The day before Easter, I was at the supermarket, which was crowded with ham and chocolate bunny shoppers. Among the other customers was a mom who had a 3-year-old girl in the cart’s seat and a 5-year-old boy riding in the basket. Every 10 seconds or so, the boy reached up and poked his sister in the back causing her to emit a soul-piercing shriek at the top of her considerable lungs. Mom, who was presumably suffering from adaptive catatonia, or alternatively had just undergone an elective lobotomy, never said a single word. Dead-faced, she plodded on.
Every time that little girl shrieked, you could feel the entire market suffer a collective seizure. If she were doing that at home too, no wonder mom went for the lobotomy. The older brother, meanwhile, snickered deliciously every time his sister sent nerve-shattering 100-decibel shock waves through the store. I don’t think there was a single patron in there who didn’t fantasize grabbing the 5-year-old by the shoulders and yelling “LEAVE HER ALONE!” followed by leaning into the face of the little girl and bellowing, “AND YOU! SHUT THE F UP!”
However, if anyone should cut this woman some slack, it should be me. I remember only too well what a holy terror my older son was in a supermarket.
Rory loved the supermarket. So many possibilities! So little time! Even as a toddler, Rory somehow managed to maneuver a half-gallon glass container of apple juice over the edge of the cart, thrilling at the CRASH! SPLOOSH! it made as glass and apple juice went everywhere.
When Henry was born, having two kids in the cart didn’t leave a whole lot of room for groceries. Like the 5-year-old at Easter, Rory lost no opportunities to harass Henry, especially delighting in creating landslides of canned goods that would hopefully crush Henry to death in his little infant seat and return us to what Rory considered the halcyon days of a single child family.
One day, Rory just wouldn’t stop tormenting Henry. There’s not a whole lot of time-out opportunities in a grocery cart. Fed up, I finally grabbed him, whacked him once on his little tush and said, “I believe I said LEAVE HIM ALONE.”
A 60-ish woman in the produce aisle saw this and went berserk, insisting on following me around the store proclaiming loudly, “Did you see what the woman did? She STRUCK her child! That woman has no business being a mother! Someone should take those kids away from her!”
At that moment, I would have been happy to hand her Rory with the written proviso that she’d never bring him back, as I saw a definite Ransom of Red Chief plot in this scenario. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Or maybe the catatonic mom had the right idea, even if it was excruciating for the rest of us.
Rory didn’t stop his reign of retail terror on supermarket employees and his mother, however. At 7, he managed to bury Henry in a six-foot floor display of stuffing mix. At 8, he poked holes in an entire display of pricey vine-ripened tomatoes with a caramel apple stick, relegating us to weeks of tomato sauce-inspired menus.
When he was 9, I couldn’t help but notice one day that everyone in the market was smiling at me. I thought, “Why have I never noticed what a friendly place this is!” I smiled back. I subsequently discovered — but not nearly soon enough — that Rory had stuck a bunch of “100 percent real beef” stickers from hamburger packages on my rear.
The irony, of course, was that BK (Before Kids) I’d always had these lovely fantasies about taking my children to the supermarket, how I’d teach them about nutrition as I subtly guided them to choose the healthier breakfast cereals, how I’d let them pick between two vegetables for dinner, how they’d help load up the cart with cans of soup on special and we’d get cupcakes as treats with the savings, an early education in economics. It would be so much fun!
But like the mom at Easter pushing the cart with Lungs and the Mini Marquis de Sade, my mantra changed: Just get the damn food in the cart and get out of there. Preferably before everyone hates you.—
Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life inLa Jolla Light