Hey lady. I see you. Staring me down in the condiment aisle while my 10-year-old blocks your view of the stone-ground mustards. Look. I get it. I’m there with my 4 kids at 4pm, one of them on my hip, the other climbing the cart, the other in your way.
I told him to move. You got your mustard. But yeah, my voice probably lacked a certain vigor you were hoping for. Or maybe you just glared at me because there are so many of us. I feel that, my friend.
But you gotta understand something here: I didn’t start out this way. I didn’t start out broken and weeping by the organic kale. When I walked into this place I was full of hope and promise, just like you. When I put my baby in the cart and purse in the basket, I wasn’t staring down the barrel of 15 years of questionable life choices culminating in four dirty-blonde children circling me like those bastards ‘round the fire in Lord of the Flies.
I was setting out on some good ol’ fashioned excess in the chain grocery store!
Perhaps you don’t have children, or perhaps you have children but are one of those mothers whose kids never act like Tiny Adorable Crackheads due to your excellent parenting, or maybe you don’t take them to the store because you have a nanny taking care of that sort of nonsense, or maybe you’ve (gently, lovingly of course) coerced them into submission, or maybe…yeah. I don’t know. Maybe you’ve forgotten?
At any rate, you need to understand the stages of parental degradation in the grocery store so next time you see a forlorn jacked-up mother (not like ON DRUGS just TIRED) you can eke out a tiny fake smile or even no face at all in place of the death eyes you threw me last week.
Stay with me here.
Stage 1: Hope and Promise.
Here I am, going to the store with my kids, getting groceries for dinner tonight, looking forward to our friends coming over. It’s 4pm. They’re coming at 5:45. Plenty of time! Just need to get a few simple things. Ohhhh look at that cute baby and damn I missed them today. Sure! Get the Dubliner! I love cheddar!
“Georgia. Put the bread back. We already have bread.”
“Please stop poking the tortillas.”
“No skipping, please. Not here.”
“Where the hell is Rocket?”
“OMG TIE ARLO INTO THE CART WHY IS HE STANDING?”
I realized around the time I passed the bread aisle that Georgia was in “one of those moods.” It’s hard to describe. It’s a 4-6 year old thing. Around the hours of 4-6pm, before they’ve eaten, after a full day of school. They’re tired as fuck. They’re hungry. They’re WEIRD. They look at you with these sort of glazed-over eyeballs and you wonder if perhaps you’re talking to somebody who’s had a few too many. You touch their arms to get them to engage but, like drunk people, they start crying and you realize the only thing to do is GET THIS PERSON HOME before they wet their pants.
Or piss on your couch. Wait. Are we talking about college? No! Where am I?
Store. Right. So within just a few moments I realize we’re going to have one of those trips to the store and I move from “Hope and Promise” to Stage 2.
Stage 2: “Parenting”
Janelle, the kids are tired and hungry. They’ve been at school all day. They’re worn out. If you speak to them with kind-hearted reason, they’ll totally respond because they love you and aren’t total fucking sociopaths.
“Georgia, I told you that if you run around the aisles you have to get in the cart. So please come get in the cart.”
“I can’t. It’s full.”
“Rocket, please stop riling up the baby. I really need him to sit in the cart as opposed to squeal and flail uncontrollably.”
“Georgia, okay. Come here then and hold my hand.”
“Ava, can we talk about this later? I’m really trying to focus and I don’t want to forget anything.”
WHERE THE HELL DID GEORGE GO?
They are not responding to reason. You’ve said the same sentence 9 times. You’ve been interrupted distracted and physically assaulted (by the toddler) at least 10 times. What the hell is happening here I am so tired my back hurts I don’t have this in me WHERE IS THEIR FATHER?
Time for Stage 3: Parenting with subdued rage
You are breathing rapidly to contain the irritation while trying so fucking hard not to forget the shredded Parmesan cheese. Fuck parenting. They’re all terrible. Fuck learning moments. This shit sucks. I just need to get out of the store so I can tell these kids how bad they were and punish them somehow in some really effective method I’ll think of when I get there.
“Georgia I swear if you don’t come here RIGHT NOW (gritted teeth non-yell) I am going to…(what? You have nothing but empty threats and she knows it.)”
“Put your hand on this cart AND DO NOT MOVE EVER.”
“Fine. Just give me the baby. I’ll just hold him.”
“No we cannot get seaweed, that grind-it-yourself peanut butter, more bread, eggnog, chocolate, flowers for daddy, balloons for daddy, anything for daddy, a succulent for nana, a coconut, some small peppers, or Altoids. NO WE ARE NOT GETTING ANY OF THAT SHIT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL ASSHOLES AND I HATE YOU.” (Oh god I don’t hate you please never leave me.)
But what comes out: “No, kids.
NO. We’re not getting that,” as you smile at the old man who thinks your baby’s cute as he walks by.
“Actually, Rocket. Get the eggnog. Good call.”
Stage 4: Resignation to a failed life
This is where you come in, mustard lady. I’ve been here for 20 minutes with 3 hungry bored tired Americans and a baby who hasn’t nursed in 8 hours, currently on my hip making the milk sign, wailing intermittently, and pulling my shirt down. My 5-year-old is holding the cart as directed but attempting to fling her legs over the side while the 14-year-old holds the cart down telling her to stop and my 10-year-old is staring blankly at some condiment RIGHT IN YOUR WAY and I know it, and I tell him, but I’m resigned. I’ve surrendered.
He moved. Sorry for getting in your way. You’ll be fine.
Did you really need to throw me the death glare?
You think this is the moment I imagined? You think I’m enjoying this? I’m for sure not. This is a moment I endure to get to the next one. I’ve moved through the parental stages of degradation and now I’m in full-flight from reality FUCK IT ALL I don’t-even-care-anymore-get-me-outta-this-store mode.
When I finally make it to the checkout line, I realize I’ve forgotten the Parmesan cheese. When I send my kid to go, he runs down the motherfucking aisle, like a wayward 5-year-old, even though he’s 10, which proves to Georgia the great injustice of existence and she’s crying. While the baby tries to nurse and I try to pay and Ava gets pissed at Rocket for just being so annoying on purpose all the time.
When we get into the car, I whisper “Jesus Fucking Christ” under my breath but definitely loud enough for the kids to hear. Then I inquire “WHY WERE YOU SO BAD IN THE STORE TODAY?” and demand that nobody make a single utterance – accidental or otherwise – until we get home.
Then I move into Stage 5: Pretty much okay again.
Let’s make dinner. We have eggnog!
So what I’m trying to say here, lady, is that sometimes you catch people when they are not 1000% winning at life and most likely, they’re struggling with their reality as hard as you are struggling to understand how somebody could possibly suck this badly at life.
Most likely, the loser in the grocery store with the unruly kids will be back to Stage 2 (“Parenting”) or even Stage 1 or 5 within mere moments, and we can all just move along in our respective lives without Laser Eye Death Beams.
Well forget you then.
I’m at Stage 4 in this relationship.