Kids are Kids, No Matter Where You are.

Often times, when comparing two cultures, it is the differences that stand out. When I return from Africa and tell my friends about my experiences there, much of what I relay are the things that separate Swazi culture from my own here in the US. . . and there are plenty of these differences to report.

I have also found things that are very much the same between our two cultures. One of thing I’ve noticed while spending time at the orphanage, and am very glad to report, is that kids are kids! 

It seems that whether at home in Michigan, or on top of a mountain in Southern Africa, there are certain aspects of being a kid that are identical . . . and I suspect, universal.

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Kids are cool. Yes, even at El Shaddai where clothes are almost exclusively donated hand-me-downs, kids have no problem piecing together a Look. Factor in some tough poses and fashion-model-quality facial expressions, and the coolness of kids in eSwatini cannot be denied. They have even perfected the  I’m too cool for you eye roll that I thought American kids had exclusive rights to. Kids are kids and teens are teens, and I wouldn’t want it any other way 🙂

 

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Funny face making seems to be a skill that doesn’t need to be learned. . . I think it may be genetic. Our kids at the Orphanage have no shortage of funny face genes.

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It is the right of every child on the planet to be able to showoff a little. I was privileged to have witnessed this impressive display of muscle while hanging with the boys.

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Mischief! As adults, we sometimes wonder how much easier life would be if kids simply did what they are supposed to do and never broke the rules. But kids are kids, and getting into mischief is part of being a kid . . . even in Africa (they know they are not to be playing on the water tank). As frustrating as it can be, I would suspect something was very wrong at the orphanage if there weren’t some type of shenanigans going on from time to time.

You can learn more about El Shaddai Children’s Home and Compassionate Life at our website, Compassionate Life.

The “Ugh” of Coming Home…

Like most everyone, after being in eSwatini for weeks, I was ready to go back home. Being as domesticated as any American, I missed my couch, my TV shows, Wifi and a large “Kitchen Sink” from Baby Jake’s Pizza. I guess its the missing of these things and how much I missed them that is so disappointing to me . . . They are all so un-important when contrasted with what is missing in eSwatini.

There is a part of me that has changed since my first trip to Africa. It’s what causes the Ugh when I think of coming back home to my couch, Wifi and pizza. When you leave eSwatini to come back home, you are leaving a land of tragedy and hope to return to the land of excess and arrogance. There is something electric about a land of tragedy and hope. Part of me never wants to leave.

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I love the United States. I think it’s the greatest country on the planet. I don’t like so much what we’ve done with it. I don’t blame the country . . . I don’t even blame politics . . . I blame us for what we’ve done to us. We’ve become so content that we really have no idea what things are important in life. Our standard of living is so high, even for our poorest, that it leaves us completely out of touch with the rest of humanity.

We like to sit in our homes and solve the rest of the world’s problems, and that solution usually sounds like this . . . “They should just be more like us” . . . Almost as if we as individuals had done some great deed to earn our lifestyle . . like some decision we had made is what afforded us four TVs, a new car and pizza whenever we want . . . but we really didn’t. Sure, we go to work and earn our money, but that is no different than what most anyone else on the planet does, or wishes to do. The vast majority of us simply utilize a bounty that we were born into. We like to say that our country is blessed by God, and it certainly seems is it . . .  but I have to wonder how long that will continue when we don’t truly recognize just how blessed we are.

This is what makes me so sad about myself. I’ve been to Africa and been transformed, inspired and had my eyes opened . . . yet I still sit here thinking, “I need to hurry up and  finish this post so I can go get another couple Oreo’s before Dr Who starts”.

Compassionate Life

 

 

El Shaddai Children’s Home could use Your Help.

Pictured above is a “Jojo” or water tank that stores the water supply that the El Shaddai Children’s Home relies on. These Jojos are filled from water that is pumped from a bore hole located on the neighboring mountain.

Last week, heavy rains and wind caused an electric wire to short at the El Shaddai Orphanage resulting in a small fire and destroying the water pump and breaker panel that supplies the orphanage with water as well as two refrigerators. Repair costs are estimated to exceed $4000.

Please be in prayer for resolution to this problem as El Shaddai has been without water since the storm. Donations to help address this unexpected problem can be made at www.james127.org Or on the Compassionate Life Facebook Page and are greatly appreciated.

