Welcome to Hell: or The Grocery Store and Toddlers
Most days are spent in the earnest attempt to enjoy time with my children while expanding their horizons, other days are for errands, those are the days I dread. My children, like all others, have no patience for the grocery store. The place is filled with “We’re not getting that”, “Please don’t touch”, and “No running or there’ll be no park later”.
“Let’s get dressed.”
Thud…..thud…..thud…..thud…..all the way down the stairs.
“Lola wants that one Mama.” For some inexplicable reason my daughter refers to herself in the third person.
“Purple.” She grabs her skirt, which is actually a tutu, it’s purple...and sparkly.
“The purple skirt?”
“Yes.” She squeals with delight.
“Me too.” Kai chimes in.
“Well honey, the purple skirt is Lola’s.”
“Yeah, Charlie.” Somewhere in the last two years, my daughter has renamed my son because of the cartoon Charlie and Lola.
“I want purple toooooo…..” He starts to cry. Kai wants to be exactly like his sister and has now decided that purple is his favorite color too.
“I’m sorry, there’s only one purple skirt.”
“Nooooo…..” He wails.
“How about this, if you wear your clothes, but put on the purple crown?”
“O….o….(sniffle)….kay.” Melt down averted.
“That one Mama.” Lola points to an orange shirt.
“That one?” I don’t usually match myself, but this is taking it to extremes, “that one’s so…bright.”
“Lola wants THAT ONE.” She yells face scrunching up, about to cry.
“Okay, okay, okay, that one is good.” Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. Taste is relative.
We’re finally ready to leave the house, Lola in her purple, sparkly skirt, striped tights, orange shirt and hot pink cowboy boots; Kai in his jeans, t-shirt, sandals...and purple crown. To the store we go, a one family circus.
Our grocery store has carts that have a car attached to the front; there are two-seater cars and one. This is fantastic except for the fact that the two-seater car has been out of commission for a month or so, making this little excursion a lot more challenging than it would be if there were no car at all.
“Mama, can I have a car puhhhleeeze...” Kai begs.
“We’ll see if any are available.” I silently pray that they are all out of sight, knowing the two-seater is broken and wanting to avoid the argument of who gets to ride first.
“I want a car too Mama.”
“Well Lola, I don’t see the car carts anywhere so I don’t think anyone will be riding in the car.”
“Right there!” She squeals and points at the coveted cart by the door, it’s a one-seater.
“Okay, Kai asked first, so he gets the first half of the store. Kai...” He’s already run to the car cart and jumped in, “…these are the rules for riding in the car, you switch with Lola at frozen food,” the freezers are right smack in the middle, “and no matter what happens, nokickingnobitingnoscreamingnofightingnomoaningorgroaningnowhiningnobeggingnopleadingnocrying…..and under no circumstances will there be any grabbing of ANYTHING, or there will be no car for you.” I said this all in one breath, “Do you understand me?” He bobs his head in automatic response not having heard a word I said. With the ground rules set my menagerie and I embark on the store.
Just inside the door is a security camera, the average person would never take notice, but the parent of a toddler understands the severe ramifications of a security camera with visible monitor in the entrance to any public building.
“Look Mama, I’m on T.V.!” Kai shouts waving madly at himself on the tiny screen. Lola begins a dance that looks like some kind of ritualistic, tribal convulsion.
“Very cool guys, but let’s keep it moving please.”
The entrance is more narrow than usual, lined with cases of soda and it is backing up because of us; fortunately the delayed shoppers think my little monkeys are cute. I nervously look back at them knowing the cute factor wears off after about 15 seconds. Lola happily moves on with me, but Kai has hopped back out and dances in the door. I leave the behemoth cart where it stands and dart back to grab my wayward entertainer. Children’s flexibility will never cease to amaze me. When you are trying to grab a child that is acting out, they squirm like greased pigs and are nearly impossible to hold onto.
I always begin in produce, there is no logic to it really, fresh, ripe fruit and vegetables in the bottom of the cart just waiting to get smushed, and the temptation always proves too much for my daughter.
“Lola?” I don’t even have to look.
“Please don’t bite the fruit.”
“Okay.” She says mouth full of mango.
Lola loves fruit, she really loves fruit and bites her way through produce, by the time we hit meat there is a pile of fruit with one, small bite out of each and every one in the far corner of the basket. I think the grocery store ought to implement a system of weighing my children when we come in then weighing them again at checkout, I could simply pay for each additional ounce.
