“Get your shoes on, guys. We have to run to the store.”
I look up from my iPad to see my mom touching the pockets of her coat. She’s trying to find her keys again. She’s always trying to find her keys.
“Yay! Store!” My little sister runs to the door and starts putting her shoes on the wrong feet.
“I don’t want to go to the store,” I tell my mom. “I want to stay here.”
My mom stops hunting for her keys and turns to me. Then she sighs. “I know you don’t, but we have to. We ran out of diapers. I thought we had more in the closet, but we don’t.”
“Why can’t Dad get them?”
My mom turns away and opens the door of the laundry closet. I watch as she rummages through the pocket of her dirty jeans. “Because your sister isn’t potty-trained, yet, buddy. If we wait for Dad to get them on his way home, we’ll end up having to brush poop out of your sister’s teeth again. I’m pretty sure none of us want that.”
She’s saying I have to go. She’s saying she’s the boss, and I don’t get to choose … but I don’t want to. I hate the store. There are too many sounds. Too many people. Too many lights. I always get in trouble.
My neck is hot and itchy, now.
I throw my iPad on the floor and jump off the couch. My legs are moving, running to my room. I push over a plant on my way through the hallway. Then I run to my bed and dive under the covers, hoping I won’t have to go to the store if my mom can’t find me.
I stay as still as I can. A few seconds later, I hear her come in the room. Maybe she doesn’t know I’m in here.
She sighs again. She does that a lot. “Hey, baby.” She walks over and tugs on the edge of my blanket.
“NO!” I cling to the comforter, pulling it tighter around me.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s not do this today. Talk to me.”
“I don’t want to go to the store. I hate the store. I want to stay here with you and watch my iPad.”
The bed sinks as she sits down next to me. She doesn’t try to move the blanket, again. That’s good.
“I know you hate the store. I wish we didn’t have to go. I wish I’d planned ahead this week and bought diapers while you were in school, but I didn’t. I’m really sorry.”
She’s rubbing her forehead now. I don’t have to look at her to know that. She always rubs her head when she says she’s sorry.
And she says she’s sorry a lot.
I pull the blanket off of my head. I don’t want her to say she’s sorry. I just want her to say we don’t have to go to the store. I crawl into her lap and hide my face in her shoulder. “I hate the store.”
When she wraps her long arms around me, I feel better. “I know you do. I’m really sorry. We’ll be as fast as we can, okay? In and out.”
I nod at her, but I still don’t want to go. I open my eyes to see my fingers picking at a lose string on the collar of her shirt. I want to stay home and snuggle her and pick at this string. That’s all I want to do.
She smells nice. Maybe if I keep snuggling her, she won’t make us go. And maybe this string will come off if I scratch it long enough. That would be really good. Maybe I’ll get to play with it later. I love strings.
Suddenly, the string disappears as my mom lets go of me and stands up. “You ready?”
She holds out her hand for me, but my brain tells me to run away again. I have to fight to keep my body where it’s at. After a few seconds, I see my hand reach out to grab hers and I’m glad. But I’m still scared, too. I hate the store.
She smiles at me—like she always does when I’m good—and I make myself stand up. I really want to scratch that string on her shirt. Maybe if I’m good at the store, she’s let me buy some strings of my own. I love strings.
When we walk into the store, everything happens at once, just like always. People start pushing carts, registers start dinging, babies start crying, lights start flashing. Toy machines start calling out to me. There’s a machine with Ninja Turtles in it right beside me. I run over to it and jab the buttons where the quarters go. I stand up, press my face against the glass, and wonder how I can get inside there.
My mom lays a hand on my shoulder just as I start to stick my arm inside the prize door.
“No,” she says. “We have to get in and get out. Remember?”
My sister’s wiggling in the shopping cart. “Store! Store! Store!”
When did we get a cart? My mom starts walking away so I follow her. Her hand reaches back and grabs mine. I don’t want her to hold my hand right now. I want to touch all the stuff.
We walk past the fruit section first, and I notice a pile of oranges stacked so high they look like a castle. I reach out with my free hand to knock them over, but my mom grabs my arm before I can get there.
“In and out, remember?” She moves me to the other side of her and switches hands.
Now, we’re walking fast. My legs aren’t as long as hers, but she wants me to keep up with her, anyway. I bet I could go faster than her if I tried. She’s not that fast. Plus, I’ve been practicing at school. I jerk my hand away from her and take off sprinting down the main aisle.
“I’m gonna beat you!” I yell, tearing through the store with my eyes on my feet.
I was right. I’m super fast. Way faster than her. I can see my feet moving below me and they’re faster than anything I’ve ever seen. They look so cool when I run. They’re fuzzy.
I’m falling backwards, tripping over my feet and grabbing my head. It hurts. My eyes are so blurry.
Where’s my mom? I need my mom.
Suddenly, her arms are around me, scooping me off the ground. “Why did you run off like that?! I was screaming at you! Didn’t you hear me? Oh, my gosh… You have a huge bump on your head. Why did you do that?”
I don’t know why I did it. It happened really fast. Now my head hurts and I wish I would’ve stayed with her.
She puts me in the basket of the cart next to my sister, but this time I don’t say anything. I hate the store. I wish we could’ve stayed home and played with some string. I look up at my mom and see the string still poking out of her collar.
“Can we buy some string?” I hear my mouth say.
“What?” She turns down the diaper aisle and yanks a box off the shelf. We’re already going back toward the front of the store. We’re moving really fast.
“Can we buy some string?”
