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.
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
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!
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.