From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Market Madness

My children . . . have been a constant joy to me (except on the days they weren’t).

Evelyn Fairbanks

For me, there is a thirty-minute window of opportunity on any given day in which shopping can be accomplished in a relatively painless fashion. This golden time occurs when the children have eaten and exercised, and the baby’s diaper is clean. More often, I stagger down the aisles as I stuff cheese into the baby’s mouth, chase my three-year-old and drag my five-year-old.

Among the many shopping excursions I’ve sought to forget, one reigns supreme. Shortly after the birth of our third child, I stopped at a local market for milk. This was, of course, the kiss of death, because once in that Bermuda triangle of Pop-Tarts, ice cream and potato chips, escaping unscathed is impossible.

Anton yanked suddenly on my arm, causing me to drop and break a jar of applesauce. Anne got some on her dress and immediately began to writhe and scream. Baby John echoed her crying, and I noticed his diaper was suspiciously heavy. At this point, I observed that Anton had opened a box of cookies and was munching away.

As the volume of John’s screaming grew exponentially, I knew he needed to be fed. Here. Now. I sat right down and began to breastfeed—surrounded by splattered applesauce, a screaming toddler and a preschooler now eating the peanut butter with his fingers. My entourage clearly disturbed store attendants who asked several times if I “needed any assistance.”

“No,” I assured with more than a little sarcasm, “I’m just fine.”

Somehow, we made it through the next fifteen minutes. I managed to gather enough meal supplies for several days and made it through checkout, exhausted but satisfied with my accomplishments.

“Drive up or push out?” the clerk asked.

“Drive up, please.” I dragged my brood to the car and struggled to change John’s diaper in the car seat. Afterward, of course, he again wanted to nurse. Anne and Anton got into a fight. Finally, an exhaustive ten minutes later, I pulled up, curbside, to collect my groceries.

“Number twelve,” I muttered out the car window.

“Twelve,” the teenager repeated. He wore a strange expression. “Just a minute, please.” He walked back into the store and returned with an apologetic store manager.

“I’m sorry,” he flushed, “but there appears to have been some confusion. Your groceries were mistakenly given to someone else.”

“You’re kidding, right? You didn’t really give away my groceries, did you?” I raised my own voice over the noise in the back seat. At any moment, a group of singing employees was going to rush out and give me a prize for being the fifty-thousandth shopper, or maybe someone was catching this scene for Candid Camera.

“Uh, I’m afraid we did. You can take your receipt and go back in and select the same items again.”

I swallowed hard.

I looked over my shoulder at my clamoring kids.

I stared past the manager at the web of aisles waiting to snare me once more.

I couldn’t do it again. The store manager had no idea what he was suggesting. It was too much to ask. I pulled a scrap of paper from my purse and scribbled hurriedly. “Here’s my address. Please mail me a refund.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes.” I nodded emphatically. “I’m sure.”

Next time, I’d send my husband—who doesn’t understand my terror. Of course, there are two fundamental differences between his trips to the store and my own. First of all, he is very organized and always enters the store with a list and a game plan.

Secondly, he shops alone.

Caroline Akervik

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