He wiggles his fingers through the sole of his work shoes, suggests I take him to Walmart to buy a new pair before he busses the dinner shift at a neighborhood restaurant. Parenting adults is a tricky dance, I always check myself—am I helping or enabling.
I try to remember my dead husband, how he’d say with assurance that poet Kahlil Gibran said parents are the bow, children are the living arrows they send forth, and wonder why this twentysomething kid can’t go buy shoes without my help, why he can’t be a straight arrow.
He knows time is short before his shift starts, that Walmart is a quick drive away, but I’m on to his ploy. I tell him it’s busy on Saturday. He says he'll pay for the shoes himself from the money he has saved from tips. I relent, stiffen myself for the people of Walmart, undoubtedly in full bloom on a holiday weekend.
I mentally prepare to run the gauntlet of morbidly obese shoppers blocking aisles with their carts, the disabled banking around corners in motorized chairs while holding barking Chihuahuas, teens mooning over engagement rings in the center aisle, transvestites with runs in their too-short pantyhose, middle-aged couples buying patio supplies and sex lubricant, children swaying an already broken birthday piñata. I park. My son struts ahead.
This time I don’t care about whether he’s embarrassed to be seen with me. I pick up the pace, find him in the work-shoe section, way in the back. He can’t find tred-safe black shoes in his size. I reach up on tippy-toes, hand him down a pair. He tries them on.
I hold myself back from checking the toe room like when he was a child. They’ll do, he says. We go to the check-out line snaking into ladies intimates. A woman with a mounded cart of merchandise signals us to go ahead, says, “If that’s all you’ve got.” My son, ever impish, looks over his shoulder says, “Come on, kids!” They laugh. I’m not amused.
While waiting, he strikes up a conversation with the woman in line ahead of him. He tells her he’s buying work shoes, works at a restaurant. She tells him her son works at Hot Wings in Chico, that he’s a student there. My son tells her it’s a great school, like he actually knows this.
He explains he’s just a busser, that he’s saving for a car. After the clerk rings up her order, she moves to the carousel of full plastic bags at the end of the counter, begins loading. My son asks the clerk how much for the shoes.
“They’re paid for,” he says and nods toward the woman loading her cart to leave. She scurries away before he can say anything more than “thanks.” He helps me to the front doors because my eyes are blurry, tells me under his breath, “I think I need to go to church.” I tell him: “You’re already there.”