Monday, October 13, 2008


In Which We Go Shopping for One Thing and Come Back With Another...

And so, despite my earlier (and only 24 hours earlier) vow to stop obsessively hunting down an action figure for my son’s birthday, I reversed myself with no hesitation whatsoever when my elder daughter announced plans to come with me and renew the search for the elusive Ahsoka Tano, an action figure based on the eponymous character now appearing in the current Star Wars cartoon, and the one item Thomas wants for his birthday more than anything, including money and world peace.

Does that bring us up to speed?

I was glad to take the Brownie with me, in part because she is a born shopper. Whenever my parents used to visit, they always took the Brownie shopping, an event I know my daughter looked forward to, not only because my parents could never refuse her anything, but also because she just enjoyed being with them. In fact, I realized, always with fresh shock when it happens, that this was the time of year that Papa and Grandma normally would be visiting--and taking the Brownie shopping--if they hadn’t been killed in a car accident 18 months ago. Much as we all still felt their absence in our own ways, I thought I ought to be able to keep some traditions alive. If my parents were no longer around to take her shopping, surely I could do it.

My other reason for taking the Brownie was because I realized I hadn’t spent any one-on-one time with her lately, which I generally try to do with each of my kids. But after school and on weekends, the Brownie usually pals around with several girls in the neighborhood and I barely see her during daylight hours.

And I confess, I’ve been wanting to find some excuse to spend a little time with her, what with the crying, and all.

Right around the beginning of October, see, we got a message from her teacher that the Brownie was suddenly given to these unexpected outbursts of crying. Nothing hysterical, just silent weeping while she sits at her desk. No amount of pleading and wheedling on the teacher’s part could yield any concrete reasons for the tears, so the teacher would either comfort her or, if the Brownie asked (and often she did), leave her alone. After about 5 or 10 minutes, the Brownie was fine and it was business as usual.

Except for the fact that it worried the teacher and the school counselor, and practically drove my wife around the bend. Everyone tried to have meaningful conversations about this situation--was she hurt, was she sad about something, was some other kid--or God help us, some pervert adult--bothering her? But the Brownie didn’t want to engage in a discussion. “I just get sad. But then I get over it!” she yelled in a kind of frustration one night after my wife tried for the umpteenth time to talk to her.

I’m not saying it didn’t bother me, but I do have to admit that I was only slightly less worried than my wife and my daughter’s teacher, for reasons I’ll get to in about 1,600 words. For now, suffice it to say, I thought that if the Brownie and I just spent a little time engaged in a common purpose, she might open up to me a little and I could gain some valuable intelligence.

Oh, and while we were at it, we’d try to find that goddamn action figure Thomas wants for his birthday.

So it was that after dinner of Friday night, the Brownie and I embarked on what was to be a weekend-long quest, encompassing stops at more stores than I care to count right now. Instead, I’ll transcribe the simple travel log I kept as we made our progress and let it do the counting instead:

Store #1: Target (the one nearest the house):

We marched as one through the store, heading for the back, where the toy department sat.

“Hey look, there are some socks,” the Brownie noted, pointing to some very brightly colored tubes of fabric, each adorned with a Disney character or some kind of headache-inducing pattern.

“Yes,” I agreed. Whatever else those head-splitting monuments to ugliness were, they were indeed socks. “Do you need socks?” I asked, bracing for the answer.

“I might,” the Brownie allowed. “I never know what I need until I go shopping, and then I think of lots of things.” All I could think of at the moment was how perfectly my daughter had managed to express what I suspect is an axiom for her entire gender. But I didn’t say that, of course.

We reached the toy section. It was simplicity to pick out the correct aisle for the Star Wars toys because on the end of the row, we could see a display of Darth Vader and Clone Trooper helmets. And evidently there was a motion sensor hidden in that display, because the moment we walked by, a sound chip activated and the highly recognizable sound of a lightsaber igniting filled our ears. It was a sound I would come to grow weary of.

Also wearing was the sight we next beheld: a nearly stripped display of Star Wars action figures. All I saw were robots and stormtroopers. I knew we wouldn’t find our quarry here, but the Brownie made a diligent search of every peg, carefully checking each figure in the row, going all the way back to the wall.

