Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paging Paul Blart, Mall Cop!

As you by now know, I have been having trouble with Charlie. His brother's heavy rehearsal and show schedule, not to mention the long commute to the venue, took a toll on Charlie and me. We had been hanging out at the same cafe practically every afternoon and evening that Christopher was busy with A Christmas Carol. Though my son and I really like the cafe, the food and drink offerings, the staff, couches, and board-game selection, it just gets to the point where ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. So one night during a performance -- we had already seen the show at full price ($25 total, no discounts for family members of performers, BOO!) -- I decided to mix things up a bit by taking him to a movie at a mall.

From past experience, I've learned to buy my kindergartener a gumball on the way to the theater. Hint: His whining about wanting one ruined a perfectly good showing of "Shut Up," I mean, Up one day. I'd promised it to him after the movie, but that wasn't soon enough for my Charlie.

His oral needs now met, I bought us tickets to Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, some snacks, and off to the theater we went. The film was light and enjoyable. A stop in the restrooms then it was time to return to the Salem YMCA where Christopher was wrapping up his holiday musical.

But Charlie had other ideas.

He wanted to play arcade-style games. We really didn't have time, and I didn't have any quarters on me. That didn't matter to Charlie. He sat down at one game with a steering wheel and simulated playing. Then he jumped off and ran to another and another and another. He would not come with me. "Charlie," I said in my voice that means business, "Christopher is going to be waiting for us. We can't leave him alone at the Y after everyone else has left!" Unfortunately, irritating me was Charlie's concept of fun. He was exerting his independence; he was determined to call the shots.

I couldn't physically remove him from the theater as he is too big for me to carry unless on my back, and he was not about to agree to a piggyback ride. And I flat-out refuse to pull or push him because I hurt my back last winter. As my injury caused me months of aggravation, not to mention costly physical therapy, I am certainly not willing to chance it happening again.

So with no other recourse, I turned to the man taking moviegoers' tickets and asked if he could speak to my unruly offspring. He directed me to customer service. This somewhat perplexed woman then came over and gently asked Charlie to go with me. Are you kidding me? Charlie was loving every minute of this! Eating up the attention, running in circles, and laughing his tight little ass off. Meanwhile, I was getting angrier and louder. People were staring. I informed Charlie that I was leaving. I had to pick up my other son.

I walked toward the theater's exit. Charlie tentatively followed way behind. We emerged into the mall and turned in the direction we came. He was not done tormenting me, though, because he whirled around and skipped back into the theater as blithe as could be. Increasingly frustrated, I pursued him all the way back to the small video-game area. He was laughing, of course, just having way too much fun. Again I marched over to the customer-service counter and requested security. The same woman appeared, and the same scene ensued. This time, fighting mad, I stormed out of the theater lobby. Charlie, perhaps fearing I would abandon him there, tagged along at a rebellious distance.

We headed down the mall's center aisle together for the second time. Well, as much together as a seething mother and defiant child could. All we had to do now was pass the remaining distractions between the theater and exit, and we would be home free. Or, rather, closer to the car. Charlie would not be tempted by the food court, coin-operated kiddie rides, or cute puppies in the pet-shop window since they were in the other direction. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong! I forgot about The Jumpy Thing. No, I swear I'm not making up that silly name for the attraction in which people bounce high in the air on a type of mattress while harnessed to a rope system. I had let Charlie do it the previous time we went to the mall and, no surprise, he loved it.

Like the gumball machines, passing it by proved to be too much of a challenge for Charlie. He wanted me to pay for him to do it, natch. Absolutely not. So he refused to walk any further. Man, this child drives a hard bargain! I looked around for someone to help me. Not twenty feet away was an information kiosk with a woman in attendance. I asked her to call security.

Paging Paul Blart, mall cop!

This situation had taken on a ridiculous dimension. Did any of my friends ever have to call mall security to get their child to leave with them? No. Had I ever even heard of such a thing? No. Thank the Lord no one I knew saw us, at least I think not. Sure, we had left a trail of "scenes" plenty of places: REI, while his brother tried on winter jackets; Walgreens, while I designed our Christmas card; Bradford Mountain, while I registered him for group ski classes; and on and on and on.

Knowing how he can behave, I'd have much rather not brought my son along on all of these errands. But I am a 24/7 single mother. The overwhelming majority of the time I have no choice. Nevertheless, in these previous instances and all others, I had been able to persuade Charlie to come with me. I hadn't needed to call in OFFICIAL BACKUP!

We had reached a new low. Mall security is just one step away from real-world security, i.e. police. The woman at the information kiosk, I could tell, didn't take me seriously when I put in my request. That's because all she saw was an angel-faced young boy. I knew better. Don't underestimate my son as he is one tough little dude with not an ounce of fat on him!

Oh, where was Kevin James when I needed him?!

If he had shown up, my evening would have turned right around. If not Kevin, someone equally large and definitely someone atop a Segway -- the modern, mall version of riding in on a white horse to rescue yours truly damsel in distress from being held hostage by her very own mischievous five year old.

No such luck.

After a very long wait -- during which time Charlie found the light-up section of floor kids stomp on -- two very average-looking men in uniform casually sauntered over on foot. Oh, come on! Is this the best you've got? Addressing the men, I explained the problem, indicating that I needed an AUTHORITARIAN figure to set my son straight. My Average Joes, however, failed to deliver the necessary gravitas. Meekly, they suggested to Charlie that he go with me. He said no. Duh! What did you expect, Mr. and Mr. Keeping The Mall Safe?! Thus began some ineffectual badgering. Are these security guards not trained for this sort of thing? I'm shocked!

With time rapidly dwindling before Christopher would be taking his bow, I made it clear that I, Christopher's mother, must go get him. I didn't know how long the performers and their parents would remain in the costume room after the show. And I was not willing to let my eight year old stay alone in a city YMCA without any knowledge as to why his mother had not picked him up. "I'm leaving, Charlie!" I said firmly. "You'd better go with your mother," added one of the mall cops. I turned and hastened toward the front entrance. When I reached the doors, I looked back to see if Charlie was behind me. He was.

The power struggle was over . . . for now.

Have you had standoffs with your child? What happened? How did you end them?

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