There's a reason I no longer grocery shop with all three kids. Ever. Even if the cupboards are bare. Even if the refrigerator offers only a rotting tomato and some bbq sauce. Even if I have nothing to make for school lunches in the morning.
This wasn't always the case.
Last summer, deprived of the benefit of having at least two of them at school during the day, I announced to the boys that they needed to get shoes on as we were going to the grocery store. This ellicited a chorus of excited chatter as the grocery store is home to their one source of free, non-Mom-approved cookies. I sent them to their rooms to hunt down their shoes, slipped on my own, and headed for the door.
Ten minutes later, we had one pair of shoes and five spares between all three boys. My youngest was sporting a large glob of smeared toothpaste that stretched from the corner of his lip to his hairline and beyond. My oldest was shirtless. My middle child was screaming about someone running in to him on the stairs.
I summoned all of my motherly patience and directed my oldest toward the clean laundry pile, hushed the middle child with promises of certain death to the other two if they touched him again, and suggested three more possible shoe hiding places all the while dunking my youngest child's head into the kitchen sink.
Five minutes later, everyone had shoes, shirts, and was toothpaste-free. I unlocked the van, pried a hammer out of my youngest's hands ("But Moooom! I just want to play with it!") and directed everyone to get their seat belts on.
The trip to the store was filled with the boys trying to annoy each other to death ("He's copying me!" "He's putting his feet on my seatbelt!" "He's breathing on me!" "He's looking at me!") and me trying to referee while I dispensed with all pertinent last-minute instructions:
1. Do not scream, yell, or fight with each other in the store.
2. Do not grab anything off the shelves.
3. Do not ram the shopping cart into other people, especially people we've never met.
4. Do not whine. Period.
5. Do not run, jump, or attempt to practice karate in the soup aisle.
We arrived at the store and perused the vast sea of shopping carts. Sprinkled among the nice, roomy, normal carts were a few bright, colorful racecar carts which are of the Devil. The racecar carts sport two kid steering wheels, two kid seatbelts inside a small plastic racecar shell, and wheels designed by people who secretly find pleasure in watching young mothers strain to keep their recalcitrant carts from swinging round in haphaazard 360's.
We chose a racecar cart.
I loaded the two youngest into the racecar with promises to my oldest that his turn would come. We sucessfully perused the produce, the meat, and snatched free cookies from the bakery. We'd had no fights, no crying, and no karate chops at displays of chicken noodle soup.
I was feeling hopeful.
Then it happened. I let my middle child out of the racecar to give my oldest a turn. This was a bad idea on two counts.
1. My oldest was eight. The racecar cart is designed for children ages 1-4. Maybe 5.
2. My middle child has no filter between what he thinks and what comes out of his mouth.
As my oldest settled in, I tried to push the cart down the baking goods aisle. It listed significantly to the left. I braced my legs and heaved. No good. The cart spun slowly around in circles. I put one foot on the right side of the cart and yanked. The cart spun while I huffed and strained.
Meanwhile, a man entered the aisle and stood near us perusing cake mixes. He was in his forties with receding hair, double-chins, and a beer belly that managed to look like he'd swallowed a beach ball.
I wrangled my cart back into position and slowly inched it forward, fighting to keep it in a straight line. My middle child looked up and saw the man in the aisle next to us and said, in a voice that only carried throughout half the store,
"Hey! I didn't know a man could have a baby!"
I haven't been so mortified since the previous year when we were standing in line at the bank and a woman built like Shaq started talking to the teller in a deep, gravelly voice - whereupon my middle child announced loudly into the hushed, "money (not much of it yours!) is present here" atmosphere with the now-infamous: "You sound like a man!" line.
I am a devout Christian but no matter how often I pray for it, the floor never opens up and swallows us.
I didn't even look at the man standing in front of the cake mixes. I snatched my middle child with one hand and shoved at the cart with the other, trying desperately to escape the aisle before any other embarrassing little gems could escape my son's mouth.
I was unsuccessful.
