Every time I take my kids grocery shopping, I return with a week’s worth of food and a lifetime’s worth of regret. Every time, I search my soul for an answer to the question: Why didn’t I order my groceries online.
Last week, I took the kids shopping after picking my 3-year-old up from preschool. I had 80 minutes before we had to be home for lunch. In my mind, it seemed totally reasonable.
I arrived at preschool pickup a couple minutes early. When Chloe saw me she pronounced, “I wasn’t expecting you.” We were off to a great start. As we walked to the car, she took off running.
“I need you to get in the car, please,” I called.
In response, she threw herself into a leaf pile.
—We did not have time to frolic.
“Get in the car, please,” I firmly requested.
She burrowed deeper into the leaves as I scooped her up and into the car. She strained against me. Fury bubbled up into my chest. Just breathe, I told myself. I was just breathing, buckling her into her car seat, when she hit my arm.
Deep breathing could piss off. “We don’t hit.”
I seethed as I made a detour for a proper time-out.
We did not have time for a time-out.
I directed her to an upside-down bucket in our garage, where she sat facing the wall, hands in her lap, for three minutes. I watched from the car as my Happier podcast came over Bluetooth. Oh, irony is a clever bitch. As I buckled her back in, she apologized. I was exhausted, and we hadn’t even made it to the grocery store. When we pulled up, the place was jamming.
We did not have time to search for parking.
After several loops around the lot, I slid into a spot, unbuckled the girls, and strode across the pavement as quickly as one can while carrying a 17-month-old and holding a 3-year-old’s hand. As we approached the store, Chloe exclaimed, “They have the race-car cart!” Her favorite cart has all the maneuverability of a Mac truck.
I noticed it was soaking wet from the morning’s rain. I feigned disappointment. “Aw, honey, it’s wet! Let’s find another cart.”
By the time we entered the supermarket, my arm burned under the baby’s weight. I set her down in search of a dry cart, but all they had was the kind that holds just a few Lean Cuisines, and no people. To my horror, I turned around to find the baby toddling toward a tall drink display. I collected her, instructed my 3-year-old not to move, dashed back outside, grabbed the race-car cart, and with all the force I could muster, pushed it up the ramp with one hand.
I did not have time for a wet race-car cart.
Inside the store, with my two girls and a wet cart, I set the baby down, told my 3-year-old to hold her hand, and tore off in search of a towel, looking over my shoulder as the baby lunged toward the tower of drinks. I grabbed a box of tissues from the service desk and sprinted back in time to prevent a Gatorade avalanche.
With the baby in one arm and tissues in the crook of the other, I tilted the cart sideways to drain some water. In my mind it made perfect sense. In reality, it made a huge puddle. I threw some free newspapers over the wet spot and considered my options. I only had one hand free, which made it impossible to extract the tissues from the box. Lunchtime loomed ever closer. The only thing worse than grocery shopping with kids is grocery shopping with hungry kids. I considered going home.
And then an angel approached.
She had long, curly black hair, glasses, and a loaf of bread. When she spoke, harp music drowned out the sound of Taylor Swift emanating from the speakers.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
I could have wept in gratitude.
“What can I do?” she asked, concern in her eyes.
“I’m not sure. I’m overwhelmed.”
Just then, the service desk guy whose Kleenex I’d stolen appeared with a legit roll of paper towels. He ripped off a bunch and handed them to Angel Woman. I stood there like an idiot, holding the baby and Chloe’s hand while they wiped the cart. Sheepishly, I told the clerk I’d created a mess and pointed at the puddle while Angel Woman crooned to my kids.
“You are being so patient. You are both waiting so nicely. I’m a mommy, so I know how hard it can be for kids to be patient.”
We made eye contact and exchanged a smile. She didn’t have to mention she was a mom. I knew the moment she I saw her, that she really saw me. She didn’t see an asshat taking up the whole entryway with the RV of carts and a couple of unsupervised rugrats. She saw a tired mom with two kids, a wet cart, an empty fridge, and 45 precious minutes to get through the store.
Her small act of kindness meant so much. It didn’t mean my kids weren’t begging for turkey and bananas in the store, that I steered my behemoth cart with any finesse, or that I remembered my shopping list. But it meant that when I asked myself why I didn’t buy my groceries online, I knew. If I hadn’t gone to the supermarket, I wouldn’t have been reminded that angels exist.
Wherever you are, thank you, Mama.