I appear to be able to tap into greater reserves of patience when I’m out and about with Hawkeye than when I’m stuck at home, so with a weekend all to ourselves, I did the unthinkable and went shopping voluntarily two days in a row, just for fun, on the last weekend before the Christmas holidays.
With a three year old.
It was chaos. Madness. A sea of stressed out humanity. And I didn’t really care. In T.K. Maxx I took my time browsing. I got Hawkeye to try on another pair of shoes. He read books from the children’s section while I looked through the children’s clothes and then he put the books away instantly when asked, and only needed a couple of extra minutes to be talked out of bringing a large plastic helicopter home with him. Our worst moment was when he got so excited about something that he flung his stuffed Gruffalo toy aimlessly behind him where it sailed right into some hapless unsuspecting lady browsing the sportswear collection. This was the closest I came to breaking, and after a rushed apology I grabbed Hawkeye and pulled him away fully set on leaving until he dragged me to a stop having realised that he really did do something wrong. We talked about it. He calmed down. A little. The Gruffalo went back into his backpack but we didn’t leave.
Later I spent fifteen minutes patiently talking Hawkeye down from another fit of over-excitement in the middle of a T.K. Maxx kitchenware aisle heedless of shoppers wandering around us. Instead of irritated glances, we were either ignored or drew smiles. An older woman complimented Hawkeye on his Montessori jacket trick and then told me that I had very good way with him. I think she was trying to tell me she was impressed that I wasn’t giving in and raising my voice. The louder Hawkeye got the quieter I became, and a simple feint of getting up and looking like I was going to walk out instantly stopped whatever tantrum was building and focused his concentration.
Let’s be totally fair – I pushed him to his limit. He had to entertain himself in a manner that was socially acceptable to adults in an environment full of hazards that are like magnets to tiny hands. I won’t lie, I was exhausted by the time I got home, but I don’t regret going because it was still, to some degree, easier for me mentally than staying at home with him when I’m tired and not really feeling on top parenting form. I know, I’m strange.
There were other moments that made it totally worth while. He expressed some dubious taste in shoes (when the soft sneakers for indoor wear didn’t fit him, he slid off the bench and picked up a pair of hideously orange ladies’ heels to try on). He returned my scathing criticism of his taste in shoes by critiquing my choice of tops. (“No, mommy. Just. No.”) I thought it was a good idea to take my first peek into the newly-opened Victoria’s Secret store and between gleeful exclamations of “underpants!” he tried to open every single bra drawer he could get his hands on. Not because he has any interest in bras or underwear but because like any respectable three-year-old, he is obsessed with opening and closing drawers (har-har, pun not intended). I did draw a line at trying to make it upstairs or downstairs to actually find what I was looking for because the place was an absolute crush even by normal Christmas shopping standards. He possibly made some hilarious remark about the angel wings on our way out of the store but at that point I couldn’t pause long enough to kneel down and ask him to repeat himself for fear of being trampled by hordes of desperate men hoping to score with their wives/girlfriends/mistresses.
But best of all, was our stroll down Grafton Street. Grafton Street is packed at the best of times, so Grafton Street at peak Christmas shopping requires having your full wits about you and good reaction times to avoid window shoppers looking in one direction while travelling in another. Not only is the place full of pedestrian shoppers and the occasional ill-timed street cleaning vehicle or security cash vans, but it is also prime busking territory, usually boasting three simultaneous musical street performers at minimum, and that doesn’t include the mimes or other types of street artists. We passed no less than two different charity Christmas carolers. If you visit Grafton Street repeatedly throughout the year you become familiar with the comings and goings of certain musical acts. I’m a bit out of touch lately so I didn’t recognise the pair of men who I know we had also spotted yesterday. They didn’t have the slick presentation of a regular touring band, though they did have CDs for sale. And while a guitarist is a common sight, a guitarist accompanied by a clarinet player is not. (In retrospect, it might have been an oboe?) Yesterday they had been in the middle of a set when we passed, with a large enough crowd. Hawkeye pointed out the guitar player to me and commented on the presence of music, but he did not insist on stopping.
Today, the men were not playing when we were walking past, and there wasn’t a single person standing around. I think they may have just finished setting up and hadn’t yet attracted any crowd. The view was, therefore, unobstructed, and while I continued on my way, I found myself suddenly yanked to a stop by the little human ball-and-chain attached to my arm.
“Music, mommy,” Hawkeye said.
“Yes, honey. They’re going to be playing music soon.”
“That’s a guitar,” Hawkeye pointed.
“Yes, that man is holding a guitar. And this is a clarinet.” (We’re going with the clarinet for lack of better information at this point.)
I let him look around briefly and then tried to get him to move along. Unsuccessfully. “No, mommy. Music is here.”
“They’re not playing yet, honey. And we should get moving. We can’t just stop here.” In the absence of a crowd watching a performance, we were standing in front of the musicians in a stream of people walking back and forth. The clarinetist was running through a series of notes quietly but there was nothing else happening. Still, Hawkeye refused to budge. The guitarist only plonked a string or two for tuning, but the clarinetist was warming up a bit more and I started searching my pockets for all the change I had on me because it was getting awkward standing there.
And then they started to play.
I already knew that Hawkeye liked music. He loves to sing. He likes playing his “guitar” (ukulele). He responds well to music. But this was something pretty breathtaking to behold because he simply stood there, in the middle of a sea of humanity, paying rapt attention to a jazzy performance from beginning to end (other than a slight distraction when he saw my phone out). When the song ended, I gave him all the change I could find in my wallet and pockets and showed him where to drop it and then convinced him to move along. However, in the back of my mind, this was the brightest spot of my weekend.