She Needs Groceries: Written Version

I remember those days clearly. There I’d be, shopping in Target with all of my disposable income, buying something frivolous, like a CD or a new toothbrush when my current one was two and a half months old. 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—that woman should bring that child home. He is clearly overtired, and he’s disturbing all of the rest of us.

Or I’d be at the grocery store, choosing out Lean Cuisines and light yogurt—the kind of food that only 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 knocking 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 rather short years.

I’m at the store, trying to buy my damn groceries with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I’m trying to figure out what are the cheapest items I can buy that she won’t simply throw off her high chair 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.

Runaway Toddler
Runaway Toddler

When I am finally, finally done buying food for my family, I try once 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 him. 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 narrowly escape caving to my desire to push the cart faster, running after him and screeching, “Does it look like I don’t need help! Whatever happened to CHIVALRY?” I remind myself that I already look crazy and unhinged. He’s an arrogant bastard. Arrogant bastards don’t even think of helping people.

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 bag while they wrangle their children. I can’t go back and tell my younger self, “Look, A-hole, she shouldn’t bring that child home, because he does this every stinkin’ time they go to the grocery store. And because SHE NEEDS GROCERIES!”


Again, fast forward another three years. Now I have a son, too. He’s one and half. He really likes those little carts for kids at Trader Joe’s. I don’t. I hate them. Because 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.

Now Picture Him in a Narrow Aisle Full of Glass Bottles
Now Picture Him in a Narrow Aisle Full of Glass Bottles

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, and 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. Now, I think what is really hard to explain, is when 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 giggling and encouraging him to stand in the f—in the cart. I don’t know what I said in response. What can you say in response? “I’m sorry, I didn’t want him to break 48 bottles of wine, so I strapped him in upside down like this.” “I don’t know that child—that’s my cart over there.”

Suddenly I can understand that man, the one with the kid, in line, 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 were 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.

Holy Buckets, That Woman's Got a Lot of Kids!
Holy Buckets, That Woman’s Got a Lot of Kids!


I had the honor of reading this essay live at the 2013 Sacramento Listen to Your Mother show. If you’d like to see the video of my reading, you can find it here: She Needs Groceries: Live Reading

For more about the national Listen to Your Mother show, visit the website or the YouTube channel.





12 responses to “She Needs Groceries: Written Version”

  1. Love your story and bummed I missed you reading it live. Just the other day, we were at the grocery store and Rory was snickering and laughing at a toddler crying. Both Chris and I turned to her and said “That used to be you!”

    1. It’s too bad they can’t remember being younger, huh? 🙂

  2. LOL and all you get with all 3 is ”you’ve got your hands full don’t you?” Like that is helping. I go to the stores that have the 2 seater carts to put my 2 oldest in (5 and 3 year old) while I put my 30lbs giant 10 month old in a baby carrier and do my shopping as fast as I can. Thankfully I have not had many tantrums in the store but I do bribe them with cookies that I have yet to pay for while in the store.

    1. Yes, I have been known to open packs of string cheese, dole them out, and then hope I haven’t forgotten my wallet or something.

  3. Kelley Avatar

    I have three boys – 6, 3 1/2, and 4 months. Two weeks ago I popped into Target for two things on a Saturday night. TWO THINGS. The baby was asleep, so I popped him in the snap-n-go stroller and figured the two big boys could walk for 5 minutes while I grabbed the 2 things. Boy, was I wrong. About 20′ into the store, my middle son decided his legs were broken and he couldn’t walk. At one point, he was dramatically crawling down the aisles screaming/crying “MY LEGS ARE BROKEN!!! MY LEGS ARE BROKEN!!!” I just kept walking, pretending like I didn’t know the child at all. I know people were staring, especially when he reached out and grabbed the wheel of the stroller for me to drag him along. It was mortifying. This was after an incident that morning when I’d told the two older ones to not act like fools in line for lunch at a restaurant where we were meeting a friend, having to remind them to please act like their father was present, then having to rip them apart when the oldest (the usually calm one) was on top of the middle on, hitting him in the head with an action figure.

    I just found your blog, read a few posts, cried while laughing WITH you, and thought I’d let you know – my husband is the youth pastor at our church as well. We’re Lutheran. Apparently, the older 2 boys are very well behaved when I’m not there. I skip church a lot.

    1. I love it. I can see my own children “having broken legs.” Why does this happen? Why??

  4. This is why I love I have three small kids and cant bare to go to the store w them

    1. I feel like it’s hard for me to shop online too. As everyone cries in the background, I find myself buying the wrong size of the wrong product.

  5. Deirdre Eldredge Avatar
    Deirdre Eldredge

    One more damn person tell me to make the kid sit down in the cart! I’m at the store with three kids. She’s contained and not crying- I don’t care if she’s doing a handstand!

    1. Hahahaha! “That’s not safe!”

  6. […] If you’d rather read the essay yourself or don’t have time for a video, here’s the written version. […]

  7. Love your blog! Thank you for allowing me to laugh at your TJ stories!!

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