The grocery store.
Forget the skyrocketing grocery prices that make me clench my jaw and actually tighten my grip on the shopping cart handle- the grocery store is my enemy anyway. It’s the ultimate test of my will and my skills as a single mother. It’s such an odd place too. All of these people, all needing the same thing, something we would die without.
Usually any mention of the store invokes a barrage of protests from Benjamin. Poor kid. He always has to go. No dad to stay home with. But tonight, after 2.8 years of going to the store together, something amazing happened.
“We have to go to the store, Benjamin – to get food!” I always say it enthusiastically, trying to get him excited. The total mommy fake out covers up the dread. But my kid can read me like a book and he usually never buys the act. Usually.
Tonight instead of throwing a preliminary grocery store tantrum I heard, “Okay Mommy, let go to tha stouh fo food.”
So on we went – Mommy with the highest hopes and Benjamin with a smile on his face that seemed to good to be true. When he got situated behind the wheel of his car shopping cart we took off into the produce section.
“Drive Benjamin! Drive!”
“Okay Mommy! I’m driving! Look!”
The cart was massive, if you even want to call it a cart. And so loud – thundering through every aisle, torturing anyone within 20 feet. Every time we use it, I am sure people can hear us from at least four aisles away. But I never give a damn because I am trying to survive – to get out of the grocery store alive, with my sanity in tact. Tonight, in spite of my son’s smiling face, is no exception.
So while I cheer Benjamin on, making him believe he’s really steering the cart I am simultaneously grabbing whatever I can, as quickly as I can. I feel like one of those contestants on that shopping game show from the 80’s.
We make it as far as the tomatoes when he jumps out.
The first time Benjamin broke free from me in a grocery store he was 6-months-old. As soon as his feet hit the ground he started running down the aisle while screaming some kind of Braveheart freedom cry. He didn’t touch a single thing on the shelves he just ran and ran. I had to let him do it – to deny him that kind of pleasure would have been wrong.
But tonight my little baby had morphed into little boy and he was jumping out of the cart, not out of a thirst for freedom, but just to piss me off.
“Get back in now Benjamin,” I said, using my stern mommy voice, the one Super Nanny suggests. He refused. I quickly looked around for something to bribe him with (I know Super Nanny would kill me, but we needed food, damn it, and I couldn’t afford a tantrum at the start of the grocery trip. At the end – maybe, but not now).
I spotted some cookies.
“Get back in and I’ll give you a cookie.” That did it. He jumped in as fast as his little legs could get him there, grabbed a hold of the wheel and stared straight ahead.
I gave him his cookie and then after a few precious seconds of silence and munching he jumped out again. Before I could even tell him to get back in, he looked at me square in the eyes and demanded the entire box of cookies.
“Fine. Here they are.” I said, “now get back in.”
And just as I totally cheated, caving to my son’s demands while committing the worst of the worst Mommy sins – pure bribery with an unhealthy snack – I saw her. She’s there every time. Sometimes she’s old, sometimes she’s young – but for some reason she’s always a she. She’s the woman at the grocery store who gives me the you are a horrible, horrible mother glare. One year ago, still fresh from my divorce, her stare would have ruined my night. Defeated me. But tonight I just shook it off.
Benjamin chowed on his cookies through the baking aisle, the pasta aisle, the frozen food section and even the dairy section. And then the check out. We were almost out. I could see the pearly, white lights of the parking lot and just as we were about to cross through the automatic doors I heard the cookies crash to the floor.
“Uh-oh,” Benjamin said. “Uh-oh, uh-oh Mommy! Look! Look!”
“It’s okay Sweetie, we’ll just pick them up.”
And then another she – a nice she – looked at me with understanding sympathy as I crouched down to collect each cookie with my son scrambling to help. This she was older and I could tell her smiling eyes were remembering a similar moment. I felt jealous, wishing that just for a second I could be looking back on the now instead of living it. One second away from gathering the last cookie a store employee rushed up, “I’ll go get you another box.”
“Oh no, really… that’s okay.”
But she was already gone, on a sprint to the cookie section.
Damn it. I was so close. Benjamin followed her with his eyes and as she ran through the produce section he saw the balloons. And then he was off – in a mad Braveheart-like dash. But instead of a “Freedom” he was screaming “Baallooooooonsssssss!”
He stopped at the foot of a giant, hideous Sponge Bob.
“I want that one,” he demanded.
“No, absolutely not.”
And then there it was.
My groceries were still waiting. So was my car. So was freedom.
I’m was to hold him up but he kept wriggling to the ground. The cookie lady finally appeared and when she saw me clutching on to a now horizontal, screaming son in one hand and the cart in another she said, “Do you need help?”
“No, thanks. I’m almost there!” I grunted as Benjamin’s foot swiped near my head.
Somehow I got him outside and into the car. He was still screaming his brains out and I couldn’t find my keys. I sat him on the ground along with my purse. I used one hand to hold him down and the other to frantically sift through my purse.
After I’d finally found my keys and bucked Benjamin in another she appeared.
This time she was a young, single, childless she. The she I used to be.
She had just spotted her friend in the parking lot and they were now walking toward each other. Both of their faces so fresh, unwrinkled and bright. I again wish to be that she – completely unaware of all of this, but then I look in the car at the sweetest little he on Earth and all of the wishing goes away.
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- Love at First Sight
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- Rockabye Baby, I Want to Kill the Barnes and Noble Lady