As every parent knows, there are certain rites of passage that each child (and his or her parents) goes through – some good, some bad. The first diaper change, the first smile, the first roll-over, the first crawl, the first steps. The first time out of the carseat and into the front of the shopping cart. This brings me to the little-thought-of rite of passage my son and I experienced on Sunday. The first shopping trip out of a cart. Oh, he’d been in stores without being in a cart before, but usually it was just to the flower counter and back outside, or inside a small store like the Dollar Tree for a card. No wait. I think I used the carts in there too…Anyway. Sunday we went to both Farm King and Hy-Vee without using carts. While I wouldn’t say it was a mistake, I will say it was an experience I don’t care to repeat, as much as I know I have to.
First we went to Farm King to pick up a roll of wire to fix my 1930s metal porch glider. Now, I’m not stupid, but sending me to the store to pick up a certain (yet unknown) gauge of wire is like sending your four-year-old to the store to pick up a new memory card for your camera. I can do it, but I don’t know where in the store to go for it, and I don’t know the specifics of what I need. So I walked into Farm King, holding my toddler by the hand, and turned left, toward Customer Service and the tools.
Jasper dashed off to the card aisle.
I retrieved him, and guided him into the main aisle, deciding to just ask at Customer Service where I might find wire. Jasper stuck out his hand and discovered the taffy candy display was VERY crunchy sounding and VERY colorful. I gently disengaged his hand and prodded him along to the Customer Service desk. Once there, I sat him on the desk with my body pressed against his knees and lower legs, to prevent him from standing up and tap-dancing next to the register. I spoke to the very kind and helpful representative, who called a worker from Hardware to come and look at this ancient wire I had. Apparently this worker was supposed to go on his lunch ten minutes ago, and when he said something about 12.5 gauge wire in a 10lb bundle, my eyes glazed over – and he was not amused. I regretfully had to interrupt him and tell him that I understood nothing of what he said, and that he had my permission to talk to me like I was a child to explain it. I said that I needed about 20ft of wire “the size of this one,” as I held up the piece from my glider. He almost imperceptibly rolled his eyes and told me that 10lbs would hold a hell of a lot more than 20ft. I explained that I knew that, and I was just letting him know that as long as the wire matched and it held At Least 20ft, I wanted it. He grunted and shuffled off to Hardware to get it. In the meantime, my son was quite through sitting still. I put him on the floor to move his legs around a little. However, he assumed that I meant he was now free to explore the store. By the time the man from Hardware returned, I’d already saved a display of sunglasses, and run almost to the front doors to catch Jasper as he made a run to escape. I profusely thanked both the man and woman as I paid for the wire, explaining it was my son’s first time out of the cart, then sighed my relief as Jasper and I escaped the store on purpose.
Now I had to go to the grocery store. All I needed was a bundle of cilantro (Walmart was out the day before) and some orange ginger sauce (which Walmart hasn’t carried for a while, but I really desperately wanted to make some stir-fry). I didn’t need a cart for that. He was just bored in Farm King, but in the grocery store we’d be walking a lot. On Wednesday I’d picked up Jasper’s (one week older) buddy from daycare and stopped at County Market on the way home. I didn’t use a cart with him, and he was a responsible little angel, following me around the store with the air of an eight-year old. If he could do it, that meant that Jasper was probably at about the same skill level.
How bad could it be?
He calmly walked into the store with me, and I asked him if he’d like to push the tiny green toddler-sized shopping cart. He pushed it once and then walked away from it, so I opted to just walk with him and carry a basket. He did very well as we walked to the produce section. I congratulated myself on my well-behaved child. Then, as I stood unbelievingly in front of the empty spot where cilantro should have been, trying to think how on earth I could rescue dinner without it, he tried to steal a lemon. And salad dressing. And tried to start an avalanche of cucumbers. Well crap. I decided we’d have stir-fry for dinner instead, and grabbed his hand to guide him past the cookies to search for the aisle with the Asian food.
Son of a gun, they didn’t have my darned orange ginger sauce. They had two types of ginger teriyaki, but I wanted the orange ginger. Jasper was getting antsy, so I set the basket on the floor so he could play with it while I chose from the sauces available. And by play with it, apparently I meant “fill it up with anything in reach.” In went a huge bag of chow mein noodles (which we didn’t need). Well that was satisfying. He turned to the shelf and grabbed a can. Then he threw it into the basket as though he were warming up for his first pitching gig in the major leagues. I gasped and checked the can for dents (none) and then put it and the noodles back on the shelf. “No no, Baby, we don’t need those. Gentle hands.” He ran away down the aisle and I had to go get him and carry him back, apologizing to the sweet older woman next to me for bothering her, saying that I was disappointed I couldn’t find the orange ginger sauce. She replied in a thick accent with a question about the sauces available, but I didn’t get a chance to answer her as Jasper was squirming to get away from my arms, which must have been excreting a toxic substance and causing him pain, and I hustled down the aisle to prevent him from kicking her.
