I turned the corner with my grocery cart and saw you with your five kids, going five different directions. Two were pushing each other and one was throwing an absolute fit I think because you said no to some completely sugar-filled cereal. The other two were confined to different parts of the cart, one sitting in the main basket surrounded by groceries, and the toddler sitting in the top wedged next to your purse. While trying to separate the two and calm the third, you looked at me with a slight panic and a nod, and apologized for your kids. Then you turned toward them to say they were upsetting the lady — me — and in her way.
I tried to bite my lip and look stern, because I knew that’s what you needed your kids to believe so they could maybe give you an ounce of peace so you could finish your grocery shopping. I kept walking so you would be behind me and your kids couldn’t see the huge smile I had in solidarity of the third circle of hell that you were in at that moment.
What you didn’t know is that my oldest son spent his toddler years in the cart screaming at the top of his lungs, “You’re hurting me!” whenever I said no to him in those same aisles. I remember the looks that the older ladies gave me, wondering if I was actually hurting him or if he was just being an insolent child. I would just very calmly keep walking and say, “No I’m not. You are perfectly fine,” while trying to get the bare necessities for survival and cursing myself under my breath for daring to bring a 2 year old into the lollapalooza of toddler shopping hell.
By the time my youngest was 10, I was constantly trying to beat my record of 147 no’s in one trip. I was close a couple times, but never beat it. Not since the great, cookie sale and food tasting debauchery of 2011 have I racked up enough no’s. That week was close, and I really thought we were closing on it when we hit the checkout, but alas, I only hit 123 that time. Or maybe it just felt like it was in the hundreds.
Here’s the problem, and I’m sure almost every parents can relate to this one. At the grocery store we go to most, because it’s right beside where I work and where his school is, the first thing we hit as we walk in the door is the bakery. They’ve got cupcakes, pies, cinnamon rolls, and buckets — yes BUCKETS — of cookies that always seem to be on sale. Why do they do that to us mere mortal parents? Do they enjoy screaming children in their midst, because for some parents the fun starts right there and doesn’t end.
As we round corners, we find “kid-friendly” products on the end caps.
And don’t even get me started on the cereal aisle. We banned that aisle of darkness when the oldest was 4 and started walking next to the cart instead of being confined to the cart. Why do they put the highly sugary, cartoon character, toy inside the box, made-for-tears boxes of fun on the BOTTOM? Where the kids can see them? As they grow older, the boxes of goodness float up with additional enticements for the older kids.
Oh, then there’s the varieties of Pop Tarts you can get today! Really, when I was his age we had strawberry, cherry if we were lucky. Now they’re making chocolate, fudge, and other flavors that should not be put in a breakfast food, even a thinly disguised breakfast food.
Each trip to the store when my boys were younger was a lesson in patience and humility. Patience, so I could get through the trip without losing my mind. Humility, because so many older parents and grandparents would shoot me dirty looks in my attempt to be a good parent on the “no” bandwagon.
I would never look down upon any mom who dares to bring five kids – at the same time – to that same place. On the contrary, you are my hero and I am I awe that you have not duct taped them to the cart to get through it. Oh yes, I considered duct tape many, many times. Great job!
A couple aisles down, we met again, and your kids were doing a little better. The two were no longer fighting each other and the third one was no longer wailing at the absence of that cereal in your cart. Hey, good job on that by the way, because I might have given in for a moment of peace and quiet.
In fact, around age 6, I instituted the rule that he could pick one item, just one, for himself in the grocery story. We still have that rule as a teen, though if he chooses healthy things I allow more. His favorites now are granola bars and yogurt, and occasionally a package of strawberry Pop Tarts.
In that aisle, I whispered that you were doing great, because you were. You are a superstar. Every mom who takes any child under the age of reason to the grocery story is a superstar. I am amazed! Remember that the next time you children are scattered around you like a herd of wild cats, and another person gives you that judgmental look of piercing disgrace. We’ve all be through it, and any older mom who swears that their children were absolute angels at the grocery store may have had their memory wiped out.
And for the parents of older kids who step into an aisle of chaos, remember that you were there once too. How would you have liked to have been treated? What would you have liked someone to say to you at that moment?
“You’re doing great.”
“Eventually it will get better.”
“You are awesome.”
It’s the little reactions and bits of encouragement that count. Even if you’re not comfortable saying anything, just give that parent a smile and maybe a little nod of solidarity. Who knows how much it will help her get through the checkout.