It was one of my four “kidless” days each month. I had worked through lunch and dinner and survived on nothing but two eggs, toast and coffee – lots of coffee, and Diet Coke – LOTS of Diet Coke. I had just driven an hour and a half round trip to pick the boys up from their father. It was freezing cold out, and I was exhausted.
Kaleb was asleep by the time we pulled into town and, rather than run the risk of waking him up by dropping the boys off first, I decided to take them with me to our local grocery store. I should be in and out in only a few minutes and the older boys could watch Kaleb while he slept.
I told them I’d be right back and threw open the car door, not wanting to hear their protests.
I faintly heard Noah’s voice from the far back of our minivan. I could pretend not to hear. I could slam the door and make a run for it as every part of me wanted to do. In and out. Quickly. I could make record time. They’d never even miss me.
But I couldn’t ignore that little voice.
“Mom, can I come with you?” Noah asked softly from the back seat, and I felt me head droop.
“Sure buddy,” I sighed, “Come on.”
Noah stepped out of the car. His big blue eyes glanced around the dark parking lot taking in the emptiness of the late, cold, dark night, and he held my arm as we walked to the entrance.
“Sometimes, when you go into a store by yourself or when I can’t see you and you’re left home all alone,” he said softly pulling me closer, “I worry about you. I worry that you might get shot or something.” He whispered.
I didn’t know what to say. I knew Noah was a sweet little soul. I also knew it was his dream to be an Army Man or a Police Officer, a protector of the defenseless, an enforcer of justice, a hero.
But he was still my little boy.
We had reached the store entrance, and I pushed Noah back against the sliding glass doors as they slid shut silently behind us. Holding my index finger to my lips and ignoring the surprise on his face I pointed to the video monitors above the store entrance.
“I wasn’t going to tell you this,” I whispered to Noah keeping my eye trained on the video monitor, “But you never need to worry about me. You see…I am a secret spy, and this store is not really just a store, this is my training mission. Just watch!”
Noah’s eyes grew large and I quickly made certain no one was around to see.
“Come on. Come On!” I urgently pushed Noah under the metal railing so we were now on the exit rather than the entrance side of the doorway.
“Mom What are you doing?” Noah looked at me like I was crazy.
“Shhh… I cautioned him again. “This is secret spy stuff. We are avoiding the video monitors.” I pointed to the screen again and sure enough, the exit where we were was off camera. I hoped there wasn’t another camera somewhere showing the two of us ducking under the railing, but I decided not to think about that.
Noah looked impressed.
“Now we sneak in through the out doors,” I whispered I crept hunched over toward the exit doors ignoring the thought of how utterly foolish I would feel if someone came through those doors and saw us.
I gave him an eyebrow wiggle and a wink and then realized those doors didn’t open at all from this direction.
Noah started to giggle. “Mom, you can’t get in that way. What are you doing?”
I shoved Noah back under the railing toward the store entrance, “Good job Spy Master Noah! I congratulated him, “That was a test.”
“In my line of work, we need to be very careful not to be seen. Come on. Let’s go.” I grabbed him by the arm and headed toward the produce aisle but a man turned the next aisle and was heading back our way. I spun Noah around back toward the door, but there was a young college couple coming in. The guy was dressed in a Where’s Waldo style hat and the girl had striped leggings and long greasy hair. I guessed they were from a very liberal local college, and I grabbed two flyers from the bin by the entrance. I thrust one at Noah and took the other for myself opening it up and covering my head almost completely with it.
“Mom! What?” Noah tried to ask again as the couple approached, but I quickly snatched away his flyer and put it over his head too. The couple passed. I told myself they were too absorbed in each other to notice. I ignored the little voice in my head that said the odd little couple actually thought I was the weirdo here.
Noah pulled the paper off his head, but before he could protest I said, “See, they look like regular flyers, but they are really invisibility cloaks – IF you know how to use them correctly. Lucky for you, you’re with me. Those two may look harmless, but they are really Level Def-Con One invaders from Planet Zelda.”
I have no idea what Def-Con One is, but it always sounds impressive.
I grabbed Noah again by the arm and we ran to the display of oranges on sale at the front of the produce aisle. I crouched down low and reminded him of the importance of finding bunkers like this one to hide behind. From there we raced to the melons and then to the apples. From the end of the aisle, somewhere near where the bananas should be, I saw a man pushing a cart load of boxes. Did he look at me? I hoped not, but Noah had seen him too.