The El Shaddai Children’s Home is home to over sixty orphans left in the wake of Swaziland’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. This small country in southern Africa currently has the highest rate of HIV and AIDS in the world creating a staggering number of children left with no parents or family. Many of the children who have found a home at the orphanage were rescued from homelessness and near starvation.

 

Were We just tougher back then?

All across Michigan, schools have been canceled due to the extreme snow and cold. This means that Facebook will light up with us older, tougher folks complaining about school never having been canceled for snow and cold when we were younger. I might have joined in on the chorus, but truth be told, I’m jealous.

When I was younger, school was never canceled because of extreme snow and cold. If it had been, I might still have my best friend, Jimmy.

Jimmy and I would walk together to the bus stop, which was eight and a half miles away. Neither of us had coats, so we would steal newspapers from driveways and paper boxes along our trek to stuff in our clothing to act as insulation. On the worst of the cold mornings, we would light our newspaper coats on fire for extra warmth . . . it’s just what you did back then to survive.

On one particular minus-forty-two degree day, Jimmy and I were making our way through the chin deep snow towards our bus stop. We had already successfully warded off an attack from one of the roving packs of rabid neighborhood dogs, and escaped the gang of kidnappers who would prey on children walking to the bus stop. . . . so it had actually started out a good morning. Making the morning even better, we had just found the last roadkill carcass needed to strap to our bare feet to act as snowshoes. After fashioning our carcass snowshoes, Jimmy and I continued on our way.

A mile later, we in the middle of our third frozen-river crossing required to make it to the bus stop, when suddenly, the ice began to crack, and Jimmy fell through. He flailed wildly, trying to keep his head above the frigid water, but despite his efforts, he was beginning to go under.

Using a technique that I had learned earlier that year from a bus stop safety film, I fashioned a rope out of thread pulled from my burlap underwear, and was able to pull Jimmy from the icy river waters. He crawled to the shore, thanking me repeatedly for saving him, but deep inside, I knew it would probably have been more humane to simply let him drown.

Even if he did survive, I could tell from the pale blueness of his fingers that he would no longer be able to use them to complete the eleven hours of homework that was assigned to us every night, let alone, be able to hunt the possum, needed during our walk to the bus stop, for food to keep himself alive. I kept these thoughts to myself.

It was still another mile to the bus stop, so I knew I had to keep Jimmy moving. I switched out his wet insulation newspapers with some of the dry ones from my shirt and covered his head with a hat I made from some of the corn husks that my mom had sewn together to make the pants I was wearing.

I did my best to prod and encourage Jimmy’s shivering body to keep walking. I gave him bits of carcass jerky that I had ripped from my roadkill boots, but he was fading fast.

When we were a few hundred yards from the bus stop, Jimmy finally collapsed from exhaustion and hypothermia. I tried to get him back on his feet, but to no avail. I could see the headlights of the bus in the distance. There was no way I could get Jimmy there in time.

“I’ll never forget you, Jimmy!” I said tearfully, as I quickly covered him with the remainder of my newspaper insulation and lit it on fire to keep him warm in his final hours.

“Please don’t leave me,” he pleaded. But I knew that if I missed the bus, it would be Jimmy who would succumb to the kinder fate by freezing to death.

I kissed him on the head, and skin tore my lips having frozen to his icy hair . . .  and then I ran the rest of the way to the bus. As I sat down in my seat and looked back down the road through the window, I could see a truck stopping near Jimmy’s collapsed body. I knew I would never see him again.

Back in those days, there were greedy opportunists who would drive the roads on such dangerously cold mornings looking for the bodies of kids who had frozen to death along the bus routes. They would load up the victims and sell them to dog food manufacturers to be ground into dog food.

For thirty-five years now, I have sadly thought about Jimmy every time I fill a dog dish with food. So complain about school being canceled due to cold? Not I. I thank the Lord that my kids will never have to live the rest of their lives with the image of poor frozen Jimmy being loaded into a dog food truck.

 

Same Old Blog with an Added Feature.

Fear not my friends. I shall continue to bring you all of the silly stories you have come to expect from this silly blog. But, I will be adding a new aspect to some of my posting . . . Let me explain.

My wife told me many years ago, when we first began dating, that she was going to be a doctor, and that she was going to go to Africa to help children.

