How A Stranger Saved Me From Losing It In The Grocery Store

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My kids are old enough to stay in the car or be left alone at home while I get the grocery shopping done. After what seemed like years upon years of bringing them all to the grocery store (because my ex-husband worked long hours and the thought of going after I tucked my kids in bed made me want to pluck my eyelashes out), we’d make a weekly field trip of it.

We’ve have our good days, like the time my two toddlers sat so nicely in the car cart without pulling each other’s hair or slapping each other’s eyeballs while my youngest fell asleep in his cozy front pack.

And we’ve had our bad days, like when my son peed on a watermelon that was sitting next to him in the back of the cart — a place he wasn’t supposed to be but what’s a mother to do with a 4-year-old after he knocks over a chocolate display and she has his sister in the front of the cart, and his brother on her hip sweating her tits off? You do what you can, amirite?

Also, to make matters worse, a caring lady — let’s call her, Carol — let me in on a little gem. “That’s why I never take my kids to the grocery store,” she said, giving me the nastiest look I’d ever gotten in my life as I was wiping up pee from my melon.

Thanks, Carol, but newsflash: Not everyone has that option.

There have probably been more bad experiences rolling through the aisles with my kids than good ones, but thankfully I’ve had mom-amnesia lately.

The other day — for the first time in years — I took my teens to the crowded grocery store as the weather man talked obsessively about a storm that was going to hit us.

We can all go to the grocery store together! They can help! It will be fun! I am feeling powerful and resilient and nothing can go wrong! They are way too old for that shit.

Which was all true until we got to aisle two and my son had a blown up produce bag under his sweatshirt because “he wanted to be pregnant.” Then he kept trying to stick it to the back of my head without my noticing because he thought it was hella funny if his mom was walking around with a piece of plastic clinging to her noggin.

And my daughter kept asking for overpriced beauty products. Who needs $10 shaving cream?

And my son kept putting various cuts of steak and large bags of chicken in the cart without asking.

But the fun really started in the dairy section when they thought it would be grand to bust open a spray can of whipping cream and take shots of it as their mother was looking for organic mozzarella until I said fuck it and grabbed the pre-shredded non-organic, off-brand mozzarella.

By the time I got to the check out line, the cashier took one look at the lines between my eyes and my tense shoulders as my kids were putting the groceries on the belt and said, “Listen, taking teenagers to the grocery store can be harder than when they were toddlers. I know!”

I looked at her while blinking back tears.

There is something about being seen, being seen as a mother who is trying, being seen as a human without being labeled as a bad parent because her kids were being assholes during an outing.

She didn’t say, “You should leave them home.”

She said, “I know we think certain things will be fun, then we’re let down. Keep trying, they are good kids. Also, did you know they already ate all the blackberries?”

She humanized me in that moment, she didn’t automatically assume my kids were jerk faces based on a half-hour in the grocery store while their blood sugar was low.

So often we judge kids and parents based on one given moment — in a trip to the store or on a day when no one slept the night before because someone was up all night with a nagging cough.

My kids aren’t perfect. They were being sassy that day (which everyone saw), and there were consequences. They knew their mother was pissed, then they apologized (which no one saw). They saw three teenagers trying to get away with shit in the grocery store and a mother who appeared to have zero control.

Anyway, it was nice to have someone look a little deeper into the situation. People should do more of that because that cashier saved me (and my teens) from an afternoon that could have spiraled downhill pretty fast. Instead, her words gave me the perspective and calmness I needed to discipline them in a non-emotional way. And all because a stranger hadn’t made me feel worse about a situation I was feeling enough shame about all on my own.