I did it and I survived. Ok, I barely survived, but at least I have lived to tell about it. I bravely, (or stupidly), undertook the monumental task of school shopping with my kids, alone. Yes folks, ALONE! I know that many of you have taken your kids school shopping and have come out of it just fine, but let me remind you that I have 9 kids, 7 of whom needed school clothes and supplies. I would also like to further explain that the older three did not come with me. They all had to work. Yes, that cut the number of kids from 9 to 6, but, (and this is a BIG BUT!) that meant I had no big kids to help out with my middles and littles. Just me, on my own, all by myself. Are you feeling bad for me yet?
After getting everyone up and fed and dressed we were in the van at 9:45 am. We had to make a quick stop at the library. We miraculously made it in and out in under 10 minutes, with a new book for everyone! We then headed to my mom and dad's house. I had a "quick" doctor's appointment and my mom had kindly agreed to watch the kids for me. My 6 minute appointment involved sitting for 60 minutes in the waiting room. (Typical at this doctor's office. Some woman had the audacity to give birth at the same time that my appointment was scheduled! Can you believe it?! Some people sure have nerve... I am totally kidding of course. I made my fair share of women wait while I gave birth to my own little brood.) While I normally love the opportunity to actually sit and read, uninterrupted, I kept thinking about what the rest of the day held and I started to get nervous. I was finally called back and saw my doctor for my super-quick appointment. Once that was over with, I went back to my parent's to reclaim my kids and get the real "fun" started. They finished up lunch and I suggested that everyone make a quick bathroom stop before we left. Jonathan (my 2 year old who is starting to show some interest in potty training) jumps up and runs to the bathroom yelling, "I go bafroom Mommy! I do it!" I followed him to the bathroom and put him on the toilet. He sits with his legs sticking straight out, kind of like he is doing a split. It is quite a sight. lol Well, then my little angel face looks me right in the eye and says, "You get out now Mommy." I said, "What?" He said, "You get out now Mommy, please." I was torn between laughing or crying. I had never been kicked out of the bathroom by a two year old before. I shrugged my shoulders and walked out to the kitchen laughing. I told my mom what he said and figured I should check on him. I walked in and he is grinning, "I did it Mommy! I did it! I say, 'Poot get out!' and it did!" I looked in the toilet and sure enough, he had "poot" in the potty. I was impressed and he was ecstatic. I wiped him and helped him put his pants back on. He kept throwing his little fists in the air yelling, "WooHoo, I did it!" My mom and I were cracking up. I don't think that any of my other kids have been so happy about going potty.
After the excitement of the potty experience, I was starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, shopping wouldn't be so bad after all. The day was off to a good start. We had made it in and out of the library in under 10 minutes, the building was still standing. My doctor's appointment had gone well. And my 2 year old was basically potty training himself. I was feeling a little bit cocky, I'll admit it. I should have known better, but of course I didn't. I loaded the kids into the van and we were off (like a herd of turtles). The plan was to head to Old Navy because their jeans were on sale for $10. Unfortunately the only Old Navy around is at Waterworks Mall, in Fox Chapel. (As a rule, I don't drive to Pittsburgh unless it is absolutely, positively necessary. For example, when DJ was undergoing chemo, it was necessary. School shopping, not so much. But Waterworks is before you actually get to Pittsburgh, so it was onward and forward. ) We were heading down 28 and I saw the exit for Fox Chapel, number 8. I knew that exit 6 was the one that I had taken to get to Oakland to go to Children's. And I thought for sure that the exit for the Mall was marked. So I figured that I would just take the next exit, number 7 and if it wasn't right, I could just turn around. Well, here's the thing. There was no exit 7 going toward Pittsburgh. Exit 7 was only coming the other way and I had missed the right exit, number 8 of course! We were heading right to Pittsburgh. Great. Thankfully, I am vaguely familiar with that area, because of all of the trips that I had made with DJ. I knew that there were a few places that I could turn around and head back up 28, the state police barracks being one of them. I pulled into the parking lot and turned around and my kids started to freak out. They were convinced that we were going to get arrested. It certainly didn't help that a trooper pulled in right behind us. They were yelling, "Don't speed Mommy! We don't want to go to jail!" Thankfully we were not arrested and managed to find our way back onto 28 heading in the right direction this time. (Insert sigh of relief here.)