After we were married, and then children arrived, this dream of hers seemed to slowly move into the background. Raising two daughters (and a childish husband) required all of her time for several years.

As our daughters grew more independent, Cynthia was able to battle her way through nursing school . . . Not quite a doctor, but certainly a step towards part of her plan. Still, Africa seemed to be nowhere on the horizon.

Fast forward a few more years, and an opportunity arose for her to go on a mission trip to Swaziland, Africa. I was delighted that her dream, although seemingly on a minor scale, would be realized. Little did I know, that mission trip was just the tip of the iceberg.

A while after returning from the mission trip, the directors of the Compassionate Life Foundation, through which she went on the trip, informed her that they intended to step down, and asked if she would take over as executive director.

*Jaw hits floor*

Cynthia accepted and, to make a long story short, is why I am now killing time in the Johannesburg Airport, waiting to board my flight back to the U.S.

It has been an incredible, frustrating, rewarding, awesome journey.

Compassionate Life is a small foundation that provides the primary funding for the El Shaddai Orphanage in Swaziland, and the CLF care center in the city of Manzini, Swaziland.

There is so much to say, too much for one post, but I will share a a bit of my first experience in Swaziland with you as I sit in the airport waiting to depart Africa.

Africa is amazing. It’s like a different planet when you have spent your whole life in U.S.

The trees are foreign. The animals are foreign. The social customs are foreign.

There is fear:

Will that bug bite me causing a prolonged and excruciating death?

Do Wildebeests eat humans? And do they have the ability to get through the locked car door from which I am viewing them?

Will I do something to offend the people I meet?

If I smile and nod at someone who said something I didn’t understand, will I end up married to one of their daughters? (There are no limits to the ridiculous levels fear can take you)

After spending ten days in Swaziland, I now have some of the answers to these questions.

Our first days were spent at the orphanage located up in the mountains. I don’t know how anyone could spend time there without falling in love with the children. Most have lost parents to AIDS, some were abandoned, and others have stories unknown to us. When you hear some of these horrific stories, and then see the smiling faces that are a result of living at the orphanage, it changes you.

They love to have their picture taken, and indicate so by yelling, “Shoot, shoot” (a picture). When you ask them their name, they like to give you the name of one of the other children . . . . A sport that they find hysterical, and makes it impossible to learn their already hard to pronounce names.

The second part of our time was spent in Manzini at a center (which makes you think of some large community center building, but is a small concrete structure smaller than most houses here in the states. This center provides tuition, food and tutoring for students in the local neighborhood, and for some of the top students, will also provide money for college or trade school.

Again, there is far too much to say in just one post. I could write an entire post alone on learning to drive on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, in the busy city of Manzini, where cars, people, cows and goats are going in every direction. I’m quite sure that the expletive took several years off of my life.

Or I could write an entire post on the Swazi people, who are quite peaceful, and mild mannered.

But I will just stop here with saying that it was the experience of a lifetime. And with Cynthia now acting as director of the foundation, this will likely be just the first visit of many.

Oh, I almost forgot,

The large, scary insect was a Dung Beetle, and quite harmless . . . Unless you are a hoarder of poop . . . In which case, you may suffer losses.

Wildebeests on the game preserve we were at seem rather uninterested in eating humans.

You can certainly offend people unintentionally, but I found most times, someone will politely let you know before you have gotten too far.

I am not aware of gaining any new wives during my visit.

How to Make a Dad Mad.

*Turn off the shower when you have finished, but don’t turn the knob with the arrow on it that switches the water from coming out of the shower head, to flowing out the spout. So when dad goes to turn on the water, (which requires that he bends over, placing his head directly in the crosshairs of the shower head) he is blasted full force in the face with freezing cold water for the ten seconds it takes to swear and find the knob with the arrow on it that switches the water from the shower to the spout.

*Repeatedly tell him how outdated his fashion choices are. Then, when he actually has heard it enough times to motivate him to buy some more current looking attire, tell him he looks like an old guy trying to look young.

*In the middle of a heated lecture on not taking care of your messes in the living room and kitchen, point out that his bowl that he used for his fruity pebbles is still sitting on the coffee table from that morning. . . . But be cautious . . . . He will turn red and sputter for a few seconds, after which, you should probably be out of arms reach.

