Monday, June 6, 2011

How Not to Shop with Children

"That's it!" I announced. "I am not shopping with you kids for the rest of the summer! It's like paying for something I did wrong in a past life." The oldest child looked at me vacuously and blinked. The youngest continued to ransack the candy by the check out counter.

Normally, I shop on Mondays. I get the children to school and head to a small market on the path home. I do this because I can shop in less than 30 minutes without having to endure any fighting, foolishness, and requests for contraband items. Until you have shopped with small children, you cannot know how hard this mission really is. I have a sister-in-law that shops on Thursday nights. Maybe if my grocery offered an open margarita bar, I'd do this, too, but my husband's schedule is so crazy that when he's finally home, I am not going anywhere without him. My sister-in-law is smart; she'd rather shoot herself than grocery shop with her four little children. And only recently has she had a day schedule where all four short people are in school at the same time. I think of her every time I shop.

Don't ever scowl at mothers struggling with wayward young in the grocery. Don't judge. Karma, baby. This could be you. And while I have been the queen of leaving the grocery with a full cart of unpaid items still in the aisle so I could take a screaming toddler home, now that the kids are older, the trouble is a different sort. And it's more irritating to me than others around me. In fact, other shoppers consider the entire episode to be amusing, but I am not at all amused; I consider any outing with children to be a job. At the grocery when my children are in tow, I am working. I teach decision-making, budget choices, organization, logic, manners, and how to follow directions. The whip is cracking the entire time, and I am exhausted afterward.

My son helping shop on a better day
Sunday afternoon's shopping experience may have been much better if I hadn't gone to the larger market near my home, but this one had sent a stack of coupons marked FREE, and I wanted to use them. What I did not realize was that the store itself was under major construction. Having to fight for a parking space in the lot should have been a giant clue to the fight I was going to have inside. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, an afternoon when sane people should have been at the park, one of the weekend festivals, or playing in a yard somewhere, shoppers had turned out to the grocery in unprecedented numbers. Along with the crowd, the market had been re-organized haphazardly around curtains of plastic that separated food shelving from areas under renovation. The meat section was broken up into two areas that were spaced inconveniently far from one another. The milk-alternative products had been moved entirely across the store. Related aisles no longer flowed into each other. Again, I should have seen this, grabbed a few essentials and left the bulk of shopping for my standard Monday errands, but foolishly, I decided to persist. I must have been on crack.

I asked Chicken Little, who is now eleven, to help me find the carrots. She wandered in circles, announced that she didn't see them, and so I directed her toward the rest of the vegetable aisle. Meanwhile, Tiny was climbing in and out of my cart. My daughter still couldn't grasp the concept of finding a bag of carrots, so I left my cart where it was, got the little man by the hand, took my girl by the other, walked the length of the aisle, and found the bag of carrots.

"Oh," said my daughter. Meanwhile, I wondered, how hard can this really be? We retrieved the rest of our produce staples: bell pepper, green onion, bagged salad. Tiny Man peeled the skin of a vidalia onion and began to eat it. His sister objected loudly. He opted at this point for playing with the produce in the cart. I pried it out of his hands, located a kid's cart, which had been abandoned in the bread aisle by a smarter parent than I was at that moment, and gave my son directions: push your cart, stay close to us, do not put any items in your cart without asking.

At that point, we headed to choose eggs. Why I put them in Tiny's cart I don't know, but at the first sight of him running with the egg-bearing cart, I snatched the carton out and put them in the full-size cart, which was Chicken Little's job to push. While she remained quiet and largely cooperative, her flaw lay in her ability to plant the cart squarely in the path of others or to leave it in the center of the aisle blocking traffic. When I took the time to tell her to scoot over and get out of the way of others, I would turn around to find my son loading his cart with all sorts of things he can't have (sugar-based cereals, those fake juice gel snacks, pudding). I would make him unload the forbidden items, remind him not to "shop" without asking, and turn around to find my daughter blocking shopping traffic again. At one point, I began alternating which cart I used to load items--some for my daughter, some for my son--and then I discovered that they were fighting over who had what. My daughter would want certain items put in her cart and would take them from her brother's. My son would protest strongly. I would remind the children of their manners, remove the swiped items, start again, get slammed in the leg with one of their carts, heave a sigh, and try to find the next item, which as previously suggested, was not located in the usual location. Traffic swirled around my children and a man chuckled as I broke up some kind of dispute over a food item. My daughter wanted a certain cereal." No," I reminded her, "because you ask for things, I buy them, and the only person who eats them is me."

We stopped at the spice aisle where I asked the oldest to help me locate certain spices at a certain price point. She looked, became distracted, blocked the aisle again, and said she couldn't find anything. I moved her out of the way, found my son shopping again, relocated him, and found the items myself. We headed to find toilet paper, but apparently this is an exciting purchase and both kids wanted to be the one to have the pack of 12 rolls in the cart. I made an executive decision, told them to deal with it, and headed to find ground turkey, which was located with the water aisle backed against it. My daughter almost ran over a young couple. Suddenly, as the aisle emptied and another customer brushed by a display, a water jug popped off a shelf, split open on impact, and began pouring water on the floor. My son listened to me and moved his cart away, but his sister suffered some kind of sudden episode of brain damage, walked around me as I checked my coupons, and walked in the puddle, spreading it throughout the aisle.

"How old are you? Have you not seen water before? Do you realize the mess you are making? Can you not think for yourself? Do you see that people will slip on wet concrete?" I asked sternly as a clerk scooted past me to deal with the mess.

At the store front, tired and out of patience, I decided to forgo the search for popcorn and check out. I asked the kids to help put groceries on the conveyor belt. My son earnestly went to work, but my daughter zoned to a different planet and began to read tabloid magazines. I prodded her to be conscious and helpful, but when she began to unload groceries, it was from his little cart, not hers, and the fighting began. People behind me in line disappeared, which I completely understand, and I stopped the fighting. Tiny finished unloading his cart and began stuffing candy he wanted in his pants and my daughter emptied half her cart before retreating back into a National Enquirer. At this point, I made my proclamation: no more kids at the grocery.

"Whyyyyy?" they asked as I forced my son to handover his stash. He slipped over to the bagger who did not know that a previous bagger at another store had showed him where the button was that operated the conveyor belt. She stopped him from creating additional chaos. I called him over to me, made the oldest child finish unloading her cart, and paid for groceries.

"My, he's a curious boy," said the bagger.
"Aren't you kind," I answered flatly.
The checkout girl, who could not have been more than 17, repressed a smile. She was probably watching the kids and planning the form of birth control that she would use for the next 30 years.

At home, I sent the kids to play in their rooms. I put the groceries away quietly and without interruption. I deliberated opening a bottle of wine, but because I try not to use alcohol to take the edge off a situation, I decided to just take in the peace and quiet, and promised myself I would shop at bedtime the next time I have no one to help with the kids. Or sell them. Ebay. Craigslist. Kids for sale!! Two for one deal!

1 comment:

  1. I thought I'd posted this successfully - but my browser locked thought I'd try and re-do just in case! This post is HILARIOUS! :) My friend (and yours, too, apparently) Max Despain turned me onto your blog. Love it! Love your quirky observations!


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