I want to meet the person who decides how to stack the shelves. We all already know it’s deliberate the way all of the crap is strategically placed at pint size eye level, I want to meet this person... and beat them. What could be a quick, benign excursion inevitably turns into a nightmarish, trip to hell and back. Before I had children I wondered why parents didn’t just explain to junior that they are being manipulated by pathetic marketing ploys and to just ignore it all and go merrily on their way. I don’t think I need to expound upon my own ignorance.
The halfway point of the grocery store is frozen food, in front of the ice cream to be exact, but knowing full well the issues that would ensue if I spent any length of time in front of the ice cream I make them switch who’s in the car at the waffles.
“Okay Kai, up and out, it’s Lola’s turn.”
“It’s Lola’s turn.” She quietly repeats.
“Enough Kai, get out please.”
“Out Charlie.” Lola, barely audible .
“I said no, no….NO.” He’s now raised his voice.
“Kai, it’s Lola’s turn, and I want you out NOW.” I say just raising my voice enough so he takes me seriously, but not enough to get angry glares from the shoppers who are empty nesters who think he’s adorable, and clearly have a lot of time between today and the three-year-old they raised. He hasn’t budged and is now gripping the steering wheel of the little car, face set in a determined frown, staring straight ahead.That’s it.
“One…” I lower my voice, which is much scarier to a three-year-old, because once you lower your voice they know you’re serious, “two…” I’m fuming.
“STOP!” He yells, voice carrying over the giant freezers, rolling through the store that somehow has the most incredible acoustics. Fellow shoppers who don’t have children politely avert their eyes, other mothers give me a sympathetic and knowing look, and from about five feet away I hear laughter. My face begins to burn. I turn, my eyes blazing at the thought of anyone encouraging this kind of behavior. My eyes fall upon a clerk of no more than 20 stocking the Hagen Daaz.
“He’s funny.” This boy-man says pointing to my son. My eyes lock into his and narrow to mere slits, slowly the goofy grin melts from his face and he quietly turns back to his project. My eyes whip back, without a word I point to Kai, snap and point at the floor in front of me. His eyes narrow and his lips purse, judging how far to push it. He decides against any further rebellion and slinks out of the car. Lola happily hops in. I squat down to buckle her in and hear…..whomp…..whomp…..whomp…..my son running away from me and around the corner as fast as his little legs will carry him. From one aisle over I hear shrill laughter. Now I’m ticked.
If you’ve ever seen the grocery carts with the cars attached to the front, they’re about the size of an ocean liner and as easy to maneuver as a sedated hippopotamus, and they always have one, wanky wheel. Being right smack in the middle of the aisle it’s easier to go forward than back. With as much speed as I can muster, I fly down the frozen foods and pull the tightest turn possible, plowing into a chip display, thankful it’s not salsa in glass jars. Lola squeals with pure joy, and I see my son just turning the other corner, purple crown flying. No way I can catch up to him and he’s too young to realize he’s running right to me, I stop and wait just around the bend. He screams and laughs when he sees me and I grab not letting go. The sound of his laughter always makes me want to laugh, but despite the laughter, I can’t let him think this is okay, and I kind of want to throttle him.
“Mama got Charlie, Mama got Charlie!” Lola claps and sings. Kai howls with laughter.
“Kai, look at me.” He tilts his head and gives me the sweetest smile, “This behavior is not okay and I’m upset right now.”
“You angry?” He asks genuinely not understanding why this game isn’t as fun for me as it is for him.
I do sometimes forget he’s three and not trying to make my life hell, just looking for a little fun, even at the grocery store. It’s just that some days I’m exhausted and all the wrangling, discipline, and teaching feels like too much, but even on those days, I don’t have a choice, this is my job.
“I’m not angry, but I’m not happy either. This is a store, not the playground. If you run away from me again, you immediately go into timeout.” He nods his head and looks at me very seriously while I speak, then he gives me the biggest grin and throws his arms around my neck.
“Okay, okay, okay Mama. I’m happy see?” He grins, nose to nose with me, “Are you happy?” This really is his biggest concern. He wants to know that Mama is happy and he didn’t do anything to make her angry.
“I’m happy.” I say smiling. We hug and kiss.
“Lola’s happy Mama.” Lola says from the car in front. I give her a hug and kiss and we finish our shopping without further incident.
Preschool starts soon, and I swear to myself that once it does my children will not darken the door of another grocery store until they are living on their own.