The Grocery Store

Today I had to go to the grocery store.

These days that task is as mundane as it sounds.

Except for that the grocery store is never mundane, especially if you shop at Walmart as I often do.  Walmart embodies the whole of the broken state of humanity. It is where it all hangs out — literally.  It is the state fair and the airport all in one place.  Every person pushing a cart has some wild crazy Pulitzer Prize winning tragic story.  And I can see that, I can smell it and that lights some sort of fire in me, those stories that hide in plain sight.

And that’s why I love the grocery store.

Even with all that lurid carnival-style enticement, the store is not the same as it was when I had a grocery store buddy, a chubby fisted helper who was thrilled and delighted with all the exotic marvels that the grocery store offers.

I thought of that today as I was pushing my cart towards the checkout.  Right in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts there was a man going up, up, up on a vertical lift.  He was retrieving a helium balloon from the ceiling.  Did his mother never tell him that if he just waits long enough it will come down?

Had my little boyfriend been with me, even today, we would have stopped and watched and marveled at the machine and it’s scissor-like arm reaching for the ceiling.  We would lie with all sincerity about how we wish we could ride the vertical lift.  Except that we would be too scared.  And maybe we would impulsively buy a balloon when we got to the checkout and promise not to let it go.

But today, there were no brave wishes or balloons or grocery store buddy, just a cart full of mundane to get through the checkout.

As I waited my turn in the checkout line, I thought about how much I enjoyed going to the grocery store with Sean and how I miss him hanging off the end of the cart and his running observations and commentary.

And then I caught myself.  Surely that is not really true, surely there were days when I just wanted to go, get groceries and go home — and not have to stop and watch a man on a vertical lift or see how much two apples weighed or see if they had any cookie samples for good boys.

Has the same time that heals all wounds also rewritten the tedious and mundane days of my motherhood into a more lovely narrative?

Maybe.

But if so, if going to the store with a little boy was a chore and a pain, I honestly don’t remember it that way.

And so I should like to do it all over again.

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If Mother Teresa Had Shopped At Walmart, She’d Just Be Teresa

I love the Mother Teresa quote which says, “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

I would like to be like Mother Teresa, to be able to say that my life is a love letter to the world, but some days, I’m afraid my life looks less like a love letter and more like graffiti.

The other day I went to Walmart to pick up just a few things, and is always the case, when I walked into the store there was no one in the checkout lanes.  The lanes were so empty you coulda gone bowling.  The cashiers were standing in the main aisle chatting and looking around hopefully for someone to checkout.  Ten minutes later, when I had gathered my few things and headed towards the lanes, they were backed up, three deep.

But that did not matter, for I was in a love-letter-writing-to-the-world mood.  I stood in line behind a lady who was apparently stocking up for the apocalypse.  But what did I care? I was all love, peace, patience, kindness, yada yada —  I was busy browsing the September issue of Good Housekeeping (the one with Meredith Vieira on the front; I’m featured somewhere around page 150, in case you care).

Now let me pause here and say that someday I am going to write an entire series on grocery store etiquette, but for now, I will just tell you that at the top of the list of grocery store do’s and don’t is this:  Don’t crowd the person checking out.  They own that space until they have been cleared for takeoff and pushed away from the checkout tarmac, so BACK OFF.  I hate it when I am not even done loading my stuff on the conveyor and the person behind me starts putting their stuff on.  It makes life complicated.  As well, don’t stand right beside me when I am paying.  You are not welcome in my space at that time, so please, step off.

So since the lady in front of me was the current owner of the conveyor, I politely left a reasonable 12-18 inches between the end of the conveyor and me.

As I was standing there, flipping through the pages of Good Housekeeping, I sensed a cart was very close to my backside.  Apparently my backside has some sort of extra sensory perception, my backside has ESP.  So I turned and looked and sure enough, there was a cart there, with only a whisper of airspace between my Hanes yoga pants and this cart.  But again, I was feeling the Mother Teresa vibe, so I didn’t turn and shout, “BACK OFF BUSTER!”  I just kept reading.

And then I heard this very large middle-aged man behind me grumbling loudly. “You are a complete idiot!”  I turned again, anxious to find out to whom he was directing his ire and boy was I surprised when I found out it was ME.  And my first thought was this:  I am glad my kid is not here.  My second thought was this:  Wha?

He continued his tirade against me, describing me in inventive and colorful terms.  That was a day brightener.

