I was in the van with all three kids while my wife picked up a few things at Costco the other day, and naturally I was grumbling to myself. I’d probably spent close to half my life as a father in the van, all three kids complaining in the back, while my wife grabbed a few things, which always turned out to be a bunch of things. All the while, I’m feeling like I’m trapped in a cage with a pack of wild honey badgers, their teeth spackled with saltine crackers.
But as I sat there, my kids asking to unbuckle, or asking if they could go in with mom, or asking for the moon and the stars and a million bucks and anything else that came into their little heads, I thought about the last time I took all three kids shopping. I realized two things: it sucked. It sucked bad. And it was over a week ago.
Not that I don’t love my kids, I do. But the reality is, shopping alone with three kids under 11 is basically a repetitive hell of asking and wanting and begging and fit-throwing with a layer of boogers. Not that any of that is unusual. Visit any grocery store and there is at least one mother (most likely a dozen mothers) wandering the store with one child in the cart, and two dragging their feet behind it, trying desperately to read a list of items off her cell phone, but finding it incredible difficult with her little pack of distractions surrounding her like a storm cloud.
I mean, honestly, I go to the gas station, grocery store, bank, doctor, dentist, department store and a bazillion other places without children way more than my wife. Going shopping with all three kids is something I do once or twice a week; it’s not my norm. But for Mel, who is a part-time teacher and a full-time mom, more often than not, she has all three children with her. In comparison, sitting in the van with my kids for 20 to 30 minutes is a million times easier. No doubt about it.
Because the fact is, caring for the kids in the van so my wife can shop alone, even just for a short time, gives her some touch-free time. It allows her to shop for something without a million distractions in little shoes.
It might even allow her to feel like she did before she had kids.
It might give her the opportunity to focus on what she’s trying to shop for, to make an educated decision when comparing prices so she doesn’t just have to throw the first item in the cart before one of the kids wonders off after some shinny new toy.
Caring for the kids — even when we’re trapped in the car — while Mel shops gives her something that I, and many dads, take for granted: the freedom to shop alone.
Now I know many stay-at-home dads who find themselves in the same situation, unable to shop without distraction. If you are in that situation, reverse the order, and give the primary care giver in your home the opportunity to shop.
I will also admit that I’m not 100% sure how we always find ourselves in this situation in the first place. It would be easier to simply stay at home with the kids while Mel shopped. And often times, that happens. Sometimes we are far from home, out of town for something unrelated to shopping, and end up stopping somewhere on the way to a friend’s house for a play date, and we need to stop somewhere for one thing or another. Whatever the reason I get stuck in the van with all three kids, it doesn’t matter. It happens often, and it has happened to men since the dawn of shopping, so I don’t see that changing.
The moral of the story is this: if you are in the van waiting for your wife to pick up a “few things,” I get your frustration. I’ve been there so many times. But please know that what you are doing is more beneficial to the parenting partnership than you realize.
I thought about all these things as Mel shopped at Costco. She came back to the van with more than a few things, but rather a cartload of things: everything from Pull-ups to milk to diet soda. And once it was all said and done, and we’d loaded everything in the van, and the kids had finished asking questions about everything we loaded, Mel sat in the passenger seat and let out a huge breath. Everything about her seemed to be relieved.
The kids settled, and I started the van. Then I looked over at her and did something I’d never done before — I asked if there was anywhere else she needed to stop. She looked a little shocked, and with good reason. This was definitely a change. Then she smiled at me and said, “Target. I need some things at Target.”
We pulled out of the parking lot and drove.
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