Monday, May 5, 2008

Ironmom: Grocery Shopping with Kids:

It’s an event that requires intense concentration, upper body strength, acute understanding of geometry and algebra, and the patience of Thick Nhat Hanh.

Seriously, I’m not sure that anyone can appreciate the challenge of grocery shopping with really young children in tow, except those of us who attempt it regularly.

Let me take you along on our average trip (I intended to add pictures, but the camera never made it out of the car).

Assuming that, as usual, I cave to the convenience of the nearest big box super-giant. I park my sporty little car (oh wait, it’s a neo-station wagon) next to the first cart return sheltering a jumbo cart.

As I unhook Elliot from the little Houdini trap that is her safety seat, Maya peers out her window, evaluating my choice, “no, NO mom, I want that one over THE-RE.”

With Elliot perched on one hip and Maya’s wrist tightly in hand, We cross over two aisles to claim the giant plastic cart styled as a spaceship, eschewing the cart disguised as a little car. I never used these massive carts until Elliot was born; now, they're the only way I can keep them both seated safely.

Elliot is new to the experience of sitting up, holding on to a tiny steering wheel, and leering at all of the sights and sounds. Maya, the more experienced shopper, squeaks the plastic horn as she asks, “what’s that guy doing?... what’s that lady doing?” any time we pass a fellow shopper.

Yes, I have told her it is impolite to comment on people as you pass . That just makes her louder. She assumes you didn’t really hear her question, so she repeats it, adding adjectives, like “hairy” or “blue.” To prevent a punch in the face, I keep my head close to hers and answer quickly and quietly every single time, "shopping, just like you.” I probably say it a thousand times each trip.

Thus, hunched over (slightly, luckily I’m short), I attempt to steer this beast of a cart around the rather aging clientèle that also shops at 10:00 A.M. on Mondays. I keep up an endless dialogue with Maya (punctuated periodically by “what’s that kid doing?”) about the color of the produce, the scent of the oranges, the picture on the milk carton. I say little in the meat section (the duck situation already has her squeamish about eggs).

As the trip progress (we’re about 20 minutes in), the natives get a bit restless. Elliot wants to be free to crawl; Maya wants to open the “treat” she picked out (Heritage Grains cereal… I don’t go down the candy aisle). So I start mentally evaluating the remainder of my list.

Can I make that soup without the white beans? If I pick up extra diced tomatoes in this aisle can I just make pasta twice instead of picking out all of the specialty ingredients for the recipe I have? I’m sure I can get buy without laundry soap for one more week.

I usually end up with about half of what I intended to buy, and random extras (substitutes) we saw along the way, in order to finish faster and secure some peace while I check out. I’m just lucky produce and organics are the first two sections!

Check out is a sprint to the finish: unload the cart, unhook Elli so she can bounce on my hip, keep Maya focused on the good stuff we bought, so she doesn’t notice (and comment on) the little person behind us in line…

By the time we get home, both of them need me. Elliot needs a snack; Maya needs help on the potty. The groceries just have to wait their turn, which has been fine so far, but August heat may force me to pay attention to where the cold stuff ended up.

We try to alternate big box trips with co-op trips, which is an entirely different experience: narrow aisles, carts just big enough for Elliot requiring Maya to walk, safer food choices and a lovely atmosphere, but staff that are annoyed that my chaotic offspring are spoiling their jazzy background music.

This is an activity for the strong, the brave, and the defiant… I realize I could go alone when Joe gets home, but the last place I want to spend my free time is the grocery store! So I strength train, I psych up, and I go as infrequently as possible.

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