I actually enjoy taking my kids to the grocery store most of the time. I like our little routines: saying hello to the lobsters, watching the rice cake machine, taking turns bagging produce, checking out the exotic fruits and vegetables, looking for the cow and train. We even have our favorite cashier (Heidi), whose line we always try to go through, because she’s pretty efficient, cheery, and always sweet to the kids. I say this not to brag, or to make you feel bad if you can’t stand taking your kids to the grocery store. I’m sure there are things you like to do with your children that seem like torture to me.
Anyway, last week’s trip was really dreadful for me. There wasn’t one particularly bad thing that happened; rather, it was a combination of events on top of an already rough morning.
The most embarrassing part for me happened in the bathroom. About halfway through our shopping, Linnea told me that she needed to go to the bathroom. Already exasperated at this point, I questioned her to determine whether this was a true need or an excuse to get a drink from the water fountain. So we left the half-full cart in the cereal aisle and trekked over to the restroom, where the maintenance person was posting a sign saying the bathrooms were being cleaned and to use the restroom on the second floor. I must have looked as crestfallen as I felt, because he told us to go ahead in.
Of course, the poor child really did need to go, so I immediately felt guilty about drilling her on the necessity of this trip to the loo. Then Jonas began touching everything in the bathroom. Now, I’m no germaphobe, but I do get a bit grossed out about the boy sticking his hand in the “feminine products” disposal. At this point, a few other ladies had come in, which of course meant he wanted to crawl down to peek into other stalls, and I had to have a chat with him about privacy.
By this point, I had to go to the bathroom, so I (stupidly) figured now would be just as good a time as any. Well, as soon as I sat down, the loud, embarrassing questions started (e.g., “Mommy, are you going poopoo, too?”). Jonas decided it would be a good time to play with the door and, despite my warning, opened it, exposing me to two other women. Well, I flipped out. I forcefully pulled him back, locked the door, scolded him sternly, and made him sit in my lap in timeout while he cried. Thoughts were running through my head about how I used to be able to go to the bathroom in peace and with dignity. We finally exited the toilet and fighting ensued over which child would use the stool at the sink first, which required more scolding and discipline on my part.
Then one woman gave me The Look. You probably know what I’m talking about–either because you’ve received it, or given it, or both. The look that lacks any sympathy and carries only judgment. The one that says, “If/when I had small children, they would never act like that” or “If you weren’t going to enjoy your children, then why did you have them?” or “I noticed you when you lost your cool in the frozen foods section, and you should really know that you and your spawn are ruining this entire supermarket experience for everyone.” I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout, “But I’m a good mom! I’m just exhausted! And I love my kids, really I do! Things aren’t usually like this! I used to feel successful! I have a master’s degree!” And so on . . .
After the bathroom, I felt bad that I hadn’t handled things better. So I gave the kids and me a little pep talk, and we exchanged a round of hugs and kisses. I’d like to say that things improved greatly after that, but they didn’t. And when we were going to check out, I noticed that there was a cashier-in-training sign on aisle #1 and decided that there was no time like the present for this young man to learn how to deal with a struggling mom and her two unruly preschoolers. I mean, if we were going to have a bad trip to the store, it might as well benefit someone, right?
I don’t really know what my point is in sharing this story. I guess one thing I’d like to say is how much I appreciate when people are kind and helpful during those bad moments–or, at the very least, when they don’t pay us much mind. It’s not that I particularly care about what strangers think of me and my parenting. But in these days when, for me at least, it frequently feels like there is so very little to show for a tremendous amount of hard work, it really does make a difference to be given a modicum of sympathy.
And despite my efforts to try to seem like I’ve always got it together (even though I’m probably not fooling anyone), I fail a lot. And I guess I want to be able to share my shortcomings here.