“These all look like the same ones I saw a few weeks ago. They probably didn’t even get the new ones in,” I remarked, knowing that the elusive Ahsoka was packed in the most recent wave of figures.

“Hmm,” said the Brownie. She pulled out a robot action figure and studied the package carefully. Then she turned to me. “Look,” she said. “Ahsoka’s on the back of this package.” She held the package up for my inspection so I could see: there on the bottom, the manufacturer showed a little lineup of several other figures from the line--sort of a built-in marketing inducement to entice kids to collect all the figures and make a set (a feature which I recalled from my own days of buying Star Wars figures. My own childhood days, I mean). The little alien female labeled “Ahsoka Tano” was there.

“I think this droid figure is from the same batch as Ahsoka, otherwise she wouldn’t even be on the back like that,” the Brownie said. “Which means the store did get her in already, but we missed it.”

I stood for a moment, marveling at the little 7-year-old woman I was shopping with. “You know, that’s an excellent observation. You ought to be a detective,” I gushed. The Brownie just smiled and dropped the figure back into the display. “Where to next?” she asked.

Store #2: Wal-Mart:

Found nothing.

Store #3: Kmart:


Store #4: Target (another one):

It is the next day now, and after a fitful night’s sleep, we are on the trail again right after breakfast. We are not the only ones. At the other stores last night, we bumped into: one slightly harried mother looking for Ahsoka Tano, only to settle on a stormtrooper and the fat chick who dances in Jabba the Hutt’s palace (really: why so many of her?); and a boy of about 10 who compared notes with us briefly (“Seen that girl Jedi from the movie?”) before leaving to check out the Hot Wheels aisle.

I’m slightly surprised--and worried, from a competitive standpoint--that so many people are after the same thing. What the heck? Was it on the news? What?

At this Target, we didn’t find the figure, but we did find a young man in the aisle, a basket full of toys under one arm, while with his free hand he riffled through the figures all lined up on their pegs.

I never know what protocol is here: Do I wait for him to go through every single row of figures--even though that constitutes half the aisle--or do I just step up next to him and start looking through the rows he hasn’t gotten to yet?

Before I could decide what to do, the Brownie stepped up and cleared her throat.

“Excuse me,” she said.

The young man turned: he was rail-thin with a huge shock of blond hair and enormous glasses. He was very pale, which made the red acne on his forehead stand out like a Vegas casino sign.

“So...are you a scalper man?” the Brownie asked.

The kid looked shocked even to be spoken to, let alone be asked a question. He looked from the 7-year-old woman to me, then back to the Brownie again.

“Uh, no,” he said, tentatively at first, but then repeating himself, this time trying for a little indignation. “No! I’m not a scalper. I collect these figures.”

“Ohhhhhh,” the Brownie said, trying to sound all casual, but in her mind deciding that this was exactly the kind of man--and God help me, there will be so many of them--that she should avoid in the future.

She eyed the basket the man was holding. “How come you have so many of the same guy?” She was pointing to a stormtrooper figure with some yellowish markings and a removable helmet, identified on the package as "Commander Cody." In the basket right next to this figure was an identical one.

“I don’t have so many!” the guy cried, as he turned to shield his basket from further view. “I got two Codys. One for me and one to trade! Not my fault Hasbro short-packs them!”

The Brownie just nodded. “Did you find any Ahsoka Tanos?”

The guy blinked at her for a moment, then smiled tentatively, as if he’d been bracing for something worse. “No, not yet. She’s in the same wave of figures as Cody so she should be here, but there were none by the time I arrived.”

“Oh,” said the Brownie. “Okay. Thank you.” And then she nudged past him, dismissing him as utterly as if she had vaporized him with some kind of secret death ray. She planted herself firmly in front of the display of figures and started looking through them. Evidently she didn’t take the guy at his word. I turned to smile at the guy and apologize for the grilling he’d received, but he was already gone.

“Honey,” I said. “What if he had had two Ahsoka figures in his basket, instead of the stormtrooper?”

“Oh,” said the Brownie, not even bothering to turn to look at me, so obvious did she imagine her answer was. “I would have asked real nice for one. And if he didn’t give it to me, I would have screamed til police came.”


Store #5: Toys R Us:

Plenty of Star Wars figures here--a whole wall of them the moment you walk through the door. But none from the latest wave of figures. A helpful store employee informed us--with the air of a man who has provided the same exact information to about eleventy jillion people today--that they are due for a shipment of the new figures next week.