I finally figured out that what I had done to upset him so was that I had not moved forward 18-inches and sidled up next to Apocalypse Lady to watch her write her check.  He was upset because he had to stand at the end of the aisle and not next to the gum rack.

I was stunned.  In my years of shopping at Walmart, I’ve encountered the occasional less than pleasant electric cart lady, but never has anyone behaved so aggressively towards me.   So in an effort to smooth his ruffled feathers, I said to him, “I’m really not trying to upset you, I just want to give the lady ahead of me her space.”  But he didn’t care to hear my thoughts and provided an exhaustive description of the content of my character.

And frankly, I didn’t know what to do.  I felt like opening up a can of Antique Mommy whoop bottom on him. I felt angry. I felt intimidated. I felt scared. I felt like crying. But at no time did I feel like writing a love letter with God’s little pencil.

So I just turned away and ignored him as best I could and tried to convince myself I wasn’t terrified.

When it was my turn to checkout, I put my few things on the conveyor, anxious to get checked out and get gone.  I had picked up a water bottle for Sean that did not have a price on it, and for a split second, I was tempted to insist on a price check, just to gig him. But I didn’t.  The urge to flee trumped the urge to gig.  So I told the cashier I didn’t really need it and I would get it another time.  That was as love-lettery as I could muster.

As I left the store, anger began to overtake fear, so I stopped by the manager’s station and told her what had happened and pointed him out.   And then I high tailed it out of there, anxious to get home and get some sympathy from Antique Daddy.

As luck would have it, when I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the lane that passes in front of the store, Mr. Asshat was coming out.  And he notices me in spite of my clever disguise of sunglasses.   He stops in the middle of the of lane with his cart and blocks my car.   He bares his teeth at me, like some kind of animal, and then punctuates his point with his middle finger.  Wow. What an awesome display of manhood. His mother must be so proud.

So then I did what I’m sure Mother Teresa would have done.  I stuck my tongue out at him.  And then I sped home taking a circuitous route.

Yes indeed, Mother Teresa’s life was an inspirational love letter to the world. Then again, Mother Teresa didn’t shop at Walmart.

Pajama Day

The thing about elementary school is that nearly every day is a “special day” of some sort and I can’t keep up.  I find calendars to be sort of a complicated device to begin with, but school calendars are incredibly complicated.

Every week there is at least one “special” day.  It’s Team Day! Wear your favorite football team jersey!  It’s Spirit Day! Wear your school mascot t-shirt!  It’s Story Book Character Day! Dress as your favorite storybook character!  It’s Camouflage Day!  Wear Camo!  (That could just be Texas.)  It’s Baseball Cap Day!  It’s Stuffed Animal Day!  It’s Pajama Day!  We have had Pajama Day at least three times this year.

I don’t get all these special days because I am old.  We did not have special days when I was growing up.  I wore an ugly uniform to school every day and it was a special day if you made it home from school without getting whacked upside the head by Sister Mary Clyde.  Special days are a new invention.

But I go along.  When I remember.  Which is almost never.

So then, the other day I walked Sean to school and when we got there, I noticed that everyone was wearing pajamas.  Except for Sean.  Sean stopped dead in his tracks. “Mom!” he cried in despair looking down at himself as though he were naked, “It’s Pajama Day!”

He heaved a mighty groan.  “I’m supposed to be wearing my pajamas!”  He made the saddest of sad faces and cast his eyes downward in sorrow. He huffed.  That he was not properly attired was my fault.  I am the George Bush of motherhood —  everything is my fault.

“Just tell’em we sleep in our clothes,” I said.  I am a problem solver.

“Mom, you need to bring me my pajamas!”

I shook my head. Nope. No. No way.

I might have gone home for a library book or a forgotten lunch, but not PJ’s.  The fact of the matter is, I’m trying to raise Sean to be the kind of person who does not wear pajamas in public.

He groaned and schlepped into school, making the best of an unbearable situation. It is these kinds of life challenges that will make him into a strong and confident man with coping skills.  Or an insecure teenage girl with fashion issues.

After I dropped off Sean, I made my daily trip to Wal-Mart where I saw a number of adult humans wearing their pajamas.

Everyday is Pajama Day at Wal-Mart.

(sigh)

Crossing Over

I am a Walmart shopper, this I freely admit.

I did not start out being a Walmart shopper, it just sorta happened to me, sort of in the same way I got pregnant — I have no idea when it happened,  I didn’t plan for it to happen, it just did. One day I wasn’t and then one day I was.  And I still kind of can’t believe it.