*Let him discover that the source of a seemingly endless supply of fruit flies in the house, are coming from a bowl of some unidentifiable organic matter under your bed.

*Drag him around on a six hour shopping trip that covers thirteen different stores, and then a return visit to eight of them, in an attempt to find a pair of shoes like Emily has, only to return to the very first store we looked in and decide to purchase the very first pair of shoes you tried on. And then, for the bonus dose of fury, tell him the following day that you don’t like them and refuse to wear them.

*Don’t answer the phone when he calls and then tell him your ringer was off, even though he could see you through the glass doors of the school entrance when you pulled the phone out of your pocket and looked at it when it rang.

*In the middle of a heated argument about why your grades are so low, say something like, “maybe I’m just not the kind of person who gets good grades. Why can’t you just accept me for who I am?’’ Even though your teachers and placement tests indicate you are capable of performing at an above average level.

*Leave the screen door standing wide open while you talk to someone outside during the middle of mosquito season instead of talking through the screen provided.

*Tell everyone that you caught him tearing up at the end of Bambi the last time the both of you watched the DVD.

*Spend the change from buying a movie ticket with the fifty dollar bill he gave you because he didn’t actually say he wanted the change.

*Scream down the stairs that you are done cleaning your room. He will then come upstairs and inspect your work. When he tells you that your room is no where near clean, wait until he is back downstairs. Pick up one of the fifty items still on your bedroom floor and then scream down the stairs that you are done cleaning your room. He will then come upstairs and inspect your work. When he tells you that your room is no where near clean, wait until he is back downstairs. Pick up one of the forty-nine items still on your bedroom floor and then scream down the stairs that you are done cleaning your room. Repeat as necessary.

Our Family Justice System.

 

In our household, there exists a justice system that parallels the system here in the United States in some ways but also has many differences.

Our Family Justice System:

In our house you are not guaranteed a trial by a jury of your peers. In fact, any peers in the house will be instructed to go home before the trial begins.

There are two judges, a primary or day judge and a secondary or evening judge.

You may be held without bail until a judge and trial are made available. (“You can sit in your room until your father gets home.”)

You may be tried and convicted more than once for the same crime, especially if the primary judge has found you guilty and handed down a sentence but feels that you still do not seem repentant enough. She can then order a second trial when the evening judge gets home from work, after which, a second sentence may be added on to the first.

Or, if you are found not guilty by one of the judges, you still could be found guilty by the other judge based on new evidence, or simply due to the fact that the second judge had a bad day at work and wishes to take it out on the defendants.

You WILL testify against yourself when instructed to do so by one of the judges.

Sometimes being a witness (tattler) can get you into worse trouble than being the one who committed the crime.

Sometimes, the primary judge has had enough, which she will indicate by loudly stating, “I have had enough!” She may then postpone a trial until the secondary judge gets home from work, but when the secondary judge gets home from work and is met at the door by two sobbing defendants and a primary judge who has had enough, he isn’t sure what the primary judge is expecting of him, so he will then repeat in an authoritative voice, the words that the primary judge is silently mouthing from behind the two sobbing defendants.

And finally, your punishment WILL be cruel and unusual (a week without TV, iPad, etc.).

Our ordinary Sunday morning requires an extraordinary wife.

Clack, clack, clack, clack . . .

The sound of my daughter’s plastic, sparkly pretty princess heels echoed throughout the sanctuary as she proudly walked down the aisle of the church to our usual seats.

“Heh-heh,” my neighbor Robert, who also attended our church, chuckled as Hannah clack-clacked past. It was almost certain that he had also heard the morning battle over wearing the clack-clack shoes and a bright green Frog Princess dress instead of the flower print dress that my wife had chosen for my obstinate child. Our houses were fairly close together and our windows were open to let in the warm summer air . . . . and our loud arguments out.

“SHUT UP ROBERT!” I sneered in a whisper-shout, “I remember your kid coming to church with a guinea pig in his coat pocket.”

Robert rolled his eyes but remained silent (probably embarrassed as he was remembering the uproar caused by the stowaway rodent escaping and nibbling on the elderly organ player’s open toed shoes).

We were late as usual. Back when God was formulating the intricate workings of the Universe, he had decreed that our family would never, ever, under any circumstance be on time for his own worship service. . . . . well, with the exception of the one Sunday a year when Daylight Savings gives us an extra hour . . . . and even then, we barely make it on time.