On the way out, who should we see loping across the parking lot but our friend from Target, the Collector.

“They’re getting them in next week!” the Brownie hollered at him. He cringed and, staring straight ahead, marched on into the store.

Store #6: Walgreens Pharmacy:

The Brownie insisted that she had once seen toys in the pharmacy, so I impulsively swung into the parking lot. Turns out they do indeed have a notional section of dolls and cars and assorted crap--even one or two Star Wars figures. But nothing like what we’re looking for. The Brownie looked briefly at a bin of colored socks--why in a pharmacy?--then noted, with mock surprise, that Walgreens has a candy aisle and boy! is this shopping ever hungry work. I outmaneuver her--barely--by suggesting we grab an early lunch instead.

Over lunch--which consisted of the kinds of awful, empty-caloried fast-food crap guaranteed to make discriminating mothers’ heads explode--I casually asked the Brownie how school was going. She dropped the French fry she was holding and looked up at me with a Face.

“I’ll tell you, Dad. So long as you’re not really asking me about the crying.”

Seven-year-old woman. I thought.

“Why don’t you want to talk about it?”

“Well, why DO you?” she countered.

“Because I’m worried. That’s one of the main Dad Jobs: I’m supposed to worry about you. When my daughter cries and doesn’t want to talk about it, that makes me worried. I’m also supposed to help keep you happy and safe, and crying seems like the opposite of that, unless you’re crying tears of joy. Are you?”

“No,” she answered. “But I don’t know why, really. I mean, I just get sad ideas that don’t stop and then I cry. And then I feel better and it all goes away til next time.”

I nodded, thinking for a minute. Then I made up my mind and I said something. Something I’d been keeping to myself for a long while.

“You know,” I said. “When I was in second grade, I went through a months-long crying jag at school. Every single morning from October until January or February.”

“Oh?” the Brownie answered with an air of nonchalance, but I could tell she was listening because she had stopped eating.

“Seriously. My teachers and Grandma and Papa spent long, exasperating months trying to draw me out. All I could tell them was that I was just feeling sad. But they were worried it was something else. Papa thought a bad person was hurting me. He wanted to sit outside the school with a shotgun.”

The Brownie laughed at this. “But you were just sad, right?”

“Right. Seven is a tough age. You’re old enough to know what you’re feeling and to be able to tell people you are sad, but it’s harder to tell people exactly why because it gets all mixed up and confused. If that’s how it is with you, fine. But if there is something—or someone—bothering you, you can totally tell me. Even if you promised not to, even if you think we’ll be mad. Because we totally won’t.”

“Ok,” she agreed, picking her fries back up. “NOW can we stop talking about it?”

Store #7: Yet Another Target:

Found Nothing

Store #8: Another Toys R Us:


Store #9: Target (The Last Goddamn One in the Area and if I ever hear the name “Ahsoka Tano” again it’ll be too fucking soon):

After nearly 10 stores, I am a little footsore as I hobble in, but the Brownie is already ahead of me. She ducks into the toy aisle, and almost instantly I hear the squeal of triumph. I quicken my pace and she comes hopping out of the aisle holding a nauseatingly familiar white package bearing the Star Wars logo. But the figure is one I’ve never seen before--a small, orange-skinned alien girl. With a lightsaber.

“Ahsoka Tano, I presume?” I said.

The aisle of figures appeared freshly stocked--we even saw a couple of those Commander Cody guys our collector friend hoarded.

“I might get one of these Cody guys for Thomas to go with Ahsoka,” the Brownie said as she grabbed one and stacked it atop the figure we’d been searching for. I told her to go ahead and look to see if there were any other figures Thomas might want. I absently wandered over to the next aisle, looking to see if there were anything else--a board game, say--that I might get my son. I didn’t want to give him just action figures for his birthday, after all. And God knows that after today, I was all done with shopping for his birthday.

Then, as I was stepping out of the aisle, I saw them enter it: a little boy, flanked on either side by an older man and woman, too old to be parents to such a young kid. The boy started yelling “Clone Wars guys!” and the older couple--clearly grandparents--beamed at each other, basking in the glow of the little guy’s excitement.

