A few months ago, I had a really, really tough day in the grocery store. I say “day” only because the hour that my two boys, ages 4 and 2, and I spent there felt like an entire day. So while I was pushing my cart through the 5 stages of hell (oh, I meant the canned goods aisle), I considered the stages of my grocery store cart development while parenting.
1. The Baby-Carrier-on-Top-of-the-Cart-Handle Stage: This stage is meant to lure unsuspecting parents into thinking, “Hey, I’ve got this parenting thing down. I’m a super-parent. Look! I’m parenting! AND pushing a grocery cart!” I still remember the first time I pushed my angelic baby daughter in a grocery cart. I couldn’t go four feet without some well-meaning lady getting in her face, touching her, and cooing about how beautiful she was. Yes, she is beautiful. No, you may not wake my sleeping baby OR give her the flu with your grubby hands just because you want to touch such perfection. And for some reason, my baby carrier and the shopping cart never quite…clicked. I would see other people’s babies sleeping securely, but I always felt like my mine were 4 seconds from toppling to their deaths atop the grocery cart. This phase, however, is relatively benign compared to what comes later.
2. The Shopping Cart Cover Stage: When baby grows out of the baby carrier, you have to put that kid somewhere when you grab a gallon of milk. So some genius, in a fit to keep germs away from baby, created the shopping cart cover. You know this thing. It drapes over the top of the cart and has leg holes. Some even have attached toys to keep the baby busy. In my world, this worked about twice. Then, each child figured out how to unhook the seatbelt and attempt to stand. Furthermore, forcing the baby to sit in that thing never worked either. I ended up with the cute shopping cart cover holding a gallon of milk and some bread, while I held the baby with one arm and clumsily pushed the cart with the other.
3. The Mega-Cart Stage: Once the kids get older, they beg for the fun carts. You know the ones I’m talking about. Kroger has a cart with a car attached to the front. Wal-Mart and Target have the mega-cart…a regular cart with an attachment for bigger kids to sit. Lowe’s and Home Depot have gone the race-car-attached-to-cart route. There are a few certainties with the mega cart: First, you probably should get a CDL to even drive this thing. It is long and unwieldy…1950’s Cadillacs have a smaller turning radius. I once parked a mega-cart next to my SUV, and it was kind of a toss up on which was bigger. The second certainty is that the kids WILL NOT STAY IN IT. I once had to endure the looks of many a shopper after my son bailed out of the moving car cart in a move more suited for a Hollywood stunt man and pitched a giant fit under a table full of cookies because…I said he couldn’t have a cookie. See? I’m PARENTING! And PUSHING A CART! And LOSING AN ARGUMENT WITH A TODDLER!!
4. The “I Want to Push My Own Cart” Stage: This cart stage is what I endured yesterday with my 4yo. On senior citizen day in the world’s largest visible-from-space grocery store, he chose to push his own small double decker cart. For older kids, this could probably work and may even be helpful. My son, however, left an unparalleled path of destruction behind him after he argued with me that he should be the leader of our two-cart convoy (his little brother was sitting in the top of the cart…sans cart cover, and teething on the handle, thank you). When the 4yo-as-leader scenario didn’t fly… (let’s be honest…could your kid understand the instruction to head for the organic goat cheese for mama’s special recipe? Didn’t think so.)…so when I finally convinced my cart-pushing 4yo to follow me, he proceeded to run over my heels about 8 times because he didn’t stop, park in the middle of the aisle, and take out a few old people’s walkers in cutting corners.
Then, the piece de resistance…he took out one entire tent pole of a bright pink breast cancer awareness tent because it “was in his way.” As pink ribbon paraphernalia went flying, I actually shed a little tear of utter frustration and embarrassment. A store associate and I cleaned it up while the boys looked on… A sympathetic check out lady opened her register when she saw us coming, realizing that I was close to total meltdown. I had to cut my list short, of course. We will not be repeating the “push your own cart” stage in our house anytime soon.
5. The Solo-Grocery-Trip Stage: Friends without children, this is a nirvana that you may never fully appreciate until you have had children begging for the Scooby-Doo gummy bear cookies, getting in and out of carts, having to pause mid-grocery trip to use the grocery store bathroom, and other assorted fun that you can have while shopping with kids. So, when your spouse says, “Why don’t I keep the kids here while you go get the rest of what’s on your list,” you should immediately bolt before he changes his mind. I think I may have actually left a cartoon smoke trail behind me as I jumped into the SUV and sped away. At my second grocery trip of the day, I popped in my earbuds to listen to a book. I paused to actually decide which of the five potential fresh tomato candidates would be the most appropriate for me to bring home. I dallied in the bakery (where I must normally run through to avoid the ubiquitous we-want-cookies/cake/fresh-baked junk food debate). I even considered having the butcher cut a steak for me…not because I planned to cook it right then, but more because I…had…the…time…
So, there you have it. The 5 stages of grocery cart grief. As I reentered the grocery store later that night, I kept my head down (and considered movie star sunglasses) just in case anyone recognized me from earlier. And even though I enjoyed the solitude, I did miss talking to my little guys about the lobsters in the tank and which cheese they like best and checking the carton for broken eggs. I missed them. A little.