Even before our children were born, my wife and I had decided that she wouldn’t work until both girls were at least in school. We felt that those first five or six years were very important in a child’s development and didn’t want those years to be spent in a daycare.
During those few years, I often worked long hours to make up for the loss of one income, and as a result, I wasn’t always aware of all the day-to-day details of raising two active young girls.
My chance to experience many of these daily triumphs and tribulations came one fall day when my wife ended up coming down with a particularly bad virus that left her incapacitated for nearly a week. During her recovery, I decided to take a few days off from work to fill in as the child minder.
In the middle of that week it became necessary to do some grocery shopping, so without a second thought I made up a list and informed my wife that the girls and I would be going shopping.
“You’re taking the girls?” my wife asked in a concerned tone.
“Yeah, that way you can relax without having to worry about them.”
“Are you sure you know what you are signing up for?” she said with an even more worrisome tone.
I began to get a little annoyed at her lack of confidence in my child management skills. I realized that taking a three and five year old pair of girls to the grocery store would require vigilance, but come on, how hard could it be?
“You just relax, I’ve got this,” I said as the girls and I walked out the door.
The short drive to the grocery store was uneventful and further confirmed in my mind that this shopping trip was a cinch.
Upon arrival, I grabbed a shopping cart and put three year old Natalie in the little flip down seat, and let Hannah take a spot riding on the front of the cart. I dug out my shopping list to have in hand as we headed down the first aisle.
Half way down the first aisle, I turned to place an item in the cart, only to find Natalie was holding a bag of navy beans that I hadn’t placed in the cart.
“Where did you get that, baby girl?” I chuckled as I took the bag from her.
Natalie answered with a blood curling scream that actually made me jump a little.
“DAD! She WANTS the beans!” Hannah advocated from the front of the cart.
“Well, we are not buying beans today,” I said in my firm dad voice and put the beans back on the shelf.
As I made the turn from the first aisle to the second, I mentally noted that I should keep the cart centered between the two rows of shelves to prevent my little grocery thief from being able to grab items off of them.
When I got down to the pasta section, I noticed that the brand of lasagna noodles that my wife normally purchased seemed to cost significantly more than a few of the other brands. But it was hard to know exactly how much because the packages contained different amounts of noodles. So I got out my phone and used the calculator on it to try figure out what the exact cost per pound would be of each brand of noodle. After a bit of difficulty remembering just how to set up such a calculation, I finally determined the costs of each.
“HAH!” I exclaimed triumphantly, “This brand is seventeen cents cheaper per pound.”
I grabbed the new bargain brand of lasagna noodles from the shelf and turned back towards the shopping cart. Hannah was now sitting inside the cart digging into a freshly opened box of cereal that I had selected from the first isle. But it didn’t appear that she was actually eating any of the cereal the she was removing from the opened box fistful by fistful . . . I assumed she was attempting to get at the prize in the bottom of the box. Large amounts of cereal were being thrown out of the box and onto the floor through the holes in the bottom of the cart.
“HANNAH! What on earth are . . . WHERE’S NATALIE?” I said in a panic as I realized that my youngest daughter was no longer a passenger on the shopping cart.
“She went to get lunch,” Hannah replied as if it was not a big deal.
“Does mom let her go get lunch when she takes you guys shopping?”
Hannah looked up from her cereal box digging for a moment and replied, “No, mom doesn’t let us out of the cart.”
“Oh crap!” I thought aloud sprinting down the aisle.
When I reached the end, I was able to determine that my daughter had gone to the left by following the trail of navy beans left like breadcrumbs. Up ahead I could see her standing in front of a lady handing out samples of some sort of food she was promoting. The lady had given Natalie what looked like a chicken nugget and Natalie was busy dowsing the nugget with ranch dressing from a bottle that I had no idea how she came to possess.
“NATALIE! I didn’t know where you were!” I said scooping her up, nugget, ranch dressing and all. Natalie screamed once again and stiffened her body in protest of my picking her up.
“She seems quite hungry,” the teen-aged sample girl said with a smile, “she’s eaten five of my samples.”
But I didn’t have time for niceties, I had to get myself and Natalie back to the cart before Hannah disappeared as well. So once again, I began to run back towards the aisle where I had left the cart and my treasure hunting daughter. But my progress was hampered by a child who was not happy about being torn away from her free lunch. I had never realized until that moment, how difficult carrying an unwilling child was compared to carrying one who was a willing participant. It was very awkward, much like running with a large, screaming piece of plywood in my arms.