We pulled into the parking lot of Old Navy and I was faced with a choice. Umbrella stroller for Jonathan, or double stroller for Jonathan and Aiden...hmmm. The umbrella stroller is much easier to maneuver, but I wasn't sure how cooperative Aiden would be. He promised me that he would stay right with me and behave. I, foolishly, believed him. Not only did he not stay with me, he was making a game out of hiding from me. My cockiness had pretty much dissipated by this time. After wrangling Aiden for the thirteenth time, I got a cart and made him sit in the front of it. Hannah offered to push the stroller, but Jonathan screamed if anyone but me pushed him. So she pushed the cart, much to Aiden's protests. We went to the girl section first. We found a few pairs of jeans and some cute tops for each of them. Hannah even scored a couple of little dresses that looked adorable on her. We were making progress, but the entire time the boys were complaining about being stuck in the "lame" and "stupid" girl section. I was reminded several times that they are "men" and as such they do not like anything about dumb girls, especially their clothes. When the cart was about half full, we headed over to "man land" also known as the boy section. Again we hit the wall of jeans like it was our job. We found a couple of shirts for Noah and Isaac and then we went back to the (gulp) fitting rooms. Hannah and Gia had no problem going into one fitting room. I gave them all of their stuff to try on and they went to it. The boys were less enthusiastic. They absolutely refused to go into the same dressing room. (Apparently "men" don't do that either.) Isaac grabbed his pile and headed to the only other open fitting room, which was of course as far away as he could possibly go and still be in the same store. I had to stand in the middle of all of the rooms with the cart and the stroller and supervise. Hannah came out with one thing after another that worked. Gianna didn't have such good luck. The jeans that she got didn't fit.(They were the wrong size, of course.) This shirt felt weird. That shirt looked dumb. blah, blah. After a few adjustments, she was happy too, for the moment at least. Noah found quite a few t shirts that he liked. But the jeans...that was another story all together. He couldn't get them off. They were straight leg jeans and they were too skinny around his foot. I had to go in and yank them off of his feet because he had gotten them stuck. (Only Noah.) Isaac found a few things that he liked, so he was relatively happy. At least he was until I asked him to take Aiden into the bathroom. Sheesh, let's just say that this 11 year old has perfected his exasperated sigh/eye rolling technique. I had had enough of Old Navy and I am sure that the feeling was mutual. I corralled my crew and we marched to the check out counter. I was trying to keep track of how much I was spending on each kid, so I asked the girl to ring them up separately. She asked me (each time) if I would be interested in signing up for an Old Navy card. To which I politely declined (each time). She also informed me of the return policy with all four purchases and told me to go online to fill out a survey...all four times. Ok, then. I am not sure if she has 45 second amnesia and forgot that she had just told me the same thing or if she was trying to annoy me as much as I am sure that we annoyed her. Either way, we were done. Adios Old Navy!
We were then off to the Mills. I managed to find my way out of the parking lot only to miss the ramp to get back onto 28...again. This time we pulled into a municipal building to turn around. By this time the kids were probably hoping that I would get arrested just so we didn't have to shop any more. As we pulled into the parking lot of Walmart, I patiently (at least I was really trying to sound patient) reminded them that the only way we were going to have fun while we shopped was if they were patient. I reminded them that there was only one of me and there were 6 of them. So they would have to wait patiently while it was the other persons' turn. What a waste of breath. Asking my kids to be patient is like asking a mosquito not to bite or asking a frazzled mother of 9 not to have a glass of wine at the end of her day. It just isn't going to happen, folks. Not going to happen.