The kid was loud--I could hear him in the next aisle as he rooted through the toys. I gathered from his endless excited jabber that he, like everyone else we’d met at various toy departments over the past 36 hours, was looking for the elusive Ahsoka. Too late, kiddo, I thought, perhaps a tad gloatingly.

And then, the Brownie was standing in my aisle, tugging insistently on my arm. “I’m ready to go, Dad,” she said, in a strange voice. I turned to look at her, but she brushed past me, walking fast for the front of the store. I trotted to follow her to what I assumed would be the closest checkout stand, but that’s when I noticed something.

The Brownie’s hands were empty.

“Wait!” I cried, slightly aggrieved. “Where’s Ahsoka?” The Brownie turned and now I could see her eyes brimming with tears. I thought I understood why. “Did--did that little kid take it from you or something? Did--?” I stopped and pivoted, intending to march back and make some noise. But then the Brownie grabbed my hand.

“Stop!” she said, her voice broken, but still commanding real power. I froze, looking at my daughter’s crumpled face as she tried to master herself long enough to get the words out. “I GAVE it to him!!” she howled. And then this 7-year-old woman turned on her heel and marched out the door.

It was the sight of the grandparents, of course.

The grandparents who were shopping with their little one, just like the Brownie had. Just like she would be doing right now, if fate hadn’t intervened. I had thought the Brownie just a tad too young to be very hard hit by the loss of her favorite grandparents, but I saw now how wrong I was. We sat in the back of my car there in the Target parking lot, the Brownie crying into my shirt. I didn’t ask her any dumb questions. I got it in one this time, so I just shut up and let her turn my shirt into something that was just wringing wet.

“I told you I just get sad sometimes. I’m really sorry,” she said later. We were at an ice-cream shop, fortifying ourselves with something exceedingly chocolate.

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m kind of proud, actually. It was awfully nice of you to hand that toy over. I honestly don’t think I could have done it.” Actually, there was no “don’t think” about it. After 9 stores, part of me was still stunned we didn’t have that fucking toy to show for it. But never mind.

“Well, at the time I just felt like I had to,” she said. We were both being strangely careful not to actually mention the little boy and his grandparents.

“It was totally a good thing. Honest. I expect you’ll get some good karma out of this,” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Well, basically it just means what goes around comes around. You did something really nice for somebody today so that’s going to come back to you somehow.”

She frowned at me over her chocolatey mess. “That sounds like magical thinking to me,” she said.

I almost fell out of my chair. “How do you know about magical thinking?”

The 7-year-old woman just stared at me. “Daaaaaad,” she moaned, supremely put-upon. “Come on. I read. I watch TV. I know stuff.”

Presently, we were back in the car, heading home. I confess I was all done for the day. Who knew shopping could be so emotional? But as we passed a certain strip mall, the Brownie perked up. “Oh, Kohls!” she cried, indicating the biggest store in the strip mall. “That’s where we got the good socks last time!”

All of a sudden, I realized we just couldn't go home empty-handed. So I pulled in and offered to get the Brownie a couple of pairs of the most hideously colorful socks she could find.

Sometimes parenting is like that, I think. You go out intending to do great things and have big, meaningful conversations, and slay all the dragons you’ve set for your daily quota as a parent. But in the end, you count yourself lucky if you can just buy socks together.

And the really crazy thing is, sometimes the socks are enough.

Anyway, that’s what happened this weekend.

From Somewhere on


I peered over the top of a rack of socks. “What?”

The Brownie was pointing to the far corner of the Kohls store we were in. “I see toys.”

I had actually never been in a Kohls before, but it was my impression they were just a basic department/clothing store. “Oh, honey. They don’t have toys here,” I said.

But they did.

Granted, it was a small section--just four short rows. But on the very last one...

“Holy crap! Jackpot!” the Brownie screamed, loudly enough to make every head in the store swivel.

On this whole last aisle, I counted 25 rows of pegs, each peg holding about 10 figures, all Star Wars. First peg on the end, not two feet from my shaking hand were no less than four Ahsoka Tanos. I looked at the price.

"Jeez! This is a whole dollar more than they cost at the other places!" I cried, forgetting that they didn't have them at the other places. Forgetting that I hadn't just spent so much on gas that I could have bought 5 Ahsoka Tanos on eBay and still had money left over.