When I reached Hannah and my cart, I stuffed the still screaming Natalie back in her seat and pushed on at a faster pace, ignoring the fact that Hannah was still sitting inside the cart. I hoped that picking up the pace was the key to a successful shopping trip with the children by not giving them as much time to get into mischief. However, this didn’t end up helping much at all.
By the time I had finished the second aisle and had gotten only half way down the third, Natalie had escaped another two times from her seat in the cart, helping herself to a box of animal crackers and knocking a jar of pickles off a shelf causing it to shatter across the floor. Hannah had successfully found the prize in the cereal box, which was a whistle, and blew it loudly from her place inside the cart.
And all I had to show for all the chaos was a half-eaten, half spilled box of cereal, a loaf of bread and a bottle of liquid cold and flu medicine. I was beginning to feel light headed from the anxiety . . . but I had to press on. I could do this.
I grabbed Natalie once again and plowed my way down the rest of the third aisle and into the fourth, picking up a store employee with a mop, bucket, and broom who had been assigned to follow us around by the manager.
Progress was slow, and with each stopping of the cart brought a new disaster. I chased girls, put smuggled items back on the shelves and apologized to other customers who had become victims of items thrown or splashed on them. As I turned and looked back down aisle four, it looked like a road map of where my cart had traveled. The path had been clearly marked by a peanut butter wheel track and each stop punctuated by a spill.
I was quickly losing my grip on sanity as we made our way down aisle five. To keep Hannah occupied, I had given into her demand to push the cart. I had restrained Natalie in her seat with the seat belt that I had discovered. The employee with the broom and mop had been joined by a manager who followed along keeping a running tab of items broken. Natalie was like a demon possessed wild cat, screaming and clawing at people who passed by us.
As I walked back to return a customer’s purse that had been swiped from a cart we had parked next to in the canned vegetable section, I was startled to hear the scream of someone other than my two daughters . . . the scream of a lady.
Hannah had pushed the cart full force into the heels of an elderly lady, who now sat on the floor crying. The manager was dividing his time between seeing if she was ok and lecturing me on controlling my children. The employee with the broom was sweeping furiously, trying in vain to keep up with the handfuls of sugar that Natalie was throwing on the floor . . . that’s when things get fuzzy.
I can remember a period of time with people yelling at me, children screaming and food being thrown, but it was all a blur. My mind had checked out. . . .
After an undetermined amount of time in this confusing dream-like state, the spinning of the room began to slow a bit. I gathered my wits about me.
Looking around, I found myself standing inside the shopping cart with the bottle of cold and flu medicine in my hand. The bottle was open, and apparently I had chugged half of its contents while singing “Amazing Grace” in a high falsetto voice. Around me stood the store manager, the still furiously sweeping employee, and the elderly lady who was still crying. Natalie was a short distance away sharing a box of cookies with another customer. Hannah was standing on the front of the cart holding a half-eaten carrot between her fingers like a cigar and moving her eyebrows up and down Groucho Marx style.
“You’re funny Dad,” Hannah giggled.
After quickly writing a check to cover all food items that had been spilled, damaged, and eaten, I grabbed both girls by the hand and exited the store, leaving the cart sitting in the exact same spot where I had just used it as my stage.
Arriving at home, I unloaded the girls from their car seats, and with the Chinese take-out I had picked up, went into the house.
“Where’s the groceries?” my wife asked, “Was there a problem?”
“Nope! Theeee . . . ahhh grocery store was closed, “I managed to fabricate.
“Why didn’t you just go across town to Leonard’s Grocery Store?”
“Uh, well that was closed too. I think it was some sort of grocery store holiday.”
To stop the obnoxious line of questioning, I brought my wife a heaping plate of sweet and sour chicken, and then sat down with my own plate, still reeling from the effects of the cold and flu medicine.
After a few minutes of silent eating, my wife said, “By the way, the manager of the grocery store that was closed called.”
I stopped my eating with the fork of food hovering just outside my opened mouth.
“Oh?” I said sheepishly.
“It seems he failed to charge you for the live lobsters that were apparently killed by somebody dumping some sort of blue liquid into the tank.”
I was busted. “Well . . . that explains where the fabric softener went.”