Who wants to go to the grocery store?
A short story of shooting myself in the foot on a Sunday afternoon.
It’s been a nice, productive Sunday afternoon.
Most of the household chores are done. The basement’s been cleaned, the laundry’s humming along, the dogs have been fed, watered and walked. Dinner plans for the evening are simple, and I’ve even gotten ahead on my writing, something I rarely do.
There’s just one thing left to do, and it’s my favorite item on the weekend to-do list: I have to go to the grocery store.
I love going to the grocery store.
I didn’t realize this about myself until a few weeks into the pandemic, when I realized just how much I missed going to the grocery store. Online ordering and curbside pickup seemed like prudent things to do at the time, but there’s nothing like being inside the store. For me, grocery shopping is a lovely, peaceful, almost meditative activity. I can start with a defined list and work my way through it methodically, but I can also discover new things as I go, modifying that list on the fly as I come up with sudden flashes of inspiration for things I might cook. I can pop in my earbuds and listen to music or an audiobook and have a whole half-hour to myself, a rare opportunity as a working parent. If I use the self-checkout, I can do the entire thing without interacting with another human being.
It’s a delight.
I grab my wallet, keys, earbuds and phone, and head for the door.
This’ll be a nice time.
I’m gonna say it
Don’t say it
“Hey guys, do you want to go grocery shopping with me?”
The kids look up from their tablets. I’m in it now.
“… to get groceries.”
“No, thanks. Wait… where are you going?”
“Do they sell Pringles there?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“I’LL GO WITH YOU.”
[turning to other child] “What about you?”
“CAN I GET A DIRT CAKE?”
[sighing deeply] “You can each pick out one snack at the store—”
[children already running to the garage, my voice trailing after them in vain]
“—if you’re good!”
[sighing again, setting earbuds back on counter]
Why? Why did I do this to myself?
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From the moment we park until the moment we return to the car, I’m firing off instructions. I’ve forsaken the meditative muteness of my imagined solo trip to instead inhabit the role of a deranged horse-race announcer, barking out constant guidance as I try to keep my two children from getting killed or violating the social contract in too egregious a manner.
As soon as we reach the doors, my daughter requests to get one of the “car” carts, those regular-sized shopping carts that have had a kid-sized plastic car attached to the front. They are admittedly very fun-looking and they also handle like you’re trying to pilot an aircraft carrier through the canals of Venice. My son, being a whole fifteen months older than his sister, scoffs at the notion of riding in either the car portion or the basket portion, because of course he is a Big Kid who does not engage in such—
actually daddy I want to ride in the car too MOVE OVER no you move over! no you’re squishing me! DADDY HE’S SQUISHING ME! I dunno honey try squishing him back?
After a brief crisis threatens to erupt into full-on civil war in front of the banana display, I negotiate a time-sharing arrangement; we will rotate five-minute turns inside the car chamber, intervals to be governed by a series of five-minute alarms on my smartwatch.
Some people use these things for working out, you know.
Despite this tenuous peace agreement, the trip through the store is still fraught from a physical perspective. While one child rides in (or mostly in) the car compartment, the other hangs off the side of the cart like a 19th-century trolley rider, meaning that my now Very Long Cart is also a Very Wide Cart, and I run the real risk of either plowing into an unsuspecting shopper or slamming my ghost-riding child into an endcap full of tortillas.
Nevertheless, we beat on, carts against the current, borne ceaselessly toward the snack aisle.
“Daddy. Where are the Pringles?”
“We’re in the produce section right now. I have a method for how I work through the store, and we’ll get to the chips when we get to them.”
Unsaid in this, though, is that today’s route is specifically planned so as to arrive at the things they’ve requested only at the very end, so that I can hold them back as a retainage to enforce good behavior. This is a lie I am telling myself, of course. Unless one of them stabs another shopper today, I am buying them the things they have requested. I’m not out here trying to make my life harder. It’s important that I maintain the illusion of being in control though, if only for myself.
It helps me sleep at night.
I have also built some planned concessions into our journey. These are the things that I know they’ll want that I already have on my list—things like hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and cheap single-serving frozen pizzas—that I will intentionally walk past and allow them to spot, at which point I can play the role of Dad Who Said Yes To The Thing You Asked For and they can speak well of me in their future memoirs.
They don’t quite behave, but we work our way through the store without any major incident. I get the junk that mollifies their childish palates, but also some of the healthy and whole foods that we’re trying to get them to appreciate. If wheeled by it at just the right speed, they might even ask for it themselves.
“Can we get some peaches, mate?”
(A new season of Bluey just debuted in the US, and my kids are borderline Australian right now.)
“Yes, of course. But don’t call me mate.”
“Thanks, big guy!”
“Don’t much care for that one either.”
We reach the snack aisle, and my daughter secures her Dirt Cake, while my son is allowed to pick out a can of Pringles after a hasty and sure-to-be-quickly-ignored presentation on serving sizes. There’s a bit of light wrangling in the checkout aisle—no we don’t need that special edition magazine about Harry Potter, it’s not for kids your age it’s for weird adults and it’s probably like eight or nine FOURTEEN DOLLARS? kids have I explained the concept of a ‘rip-off’ to you yet?—but we make it back to the car in one piece, and I safely deposit the plastic battleship in a cart corral, filling it entirely.
I’d had a chance at a perfectly peaceful afternoon, and I blew it.
I could have breezed through the store in half the time without them, and I could’ve spent less money in the process; I could’ve listened to a chapter of a book, and I could’ve gone into the attached wine-and-spirits shop after just to walk around and see what catches my eye.
There’s going to be a day not too long from now where I’ll wish for this chaos, though.
There’ll be a day where I walk past that car cart and don’t have anyone with me who’ll fit inside it or even want to, a day where the promise of Pringles isn’t enough to spend an afternoon doing an errand with Dad.
I’ve got to seize them while they last.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)