Photo credit: David Clinton

It’s Friday night and I am on a mission. My seven year old son needs something to wear for a wedding we will attend in the morning. Despite my wife’s insistence that his old khakis do not look like capri pants and that what he wore at Easter will be fine, I stand my ground and insist this is in fact a real problem that needs to be solved.

This was my first mistake.

Walking toward Kohl’s, I review the plan-of-action with my son:

  1. Find a dress shirt, pants and a tie (preferably clip-on).
  2. Stay focused, because the store closes in thirty minutes.

I ask, “Got it?”

“Got it.” He pauses. “Can I eat these Smarties I found in the car?” Not wanting to spend time on an argument, I reply, “Sure.”

This was my second mistake.

We are greeted by Summer Sale! signs and fluorescent lighting. Focused on the task at hand, I set off with a confident stride toward the Children’s Department, only to notice a moment later that my son is not with me. Looking back, I see him hopping from floor tile to floor tile, carefully avoiding each crack.

“What are you doing? We have a plan, remember?”

With a goofy grin he replies, “You’re breaking mom’s back!” I feel my jaw tighten as I respond, “We need to stay on track. Mom can go see a chiropractor. And technically, I’m breaking Grandma’s back.” The hopping stops as he asks, “Really?”

This was my third mistake.

A giant photo of beautiful, well-groomed children looking happy and compliant overlooks a tranquil sea of neatly folded shirts in the boys’ formal wear section.

Dress shirt #1 is too tight. Dress shirt #2 is enormous. Dress shirt #3 takes off in a giggling blur as pure sugar hits its bloodstream.

Blood pressure rising and clip-on tie in hand, I pursue the laughing button-down and attempt to reason with it, failing to recognize the shirt is no longer concerned with The Plan, but now has an agenda of its own.

This was my fourth mistake.

Good evening Kohl’s shoppers. This is a friendly reminder that our store will be closing in fifteen minutes.

Crap. I need a new strategy. I grab multiple sizes and…notice a small wiggling rear-end peeking out from behind a stand of t-shirts. A silly voice says, “Look at my shiny butt!”

That’s it. I take off after him.

This was my fifth mistake.

In hot pursuit, I dart through Women’s Athletic Wear and past Home Décor, where he has a near miss with a Yankee Candle Display. He’s fast and agile, so I need to outwit him. I decide to head him off at Bedding. He arrives at the ambush just in time to see me accidentally knock a duvet off the shelf. He bursts into laughter. A wave of heat pulses through my body and I yell louder than I have ever yelled at him, “STOP IT!”

He freezes. His shoulders hunch as he looks at the ground and offers a quick and shameful, “I’m sorry, Dad.” A moment passes and his lip begins to quiver. He asks, “Why do I need to be fancy anyway?”

My stomach sinks. What am I doing? Why am I yelling at my child in the Bedding Department of Kohl’s on a Friday night? I drug him here past his bedtime and he is trying to play with me – and he is doing it with imagination and humor, my two favorite things about him. I look at my son, now with tears in his eyes, and it hits me; this isn’t about him. Or the wedding. Or ill-timed Smarties. It’s about my need to look like a put-together dad. We are here because of my insecurity.

This was my sixth mistake.

Why does my favorite seven year old on earth need to be fancy?

The answer is that he doesn’t. And I tell him this. I apologize for yelling. I thank him for being more patient with me than I have been with him. I tell him that I love his imagination, his playfulness and his humor. I ask him if he would like to buy any of the fancy clothes he quasi-tried on. He answers, “Yes. And the Pokémon t-shirt on a stand that we passed.”

“You mean the shiny butt stand?” He laughs and we check out, with two minutes to spare – just enough time to hop from tile to tile. (You’re welcome Mom and Grandma).


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David Clinton

David Clinton

David works with adolescents as well as adults. His clients deal with a wide range of challenges including anxiety, depression, relationship and family conflicts, trauma, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and spiritual struggles related to mental health.

David and his wife live in the western suburbs on Chicago with their two children, who David says “fill my days with laughter, excitement and a significant amount of property damage.”

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