I strapped the baby into the cart and made everyone grab on to the cart and we were off...again. We walked through the maze of school supplies and picked up a few things and made our way to the clothing. We went to the boy section first this time. They each picked out socks and underwear. All of the basketball shorts were on sale for $4 so they each grabbed a few pairs with coordinating shirts. We then went to the girl section. The girls were looking at underwear and debating over the different types, boy shorts, briefs, bikinis, hipsters. Once they each decided what type of underwear they wanted, they had to decide what kind, Hello Kitty, days of the week, Tinker Bell...etc. Holy moly, what a life altering decision! After about 10 minutes of listening to the girls go back and forth between the this pack or that and listening to the boys moan and groan about being surrounded by (gasp) bras and girl's underwear, I grabbed two packs, threw them in the cart and moved on. The girls each found a couple of cute things and we were satisfied, at least momentarily. I was starting to breath calmly again. Maybe we could get through this day after all and then I heard it. The growling moan that always comes before Aiden lets out a blood curdling scream. I turned around and he was hiding under a clothes rack shrieking. He wouldn't look at me. He just kept hiding his face and screaming. Apparently Isaac and Noah had called him an "old grandma" and said that he was a girl and that I was going to make him wear girl clothes. Thanks guys, thanks. Walking through Walmart with six kids under the age of 11 isn't enough to make people gawk and stare at us, so apparently they felt the need to torment their little brother to get the job done once and for all. While I was crawling under the rack to extract a devastated Aiden, Isaac and Noah were pushing each other around and Noah fell into a four way display rack and knocked off a rack of shorts. Seriously?! I said a quick prayer to the Blessed Mother asking for the grace to not commit murder in the presence of so many witnesses. I somehow managed to fix the rack of shorts, sort of. I turned around and all 6 of them had gotten very quiet. They were all looking at me and seemed kind of worried. I think that the fact that I hadn't flipped out on them was scaring them. But I was determined to finish school shopping no matter what. I certainly didn't want to have to do it more than once! I took a deep breath and said, " We are checking out now." They followed behind like little ducklings. Although they were cooperating I knew that it was only a matter of time before they all hit the wall and I lost control of the situation for good. I grabbed a few packs of crackers and a box of juice boxes. I needed some reinforcements. We got to the check out counter and started to unload our cart. I noticed that there were a few extra things that the girls had managed to slip in while I was distracted. One of them being a hideous shawl top thing. When the cashier tried to scan it, there was no tag. he asked me if I knew how much it cost. I told him not to worry about it. We didn't need it. Well, apparently Hannah disagreed. It was her favorite shirt ever! Why couldn't I go and find the price? Why was I so mean to her? blah blah blah. I just tuned her out because it was really ugly and very cheaply made. I paid for our things and we started to leave. Let me rephrase that. Most of us started to leave. Hannah was sitting down on a little bench outside of the bathrooms pouting. She refused to come. I again prayed for strength and walked back to her. I calmly informed her that if she did not follow me out to the car I would be returning every single thing that she had gotten and that I would make her wear sweatpants and a turtle neck to school on the first day. ( I know, I am the meanest mom ever, but I needed results. Don't judge me.) It worked and we made back to the van. We had one last stop. We were going to go to the main mall at the Pittsburgh Mills Mall.
I pulled my 12 passenger beast into a parking spot and got out the double stroller. I wasn't falling for Aiden's promises of good behavior again. My momma didn't raise a fool! I strapped Jonathan in the back seat and Aiden in the front and we were off yet again. JcPenney's was our first stop. The girls found a couple of things there and then Jonathan started to get bored. His little pack of cheese crackers became a weapon and he was chewing them up and spitting them at the kids. There were soggy crackers all over the floor. I told the kids to help me pick them up quickly and we checked out. We went into a shoe store and I managed to knock over a stack of shoes with the front of my stroller. Hannah restacked them for me and then tripped and knocked them over again. Once we managed to re-restack them we made our way to the kids section. Isaac and Noah each found a pair of shoes and we happy. While the girls looked for shoes Jonathan managed to scrounge up a few stray crackers and started spitting again. We cleaned them up, again. It was getting old and I was getting weary. We went to the check out counter and I spied them. My last ditch effort to bribe at least mediocre behavior out of them for a few last stores... lollipops. Could go either way. Keep them happy and quiet or cause a sticky mess, the likes never before seen by mankind. I was desperate and I bought them. Turns out it went both ways. The lollipops did manage to keep them happy and quiet for about 10 minutes and then it quickly disintegrated into a sticky apocalyptic disaster. Jonathan decided to use his lollipop and hit Aiden on the head with it. It was stuck in Aiden's hair and when he pulled it out, several hairs came with it. It was getting really ugly really fast. I needed to kick it into high gear. We ran into Payless Shoes to try and find black flats for the girls. The sales girl in there asked me if all 6 of the kids were mine. I looked at her and forced a smile and said yes. I then told her that nobody in their right mind would take 6 kids that didn't belong to them shopping...ever. She thought that was funny and went on to tell me how exhausting it can be to babysit for her two nephews. I smiled again and said that I was sure that it was exhausting. Seriously girl?!? Whatever.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that anytime we passed a section in any store that had bras or women's underwear, Isaac and Noah would scream, "EWWWW Disgusting! We can;t look at those gross girl things!" And close their eyes and grab onto my back. That was particularly fun when we walked past Victoria's Secrets. The boys were shrieking and covering their eyes and the girls (who are sooooo much more mature) were saying, "They are just bras and underwear! You guys are so stupid! We don't care if we see guys underwear!" Hmmm, that doesn't really make me feel any better.
