I’m just walking the pram down the laundry aisle at Target, when I hear them.

The shrieking.

Two children playing catch or hide-and-seek or some fusion of both. Their little brother in a stroller, wailing because he is missing out. Their mother, deep in conversation with their grandmother over a pillow. (Seriously, lady. It’s Target. They’ll all go flat in a year.)

Without a word, I swing my pram with its precious, sleeping occupant around, and make a hasty escape to the bathroom section. Quick, quick… before they stampede over to –

Too late. A herd of tiny elephants comes running over. There’s shouts, an over-excited shriek that could break glass, except Target only stocks cheapies.

The pram jolts. I wince and wait for it. One thousand… two thousand…

Arddun awakes with a wail. It starts low, because it’s about to climb the decibel charts and stay at the #1 spot for about two weeks.

She’s at least half an hour early from her wake time. And she’s not happy about it.

Meanwhile, Mother and Grandmother have given up on the pillow and are now moving on to bathroom gear.

I make my exit.

Only to run into them again at the check-out, where they all end up at the cashier adjacent to mine.

Arddun is calm by now. She’s playing with her toes quietly. La-la-la, and holding onto both feet with both hands. Harmless.

Stroller Kid – the one who got left out earlier – takes one look at Arddun’s inner peace and shatters it completely with a sudden, belated shriek.

Another jolt. Arddun completely loses it. She yells so hard, her eyes tear up from the sheer force of her face-scrunch, and her head looks like it’s about to pop.

And the Mother, and the Grandmother. They stare at my bawling baby. And proceed to tut tut about how sensitive my baby is, and how this wouldn’t happen if she had siblings because babies with older siblings can sleep through anything.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

I am so gobsmacked, I actually go blank. The only thing I can think to do is pick Arddun up and cuddle her. To her credit, she has more to say on the matter than I do, because every time she makes eye contact with Stroller Kid, she gives him the evil eye and yells at him.

And the Mother, and the Grandmother. They ask the cashier how many children she has (3) and whether she grew up with lots of siblings (yes, 5), and only child, eh? Nudge nudge. Obviously.

Traitorous mind still in a blank. No comeback. Blind-white fury building, but not quite sure why. Scowling so hard now, my unplucked, mumsy eyebrows are starting to ache. Only thing left to do is throw all purchases into my pram and stiffly wheel it out of Target while jiggling indignant baby on my left hip.

L’esprit de l’escalier. The afterwit – which isn’t very witty at all – is for me to have fronted both obnoxious women with, “I know deep down that you’re only saying this because you know your kids are feral today. You’re embarrassed. I get that. But if it wasn’t bad enough that you’ve chosen to patronise me, did you really have to INSULT MY BABY?!”

Except I really couldn’t have said that, because I remember being one of those kids, running around a shopping mall like a rodent on speed.

Yes. I was a mall rat.

Because Singapore is so stinking hot and humid, we spend most of our days hiding in underground shopping malls and paying for borrowed air-conditioning by pretending to buy things. When I was 9/10/11/12, my family used to swan off to a mall with close friends after Sunday morning worship. We’d have lunch together, perhaps dessert, and then there’d be window shopping for the grown ups. And the other kids and I would beg to go to Toys ‘R’ Us or Kids World. And the adults would let us go because they were probably hoping thinking that we’d spend the half hour or so calmly debating the finer merits of Mattel’s Crystal Barbie and Hasbro’s Transformers (first generation).

Not so.

We were playing catch or hide-and-seek or some fusion of both. I got really bummed out on the weeks I had to wear a dress, because it made climbing and crawling slower. The most impressive hiding place I remember was when the smallest of us climbed up a huge toy shelf and hid behind a row of overstuffed plush toy teddies. The stuff of legends, man.

Sales ladies used to scowl at us till I thought their eyebrows would fuse together from the heat of their killer stares.

So yes. It’d be hypocritical of me to get too narky with the Mother, the Grandmother, and their three little squealies.

But I admit I’ve been fantasising about following them home so we can climb into the Mother’s bedroom at 4am and have Arddun press her sweet little mouth into the Mother’s ear and go,

“EEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

But she has three children. She should be used to that.

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