My son has a part-time job at the grocery store in our city. He works there after school and on weekends. He’s saving up for a car. Or Chipotle (hey, our accounts are linked…I see where the money goes!). Most of his shifts are spent ringing up customers. Sometimes he does the bagging, sometimes he’s the kid out in the parking lot gathering carts.
Last night, however, he was cashiering. You went through his line, with your husband. Apparently the chit-chat was pleasant…since it was nearing the end of my son’s shift, he probably appreciated the back and forth with nice people such as yourselves. Ending the night on a good note and all that jazz.
When the goods were bagged up and your credit card slip signed, you could have gone on your merry way and let my son finish his shift and get on with his Saturday night. He’s 16 and Saturday nights are like unwritten books just waiting for their stories.
But you didn’t, did you?
Nope. You turned back to him, after he wished you a good evening, and you spoke. You touched the sides of your own face, and you said to my son:
“Wow. You have a lot of acne.” Then you pulled a business card out of your purse and handed it to my boy.
“I sell products that can help with that. In six months, it’ll be gone!”
My son took your card. He took it, and said “Thank you.” And then he added, “But no thanks.”
He took your card and thanked you because that’s how I’ve been raising him. He’s polite. Unfailingly so.
He said “no thanks” because I’m also raising him to speak up for himself. To be proud and to be brave.
I picked him up not long after you left. I’m a single mom of four, and we are a one car household. I spend a lot of my time transporting teens to jobs, activities and friend’s houses. In a way, it’s a blessing because we have some great talks. We talk about pretty much everything, my kids and I.
Last night, my son and I talked about you.
Your words, regardless of your intent, hurt my son. He told me the story. His face was illuminated by the glow of his phone as he simultaneously spilled his guts and solidified the evening’s plans with his crew. And then, he said the thing that broke my heart and for a second, made me hate you:
“Man. I was having such a good day up until that moment, Mom.”
Anyway, Jennifer, you ruined my son’s day.
Now, here’s how I operate: I think. I analyze and dig deep and I try really hard to understand the Hows and the Whys of life. I choose not to believe that some people are truly awful. I gave my son some food for thought:
“Maybe they’d been out for dinner and drinks and she was a little buzzed. People lose their filter after a few cocktails.“
“Maybe she had bad skin when she was younger and wanted to help you.“
“Maybe she’s desperate and broke and thought that trying to get a 16 year old grocery store cashier as a customer seemed like a good idea.“
I thought, but didn’t say out loud:
“Maybe she’s a thoughtless, vapid a-hole who has zero social skills and should be sent to live on an island stocked with nothing but Amway brochures.“
My son was already smiling, I’m not sure if it was because talking to Mom was reassuring or if one of his friends had just texted something funny. I felt some relief that for the moment, the black cloud you had so carelessly dumped over his day had begun moving along.
That’s the thing about this kid. My son. He’s a good person. He’s smart, he is charismatic and confident. One of the more popular kids in his grade. Scads of friends and a sense of humor that makes me unblushingly proud. He’s not a saint, of course, at home I sometimes call him Eric Cartman due to his ability to sound exactly like the rotund, angry child from South Park. But he really is a decent and kind person. I love him with all of my heart.
He has some zits. I guess you could call it acne, it’s not an uncommon phenomena in teens. He’s well aware of it, as we have several mirrors in our house and his vision is perfect. We have some ProActiv products, some Neutrogena cleansers. I try to buy unprocessed, organic food for my kids as often as my budget allows, because I think it’s better for them, and their skin. So yes, this son of mine does have some skin issues.
But here’s the deal: he doesn’t need it pointed out to him. Especially not on a Saturday night when he’s finishing up a shift at his part-time job. And especially not by a stranger trying to sell something. You could have left the store, gone home and done whatever it is you do. But for whatever reason, you thought it was a good idea to confront a captive teenage boy and point out a perceived flaw on his person in order to drum up some business for yourself.
Jennifer? It wasn’t a good idea.
He gave me your card. I have it here, in front of me as I type this. As a veteran of a difficult divorce, I have learned that some calls and emails should be given a cooling-off period, so as not to send or say something I might regret later.
I wanted to call you, that night, in the car while my son was sitting there next to me. I wanted to lay into you, rip you a new one, let you know just how absolutely and completely WRONG you were. Your actions brought out the mama bear in me and although she doesn’t come out often, when she does, it’s on. On like Donkey Kong, Jennifer.
I don’t think I’m going to call you. There have been several emails started, and then deleted. As the hours pass since you first approached my son in that grocery store, the feelings are abating. Slowly, but surely. I’ll still send the email to you, guaranteed. You need to know that what you did was wrong. But I’ll wait until these mama bear claws retract a bit. Typing with these things can be a bitch.
My son won’t forget you. He won’t forget you, or how it felt when you touched your face to point out the flaws on his. He won’t forget what it felt like to have to swallow his pride and take the card you handed him, because he’s 16 and a cashier at a grocery store and it’s his job to treat the customers with respect. You taught him a lesson that night, which I’m sure wasn’t your intention. You just wanted to sell some stuff.
You taught him that words have power. You opened your mouth and schooled my son on what it’s like to be on the receiving end of ill-timed, inappropriate words. You gave him a lesson on what is and what isn’t okay to say to perfect strangers. You helped me do what is one of my least-favorite jobs as a parent: you thickened up his skin, made my sweet boy a little bit tougher. You reinforced his armor, that battle gear he can use as he begins navigating life. You helped me, Jennifer. Helped me arm my son. Now he’s smarter, and better equipped.
Better equipped to face the world…a world that is full of people just like you.
So please, Amway Lady, let my son and I teach you something, too. The next time you feel the urge to hawk your wares, think about it. Look at who you’re attempting to entice. Before you open your mouth, before you touch your face, before you dig in your purse and fish for one of your business cards…think. And if that isn’t something you’re capable of, you might want to see if Amway makes a product that could help you.