Food Store Deli Diary – May 22

It was my night to prepare fresh ham salad and turkey club salad for the deli case.  This normally means a trek through the store for some of the necessary condiments needed for the recipes; which would be ranch dressing, bacon bits and sweet pickled relish.

Dressed in my white deli smock and Boar’s Head cap, I set-out to gather the needed provisions.  As I neared the dressing section of aisle 5, a young mother with her two young daughters seated in a shopping cart were before me.  I needed to pass the cart to get to the ranch dressing.

A little blond girl, approximately 3 years of age, sat in the child seat at the front of the cart, facing towards me.  A little brown haired girl, who appeared to be about 5 was seated inside the cart.  She was facing the other way, towards her mother, who was reaching for products on the shelves and pulling the cart sideways, rather than pushing the cart from the front.

Just as I was passing the cart, the little blond girl in front twisted her body, extended an arm and tapped her older sister on top of the head.  Then she quickly about-faced, and with an utterly straight demeanor, acted as if nothing had happened.

I caught this interaction as I passed by and was reminded of my own childhood, when my siblings and I would often play the mystery tap game. We actually named it; ‘Tip-Tap.’  It was a fairly straight forward but fun game to play.  You sneakily tap your brother or sister when they least expect being tapped, preferably when there’s somebody else in the near vicinity who might be blamed, then you distance yourself from suspicion by either quickly moving out-of-sight, or feigning innocence…  “What? Me? No! Never! Why would I want to tap you and risk catching your cooties?”

‘Nice fake-out, little girl,’ I thought as I passed their cart.  I was impressed with how well this little tyke was able to pull-off her ruse.  It honestly never entered my mind that she would be sophisticated enough at the game to even consider the strategy of timing it so that somebody else would be blamed.  I mean, she was all but 3 years old. And sitting in the bumper-seat of a grocery cart!  Surely, she was merely at the ‘tapping and feigning’ level, she couldn’t possibly be devious enough at that age to even dabble at ‘deflecting blame,’ could she?

After passing the cart, I found myself standing on the left side of the mother, with her cart still to her right. I was perusing the ranch dressing options when I heard the 5 year old in the cart say to her Mom, “She patted me on the head.”

I assumed the 5 year old was tattling on her younger sister. I assumed the two little girls had been playing the Tip-Tap game throughout the store that afternoon.  I assumed the older child would have known for sure, it was her younger sister who had patted her on the head.  Then I heard the mother say, with a rather cautious tone,  “Well, I guess she saw you were being good, and was just giving you a pat on the head … for being a good little girl.”

The mother and her girls continued down the aisle, and I thought to myself; ‘Well, that was strange. Why would the mother attribute such sophisticated reasoning to a toddler? Why would a 3 year old pat her older sister on the head for being a good little girl? That doesn’t make sense.’

Then, I put it all together. “Oh, my Gawd! That woman thinks I just patted her kid on the head!”

It is just so NOT in my nature to pat ANYONE on the head; let alone the randomly chosen child of a stranger!  I knew I had to set the record straight. The last thing I needed was for this mother to go to my store manager to report a crazy deli-clerk on the loose, hitting random, innocent kids on the head while the parents weren’t looking.

I saw that the family had made their way down towards the pickle section of aisle 5, and fortunately, I needed to get to that section to acquire relish for my ham salad.  So, I began walking towards the cart, and noticed that the cute little 3 year old girl was eyeing my approach.  I smiled at her, she smiled back. And, just as I was passing the cart, the little 3 year old twisted her body, extended an arm and tapped her older sister on top of the head, again!  ‘Oh, this kid’s a pro,’ I thought.

Within seconds, I was once again standing on the left side of the mother. This time, I heard the older daughter say, “She did it again!” The girl was pointing at me. The mother wasted no time in turning her head towards me, and locked into my eyes with all the fierceness of a mother bear protecting her cub.  I knew she was about to say something to the effect of, “What is wrong with you?! Why are you hitting my kid on the head?!”

I held my free hand up in a defensive gesture and said, “Don’t worry; I’m not following you. I just need to get some relish for the deli. But I also need to ask if I just heard your daughter tell you that I patted her on the head.”

The mother, who was clearly still annoyed and in ‘defense-mode,’ said, “Well, yeah. Yeah, you did just hear her say that…”

I interrupted the protective mom before she could go any further, by saying “OK… OK… Let me explain.”

Mama Bear was now calmed a bit and listening.

“That wasn’t me. Believe me, I would never go around the store randomly rapping children on the head. That was your little one, over there in the child seat, who tapped her sister on the head.”

The 5 year old, who then seemed genuinely disappointed, insisted, “But, you did do it! It was you!”

I smiled warmly at the 5 year old and said, “No, sweetheart. That wasn’t me who patted you on the head.”

“But, yes! It was you!” the 5 year old insisted.

“No, I’m sorry…” I said. “But, that was your younger sister.”

At that point, the younger child reached out and patted her older sibling on the head once again. Then she turned to look at us all, with a mischievous grin as if to say, ‘Ha-ha! I got you all!’

The girls’  mother just reeled her head back in revelation and laughed.  Then she said, “Oh, yes! OK! Now, it all makes sense! I get it now!”

She continued,  “I’m sorry. Apparently, my little one is a real joker.”

“Yes,” I was giggling as I said, “She’s a comedian alright. But hey, she’s got great timing!”

I was still giggling as I made my way back to the deli counter with my condiments, and then the thought struck me;  ‘Wow. Not only was I punked once, but I was punked twice… by a 3 year old!’

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