Prior to having a child, I had never been in a Walmart that I can recall.  I was a boutique grocery store shopper. I did not buy my t-shirts at the same place I bought hamburger.  I liked the little grocery stores that stock 37 kinds of mustard.

But then I had a child and I no longer needed cranberry sherry mustard. I needed preemie diapers and formula that cost $25 a can.  And as though divinely orchestrated, just before Sean was born a super-Walmart sprang up a short distance from my house.

I understand that some people have issues with Walmart and I even see their point of view.  However, I needed cheap diapers and formula and hamburger all in one stop and there they were, so what was I to do?  My economic ideals are not all that sturdy when it comes to cheap baby formula.

So then, that is my Walmart back story.  It does not relate to anything hereafter other than to say that I have a history with Walmart.

All that to say, not too long ago I was at Walmart, not buying exotic mustard, unless you think French’s is exotic, and as I was strolling down the big wide center aisle, my cart automatically turned into the baby department where I have been a regular for many years.  For almost seven years, that has been my zone – diapers, formula, little socks, adorable little rompers, play clothes, lavender baby shampoo, crib toys, the occasional lullaby CD and other first-time-mom impulse purchases.

Now perhaps you are wondering how I managed to stay in the baby department for six years and I’ll tell you:  Walmart caters to a big baby.  Sean is a string bean of a boy and when he was five, he could wear 2T. Although, admittedly when it came to long pants, a 2T on a tall 5-year-old  makes for a Steve Urkel fashion statement.  But then, we are Walmart shoppers, so obviously fashion is not a huge concern for us.

As it were on that day, I stood there in the baby zone, in the middle of all that luscious nougat baby stuff with my six-year-old who comes up to my shoulder and I realized I was in the wrong place.  The baby zone was no longer my zone.  I glanced across the aisle, towards my new zone, the boy zone with all those big not-adorable clothes, and I dropped my chin to my chest and wept silently. No I didn’t weep, because for Pete’s sake, it is just clothes, but I was sort of stunned.  The thought of crossing over to the other side rocked my boat just a little.  I could see from clear across the aisle that there were no cute little socks or luscious anything over there, just big boy stuff, and I knew that I wasn’t going to like the new zone.

And I don’t like the new zone.  Unlike the baby zone, there is nothing impulse-purchase worthy to be had. One t-shirt is the same as the next.

As a mother, this sixth year has been one of many changes, firsts and milestones.  Most mothers wistfully remember the day they sent their baby off to 1st grade.  I remember the day I had to cross over the aisle in Walmart.

Advanced Grocery Shopping

Sean has not started school yet, and won’t until after Labor Day, but it seems that everyone else has. Consequently I’ve been promoted to most favored playmate status, which is all kinds of wonderful but leaves little time for other things, like attending to this blog.  So here’s a re-run from way back in August of 2005, one of my first posts.

* * * * *

The earth is inhabited by two kinds of people: Those who love to go to the grocery store and then the other 98% of the population — those who have a life.

Until Sean came along, I was among the 2% who rank a trip to the grocery store right up there with a day at Six Flags. Lately, however, going to the store is more like going to a friend’s Tupperware party — you are obligated to go, you’re looking for the cheapest thing to buy and you hope you don’t have to go again for a long time.

Once upon a time, my weekly visit to the store was a serendipitous adventure. Tom Thumb was my boyfriend. I couldn’t wait to see him. It was exciting to think about what new and exotic fruit or vegetable or gourmet item he might have for me.  Would it be tomatillos, star fruit or imported olives?

I would spend hours going systematically up and down the aisles looking at all the different items and thinking about what fabulous dishes I might prepare.   Even though my household consisted only of my husband and me, the boy bagging the groceries once asked me how many children I had to feed. Unfortunately, for him, he asked this question too soon after a failed fertility treatment. I burst into tears. He tried to become invisible, and in fact, he was never seen again.

Now that I have a kiddo, I’ve quit seeing Tom. Sam is my new guy. If Tom Thumb is Omar Sharif, Wal-Mart is Al Bundy – convenient, cheap, annoying.

The truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. I hate how they dominate the retail landscape. I hate how they wipe out the small mom-and-pop businesses when they come to town. I love that they are a block away and sell formula and diapers for less than anyone else in town. And most of all, I love the entertaining study in humanity that is Wal-Mart — almost as good as the airport, only with more local flavor.

