Mommy Meltdown — Grocery Shopping Edition
“Why on earth would you do THAT?” came back the pithy reply. (Note to new moms: Surround yourself with smart, funny women anywhere you can find them. Stalk them if you must. You will thank me later.)
We had just been at the nearby playground and splash pad that was spitting distance from the grocery store. You learn that you just can’t pass up that kind of proximity without going in or you may be stirring non-dairy powdered creamer with water in an attempt to pass it off as milk for your kids’ cereal the next morning.
We had had a busy day of fun kid stuff in an attempt to make up for the horrendously boring days stuck at home, tied to the computer slinging emails and scanning documents for our shore house closing that never happened. The kids were happy, but it was an hour past our usual dinner time, and they were understandably tired from the day’s events. Any smarter mommy would have planned grocery shopping at a better time, or would have at least fed the kids first. You all know by now that I am not that organized and life in our family is never well-planned.
So I flew by the seat of my pants and took three wet, hungry, tired short people into the grocery store. The complaints began as soon as the kids “forced” the automatic doors and we were hit with the arctic blast. I know they have to keep food fresh in these stores, but does the thermostat really need to be set at fifty degrees? Wet hair and bathing suits plus icebox air makes kids whine. We plowed ahead.
The first display had us arguing over melons. My picky eater is my middle child. We’ve discovered that he’ll only eat fruits with no skin, no seeds and preferably orange in color. So I picked up two cantaloupes and placed them in the cart.
“I wanted honeydew,” said my oldest.
“But cantaloupe is on sale”
“I like honeydew better.”
“Me too,” piped up my mini me.
“Fine.” I plopped a third melon into the cart to shut them up.
“But IIIIIIIIII wanted to put them iiiiiiiinn!!!!” shrieked my daughter.
(There is no font or spelling that can accurately depict the effect that high-pitched, eardrum-bursting, little girl whining has on a person. It instantly makes the heart race and induces the same mix of sweat and prickly skin we feel when we’ve driven past a hidden police officer while speeding. Whining was scientifically proven to be the most annoying sound to humans. Like any mother needed a study to prove that one.)
We continued on through produce and headed to the cold cut counter. When we shop during the day, I take my time and order face to face at the deli counter so the kids get freebie slices of meats and cheese. Had I been smart, I would have employed the same tactic to this trip. But it was past dinnertime and all I was thinking about was getting in and out and home. Thus began our next encounter.
“Can we get snacks?”
“No. I’m using the kiosk so we can do our shopping while they slice up what we need.”
“But they always give us snacks. I want a slice of cheeeeeeeeese!!” whined the picky eater.
“Not today,” I said, jabbing each button on the display screen with more force than necessary.
“Then can I push the buttons?”
“Sorry, I already did them all.”
“Can I take the ticket out?”
Three-year-old screaming: “Scottie HIT me!!”
Five-year-old yelling: “She took the ticket!! You said I could take the ticket!!!!!!”
I snatched the ticket out of my son’s hand and sentenced him to a grocery store time-out. Time-out at home means sitting in the corner dining room chair facing the walls for however many minutes as the offender is old. Grocery store time-out means having to keep one hand on the cart without letting go for as long as it takes Mommy to calm down. Woe unto the child who removes his hand before Mommy decrees it is time. Woe.
We trudged on into the cereal aisle. Nothing was on sale, so each child had to pick one box from the bottom shelf store-brand choices. A number of, “He picked the one I wanted!” complaints later and I had one in hand-on-cart timeout and one sitting in the cart seat forced to look at Mommy’s annoyed grimace. Only one remained still free and on foot.
I pushed the group toward the refrigerated back wall to find some source of protein I could quickly grill for dinner when we got home since nothing was defrosted.
“I’m cold,” stated the free-roaming oldest son.
“I know. I’ll be quick. Stand on the other side of the cart.”
I looked through the shelves and chose some sirloins in a family size pack.
“OW!!! I was here FIRST!”
“HEY!!!! Don’t PUSH me!!”
I turned around to witness my two boys punching, hitting, stomping and kicking each other. The younger doing it one-handed while his other hand clutched the shopping cart fulfilling his time-out sentence. The cart was getting pushed and pulled with each blow, giving my daughter whiplash from the jerking motions.
Steaks in one hand, I grabbed my oldest by the elbow, used my forearm to push the cart and drove them all into an empty aisle so no one would witness the demise of my offspring at my own hands. My blood was boiling. My teeth were grinding. I was breathing heavily through my nostrils like a bull about to charge into the red muleta.
“WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE TODAY!???!! I don’t know WHO you think you are, but MY children know better than to behave like wild animals in a public place!! Fighting in the middle of a grocery store is NOT okay!!! Hitting and kicking is NOT okay!!!! Whining is NOT okay!!!!! YELLING IS NOT OKAY!!!!!!”
I took a breath and looked up to see that the aisle was no longer empty. The spectacle was no longer my kids. It was me.
An older woman stood there, waiting to reach something on the shelf blocked by the crazy lady screaming at three small children looking up in fear at their mother. In that moment, I felt guilt, embarrassment, sadness and shame rush over me, wiping out all of the toxic emotions that led me to this point. I released my grip on the steaks that now bore four deep impressions where my fingers had squeezed the meat to oblivion. I moved the cart down a few feet to allow her in.
“I am so sorry,” I said, my head hanging, looking more at her orthopedic shoes than into her eyes.
“Your children are beautiful,” she said to me in a calm, gentle voice. I looked up and took in her gray hair, weathered skin, and eyes that spoke of more understanding and acceptance than I possessed.
I put both of my hands on the push bar to stop them from shaking. I quickly blinked back the hot tears forming behind my eyes, took a deep breath, and swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
She went on her way and I went mine. We finished our shopping trip quickly and without further drama, but with the addition of some marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars that weren’t on the list.
Still feeling the effects of losing it in public and unleashing the ugliest side of myself on my children, I made it a point to run around the backyard with my kids while the steaks were grilling. After dinner, we hunted for roasting sticks for the guilt-induced s’mores we made for dessert.
Their faces were sticky, covered in a chocolate-marshmallow mess. But they were beautiful.
To the woman in Stop & Shop who I imagine is a mom and grandma many times over, you showed me more kindness than I deserved that day. Those four words of gentle intervention brought me back from my fury. I am sorry you had to witness my Mommy Meltdown, but I am grateful that it was you who did. Thank you.