Off to the suburban TJ Maxx again today to pick up family fall clothing, a task I like. I sorted through the racks of fluffy sweaters and wool jackets and warm pajamas and listened to the crappy canned music, thinking pleasantly about moto-boots and schoolboy caps. I pushed my cart to another aisle, and noticed an older woman -- in her late 60s, I'd say, a plain, normal not-insane Grandma-type-- leave the section abruptly. She spoke, although to no one in particular, in a huffy, pointed voice.

"That's not my size!"

Her utterance got my attention, and I glanced up at her and happened to catch her looking straight at my face. She immediately looked down and away, nervous. As she walked past me, she spoke again, this time mumbled, head down.

"All way too big for me."

My first thought was, "Well, hey, thanks for telling us, hon," along with a massive rolleyes, but then I realized what had happened, for this was not the first time I had seen it, not the first time at all.

Did you know that some women are too embarrassed to have anyone else see what size clothing they wear? And that they will either order clothes online or try to shop when there aren't so many people around or will quickly move over to a size or two lower if someone comes close, a size they couldn't get on with a crowbar and a vat of Vaseline? And that they will load their cart with the correct size, but put smaller sizes over the bigger ones so they can keep shopping without others "judging their cart?" And that this behavior is in NO WAY limited to the obese, but to women of all sizes and ages and income ranges?

Did you know that? And did you know that by making the average Size 6 now fit like the average Size 14 used to fit be 50 years ago, you can sell more clothes to an aging, increasingly-overweight female population who have concurrently been told for those last 50 years that "you can never be too rich or too thin?"

I stood for a moment and thought. Here is a woman who has lived a very long time, has probably many accomplishments to her credit, and still is soaked in enough shame about her looks to be compelled to tell strangers at a discount store that she really isn't that fat at all.

And right then, a small boy about three years old popped his freckled face through the rack of jeans I was looking at, beaming at me with a mischievous little grin. Like so many bored little kids do at these stores, he was playing hide-and-seek in the clothing racks, along with his sister, who was about four years old. I smiled back at him. And then his mother, behind me, began.


I whipped my head around to see her -- a sour-faced women with long brown hair in her late 20s. My jaw dropped and I gave her the holy HELL stinkeye, but she wasn't looking at me at all.


Tanner looked up at me, his smile now replaced with a dull, blank stare.

My blood was boiling. OK, OK...maybe she just snapped for a second. Maybe she had the worst day ever.

Maybe not, as she kept up the shame-talk to her kids the entire time. She said not one positive thing to either of them, not ONE. She talked to them like an immature, bitter, selfish, overburdened, ignorant wretch, demeaning them for the smallest of things, that ANY preschoolers would do, normal kid behavior and NOTHING out of line at all.

She took them both with her into the changing room at the same time I was in there, sequestered in my own changing room. She dropped her sunglasses on the floor with a clatter.


And where I nearly truly really lost it 100% and was ready to bolt out and slam her goddamn head against the wall was when she spoke again, in a quieter voice this time.

"You stupid little motherfuckers. Your dad better be picking you up on time today."

I wanted to scream at her through the door. My head was swimming. I was so angry I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to handle her without just exploding. Think! Think! What is the right thing to do? What can anyone do?

Was my smashing her to bits or calling her out going to change her? No. She wasn't ashamed of herself, and wasn't going to be made so from some bitch at TJ Maxx. Would it have frightened and shamed her children even more if I angrily confronted their mom? Yes, without a doubt. Would a sympathetic, kindly "do you need any help?" tone have worked? I doubted it, and thought it would instantly escalate in a bad way.

They left the changing room, and I breathed until I was calmed enough to continue doing, well, anything at all.

As I was getting ready to leave the store, I saw the boy again, lagging far behind his sister and mother,  close to me. He stopped to look at a Halloween costume on a rack near the front. It was of a ghost.

Fuck it, I thought, and I left my purchases in the cart and turned back, and walked towards him. I kneeled down to his level. He looked at me, and I looked him in the eye.

"Tanner? You are a good boy." I smiled at him, and he beamed.

I rose, turned and walked back to my cart, pushed it through the parking lot, opened my car and unloaded the bags, rolled the cart back to the front of the store, walked back to the car, sat down in the driver's seat, and cried.