“Why do you want string?” She’s not looking at me. She’s hurrying to get to the register.
I have to stop her before we pay. “I need some string! We have to buy some string. I want to play with it.”
“We can’t buy any string, buddy. In and out, remember?”
“But I need it!” I stomp my feet in the basket of the cart. “STOP! You’re passing the string aisle!”
Her lips get really small. She still isn’t looking at me. “You’re not getting any string so stop asking. You’ll strangle yourself with it. Or you’ll strangle your sister. No.”
“But I need it!”
I throw my arm out and latch onto a can of green beans as we pass a display. “I want some string!” I throw the can and watch it crash to the ground. It’s loud.
Then the rest of the green bean cans start falling. They were stacked in a big triangle. They’re all crashing onto the floor and rolling around everywhere. My mom is yelling because she’s tripping over them. I cover my ears because all the noise is too loud. There’s too much stuff in here. I hate the store. I squeeze my eyes shut to pretend like we’re not here.
When I open my eyes again, my mom is putting the last two cans back on the display. An old man is helping her. She smiles at him, but I can’t hear what they’re saying. My ears are still turned off. There’s that string on her shirt again. I bet I could pick it off of there if I could get close enough.
“Sit down.” My mom’s voice is sharp this time as her eyes catch mine.
I’m standing up. I look down at my legs and frown. When did I stand up?
“Sit down,” she says again. “Now. We’re leaving.”
There are tears on her cheeks. One of them falls onto her shirt and lands right next to the string. I wonder if it feels different when it’s wet. I sit back down and wonder what a pile of string would look like inside a tub full of water. I bet it would look pretty cool. Like a really long snake inside the river.
“Store! Store! Store!” my sister yells again.
We’re checking out now. There’s a box of M&M’s by the cash register, and I want to dump them out. I try really hard not to, though, because I think it would make my mom sad. She already cried today so I try not to touch them. But I really want to.
I feel my mom’s hand on my wrist as I reach out to them.
“Please don’t.” Her voice is quiet now. She’s tired. “I just want to go home.”
“Okay.” I try to mean it when I say it, but it’s hard. There are a lot of M&M’s in those packages.
They would sound really cool if I dumped them all out. The packages are so crinkly.
Soon, we’re getting back into our car. My mom puts me in my seat first, and then she buckles my sister in. After she takes our shopping cart back, she opens her door and sits in her seat in the front. We sit in the parking lot for a really long time.
“I’m cold,” I whine.
“Collllllld,” my sister repeats.
My mom sighs. She reaches up and puts her key in the car. It makes that loud rumbling noise—I cover my ears because I don’t like that noise—and then we pull out. The ride home is long. I kick the back of my mom’s seat because I’m bored.
When we get back home, I unbuckle myself and jump out of the car before my mom says it’s okay. I tried to wait, but I couldn’t. I hear her yelling as I run up the stairs to our apartment, but she’s too far away to hear. I wonder what she’s saying.
I’m the first one to our door, just like always. The fastest again. I knew I could beat her. I’ve been practicing at school.
“You can’t do that!” she says when she gets to the apartment door. She’s breathing really hard. My sister is in her arms. “Someone could’ve taken you. You have to stay with me, remember? We’ve talked about this.”
“I’m faster than you. It took you a really long time to get here.”
She sticks the keys in the door and opens it up. “I know it did. I’m always too slow. But you have to tell me before we start racing, okay? I have to know when we’re starting. It’s not fair if you start before me.”
I nod at her. Then I run to my favorite spot on the couch and grab my iPad. My sister waddles in the door behind me, yelling about toys.
“Can we have some time without the iPad on?” I hear my mom ask.
When I look up, she’s staring at me. I pull the iPad close to my chest. I don’t want her to take it away.
“You know what?” she says. “Go ahead. You went to the store with me so just go ahead and play on it. Take some time to chill out and then we’ll cook dinner together. Okay?”
“Mm-hmm.” My head bobbles up and down as I open my favorite videos again. I love watching people unbox their toys. Today, it’s a Skylander toy. I wonder if it came from the store? I hate the store.
But I love Skylander toys. And I love strings. I look up at my mom. She’s sitting on a chair with her head in her hands, and that string is still on her shirt. My legs are moving before I know what I’m doing. I run and jump onto her lap.
This time, she’s the one who buries her face in my shirt.
“Can I have this?” I ask, pointing to her collar.
She opens her eyes and looks down at my finger. “My shirt?”
I shake my head. “Your string.”
“What string?” Her eyebrows scrunch together.
“This one.” I scratch it with the tip of my fingernail.
“Oh, that’s not a string. That’s just a piece of thread coming out of my shirt.”
“Can I have it?”
I think she’s going to sigh again, but instead she smiles. “No, you can’t have it. But I have some real string you can have.”
My eyebrows get higher. “Real string?”
“Yep. Come on.” She stands me on the floor and takes my hand. Then she stands up and leads me into her bedroom.
She pulls out a step stool, reaches high up into her closet, and pulls out a huge bucket. She sets it down in front of me so I can open it.
It’s full of string! There are beads and buttons and paper, too. I didn’t know this was in our house! If I’d have known it was in our house, I would’ve taken it down and pulled it all out. I wonder why she didn’t tell me it was here.
There are so many strings. Fat ones and skinny ones and blue ones and yellow ones. These strings are way better than the ones on her shirt. I love them. I’m going to pull every single one of them all apart.
This is such a great day. I hate the store, but I love string.