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Jewish World Review June 25, 2002 / 15 Tamuz, 5762

Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy
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Consumer Reports

Deliver us from Walt | My husband, who lived in Ireland before we met, likes to wax nostalgic about his time there the same way my father tells his story of 5-cent movies and 25-cent gallons of gas.

"When I was in Ireland, shopping was much more basic than it is here," my husband says. "I would ride my bike through town. I would stop at the butcher and pick out the meat I wanted for the week, and then I would ride to the produce market and pick out my fruits and vegetables. I would pack all of my things in the bags on my bike, and what I couldn't carry, they would deliver."

"Yes, dear," I smile and nod as I try and imagine navigating myself and four children through a small, cobble-street town on bicycles, carrying a bag of apples in one hand and a fish in the other. It is a delightful image, but taking my children to the store here in America requires a vehicle capable of toting cargo, and unfortunately a weekly biking trip to the Wal-Mart down the highway is simply not possible.

In fact, I can't remember the last time I went to a store that didn't offer a coupon circular or end in the word "mart." In the Ireland my husband describes, I wonder, are mothers able to get out of the corner store with just the toothpaste they went in for? Or are their arms also loaded down with Winnie the Pooh Honey Bees cereal, Buzz Lightyear sneakers, a Pocohontas watch and Cinderella Barbie?

Between Sam Walton and Walt Disney (if you look the word "Walt" up in a dictionary the only definition you will find is a dollar sign. Coincidence? I don't think so), I can walk into a Wal-Mart looking only for toothpaste and toilet paper, but will automatically spend at least $75 on items I didn't know I needed until I got into the store.

In theory, the store could save me a lot of time by just installing a bank-like depository at the side of the store and whenever I get the urge to spend, I could just drop a wad of cash in and drive away. Walking into the store, with a 3-year-old in the cart, a 5-year-old holding on the side, an eager 8-year-old leading the way and a 9-year-old boy going on 40-year-old man grumbling behind me, we are immediately accosted by an overly-friendly gentleman covering us in happy-face stickers.

"Come on - Get Happy!" the store seems to say as we are thrust in the middle of consumer heaven. I stand at the entrance, confused, dazed and yet somehow excited by the possibility of immediate gratification. Which way to turn? Straight towards clothing or right towards home and garden?

The children don't even wait for me to decide. The toys are not yet in sight, but they could smell them from the parking lot - their distinct plasticine aroma wafting through the exhaust fumes until all my 3-year-old can think of is getting his hands on a one-eyed monster (Disney-version, of course) that looks like something the cat left behind.

Geniuses, both of them - Walton and Disney - because they have figured out the perfect way to part me from my cash without me throwing so much as a tizzy. Once I see the joy in wee Liam's eyes as he spots the one-eyed hairball, how can I not thrust it into his waiting hands and not feel like the world's best mother? I can't. Period.

Now, to be fair, I do not give in at every turn. My children know better than to hound me about something they want because hounding is a sure ticket to: "Not only no, but never." In order to avoid such exchanges, I have frequently gathered my children at the door of a store and said these words:

"Now, hear this. We are not buying candy, cookies or cake. We are not buying toys. We are not buying comic books. We are buying bread, milk, bananas and toilet paper. If you ask me for anything, there won't even be milk for your cereal tomorrow - do you understand?"

I have left full carts behind because someone couldn't keep from asking over and over for that box of cookies, please, please, please.

But sometimes. Just once in a while, I really want to be Super Cool Mom and this day is such a day.

Then we're out - we have made it out of the store alive. And the cart is brimming with my requisite $75-$100 of absolutely necessary Super Cool Mom items. The kids are cheering my very existence, and we get home and for five minutes, the children are completely and utterly content with their new possessions.

And then as my delightful foursome is getting ready for bed I am alarmed, but somehow not surprised, when this question is yelled from the bathroom:

"Um, Mom? Where's the toothpaste?"

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JWR contributor Michelle Kennedy, who reads and responds to all of her mail, is a reporter and columnist for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. Comment by clicking here.


06/06/02: This game fits parents to a tee
05/09/02: "Shut up!" "Stop shoving!" it's Mother's Day
04/18/02: Yes, They're All Mine!
03/25/02: Thrust into a Barbie dreamland
02/01/02: Shooting the 'surplus population'
12/20/01: Zen and the Art of Clutter
12/14/01: Confessions of a serial library fine payer
12/06/01: Too good at my job, I quit

© 2001, Michelle Kennedy