Shopping days are the worst. There aren't many moments in my life as a mother that I lose sight of how lucky I am to be in the moment that I am with my family. The little, compounding stresses; the struggle to balance authority with compassion; the big-picture issues that come with managing the lives of real people -- even when it sucks, I love what I do. In the very worst of our most trying family crises, I see clearly still that I do it all for them, and that they are worth it, a million times over. But shopping days are the worst.
In two days I've braved four different stores, stocking up on food and supplies for the end of summer and the establishment of our homeschool endeavor. Non-food items are crossed in hurried lines of ballpoint ink from the list. Time for Costco.
In high spirits, we step over the threshold, Matthew coyly showing a woman in a vest our Executive Membership card. I know that what's in store for us here is misery, at it's worst. When we leave, I'll be a shell of the person I was walking in. But I have to start optimistically because my ability to parent well will gradually be eaten away at with every minute we are here.
We have to eat, though. So here we are... again. I hate this place.
Mary eats us out of house and home as it is, and because she's the validating size of a pretzel rod, I'm glad she does. But it takes a small fortune just to feed her, and compared to what we paid in lunch money last year, having her home everyday will cost us, and require a good deal of stocking up. Wanting to feed my family of five meals that are reasonably nutritious will cost us even more. Healthy shit sucks to stock in a cart, too. Kale, spinach, peppers, they're all soft and squishable, and take up so much space. Space is an issue with a single cart, even if it is Costco size. A few minutes into any shopping trip, ever, I'm not sure we can fit everything that we need to buy in this cart. There's only so much space and two kids are wasting A-1 turf in the front.
On the rare occasion I get to run somewhere without them in tow, it makes me literally glow to set bread and eggs in the little butt-basket usually reserved for kids. How perfect they fit! How protected they are!
Costco is the only store in which Matthew will agree to be placed inside of a cart-seat. This way, he can eat all of the free samples without having to watch where he's going. Plus, this is the only store with a cart that seats two kids in the front. In every other store, 93% of my attention is consumed protecting Matthew on foot: keeping him from shouting, keeping him close to me, keeping him from getting distracted and walking off in a different direction, keeping him from making his sister cry, keeping him from taking EVERYTHING off of the hooks to ask if we can buy it/if I need it/if I think his friend would like it because it has Spider Man on it, keeping him from knocking down displays, keeping him from hiding in clothing racks, keeping him from climbing into freezers, keeping him from licking the floor to make Scarlett laugh, keeping him from being kidnapped and chopped into little pieces. I am not ABOUT to suggest that he walk.
But space is an issue. I have to buy as much as I possibly can right now so that we don't wind up back here in a week and a half. I have to do that without going over the grocery budget, which my husband would say is liberally, about twenty-four dollars. Although I would argue that it takes around five hundred, easy, to feed everyone on an inorganic, mildly processed diet for about two months. Because we were particularly low yesterday, and we cannot look forward to Mary eating at school this year, it was over that.
Trying not to think about it, I can't help myself from envisioning the spiel when I get home, having to justify every single purchase. Although, when I try to cut out snacks, the only dispensable thing on the our list, it's the first thing he'll complain we don't have. Thinking about this makes me irritated. Plus, I remember, Mary eats four snacks a day between meals. If there are no snacks, she'll pick through all of the vegetables and pastas I was planning to make dinners with. She'll eat three bites and throw the rest away, just to open something new 30 minutes later, take three bites of that, and put it in the fridge without covering it so that it spoils. Then, in an hour, she'll open something ELSE. With every dinner item that's wasted on a half-eaten snack binge, I'll be forced to come back here a day sooner. No! Need snacks. Healthy snacks. Filling snacks. Inexpensive snacks. Stewing in my own thoughts, I head for the snack isle. The cart already weighs a ton and these isles are impossibly narrow. Nothing fits my criteria of filling/nutritious/inexpensive, but I fill the cart as best I can, heavily resenting that I have to buy so much. I can already hear Mary complaining that she has to help me unload the groceries, declaring outrageously that I "always" buy too much, then eating half of it that night. I can hear Spencer groaning about how much must have been spent when I get home to unload it all myself, then complaining in a week that we don't have enough cereal.
