Christmas threw our carefully coordinated shopping plan off. I wound up having to take all three children with me, just me, to a Kroger in the middle of a re-model, to re-stock our pantry. Before we got started, I remembered to get food on the way, so that everybody would be busy eating while I shop, and I snagged a car cart, basically a regular basket cart with a child’s play car bolted to the front.
An early bathroom break threw off the rhythm. Simon now wants to walk. He’s four. He has the attention span and impulse control of a fruit fly. But I’m feeling saucy, and I’d rather give it a try than listen to him whine and wail about the unfairness of it all through the rest of the store. And so we continue our trip, with Simon trying to maintain all the rules of society and grocery store shopping, walking beside me and the cart, in a calm and controlled manner.
With each aisle, he gets antsier, excited by all the people he can get to talk to him, by all the packages on the shelves. The aisles are getting narrower and narrower, and more and more crowded. We’re half way through when Simon hits his wall. He is not staying out of the way of others. He is touching things he shouldn’t be touching. And he is wandering further and further away. Other shoppers are beginning to get wall-eyed watching him, and I can’t get anything done. I can barely reach him, hopping around the cart. There’s just enough room for a second cart to squeeze past us, as long as everybody is brushing the shelves on their own sides. I grab him from the wrong side of the aisle, and try to shove him into the car, smooth and quick. He resists, and those carts are evil. Only one set of the three sets of wheels touches the ground, so that when even the most cooperative child tries to get into the front, the car spins away from him, and the cart blocks the entire aisle. Without Simon’s cooperation, putting him in the car is not a maneuver I can manage with any dignity.
And thus it begins. The closest shoppers are staring, and moving out of our way. Ennio Morricone is playing in my head. It’s a showdown at high noon. I’ve brought a six shot revolver to the fight. Simon’s got an uzi under his duster. The slightest flinch from me, and he could take down the entire town. Gently, calmly, quickly, I pull him behind the cart, out of the way and into what little privacy I can get. “Simon. You are not managing this right now. You have two choices. Get in the car cart, or we are leaving the cart right here, and you are going into your car seat.” He’s fingering the trigger, and not looking me in the eye. A grandmother nearby attempts to help, “Boy! You better listen to your mama!” Quietly, firmly, I repeat, “Get in the car cart, or we leave, and you get in your car seat.” He makes his choice.
Docile, cheerful even, he comes around the basket and slides into the car. Bright and chipper, I lean in, “Don’t forget your seat belt!” and snap it closed. I duck my head and shove off into a quieter aisle, where I can catch my breath and recover. Everybody lived.