On most Sundays, my wife prompts us to hide with our two daughters in the back reception area and wait for the congregation to stand and sing a hymn so we can slip into our pew with less attention being drawn to our lateness. But on this particular Sunday, the fight over my daughter’s costume/fashion choice left us even later than usual. There were no hymns left to provide cover for our sneaking in. With a few condemning stares and smiles being shot at us, we found our usual seats and sat down.

My wife began digging items out of her Sunday morning purse, which was a normal purse by all purse standards, but was filled with carefully selected child silencing items. There were crayons, mints, paper to draw on, miniature animal and doll figures, and for emergency measures, a small hand-held video game unit with the speaker ripped out.

Sitting next to us this particular morning was Sister Edna, and elderly widowed church member who would often punctuate the pastor’s sermon points by interjecting “In the NAME of JESUS!”

The girls settled into their coloring and playing with their small toys as Pastor Phil began delivering his Sermon. Right on cue, Sister Edna began letting out “In the Name of JESUS” whenever Pastor Phil made a point that seemed to warrant it.

I listened to the sermon as best I could between whisper shouting at my girls for fighting over toys. Natalie had also picked up echoing Sister Edna’s “In the name of Jesus” utterings.

“I have to go poopy.” Hannah said in a voice that was audible to everyone around.

My wife gasped.

“IN the NAME of JESUS,” Natalie added to Hannah’s poop declaration.

Several heads turned in our direction; some of the heads had faces adorned with frowns.

Sister Edna looked at Natalie and smiled.

My wife quickly opened the roll of breath mints that was in her Sunday morning purse and gave each girl two of them. This seemed to keep the girls quiet.

Pastor Phil continued with his sermon on the plagues that were inflicted upon Egypt by God for refusing to let Moses and his people go. There was the plague of lice and one of sores on the people. There were frogs . . . . . I saw a frog in the ditch in front of our house yesterday while I was mowing. In fact, I almost hit the poor thing with my mower. I think it was a momma frog by the way—–

Realizing that my mind had wandered off a bit, I snapped back to listening to Pastor Phil and his sermon.

The sermon continued. Moses was apparently persistent, and Pastor Phil talked about the continuance of plagues. Fiery hailstones, water turning to blood, locusts . . . . billions of locust . . . .swarming everywhere. . . . . like the billions of hornets that came out of a hole in the ground near my shed. The hornets were like a plague. . . . a buzzing, stinging plague. In fact, one of them even stung my first born, Hannah. . . . . kind of like a double plague. But Robert and I had filled a squirt bottle with gas and constructed a makeshift flame thrower of sorts. We covered ourselves in snowmobile suites and motorcycle helmets to act as beekeepers outfits. Then with a shovel, we scooped out a crater where the hole once was and began administering the flames of Hell up on the locust. . . . I mean hornets. Suddenly I felt the intense burning pain of a hornet stinging my back. One of the little devils had apparently breeched my snowmobile suit.

“AHHH, He’s Got Me!” I screamed,”WHACK THE BASTARD WITH THE SHOVEL, ROBERT!!!!!!”

. . . . . I suddenly became aware of my surroundings.

I was standing in the aisle of our church sanctuary, swatting at imaginary hornets. I had just finished screaming, “whack the bastard with a shovel, Robert”. All eyes in the now silent church were on me. Apparently my mind had wandered off again. . . . I might have even been dreaming a bit.

My wife was horrified.

Natalie let out a “In the NAME of JESUS!”

This is where a normal family would have been shamed into quitting the church and never showing their faces there again for the rest of eternity. But my wife was seasoned at covering for our family’s, well, eccentricities. I knew that she would have an explanation for my ridiculous behavior, something like lack of sleep or perhaps the improper dosage of cold medicine. And I also knew that she would expertly plant her slightly exaggerated explanation in several conversation circles that were formed by the wives and mothers of the congregation when the service had concluded.

She had become so good at it, that I would probably end up getting words of sympathy and encouragement from church members instead of condemnations for my unruly outburst.

We are fortunate. My wife knows that despite the outcome, the girls and I have good intentions, and she has our backs no matter how absurd our behavior becomes.

 

Shopping with Children

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.”