Still, I grabbed one up for Thomas. And as I did, the Brownie caressed the second figure on the peg, gazing at it.

“Don’t tell me you want an Ahsoka Tano too?” I asked.

The Brownie smiled. “Well, I DO have my own money,” she insisted. “And I’m kind of attached to her now. So I think I will. But don’t worry,” she said, patting my arm and walking away. “I'll hide it til after Thomas's birthday. Oh, and you can still buy me the socks.” Then she dashed out of the aisle.

I sighed and shook my head, putting on the act of the exasperated dad, but the only audience to witness my performance now were rows upon rows of plastic people. I sighed again and looked up and down the row.

“Figures,” I said.

Then I ran to catch up with my daughter.

*gusty sigh* That was lovely.
Ditto michelle
your daughter is turning into one h*ll of a woman. thank you for sharing her with us.

and yay! for FINALLY finding that stupid toy!
That's the BEST story I've read in a very, very long time. Thanks, MM.
Congratulations on the successful completion of your mission, Commander MM.
made me cry, again. at that "a-ha" moment.

she sounds like an amazing, bright and rather selfless little lady. not many kids that young would grasp it all--the loss, the ache, the parallel universe walking up the aisle toward those figures where she stood. wow.

glad you found AT--and the cause of the tears.
What a sweet, sweet story. Beautiful.

Love the double entendre at the end, too.
OMG what an awesome story, MM. Thanks for sharing such precious moments with your daughter, and congrats on finally finding the elusive Ahsoka Tano!

(BTW - I, too, searched another Target for you today in Dulles, VA, but all I found were like three dozen of that fat lady who dances for Jabba the Hut.)
I'm so glad you found it! I tried 2 Targets, an FYE, and a Toys 'R Us for you but no luck in my neck of the woods.

A baffling over-abundance of the multi-breasted slug singer though. If I never see her again, that'd be fine.

Also, I'd say you're totally within your rights to jump in next to someone else looking in an aisle...y'know for future reference. ;)
Yup, that was a good one. Thanks, MM.
From laughter to tears in the same post. Beautiful.
That should be made into a Christmas movie. It was wondeful.
Your seven year old woman is a wonder. You'll learn a lot from her over the years. :)
Thanks. Thanks a million. I'm crying this morning at work and it's all your fault. Brownie misses her grandparents. I miss my mother.

Tell Brownie that she has learned something important. Don't take anyone or anything for granted. Every moment is a gift.
AH, you made me laugh, you made me cry. I wish to be the parent you are, man. Thanks so much!
YOu mean you didn't buy them alla nd sell them to the scalpers?
Just one question. How much did HLS cry when you told her?
The Brownie is an amazing little woman. She has a great understanding and perspective. Karma will be good to her.
“I never know what I need until I go shopping, and then I think of lots of things.” Loved it and so true!!
YAY! Great news!

And what a great little woman you are raising.
Awwwwwwwww, with the perfect happy ending. Thank you for this story MM.
Wonderful! You, your daughter, the woman she'll be, the father you are, just wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your life. Keep writing, you can tell a story.
That was a great story and a really lovely moment with and for the brownie. Keep spending one on one time with those kids - those times are precious for parents, but priceless for children. There is no substitute for the attentive love of parents. Well done.
I wish I could write half as well as you do MM. Damn.
I simply adore the Brownie.
Bestest story ever.
Why do your stories always leave me bawling in my coffee; spewing said coffee all over the screen; or ...

You are the best~ Thank you for the lovely story He-Man :)
I'm starting a "Brownie for President" movement now. If she's this compassionate and diplomatic at 7...look-out world!
Now I must gather up my soggy kleenex and rally support.
Perfect, just perfect.
I wept again, in spite of myself. Your daughter is an astonishing soul, for any age. I'm very sure that your folks are endlessly proud. As, I'm sure, so are you.

Beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you so very much for sharing.
I don't even have the words to describe how much I love that story. I want to laugh and cry and scream and do a happy dance and give the Brownie a hug all at the same time.

Your kids are all amazing, but they are so lucky, too, to have a dad who realizes how special they are and who takes the time to write down all their adventures and moments of greatness.

PS - Can I use this in my classes to show my kids how to write a narrative?
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