Remember grocery shopping before kids? I mean, it was a thing I completely took for granted; strolling the aisles with my list, taking my time, considering ingredients, being graceful to other shoppers “oh no please, you go first, I’m in no rush.” This was even true when I had one small baby who would coo and babble, woo-ing strangers aisle after aisle while snuggling against my chest in his organic, freshly-washed baby carrier. Bless.
Now? Grocery shopping with kids goes from wistful “this won’t be so bad” to “I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN!!!” pretty fast.
Eight stages of grocery shopping with kids
Hold your breath cause it could go either way: choosing the shopping cart. I always take a deep breath as I prepare for the toughest choice heard round the world. There are not one, but TWO kinds of race car shopping carts, and clearly one is (inexplicably) more pleasing than the other to the toddler set. Which one depends on the barometric pressure and whether it’s a 30 or 31 day month. And if there are no car-carts, well then we are presented with the dilemma of who will walk, who will ride, and who will grate mommy’s patience to a pulp before we’ve even walked through the auto-open doors. But somehow we carry on.
This won’t be so bad: hopeful entry. Once we make it through the doors, the wide aisles of promise spread before us and the first stop is usually the free cookie in the bakery aisle. This is a glorious 45 seconds of hope in which I think, “this won’t be so bad, look at these sweet angels, of course they should have a cookie.” They both say please and thank you (because they know otherwise the cookie is but a pipe dream that I will snatch away with one well-timed Mom-look) and the lovely bakery lady makes their sprinkled little dreams come true. My list is crisp, no one is arguing and we roll forward, lulled by the serenity of this brief interlude.
Aww, look, they’re kind of cute: the lobster tank. Still basking in the (fleeting) happiness of the bakery aisle, we round the bend and see the lobster tank. Momentarily ignoring the sheer cruelty of live animals with claws bound so they won’t attack each other as they try to escape before someone boils them for dinner, I listen as my four-year-old calls them “clobsters.” Yes it’s as freaking adorable as it sounds when he shouts it across the aisle, cookie crumbs tumbling off his chubby cheeks. “See mama, this isn’t so bad,” I think to myself and delight in my older son skipping down the cereal aisle to help with our long list.
I still have my self-respect: no you cannot have a toy. I cannot understand why grocery stores can’t just stick to the basics. Must you actually stock matchbox cars; must you? Every single actual time we enter the store, the boys ask for a toy and at this point in the shopping journey I still have my wits; I’m not yet sweating. No babies, you may not have a toy. You just had a cookie, we have a gazillion actual toys at our house (that you don’t play with), and we’re here for food shopping. In, out, dunzo. Do you hear me? Don’t ask again. Do. Not. Ask. Again. I am still in control of the situation, though I note the volume in the car-cart is starting to increase and the seven-year-old has rediscovered how fun it is to reach over and drive the wheel in front of his brother instead of his own, which said brother finds very, very offensive.
Wistful bribery: ok fine maybe you can have a toy, if you’re good. At this point, I’ve still sort of got it under control; things are being checked off the list but I can tell that we’re moving closer to the red-zone. I know from seven years of experience that we are still within the bounds of low-grade bribery being an option. I can still reel this in. Just a few more items; I start to fill the cart slightly more aggressively, ingredients don’t matter, all coupon or two-for-one deals are left by the wayside. We need to move this party along, so I dangle the idea of a matchbox car in front of them like a fisherman with a juicy worm; they take the bait and I forge ahead.
In the red zone: smile through the rage. We are now actually in the red zone as they argue about whose elbow just touched whose leg, who gets to hold the Go-gurt package, and whose turn it is to weigh the fruit in the produce aisle, loudly banging the apples into the metal scale and laughing demonically. It is always at this point that a nostalgic older woman compliments me on their beautiful eyes and reminds me of just how fast this will all go, so I should enjoy every moment. “Yes, yes they are wonderful and yup, I am absolutely enjoying all the moments of all the ever-loving days,” I say through clenched teeth while a bead of hot sweat rolls down my back and I can feel my ulcer flaring.
Almost there: fine buy whatever you want that will make you stop doing the thing you’re doing right now. I am now actually throwing things into the cart, narrowly missing small heads. It is at this point that I am at my most vulnerable and the Lunchables, ice cream cones, chips and bloody matchbox cars inevitably make their way in. When we are home and I am unpacking the bags, I will not remember these purchases as they were selected through blind rage and tears (mine). This is when my four- year-old just wants to get out and my 7-year-old has decided to sing a song about butts REALLY loudly. No amount of bribery works at this point, it’s just time to go. Good thing all we have standing between us and the car is a really long line of people with smug, judgey looks on their faces; all thinking, well if you didn’t feed them all that JUNK in the cart maybe they wouldn’t be so wild… Trust me, I could feed them only kale juice mixed with organic cardboard dust, drizzled with wild dandelion root and a touch of my breastmilk and they’d be just exactly as you see them now.
It’s over: we made it and I am never, ever actually doing that again. Paying for the groceries is its own sweet misery while the kids grab for candy, gum, and chips, all at eye-cart-level, of course. I bat away small sticky hands while I attempt to swipe the card, put in my PIN, and just get out. One time, those little hands managed to change the language on the swiper to Spanish and the grocery store folks didn’t know how to fix it. Lo siento mucho. The one bright spot in this calamity is the army of sweet, elderly men who bag the groceries, dote on my children, make the walk to the car a race car ride and then put the groceries in the trunk while I wrestle their tiny, obnoxious butts into their car seats. One even gives me a hug every time; he’s our favorite.
There you have it my dear ones, now you know why I stretch groceries til they are just slightly past the expiration date and all we have in the house is cereal, bread crumbs, and rubbery zucchini. Can you blame me?
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