“Quick Noah! Take these grenades just in case we need a diversion. I’ll look for more ammo.” Noah was turning toward me, but I was caught up in the game. I picked up three small limes prepared to tell him not to pull the stem too soon and tossed the first to him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t ready to catch the grenade/lime and it hit him squarely in the forehead (hard) before he stifled his yelp and we both chased the lime across the floor.
Feeling totally foolish, I put the limes back and Noah and I raced down the aisle as the produce man came closer. Yep, he had definitely seen my shenanigans. Ohh the embarrassment, but I couldn’t let Noah down!
We raced to the ice cream aisle where he was still laughing from getting pegged by the lime. I shook him and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt pushing him up against the giant freezer doors. “Get a hold of yourself man! This is no time for fun and games.”
A woman turned up our aisle, and I had to let Noah go, “Act like nothing happened,” I said out of the corner of my mouth. We picked out ice cream (which I felt at this point he had earned) and turned to exit the opposite side of the aisle to get the milk. The first woman was still approaching but now a second was coming straight at us.
“Oh no! We are surrounded!” I yanked open a freezer door and pushed Noah almost inside shielding him from the two innocent-looking women with my body. “I know you’re cold buddy.” I said to Noah, but trust me, I know these two and that little cold you feel is nothing compared to the laser ice crystals that they use to kill their earthly victims.”
I heard Noah giggle again.
Eventually, we made it to the milk, the bread, to the front lines, and we even paid for our groceries. On line, Noah refused to believe that the big wall above the cashier lines actually contained offices and that people could be watching us or preparing to swoop down on us at any minute, until almost on cue, a shadow of one of the store managers did move away from the shadowed glass. He had been standing above our line and I couldn’t help but cringe a bit wondering how much of our act he had seen.
We left the store hopping in a zigzag pattern being certain to avoid the colored floor tiles, some of which, I informed Noah, were actually laced with explosives containing millions of pounds of green Jell-O and others forced spaghetti to shoot out of people’s noses.
Unfortunately, in a ten-year old boy’s mind, nothing could be cooler than that and so he purposely started stepping on colored tiles. I explained to him that it was probably setting off hidden devices in stores in other parts of the world and green Jell-O and spaghetti were popping up in places that had never even heard of green Jell-O or spaghetti. He thought that was even cooler, and so I had to put him in a head lock and restrain him leaving the store.
One of the women who works there and who I often see while shopping caught us walking out this way and gave me a little smile. I’m not sure if she saw more of what we did inside or just this, but I smiled and winked back at her.
As we walked through the parking lot, arm in arm, like normal people again. I said to him, “And that’s why you never have to be afraid for me, Sweetie. I tell you I’m going to the store and other places, but really I am a very highly trained super specialist off on secret missions. Hey don’t tell your brothers ok?”
Noah laughed, “That’s exactly what I’m going to tell them! You are so funny, Mom. Thanks. I had fun in there!”
We opened up the car door. Kaleb was awake and immediately the boys started yelling in their cheerful, but loud boy way about how long we had taken.
I couldn’t blame them, “Sorry guys.” I looked at Noah and winked at him, “Our MISSION took longer than expected.”
Noah started laughing, “You guys should have seen it…”
Noah went on to tell about our adventure as I drove home happily listening to him recount the story with excitement in his little voice, which he did until someone noticed ice cream in the bag and shouts and cheers and calls for, “I get it first!” filled the car and the front lawn and the house, but Noah and I hung back from the older boys’ mad dash to get the first ice cream and walked in slowly together just enjoying the last few minutes together, and I was so thankful I hadn’t shut that door and that he had come in to the store with me. Somehow, I was no longer as cold or tired or hungry as I had been earlier. Somehow, as I walked in with this little child with the twinkling eyes and special, special grin, all was right with the world
Later, I would thank God no one had called the police on me for shoving Noah in the cooler or putting him in a headlock or throwing limes at his face, but for now, we were just having fun. I was letting him be a kid. I was being Super Mom, someone who could have fun instead of being tired and working all the time, and most of all, someone who he didn’t have to worry about. I was going to always be someone who could protect him.