From Kit, January, 2010,
It's early autumn, about a year ago, and cold out, and about two hours from the end of my shift. I'm cleaning up books off the floor as usual, wondering if you can buy new feet off the Black Market, when a concerned father walks up to me.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, "There's a little boy over by the train table and he's been by himself for over ten minutes."
Knowing people, I was pretty sure that he was exaggerating with the time, but also knowing people part of me told me that he was telling the truth. I have seen mothers leave their five year olds in my department to go check out a sale at Nordstrom or Macy's, and I've seen fathers abandon their kids to get their caffeine at the cafe in the store. But being the "good dutiful employee" I assured the father that I would go investigate.
What I found horrified me.
The child in question was probably no more than two years old, a tiny little Indian boy with a bowl cut and big brown eyes. He was standing off by himself, looking a bit worried, tiny fists bunching up the tri-color striped sweater he was wearing.
I hunkered down to get to eye-level with this little boy and very softly and kindly asked him who he was with.
He responded with a very meek, "My mother."
I promptly went around the entire department trying to match up a mother to the boy, and when that didn't work, I resorted to shouting: "Is anyone with a little boy with black hair and a multi-colored sweater?"
No answers and my stomach twisted even more. How could a parent leave a little boy who was seriously small enough to stuff into a backpack?
I returned to the little boy and asked him his name, thinking that I could page his mother in our store at least.
His name was K***.
I told him thank you and explained to him what I was going to do.
He nodded his head, that little chin starting to tremble.
I paged for the mother of K*** to come to the Children's Department immediately. I added in the immediately just to add some shame to it all.
There was no response. So I paged her two more times. By then, another fifteen minutes had passed and so I notified the Manager on Duty.
I talked to the little boy again, trying to get more out of him. He then shared with me that he knew his home phone number.
That was good news. The plan would be to call home, tell who ever picked up to call the boy's mother and tell her to come get her kid, who was starting to tear up.
Crying children wasn't quite my forte. But with the luck I was having that day, the plan failed. No one picked up. The kid was still stuck to me.
The Manager on Duty said if we didn't locate the mother in the next five minutes they would call mall security. Already I was getting a lot of sympathy from the parents present. They offered suggestions and made comments on how could a mother abandon her toddler like that. I agreed with them, the anger boiling up dangerously.
And just as I was going to call the manager, guess who showed up.
When I confronted her, dropping the fact that we were going to call the police, she told me that she went out for a smoke and didn't want to expose her child.
I lost it about then. As she sat down with her child, I let her have it.
It went something like this:
"Ma'am, you do not leave your child unattended ever in this store. We were going to call the police about this as well as child services. If you need to leave the department, you take your child; if you need to leave the store, you take your child; and especially if you need to leave the building, you take your child. If you need your nicotine fix, you take your child. You don't want your child exposed, then quit."
All this while, I shook my finger at her as if scolding a puppy who piddled, and this happened in front of no less than six customers, all who had young children themselves.
I shamed the mother big time and I saw it in her face.
She stayed another ten minutes then left. The other parents commended me with smiles, and bought more stuff I recommended to them.
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