By my 30s when I had very young children, the grocery store was my nirvana. I looked forward to going late at night after the kids were asleep for some amazing, quality alone time. I would enjoy epic tunes courtesy of Air Supply or Phil Collins (Yes, Phil, I’ll follow you and you’ll follow me. We’ve been over this.) while I casually read labels and slowly meandered down the aisles. It was as wonderfully pathetic and desperate as it sounds.
But something happened when I reached my 40s. The magic of the grocery store has vanished, replaced with deep feelings of loathing. Although complaining about the grocery store feels like a gateway to lamer “mature” complaints like stray balls in my yard and constipation, it seems I’m not alone when I say the grocery store now makes me hangry. You know, the intersection of hungry and angry when you become so irritable you want to cut a person for yawning too loudly. So after some deep soul searching and prayer reserved only for issues of such magnitude, I came up with a few reasons why the grocery store can suck it:
1. With its enormous selection of products, the grocery store represents endless possibilities, all of which remind me that I’m tragically failing my children every day. Strolling through the aisles, I recall a great recipe for pancetta and brussels sprouts linguine I read about online, and that list of “5 healthy dinners every child will love,” then I grab the mac and cheese and hamburger meat, bury it under my bag of romaine lettuce, and keep on rolling. On the one hand, I could probably do incredible things with bok choy or quinoa, but dammit, I’m having an amazing run with nuggets and plain noodles, so why ruin a good thing? There’s also the enormous parental guilt of the organic section. I see you, organic strawberries, but your fake, tasteless compadres are two for $5! Can’t I just wash them with really hot water?
2. According to social media, there is nothing left in an American grocery store that is safe to eat, which makes grocery shopping feel like you’ve hired a guy from Terminix to feed your family. Having read (OK, skimmed) the articles that constantly flood my Facebook feed about contaminated meat, pesticide-covered produce and artificial ingredients in every packaged product, it’s clear we all must really get back to basics: sugar, oil, milk and flour. Oh, but wait, those are all horrifically bad for us too. At this point, I only feel comfortable serving kale and water—but only if it’s gluten-free water, of course.
3. The plastic bags in the bakery and produce aisles were designed to make adults looks like idiots. I could call China in less time than it takes to deposit three muffins in a plastic bag, but if you are as competitive as I am, you will not stop until you kick that bag’s smug little non-accommodating ass. I usually end up in the bakery for at least 20 minutes, fingers bleeding, sweat beading off my forehead, determined to get that little mofo open, which is easily more physical attention than I give my husband on any given day.
4. If you are grocery shopping with children, you will spend approximately $932 more than if you had left them at home. With kids in tow, you’ll run in just to buy toilet paper, and two hours later, you’ll emerge with a pack of 500 bendy straws, giant marshmallows, a melon baller, five kinds of fruit snacks, a coconut, blue Pop-Tarts and an expensive smoothie that “smells like pee.” You will also forget the toilet paper.
5. The produce section is ridiculously cold, and being cold leads to bad decisions. When I’m speed-shopping through the produce aisle, I find myself making crazy choices, like buying a random root vegetable and deciding I’m going to learn to make shepherd’s pie, or convincing myself I’ll start making cauliflower pizza crust even though I’ve barely mastered the Boboli pizza. There’s no denying that when we are absurdly cold, we make irrational choices. Just look at penguins. They stand for weeks with a single egg on their feet while their partners walk for miles to get food. There must be an easier way. Put them on a tropical island, and they would probably come up with something better while drinking rum and playing beach volleyball. Let’s not forget all the great decisions we made on spring break in warm climates. Oh wait…
6. Undoubtedly you will run into a chatty acquaintance. Granted you just spent 45 minutes looking through all of her Facebook photos from her trip to Disney, but that doesn’t mean you want to spend five long, critical minutes talking to her in person while holding a cucumber. So now you are ducking her at every aisle, even though we all know this is futile. She’s going to catch up to you when you dead end in the dairy aisle…and by the way, she wants to talk about Common Core math while your ice cream is melting.
7. There are mysterious, disastrous products that sound so disgusting that I desperately want to try them. Chunky Philly-Style Cheesesteak soup? Yum. Old Bay potato chips? Yes, please. Watermelon-flavored Oreos? Of course. I’m pretty sure I’m just a college frat boy trapped in a fortysomething mom body. Opting instead for Fiber One and Activia reminds me that my days of carefree eating are behind me. Literally behind me. On my literal behind.
8. Inevitable awkwardness in the deli line. How would you like your meat sliced? I always feel very uncomfortable with this question, like I’m trying to get out of a bad first date. The deli guy holds up the slice: “Is this ok? Would you like to sample it?” Um…it’s three-quarter pound of roasted turkey. I’m going to risk everything and just buy that bad boy without tasting it. FYI, this is really one of a few select occasions when it’s socially appropriate to accept a piece of flaccid* meat from a stranger in front of 3 to 4 other strangers.
*Apologies for the use of the word “flaccid.”
9. People can be jerks (not you, you seem nice). Grocery stores are a lot like elementary school playgrounds. People cut in line, everybody wants the best stuff, and sometimes people block you, trip you or run you over. Even if you are pushing a cart shaped like a fire truck or a police car, you will not get the respect you deserve. Nobody seems to care that you are operating an emergency vehicle. Is it too much to ask you to pull to the side like you’re supposed to so I can awkwardly plow through this aisle, leaving boxes of Cheez-Its on the floor in my wake, preferably while avoiding eye contact with you? Thanks.
Despite these monumental challenges, there is in fact one saving grace at the grocery store, and that’s the tabloids at the checkout. Without fail Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt will be waiting there to greet us. Every time. It’s very comforting. At home, I feel like I’m a tourist in a foreign land surrounded by people with names like Ariana Grande and Dove Cameron where I constantly need to ask my children, “¿Quién es ese?” (I ask in Spanish, because I’m a lost tourist). At the grocery store, I can always be assured that the old standbys will be there, reminding me that fortysomethings are still relevant, at least according to Star magazine. Thanks, Jen. You give me hope.
Now get out of my way. I need to get back to the fire station so I can unload my Hamburger Helper.