|Image by Anthony Albright|
It was 9:30 p.m. on the night before Easter and I was wandering around Wal-Mart picking up toys and candy for my kids baskets. The holiday aisle looked like pictures I’d seen of grocery stores in Florida moments before a hurricane. There were a few bags of off brand jellybeans, some chocolate bunnies with questionable expiration dates, and a basket or two, but for the most part the shelves were picked clean. I had a list: chocolate bunnies, candy grass (I didn’t know this was a thing), mason jars (I assumed this had something to do with a picture Mel saw on Pinterest), and candy eggs. I saw none of these things. I was tired. I’d been caring for sick kids and a sick wife for two days, and as I gazed at empty shelves thinking about how pathetic of a father I was going to be for coming home empty handed, I filled with a mix of frustration, self pity, and anger.
Mel usually does the holiday shopping. In the ten years that we’ve been married I have gotten so used to her doing all the holiday shopping that I don’t even think about it anymore. And I know, this is so cliché. But it seemed to be the way of our marriage. There are things that we have both put into our departments. Mel handles holiday shopping and the budget. I handle car maintenance and the laundry. There are many more examples, some of them traditional roles for husbands and wives, some of them not. We have departmentalized a lot of obligations and the fact that I was shopping for gifts the night before a holiday felt like injustice.
Since the beginning of the year the whole family had been constantly sick. If one kid didn’t have the flu, the baby had RSV, or Mel was puking, or I had an unclear ulcer. It had been one thing after another for about four months, and somehow this had caused our usual obligations to get out of balance, and suddenly I found myself at Wal-Mart looking for Easter gifts where there are no Easter gifts and feeling like a pathetic, procrastinating, excuse for a father, while my wife was at home with a fever, all three kids asleep.
I wandered the store, collecting what I could from the list, pissed off because the store was so empty. Many of the parents wandering the store had questionable hygiene and clothing standards, and at one point I heard a toothless father in a leather jacket say, “Just get the f-ing kid some jelly-beans. He won’t give a shit. He’s two.”
“What a dick,” I thought.
And as I grew more irritated, I got more judgmental. I looked at parents and assumed they were horrible at their jobs. I judged their clothing. I judged their hair. I judged the things they said. I asked questions of myself. Was that me? Did I look like that guy? No way, I thought. Shopping the night before a holiday was an isolated thing. I am a way better parent than these people. They probably do this every year.
When I think back to the way I was thinking, and compare it to the blog posts I’ve published about not judging other parents, I think about my own standards, about how I hate being judged as a parent. But there, in the heat of the moment, when it was late and I was tired and feeling like a bad parent myself for not getting off my ass and doing the Easter shopping a little earlier, for not seeing this coming, I turned into a judgmental prick.
After searching for nearly an hour, I found everything I was looking for except the candy grass.
I went to the register. There was a line, like there always is at Wal-Mart after 9 p.m. The cashier was a man named Jim, short and balding with a few skin tags in his right eyelid. Probably in is late 50s. I’m not sure if it was how irritated I was, or what, but he seemed to be the slowest casher in the history of ever.
The people in front of me were the same parents I’d seen on the Easter aisle. And as Jim checked them out, he looked over each item, and stated the obvious, “Candy. Now that’s yummy,” Or “Cottage cheese, you know that’s made from milk?” And with each stupid ass comment I wanted to smack the man. I didn’t think about the fact that he was working the night before Easter. Of the fact that he probably just started a night shift, and would be asleep most of Easter Sunday, missing time with his own family. I didn’t think about how, even though my family was sick, I still got to go home to them in a few moments and pack my kids’ baskets with treats and put candy eggs around the house for them to find.
Rather I thought that Jim was incompetent. I even sent Mel a text that read, “If Jim the cashier would move his ass, I’d be home by now.” I thought about my own flaming little problems rather than giving anyone around me the benefit of the doubt, particularly Jim the cashier. Or the other parents that might be in the same situation I was in. Or perhaps their situation was much worse. Frankly, I didn’t know their situation.
The thing is, I’m a religious man. I’m Mormon. I believe that Easter isn’t just about candy and a bunny, but about Christ. And I was not acting very Christ like. Not in my head anyway. I assume that as you are reading this you are thinking, ‘Gosh Clint, you are really coming down on yourself.’
But the fact is, I have a good life. I have a good job, I have a college education, and I have children and a wife that I truly love. And when I think about my thoughts at the store, I realize that I was acting like a spoiled judgmental little brat. There is a phrase in the Mormon Church, “Count your blessings.”
I never really understood what that phrase meant until I was an adult with children. It means to look at what I have, and be grateful. And just because things weren’t going my way one night, doesn’t mean I have the right to turn into a judgmental dick.
I left the store that night well after 10 p.m., feeling picked on. Feeling like the world was against me, and that I was much better than the people at the store shopping for Easter candy last minute. It is only in hindsight that I can see how easy it was to become frustrated and take out my woes on the people around me.
I don’t want this to be a finger-waging sermon. Maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you are nice to all the people around you. Perhaps you think nothing but good thoughts even when you are having a bad day. I don’t know, but what I do know is that next time I’m going to take a moment and pause when I get pissed off at the store and feel justified in judging others, realize what I have, be happy, and give the people around me the benefit of the doubt.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.