Drama in Aisle 2

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Yesterday, I started thinking about what to make for dinner at the same time I do every night: about five minutes after the kids have declared themselves “starving” and Paul has started digging through the pizza coupons.

Like Old Mother Hubbard’s, our cupboards were bare, or very nearly so. The only things left in them were the things that are always left in them, like the wrinkled half packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix which is sure to make a great steak marinade as soon as I remember that that is what I’m saving it for, or the old stand-by box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that I can’t bring myself to open, fearful that one puff of stale processed cheese powder wafting up my nose will bring back repressed memories of our time in the trenches of university-induced poverty, when we saved our precious mac-n-cheese for celebrations (it was an extravagant sixty cents a box, whereas Top Ramen could be had at eight for a dollar.)

The refrigerator was so empty that it was glaringly obvious how badly it needed to be cleaned. There was only one solution: fill it up with food again right away. It was time to go shopping.

Since Katie is out of school this week for Spring Break, I had only two options.

A) Wait until morning, drag two kids to the grocery store, and spend several hours alternately scanning the shelves for the products on my shopping list and scanning the aisles for my runaway four year old, who picks the moment my back is turned to wander off and visit the doomed lobsters in their watery digs. Go home, unpack kids, devise a miraculous diversion to keep them from breaking/killing/”decorating” anything or anyone while I make fourteen trips back and forth from the car and then put a month’s worth of groceries away by myself.

OR

B) Muster up the last reserves of my Sunday night energy, drag myself to the grocery store alone, and complete the shopping in half the time, arriving home at ten o’clock to find Paul ready and willing to assist me in unloading and putting away the groceries (with the distinct possibility of a follow-up backrub from a grateful husband if I remember to pick up his favorite root beer.)

So off I went.

It was surprisingly relaxing to shop alone. No one begged me to stop at the bakery for a cookie. No one grabbed things off the shelf when I wasn’t looking and put them in the cart. No one insisted on using my shopping list as a coloring sheet, scribbling on it until I was unable to make out whether I was supposed to be buying Tampax or Tang. It was quiet, and even enjoyable.

At least until the couple in Aisle 2 started in on each other.

I heard them before I saw them. They were sniping at each other like two toddlers. Actually, that’s not fair. They had two toddlers strapped into the seats on the shopping cart they were pushing around and they were as quiet as little bugs, just looking on while Mommy and Daddy bickered, their big eyes bouncing back and forth like tennis balls from one to the other as the insults flew.

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I really couldn’t help it. They were delivering their lines with all the dramatic flourish of stage actors trying to project to the very back row of the theater. And their “fight” didn’t even seem to be about anything. Rather, it was two long-running commentaries on each other’s many flaws and inadequacies, punctuated by numerous “Shut up!”s and petulant name calling.

I tried to get away from them, but their voices followed me, and as I worked my way down the store, my path and theirs seemed to intersect in every aisle. My relaxing shopping trip had suddenly turned into an irritation, and my stress grew as I imagined those two little girls growing up bathed in a steady stream of such invective. But what could I do?

I wish I could insert a little paragraph here about how I delivered just the right clever, non-offensive, thirty second comment to diffuse the whole situation and instill healthy conflict resolution skills in the fledgling family (you know, from the bottomless depths of my incredible wisdom *insert eye roll here*), but I’m afraid the truth is far less satisfying.

I turned up my iPod and walked away until I couldn’t hear them anymore.

I finished my shopping and made it home to where help and rest waited (Paul even insisted that I sit down and relax while he put away the groceries!) but I was still thinking of that young couple tearing each other apart. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not so righteous. Paul and I argue, even in public, sometimes. But not like that. Not like we’re trying to dig the ground out from under each other with words designed to sting, to hurt. I hope we never come to that place.

I also don’t have a good way to end this post, no pithy little “You see, Beaver…” to wrap up the episode. I only posted about it because it’s still bothering me. I guess some things are like that.