Our finally store was Sears Grand. It was the last chance for Noah to find a backpack. He was pickier than the girls were when they were picking out their underwear. He had to try each one on, and inspect each one carefully, every zipper, every pocket. It would have been comical if I hadn't been so tired. The one that he really liked had skulls on it, which we do not allow. He tried to convince me that the skulls were barely noticeable because it had the absolute best pockets ever! Finally it was like the sky opened up and the heavens sang. He found it, the holy grail of backpacks. It was big enough, without being too big. It had tons of pockets and compartments. There were no skulls or creepy things on it. He looked at me and grinned. We have a winner! Thank you God!!! We were checking out the girls shoes and my cell phone rang. It was Brian calling to find out where we were. I didn't even realize that it was almost 7:00 at this time. I told him that we were just finishing up and that we would get something to eat on our way home. He would need to fend for himself. I asked him if there was anything that he needed me to bring home. He sighed and said, "Just you." I told him, "Trust me I want to be home a lot more than you want me to be home!" I hung up and we paid for our final purchases made a last stop at the bathroom and headed out to the van.
When we got to the row that we were parked in there was a police car blocking the way and a couple of police officers standing around talking to a few people. The kids looked at me and Noah nervously asked if it was the same police officer that had been following us when we turned around the first time. I assured them that it was not. Apparently someone had tried to turn into the row and misjudged it. They hit the car on the end and pushed it into the car beside it as well as the car behind it. All three cars had been damaged and the driver just took off. What a mess. I got my kids loaded into the van and buckled. I unloaded our purchases and folded up my giant stroller. As I got into the van, a couple pulled in beside us. They got out of their car and stood right behind our van, which was running. They just kept standing there. We were stuck because they wouldn't move. Aiden took matters into his own hands and yelled out the window, "Hey people move! We want to go home! Oh yeah, I mean please move!" They looked a little bit startled, but finally moved. At least he used his manners and said please, right? As I was backing out, I could see the policemen and the people that they were talking to all stopped talking and turned to watch me back out. I must tell you, I drive that van all of the time, but it is more than a little unnerving to have 6 people staring at me as I was maneuvering my beast out of our parking spot. Thankfully I didn't have any problems.
We went to Sonic for a quick dinner which, thankfully went smoothly. I think that the kids were as happy as I was to finally be finished shopping. We were successful. It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done. We unloaded our purchases and the kids sorted out their things so that they could show their dad what they had gotten. The smiles on their sweet little faces made me almost forget what a disaster the day had been...almost. I poured myself a glass of wine and collapsed onto the couch, feeling productive and exhausted and thankful. I am thankful that the kids have some new clothes and shoes for school. I am thankful for new socks and underwear for everyone so that we can throw out the old holey ones. I am thankful for brand new book bags carefully packed with new pencils and crayons. And mostly, I am thankful to be done. At least I was until Jake asked me when I was taking them school shopping....a mother's work is never done. Maybe the big kids can take turns pushing me in the stroller this time.