23: She Needs Groceries

23: She Needs Groceries

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

She Needs Groceries

Preconceived notions are the locks on the door to wisdom.

~Merry Browne

I remember those days clearly. There I’d be, shopping in Target with all of my disposable income, buying something frivolous, like a CD, and then BAM! — my peace would be shattered by a shopping cart full of wailing toddlers. Or one wailing toddler — but we all know that one is enough.

“Ugh,” I’d mutter to myself, “that woman should take that child home. He is clearly overtired, and he’s disturbing the rest of us.”

Or I’d be at the grocery store, selecting Lean Cuisines and light yogurt — the kind of food that twenty-something women like to eat. A haggard-looking mom in sweats would rush by, chasing a kid carrying not one, but three candy bars, and yelling, “I hate you! I hate you!” After watching him nearly knock down old women and displays of soup, I’d frown at the macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets in her abandoned basket, and then smugly picture the lentils and kale I would prepare for my well-disciplined eventual children, who would never, ever run away from me.

Fast-forward three years. I’m at the store, trying to buy groceries with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I’m trying to figure out the cheapest items I can buy that she won’t simply throw off her highchair tray. Too bad I can’t focus enough to actually do that, because my newly walking child refuses to ride in the shopping cart. I could try to make her, but I fear for her safety when she stands in the pitiful excuse for a seat belt and tries to writhe her way out of the cart. Instead, she gleefully tries to bolt away, and I consider abandoning the entire grocery trip.

When I am finally done buying food for my family, I try again to strap her into the cart so I can push it to the car, but her outraged response tells me it’s too close to naptime to bother. She wants to walk — of course she wants to walk — but I can’t let her dart into the rainy parking lot. I tuck her under my arm, where she writhes and screams, and I subdue my rage and try to push my groaning shopping cart with one hand through the downpour. This is when he appears.

He’s probably twenty-five. He’s smartly dressed. He’s alone with his small bag of groceries, and I’m willing to bet a million dollars that he’s single.

He smirks, walking past me to his car, and my rage boils up into my head. I can hear his thoughts: “Ha! That’s why I’m not having kids till I’m forty. When I do, boy, mine sure aren’t going to be little jerks like that lady’s. Kids need discipline, you know.”

I almost run after him, screeching, “Does it look like I don’t need help? Whatever happened to chivalry?” I remind myself that I already look crazy and unhinged… because I am the mother of a screaming, writhing, uncooperative one-and-a-half-year-old. He, on the other hand, is an arrogant jerk.

And this is when I realize how wrong I was. I can’t apologize to those parents I judged; I can’t go back and offer to hold their bags while they wrangle their children. I can’t go back and tell my younger self, “Look, she shouldn’t take that child home because he does this every stinkin’ time they go to the grocery store. And because SHE NEEDS GROCERIES!”

Fast forward another three years. Now I have a son, too. He’s one and a half. He really likes those little carts for kids at Trader Joe’s. I don’t. I hate them. Every time I set my son on the ground, he grabs the little cart and runs as fast as he can, usually straight toward the Two Buck Chuck wine display.

So I strap him into the cart, and he screams with rage. My daughter, now four, laughs when he tries to stand up in the cart. Everyone is staring at us, especially when he manages to flip himself over the cart seat so that he is dangling upside down in the basket of the cart, still strapped in with the little buckle. He bellows and screams, and his face turns red. Everyone looks at me like they can’t imagine what is wrong with me. My cheeks flaming, and my eyes threatening to tear up, I lift him up and over so that he is back in the seat. And then the same thing happens again, in the same aisle, within two minutes.

A lady snaps at me, “That’s not SAFE” — as if I had been encouraging him to stand in the cart. What could I possibly say? “I’m sorry, but I didn’t want him to break forty-eight bottles of wine, so I strapped him in upside down like this.”

Suddenly, I can understand that man in line, the one with the kid, when I worked as a teenage cashier. He showed up with his merchandise — and a child dangling upside down in the crook of his left arm. It was as if the man was not aware that the child was there at all, despite his screams. I didn’t understand it then.

Now I understand. Now I have three children, and I really, really can’t take them anywhere. But I have to. Because I need groceries.

~Laura Garwood Meehan

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