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13 responses »

  1. My heart always hurts when I witness parents breaking each other down in front of their children. Even worse is when the parents are screaming AT their children (for no apparent reason). Sorry your shopping trip ended up being stressful rather than relaxing. Yay for Paul for helping when you got home.

  2. Oh I hate this, too. When we were last shopping there was a mother (a stunning woman) with a small child in the back of the cart and an infant in the carrier in the seat of the cart. The infant was SCREAMING. The toddler was whining and poking at the baby and being loud and obnoxious as well. As I passed by, I heard the mother almost whisper, “stop it, you are embarrassing me.” Um, yeah, that’ll work. The entire time we grocery shopped, we could hear that baby wail throughout the entire store. I nearly lost my mind.

    I was so hoping you had a good retort that I could have tucked away and used the next time this happened. I was like you were, too shell-shocked to know what to say or do. Parents never need to be the source of their children’s suffering. Never.

  3. Last week at Sears I heard a man say, “Where the **** is your mother!?” When I turned to look, he had said it to a two year old! Now when this little boy repeats what his father said, he will probably get spanked. Sad.

  4. Oh, I love the way you tell a story. I really hate it when someone tries to get in the way of my quiet time– then you have to feel bad for the kids…because you just do. It does make you appreciate you husband– which is always good.

  5. I am so sorry you had to be reminded, once again, about the sad times some kids experience in their families. BUT, you did definately make the right decision to go alone, and when Paul was there to bring in the sacks! One time, I was so whipped by the time I made it out of the store that I asked the teenage bagger-boy who loaded the stuff in my car if he would ride home with me and take them into the house! I think he got a little freaked out. Come to think of it, that might be why I saw him quickly disappear last time I was in there. And here I thought he was just going on a break! Hee hee.

  6. I am so glad I don’t have kids! I am SO guilty… Shaun and I just had an in-the-grocery-store bickering match a few days ago. Although we weren’t yelling at each other or anything – it was a heated debate over whether or not the $7 jug of juice was necessary. We try to keep our words nice AND quiet, though.
    Thank you for reminding me that what I do impacts how others look at me/my family.
    And, as always – those are some fantastic story-telling skills you’ve got there!

  7. You’re shear genius! I’ve never thought about taking my iPod grocery shopping with me!!!!

    And, just to clarify, the fact that you were using the iPod to tune out the noisy couple didn’t get passed me 😉 But, everyone else already said what I would say, so there’s no need to repeat it! Sorry you had a less-than-relaxing shopping experience.

  8. I hate that — especially for those kids. What a sad and scary way to grow up. No one should have to do that.

  9. I had a very similar experience at Fred Meyers about 2 weeks ago. A couple and their teen-age daughter were looking at the clothing for young ladies. Mom would point out something, Dad asked how much is that and the daughter sulked. A few minutes later, she erupted, screaming “You never let me pick out anything!” Mom and Dad both began cursing, at each other and at their daughter. It was a painful situation for all within earshot. I, too wished for something wise to diffuse the tension, but no words came to mind. Other than, Wow! I’m glad that’s not my family. (Shallow, I know)
    Chatterbox

  10. I also had a similar experience and was also in CdA. It was after Christmas and three of us were shopping the sales. This family was pouring out their whole life history in front of all of us to hear. They were loud so we couldn’t avoid it.They were giving each other advice.They blocked the aisle so there was nowhere to go. Once we did get away, we could still hear them as we moved away. I guess they had no idea the whole end of the store could hear them.Takes the fun out of a shopping day!

  11. I’m kind of glad you didn’t have a “You see, Beaver…” wrap up. Cuz life is messy. Thanks for posting this.

  12. I think earlier tonight, I and hubby were the couple but we fought in our bedroom with the tornado at my feet playing with crayons.

    I feel really bad now. We should never fight in front of our kid. Sigh.

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