Monday, October 15, 2012

Shopping with Kids: To get help or not to get Help

I've always prided myself on keeping the balance with my kids when it comes to asking them for help. They don't read the mail, but I do occasionally ask where an envelope might be addressed from if I'm expecting something. They don't read me which cans are which in the cabinets are which because I label my groceries with braille labels, but I did ask my daughter to read the frozen-lasagna cooking directions when I was in to much of a hurry to look them up online.

I do think asking them for appropriate help now and then is a good thing. Now my daughter could cook that frozen lasagna for example, and learning which mail is important and which is junk can come in handy some day. But we had an interesting experience at the store together over the weekend, a shopping trip in which I did not get assistance.

Like many other blind people I know, when I go to the store either alone or with the kids my practice has always been to go to the customer service desk and ask for someone to help me shop in the store. It usually works like this; we wait a few minutes, some person gets assigned to me, and we roam around the store and locate the items I want. Now I won't get in to the stories of stock persons who are unable to read, or who can't find anything because they just started working there last week, and our combined frustration levels of having my helper get more help for items we can't find. It always amazes me that if the store would assign me someone experienced instead of their newest members, I'd probably leave in half the time. But that's an entirely different topic.

My daughters ages 6 and 10 and I, decided to take advantage of beautiful fall weather and walk about three blocks to our nearest clothing store. They needed new pants for the fall weather, and we wanted to look around for Halloween decorations. This store is a consignment store and has everything in it from books, clothes, furniture and toys. I've been there before when my brother lived nearby to drop off things to sell, and he always likes to bargain shop so every now and then we'd squeeze our way through the narrow aisles just looking around. The family-owned store is staffed with exactly two employees at a time. One person runs the cash register, and the other person evaluates incoming consignment items, and stocks the shelves.

I asked the girls if they had any preference on how we would shop today. Should we try it on our own, or should we get help. My tween daughter who is getting more and more conscious of the opinions of others, said we should try it on our own first and if we got stuck then we could get a person. That is exactly what we did and we didn't end up needing the other person after all. We made deals ahead of time that we would look at Halloween costumes, shop for clothes, then they could pick out one book. The store made it easy because Halloween costumes and decorations were right out in front as you walked in the door, and the store did not have a lot of customers during that part of the morning, so it was easy to keep a running stream of conversation going with my girls partly for fun and partly for keeping tabs on their close locations. I remembered from past trips with my brother that there were signs over the racks saying things like girls sizes 3 to 6, or girls 7 to 14, so my oldest daughter read the signs until we found the appropriate section we needed.

Then, we started looking through the racks together. Them, oohing and awing over pretty colors, me reminding them that they need to check the sizes and me feeling clothes for practical purposes. Is this warm enough, is it sturdy, and does it feel like the right size? There was a camaraderie, a lot of talk, a lot of back and forth what about this one, that one looks to small, that one isn't long enough, etc. It felt free and it felt fun.

Just when my arms were full of clothes hangers, my seven year old looks over and notices changing rooms, something I did not know the store had available. So, after my 10 year old read the signs about only five items per person at a time, we snagged one room and crowded in together so the girls could try on their new finds. I was organizer of keeps and discards and clothes rehanging, and I had final say on if things fit.

I think it was the most fun I've ever had shopping in a store and I didn't even look for anything for me. I don't know if it was just the fact that it was really just us roaming those racks with the occasional other woman and child doing their own shopping nearby.

Nobody interfered with us or had well meaning comments. I didn't have to think about a strangers opinions or if we were taking to long, or stress over what a shopping helper might be thinking. Was it the fact they are getting older and could express their opinions on colors and style in such a vocal way?

It was probably a combination of all of the above, plus the maturity of the girls who were very good at staying together, at putting things down when asked, at transitioning from clothes shopping to the next activity. We were there for about two hours, and I'm pretty sure if my son and husband would have been with us, they probably would have been impatiently waiting for us to finish up.

Now that I look back on it, the cashier was friendly as well, only commenting on what good finds we found, and when I asked her if the cafe next door was a good place to eat, we started talking about food. No questions about me, my white cane, or anything.

The girls said they had a good time and would like to go again just us ladies. Sure, I would have got help if we had needed it, or if the girls were starting to get stressed out or confused, and I wonder how our shopping trips might be different in the future the more independent they grow.

I like the fact that the girls know that we can shop together self sufficiently, that we can get help if needed, and that mommy can also do fine just on her own. I know future outings will probably not be so utopian, but for now I am enjoying our independent bliss.

What is it like shopping with your own kids? Is it helpful, distracting, when did you stop getting shopping helpers? What items would you shop for and not have your kids help? Do you feel its not appropriate for your kids to assist?

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