an encouraging word or kind expression. Thanks for sharing! ~Sally

    • Thank you, Sally. I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts. You are so right – a kind word or expression can go so far. This man’s actions continue to influence me more than 4 years later.

  • I love this story! The nerve of that woman. I had a similar experience. Not quite as confrontational, but I once had an older woman comment about how my son wasn’t behaving in the grocery store. It pissed me off beyond belief.

    That said, you really did handle it beautifully. And how wonderful that something so great came out of it. You made that man’s day and inspired him to do something differently. Go you!

  • I’m so glad you stopped by place and it led me back here. You had me completely involved from the get-go (I have a two-year-old and darn those stuffed animals at the front of stores) and I so wanted to tell off that woman but then “Grace” probably wouldn’t have shown up for me. I’m so glad he did. I wish I had been there to touch your shoulder and tell you that it was okay. That everything felt crappy at the moment but it was going to be okay and that you are a great mom doing what we all need to do and that is: whatever we need to in order to survive each day. Shame on that woman for being anything but less encouraging! Love your blog and style of writing!

  • I am tearing up at this. So beautifully written and who hasn’t felt so broken from financial and emotional and child stresses. I can think of at least three instances where I have felt like losing my shit in a store because the kids were crying and people were staring and of course, I just had to have the broken cart. I’ve also waited on those occasions to get in my car and cry privately out of frustration.

    I’m so thankful that he stopped and said that to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.