Three children under five sat in the super size cart, the weight of the extra seating making it impossible to steer or navigate through crowded aisles. The cart was pushed by a woman who could as easily been 25 as 35, her dirty blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail without the aid of a brush or mirror.
No she said that is not an everyday toy. Put it back.
The reasonableness of her words was undermined by the desperate tone. She sounded tired, her voice raspy - like a jazz singer's minus the glamour and sex appeal - as if she hadn't had a solid nights sleep in years, as if she had yelled at the kids so loudly and often that her vocal chords would never quite recover.
It was all so familiar. How often I had said the exact same words in the same weary tone . . .
No, put it back. It's too expensive. Put it on your birthday list.
. . . and then redirected my child to something cheap, the sort of throwaway toy that would be Exhibit A in Earth's case against the human race. A toy that would be forgotten within 24-hours, joining hundreds of others just like it in the ubiquitous cube storage bins that line the walls of children's bedrooms and play areas across the world.
I passed through bedding, my own cart filled with stuff rather than children. And there she was again, still negotiating with the most intractable of her three. I was reminded of that tired line that I have been known to trot out myself when a child has been going through a particularly difficult phase.
This boy is headed straight to Washington. A career in lobbying is clearly in his future.
And perhaps it is, but such sentiments offer little comfort when stuck in aisle 9 with a screaming child and the narrowed eyes of fellow shoppers boring into you, judging you almost as harshly as a parent as you judge yourself.