The grocery store is one place where the difficulties of being a parent to young children become readily apparent. When I wield two kids and a shopping cart, pity from all over drips onto my shoulders like tears from shoppers' eyes.
Number Two does not like to browse. He will not sit in his carrier while watching the perishable and the non-perishable go by. I must hold him with one arm while pushing the cart with the other and using my voice to keep The Boss from detouring down the candy aisle. You would think I would wise up and bring a sling so that I'd at least have my hands free, but somehow I always forget it. I am not good with accessories. None of them. I purchased reusable bags to cut down on my use of plastic, but I every time I sidle up to the register with the baby on my hip, I find that I left them at home or in the car.
The other day I was so distracted by my wayward children--Number Two was arching backward in my arm and shrieking while The Boss grabbed various candy bars and shoved them in front of my face as if each one was a miraculous find--that I stepped into a line and unloaded all my 35 items onto the belt before I realized it had been designated 12 or Less. I apologized extra loud to the woman behind me so that anyone who could have possibly witnessed the incident would realize it was not intentional. She seemed okay with it. In fact, she seemed downright sorry for me. I elicit that reaction a lot when I'm out with my children.
In many ways I am extremely laid back. I do everything possible not to cause myself stress. I don't worry about the kids' sleeping or eating or TV watching habits. I don't compare myself or my children to others--not that much, anyway. I do what feels right to me, and I've found that it most often translates to what's right for The Boss and Number Two.
However, my laid back approach doesn't always work. It goes out the window while driving into the supermarket parking lot and flies away as I drag the kids through the automatic sliders. It's as if I'm so accustomed to the bare minimum of control that to deplete levels any further is to completely lose it.
In those moments, stripped of my nonchalance, I become crazed. I'm a shrieking harpy with one child hanging by his torso from my elbow while I chase after his sister. Women everywhere give me knowing smiles. It's the sort of commiseration where half of each mother's face is lifted and wistful, while the other sags with relief that she isn't me. The communal exhale is almost audible.
At the 12 or Under register, the lady behind me began to bag my groceries as I struggled to remove my wallet from the diaper bag.
"Oh, thank you so much," I said. I looked in front and to the sides and behind me as I searched for things like my daughter, my credit card and my sanity. I spoke over Number Two's wails. "Thank you, thank you." I said it each time she put another item into a bag (a plastic bag, because of course I'd forgotten the reusable ones).
"Do you care if your meat goes in with the cereal bars?" she inquired, politely.
"No, no, that's fine." I didn't want to cause her any more inconvenience than I already had. At that moment, cross contamination was the least of my worries. "Thank you."
I felt grateful. I felt guilty. I felt like the mom of a 7 month old and a three year old. I took my baggage any way I could get it.