What happens to children when they enter a grocery store? You can have all the “pre-game” talks in the car that you want about appropriate store behavior. You can threaten them with trumped up consequences that will be doled out if they decide not to follow your guidelines. If you’re desperate enough (and I usually am), you can even agree to a special treat to come at the end in exchange for good behavior.
We perform these pre-store rituals with hope in our hearts and dread in our bones. We know that our pleas will fall on deaf ears. Our sweet cherubs will look at us all doe-eyed and nod their heads through the lecture and maybe even throw in a couple “yes mamas,” but right before we enter through the automatic doors they will uncover the vials hidden in their vest pockets, drink the gummy bear juice, and away they will go – bouncing here and there and everywhere.
I know it’s going to happen. I know it every single time and yet I still subject myself to the torture that is grocery shopping with three kids. I perpetually live in the denial stage and have yet to move on to acceptance when it comes to this part of parenting. What is that old saying about the definition of insanity?
Let’s just look at the latest example as a case study so that we can further examine my level of mental instability. With two diapers left in the house, I decided to venture out last night to grab “just the necessities.” It would be a quick trip I told myself (oh, the valley of denial is deep), in and out. My barnacle baby was extra clingy last night so I decided to grab a small cart since her little tentacles weren’t unwrapping from my neck anytime soon to sit in the seat. Upon entering the store, my daughter exclaimed, “I’ll push the cart” and, against my better judgment, I relented. (Some days I’m just too tired to fight the good fight.) Thirty seconds later, she had managed to run into the metal structure holding the giant bouncing balls, the Krispy Kreme donut shelf, and her brother’s left heel.
Assuming control of the cart (pushing with one hand, holding the baby with the other), we made our way down the first aisle – this time in a straight line. My daughter spotted a seemingly glow in the dark liquid and made a beeline for it. She then screamed back at me and anyone else within 200 yards, “Mom, can we get this blue drink!?! I LOVE this blue drink and Nana always has it at her house!” And so begins my weekly run through the seven circles made famous by Dante. A 20 minute Survival Style obstacle course of bobbing and weaving through aisles, attempting to avoid the “hot spots” that will lead to the downfall of this trip (read: cereal aisle and chip aisle), and repeating the same phrase over and over in robotic fashion – No, put it back, we are not getting that. I don’t care if Daddy let you get it last time.
Sometimes, when I have the energy, I try to make it into a game. I pretend it’s a scavenger hunt and give them items to pluck off the shelf and put into the cart as we make our way down each row. Sometimes this works. Usually it devolves into a pouting fest for my four year old who is mad that her ultra-competitive brother got to the box of fruit snacks before she could. But I digress.
Halfway through last night’s escapade, my son’s tolerance for shopping reached its breaking point and his normally sweet, rule-following nature was replaced by a crazed ninja, compelled to practice the ancient moves of Master Splinter in the pasta lined Dojo. Using the side of the cart as a springboard, he launched himself into the air, flying dragon style. He grabbed the box of spaghetti, now doubling as a katana blade, and deftly sliced and diced the air around him. After I examined the pasta sauce choices for way too long (and ended up selecting the same one as always), I barked at him to re-sheath his sword. And he did, but slowly….and only after making one last valiant lunge at his pouty sister.
Now let’s pause here to discuss the cart situation. At some point throughout the trip I will have multiple monkeys hanging off the sides. This is a tricky situation because, A. at least I can control their movements if they are attached to my cart, but B. they think its really fun to lean back while still holding on, thus taking out a row of Pringles containers. At least we aren’t at the store with the car carts because, great idea and all, but those are the worst.
Back to the trip. Somehow I’d managed to deposit every item on my list (and plenty of items not on my list) into my cart and, as I rounded the end cap to the last aisle, I began to breathe a little easier. The finish line was near – there was light at the end of the tunnel – I could see the checkout register. But what a rookie mistake this thought was. Just as I grabbed the extra large container of coffee creamer, I saw a flash of a ninja run into the beer cooler. This is a separate refrigerated room, placed strategically at the end of the last aisle as if to say to parents – “Don’t forget to grab a six pack on your way out. I’ve seen your kids in the store, go ahead, you deserve it.” Alas, this store is not set up like a Sam’s Club and there is no sampling station with a kind little old woman saying, “Would you like to try a sample of Oberon?” I ventured in to fetch my six-year-old warrior from the frozen tundra, other two in tow and, as I emerged from the cooler, I slammed right into someone I knew. Luckily on this trip I only swung the door into the cart of my sweet aunt who understood why I was doing the walk of shame out of the beer cooler with three kids under the age of six. Usually, though, it’s a school board member, a former or (even worse) current student, or some other pillar of the community.
Having achieved the height of my embarrassment and top blood pressure level, we finally made our way to the check out counter. My kids love unloading the cart unto the conveyer belt and I happily obliged because my left arm was already about to fall off from holding a 20 pound thumb-sucker for the last 20 minutes. Never mind that the can of soup always ends up slammed on top of the bread. No problem that they prefer to stack the yogurts to ensure that one or two will topple onto the floor. They are helping, and what mom can resist a modicum of assistance. As the contents of the cart were emptied and the sub-total was displayed on the screen (how did I spend that much? I was just coming to get milk and eggs! Where did those chips-ahoy cookies come from?) I thought to myself, “You did it. You survived. You deserve a medal or a plaque with your name on it, or at least an uninterrupted glass of wine.” I ignored the sound of my children hitting every button on the instant lotto machine, paid the nice lady, and pushed my overflowing cart of plastic bags toward freedom.
As the fresh air of the outside world hit my face, I noticed a mother just entering with her brood. I recognized the anxiety on her face and, as we exchanged sympathetic glances, we both realized that this too shall pass.
As much as we dread these weekly trips, someday much too soon, we will resume solo trips to the store. Our carts will hold less – a pound of hamburger instead of three, a box of Raisin Bran instead of Lucky Charms. We will gaze at the harried mother in the canned goods aisle with a pang of misty-eyed nostalgia. We will remember fondly the time when our little ones hung off the carts and knocked down the bags of goldfish. When we get to that point, will you make a pact with me to offer to hold her baby while she attempts to reach the green beans off of the top shelf? And as we hand her squirmy baby back to her, promise you’ll join me in whispering, “You’re doing good Mama.” Because sometimes all it takes is a kind word from a battle-hardened veteran to help us realize that we are all in this together. And don’t judge her if you spot a bottle of chardonnay hidden under the diapers, desperate times call for desperate measures.