Aside from where I shop, how I shop has changed as well. Where shopping once was a leisurely exercise, like golf only with more physical and mental exertion, it’s now a study in ergonomics and economy of motion. The goal of every trip is to maximize the shopping that needs to be done within the time restraints of my toddler’s disposition on any given day. No wasted motion, no wasted effort, no wasted time. Not even a second glance towards the beloved olives.

I remember how, in my previous life, I used to see women in Nike’s, running through the store like spooked race horses, pushing carts laden with children and macaroni and cheese, taking corners on two wheels. And I would think to myself: “They should really slow down and stop and smell the cilantro — life is short.”  What I didn’t know, until now, is that no one with a toddler buys cilantro and yes, life is short, but a toddler’s cart-tolerance is even shorter and death is only a slightly less attractive an option than a toddler melt-down.

Before Sean came along, there were no daily emergency trips to the grocery store. I consulted my cookbooks, I made a list, I pressed my clothes. If I were out of, say, anchovies, it could wait until next week. These days, it seems that I am at Wal-Mart just about every day for some emergency item, like chocolate. I realized this recently when the greeter, who knows me by name, calls to me as I’m pushing my over-the-legal-weight-limit cart out the door. “Nice Nike’s,” he says with a knowing look and a wink, “See ‘ya tomorrow.”

I felt so cheap and tawdry! As if no other grocery store would have me! Tom wants me back you know. He still sends me coupons….

The Birds

So every trip to Walmart, there is always some drama unfolding somewhere.  Walmart is perpetual interactive theater, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, with a cast of thousands.

Yesterday, it all unfolded before I even set foot in the store.

I pulled into the parking lot and headed up my usual row and just as I’m about to pull into my space, I see something kind of weird on the ground. So I slow down and take a closer look.  A big bird of some sort, maybe a falcon, has another bird pinned to the ground and is standing on it.  I have never seen anything like this before, so I stop the car completely and gawk.

Both birds look up at me.  The bird with his face smashed to the ground looks up at me with pleading eyes as if to say “haaaalpme.”  The bully bird gives me a dirty look, as if to say “Get outta here or you’re next.”  I’m certain that if the bully bird had a middle finger, he would have used it. (And that would be the bird giving me the bird. Ha.)

Crud crud crud!  Only  9:15 am and I’ve already got a moral dilemma.

Do I mind my own business and let nature take its course and then spend the rest of the day feeling guilty and un-Samaritan like? or Do I use my mom voice and give the bigger bird a good talking to and shame him into repentance? Given that I am terrified of birds, that second one wasn’t really an option.

At that moment, in a flash of brilliance, I decided that I would rev the engine and honk the horn a couple of times, thus scaring the bigger bird away and giving the smaller bird a chance to get away and notify the Walmart security team.

But if you were the elderly lady putting groceries in your trunk two spaces ahead, all you saw was some crazy lady in a dirty SUV revving her engine at you and honking furiously.   For the second time that morning, I got a dirty look.  But to her credit,  she did not use her middle finger.

I pulled up next to her and rolled down my window to explain.  She backed out and took no notice of my pleading eyes.  I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t honking at her, but that there was this big bird standing on this little bird….

Oh never mind….

Exit stage left.

WalMart – Come As You Are, Even In Your Pajamas

Last week, after the second blood draw, Sean and I went to Wal-Mart to get a few things that we needed and a few things we didn’t. He had been such a brave soldier through the whole ordeal — much better than mommy — that I wanted to let him pick out a new Lightning McQueen diecast car or something frivolous.

Because it was a fasting blood draw, we had to yank him out of bed at dark thirty in the morning. Consequently it was now the mid-afternoon and he was still wearing what he had on first thing in the morning when we put him in the car – pale blue long john pajamas, slippers with big snowman heads on the toes and a black and orange Halloween sweatshirt that says “Boo!” on the front and crazy rock star hair.

Apparently age four is when self-awareness starts to kick in because as we were getting out of the car, he stopped and looked down at himself.  He was mortified.  With a hand gesture that swept from his shoulder down to his knees, he cried, “Oh no! I can’t wear this to the store!”

About that time a sizeable lady about my age scuffed by in slippers and what appeared to be pajama bottoms.

I laughed to myself. I wanted to say, “You know what Sean, you are right. You cannot wear pajamas to the store. It is just not right. We need to go home and change.”

I was relieved to know that even though Sean is in the Wal-Mart, he is not of the Wal-Mart.