Well darnit I didn’t want to leave empty-handed, so I took my toddler to peruse the salad dressings, in hopes they’d have something I could use instead. He shot into the aisle with his left hand outstretched, heading for the pickle jars. Most parents can understand my sense of terror at this action. I ran after him, grabbing his flailing hand just before he swept an entire row of glass jars of dill pickles onto the floor. The sigh of relief at avoiding this catastrophe was probably louder than it should have been. I guided him to the salad dressings, where he went limp and rag-dolled onto the floor. I left him there and picked up two dressings that might work for dinner. Once I’d put them in the basket, I picked him up and asked him to follow me. He cheerfully did. We made it halfway down the aisle, and he fell down. I’m pretty sure it was on purpose. He laughed, and then caressed the cold hard floor like a drunk in the bathroom after a long night of partying. I sighed again and said, “Come on, let’s go!”
He did The Worm.
Now, I realize that I can’t expect my toddler to behave like an angel his first time out of the cart, but I think it’s acceptable to at least hope he’d refrain from terrible dance moves from the 70s. I took Jasper’s hand and helped him up, then walked him to the soda aisle, stopping every six feet or so, so that he could fall to the floor and touch it. I don’t drink much soda, but after this shopping trip, I figured I deserved a six-pack of Sprite. By the time I put it in my basket with the two bottles of gourmet salad dressing, Jasper had made a fast break for the checkout lanes – or at least in their direction. I sincerely doubt he was looking to hold a place in line for me. This lengthy run was suspiciously done without falling even once, so it’s clear that his shoes weren’t the problem here. I ran after him and caught him before he collided with anyone’s cart, saving him from permanent grate lines on his face.
Holding Jasper’s hand, I aimed for a nearly-empty checkout lane. He fell down. I picked him up. He broke away from me and overshot the lane, so that I had to run after him again. When I turned back to the checkout lane, a woman with a full cart was waiting for me to get in front of her. She motioned me to go ahead of her, and I said thank you. Gone are the days of politely declining and insisting the other person go first, regardless of how many items I’ve got. Now it’s a ruthless race to get ahead of anyone with more than one item. After I said thank you, though, Jasper fell down again. And again. And again. And again. I finally apologized to her and explained that it was his first time out of the cart, and told her that maybe she should just go ahead and go in front of me. Her face brightened with understanding. “No,” she said. “I’ve been there. Please go first.” I wanted to cry with gratitude. Not from being able to go first, but because this well-dressed, perfectly coiffed, pleasant woman wasn’t judging me for my inability to corral my son, or my mismatched, grilled-cheese-covered outfit and flip flops, or my previously tight bun having unwound and frayed around my face, hanging down my back, or the sweat I’d broken out into after chasing him all over the store. This woman knew what I was going through, and she wasn’t judging me. Well, maybe she was, but she was doing a great job of being polite and pretending she wasn’t, anyway.
I put down my basket and picked up my 40+lb son. As he struggled against me, I gently nudged the basket with my feet the remaining distance into the lane – about four feet. He was wiggling out of my arms, so I put him down and picked the items out of the basket and put them on the conveyor belt. Meanwhile, the checkout lane next to us was empty, so Jasper had plenty of room to run in circles. He made a run for it once or twice while I was trying to get my debit card out of my purse that was magically still on my shoulder, but I caught him. A minute and a half later we were on our way out of the store, toddler in my arms. He struggled again and I asked him if he wanted to walk. He lunged for the floor and I put him down so that I wouldn’t be the mom who dropped her baby on his head at the grocery store. I took his hand, and he held it like a perfect little gentleman all the way to the car. Except for when we were going across the crosswalk, where he rag-dolled on me twice as a car waited for us and I had visions of dropping my purse and my bag of groceries and scooping him up out of the path of danger.
When we got home, I put him to bed for a nap and got my mug of leftover margarita out of the freezer, chopping at it with a spoon. When my wife came in from her own casual and relaxing trip to Walmart, she asked me how my trip went. I glared at her and took a spoonful of my iced deliciousness. “Next time it’s your turn.”