I'm already at the boiling point it takes someone to eat their dog alive, when Scarlett reaches backward into the cart, just to punch the eggs. WHY. Seriously. WHY the eggs, of everything in here that would have been easier for her to reach? I'm not even questioning why she feels the need to punch anything; I feel exactly the same way. That part, I completely understand.
Trying impossibly to nest six loaves of bread into the cart safely, I fantasize about surviving a zombie apocalypse. I could loot these stores of canned goods without worrying about budgets or feeding the kids every single time that they're hungry. I'd go by myself, so that Spencer could keep the kids safe back at "camp." Better yet!: Spencer would venture out to do the shopping, which he wouldn't mind because he'd get to carry a gun, and I'd stay home with the kids. I sigh. Seriously, that would be the life.
Mentally, this is where I'm at before the kids start screaming and trying to climb out of the cart, aiming for a concussion over concrete floors, and throwing things off of shelves because I won't buy them 30 dollar bags of candy for no reason. This part gets ugly every time. Once, Matthew sat on the floor of Walmart and threw his sneaker across four isles, screaming at the top of his lungs because I interrupted him. Another time, Mary took one of those giant bouncy balls from one of those bungee cord cages and purposely bounced it so high that it knocked a shit-ton of canned vegetables off the top shelf of the next isle over. THEN LAUGHED. Yesterday, Scarlett shrieked so loudly in Costco for so long that people were still talking about it when we left.
We left the store yesterday with two carts, the heavier of which a stock boy had to help me get out the door to my van. But ten minutes before we checked out, as I was standing over my list, crossing things off and counting in my head like my mom used to do when her children little enough to fit in the front of a cart, a woman approached me.
I could see the bottom of her skirt coming toward me in my peripheral, downward vision. I ignored it, bracing for one of those familiar: "Ma'am, I think your kid is licking the cart handle" type of comments that make me want to scream at THEM for being such a fucking tattle-tale. I'm not in the mood for this. I never am. Shopping sucks. I want to go home.
"Ma'am", she starts. I look up, exhausted; feeling impatient, but conditioned as the mother of three kids never to show it. "I just want to tell you that you have two very well behaved children. And so beautiful, too. I just saw them from across the isle and couldn't help myself from pointing it out."
Immediately, I wanted to hug her. I genuinely wanted to hug her.
Then I laughed, reality settling in over dumbfounded silence. "Oh, they were the ones you may have heard screaming at the top of their lungs twenty minutes ago. I don't know if you were here for that part."
She smiled, and I wondered if she expected me to think of something negative to say. "Well, they must have gotten it out of their systems, at least."
I'm not that kind of mother anywhere else in the world, I rationalized to myself. I'm the kind of mom who encourages her four-year-old to be loud when we're anywhere it won't hurt anyone, the kind who makes messes with her toddler on purpose, the kind who deals pretty well with her preteen having ROYALLY obnoxious opinions for the greater good of letting that child know that she is listened to and cared about.
But shopping days will do to me what being left on the dashboard of a hot car will do to a happily yellow banana. Shopping days are the worst. I looked down at Scarlett, who was sitting with her arm around Matthew's back, in a way that she only rarely does. (Certainly not when we're shopping). Matthew had folded his arms into a pillow over the cart handle and was lying, uncharacteristically docile with patient boredom.
Before she made it too far away, I said, "You don't know how much I needed to hear that. Thank you."
I bought them a smoothie on our way out. And while I unloaded the cart, a second woman approached me to ask if she could take my two carts for me. "I know how hard it can be with little ones," she comforted. "Let me take these for you so that you don't have to walk them all the way back from the cart return."
When I got home, Mary was there to help with the groceries. Matthew pitched in without being asked. Spencer walked in the door while there were still boxes piled into categorized sections of the kitchen, where he could see all of our "wasted" money in bag and box form before it was taken to the pantry and chest freezer downstairs; he didn't complain. To my surprise, he hugged me. He thanked me... and looking around at the noisy kids and the boiling pot of water on the stove and boxes and boxes and boxes of crap, he said, "... for doing all of this."
Shopping days suck. But as far as shopping days go, yesterday is one that I will remember for being a little less awful than fighting off zombies.