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Befriending my Inner Elmo

Ethan and Delaney's birthday party was less than 24 hours away, and Toys-R-Us was the only shop open, so our family made the pilgrimage to (what some would call) Mecca as the sun set behind the Westfield Mall.

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Note to self: Do not enter Toys-R-Us after 7 p.m. or when fatigued.

For a highly-sensitive person (HSP as defined by Elaine Aron in her bestseller "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You") with sensory-integration issues (in addition to every other kind of issues), plus depression and OCD tendencies, a store like Toys-R-Us (and Disney World, the county fair, Chuck E. Cheese, etc.) is a land mine of anxiety.

For this reason I usually shop for birthday gifts in an overpriced shop in downtown Annapolis, where I can buy puzzles made of natural bamboo shoots, and feel good that I'm not adding to the landfills of plastic kids' toys.

But Ethan and Delaney's birthday party was less than 24 hours away, and Toys-R-Us was the only shop open, so our family made the pilgrimage to (what some would call) Mecca as the sun set behind the Westfield Mall.

We had not been in the store for more than fifteen seconds when I was hit with the first request.

"Mommy! Goggles! We need goggles. Can we get goggles?"

"How much are the goggles?" I asked, knowing full well that this is a trick question. If they are expensive, then the cheapskate in me says they aren't worth the dough. If they are inexpensive, which they were ($1.99), then that means I'm supporting child labor and inhumane treatment in Chinese factories.

An ethical dilemma. I hear the whimper of my daughter wanting goggles, that every kid has at the pool. And I see a little Chinese boy sweating to death to make them.

"Sure, you can get the goggles."

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"David wants a skateboard," Eric then says, holding a box with a helmet, kneepads, shoulder pads, and every other kind of pad short of a maxi pad.

"We can't get him everything he wants. That's how you raise spoiled, materialistic kids. He'll have to work for it."

"Therese, the kid is five years old. Let him have some fun."

"Fine. Put it in the cart."

Five minutes later the cart was full of a Sleeping Beauty princess dress (any hope I had of Katherine being a feminist flushed down the potty), a pink Disney princess bathing suit and matching skirt, two movies ("Sleeping Beauty" and "Beauty and the Beast"), some "Lightning McQueen" swimming shorts for David. Oh yeah, and the birthday gifts for which we came: a fancy lightsaber, a plastic Spider-Man on a motorcycle, and a watermelon swimsuit with matching hat.

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With every item thrown into the cart I felt a tug of my heart, since by these purchases (my depressed, guilt-ridden brain says) I'm contributing to consumerism, globalization, landfills, pollution, child labor, materialism, and global warming.

But I kept my mouth shut. Until I was accosted by a perverted Elmo in aisle five. While rushing to the bathroom (Katherine had to!), Elmo (and a few of his buddies) whistled at me much like a truck full of rude construction workers.

That's when I exploded.

"If we buy things from this store, our kids will not have a world to live in!" I said to Eric. "We are ruining our world so this bloody thing can whistle when someone walks by, which he will stop doing in three days when his batteries wear out, and then he'll be tossed in the mountain of trash with the others. All the energy--all the carbon fumes--being emitted into the atmosphere so this warped stuffed animal can catcall. And our kids are going to have to figure out what to do about it."

Eric started to laugh and then realized I was serious.

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"Everything contributes to global warming, Therese. Not just goggles and Elmo. The Internet uses energy, too. (He knows I'm an online junkie.) Being prudent and doing what we can is not the same as not living."

All I could picture was that damn global warming commercial, where the guy is standing on the railroad tracks, his back to a train as it approaches. He gets out of the way just in time, but his daughter is left to be crushed by the thing. The producers of that ad have got to be Catholic, because they have mastered the whole guilt thing. For viewers such as moi who are Catholic and depressed, with fragile wiring in the prefrontal cortex and every other corner of the brain, that commercial alone translates into at least a year of therapy sessions.

On the days or moments that I'm fighting the grumpies and anxieties (every evening past 7 p.m. falls into that category), I'm like Marsha Brady picturing her mom's favorite vase getting shattered by the ball that she wasn't supposed to be playing with in the house.

When poor Marsha closes her eyes, all she hears is the words, "Mom always said, don't play ball in the house" accompanied by the image of the ball smashing the vase.

That's what it's like with the guilt of commercialization, globalization, landfills, pollution, materialism, child labor, global warming...the image of the train sailing down the track, David and Katherine in front of it.

Eric put his hands on my shoulders, and said, "I'm never taking you to the toy store again. You need to chill out."

"Anxiety is the essential condition of intellectual and artistic creation," wrote American philosopher Charles Frankel. Which means I must be brilliant and a mom (creative in the literal sense), because I feel lots of anxiety, especially upon rushing by a rack of perverted Elmos on a trip to the potty in Toys-R-Us right before the store closes.

Tomorrow's plan is to think less, shop less, and to hug my inner Elmo.


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