The cart slammed repeatedly into the side of the aisle. My middle child was asking me how that man could have a baby. Didn't only mommies have babies? My youngest began yelling that he didn't like sitting beside my oldest who was hogging the steering wheels.
I changed tactics.
I yanked my youngest out of the racecart and stuffed my middle child in. I braced my legs against the slippery linoleum floor and heaved for all I was worth. It worked.
We shot out of the baking goods aisle, turned on two wheels and skidded into the cereal aisle.
My oldest began listing for me all the dangers of irresponsible shopping cart driving.
I listed for him all the dangers of ticking me off any more than I already was.
He became silent.
I wish I could say the same for my youngest. We call him Starshine (a fitting nickname lifted from one of Johnny Depp's lines in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) because he lives in his own universe most of the time. Starshine looked at the cereal aisle, crammed full with shoppers of every description, and announced to one and all that he could burp his ABC's.
He proved it.
Once a boy has gulped down air with the intention of belching, there is no stopping him. It's nature. What went down must come up. I tried to hush him but the burps kept coming. I discovered I'd much rather have them sound like the alphabet (Hey, at least he's educated!) than like a forcible expulsion of stomach gas.
Other shoppers were staring at us as I shoved and heaved and yanked my listing cart along the aisle, two children inside fighting over the lack of space and my youngest trailing off at the letter "m".
Mothers of boys were nodding in sympathetic understanding and giving the gimlet eye to their own spawn lest any of them take up the symphony of involuntary bodily functions.
Mothers of girls were staring in stricken horror and fervently thanking God for giving them nothing but estrogen to worry about.
Childless couples were hastily checking their birth control supplies.
I swung out of the cereal aisle and headed for the personal care aisle. Deciding I was done with my cart's whole "I-don't-want-to-go-there-and-you-can't-make-me" attitude, I hauled my oldest out and installed my youngest.
Now I could steer the cart easily and we breezed along the aisle, searching for deodorant and soap. As I paused to consider my deodorant options (Who knew "Ambition" was a scent?), my oldest was busy reading the packaging on the display behind me.
An older lady was behind me reading it too.
Grabbing my deodorant of choice, I turned around in time to have my oldest ask me, "Mom, what's 'Absorbent Underwear'?"
I gave a quick smile to the lady beside me, who now clutched a package of Depends in her hands, and hurried to another aisle.
By the time we entered a line for checkout, I was physically and emotionally spent for the day. I ordered all three boys out of the cart, unloaded my groceries onto the little conveyor belt, and moved forward to pay.
I figured all disasters were done for the day.
I figurered wrong.
The boy bagging our groceries was maybe seventeen but genetics had either not kicked in yet or were just flat-out unkind. He was scrawny, had hair hanging to his shoulders, baby-smooth skin, and a voice that was higher than mine. I had a moment to think that, except for his Adam's apple, I would think he was a girl and then, my middle child took notice.
"Are you a girl or a boy?" He asked. The last time I remember being this mortified at a checkout lane, I was balancing a toddler on one hip and a baby on the other while buying yet another pregnancy test.
The bagger looked angry and said, "Look at these guns." And flexed non-existant arm muscles. "You think a girl would have these?"
"I don't see anything." My child said.
I tried to hush him (again, the floor refused to swallow us) and smiled at the bagger. He was not mollified.
"Are your children too stupid to tell the difference between a boy and a girl?" He asked me.
I forgot about feeling sorry for him. "Actually, they are extremely observant." I said and headed for the door, all three boys in tow.
I was tired. My back hurt. My teeth were permanently clenched. I just wanted out of the store.
My children were agreeable to this and there was no fighting, no jockeying for position, no anything they weren't supposed to do. Even the cart was cooperating. All of us, in a perfect line, streamed full-speed ahead toward the automatic door.
It slid halfway open and stopped.
It was too late. I was already committed. I had timed the opening of the door to the last second so that I could sail through without once slowing down.
I rammed the door and knocked it completely off its track.
My children were visibly impressed.
As the door is located in its own little alley, out of sight of anyone else in the store, I spent a few futile seconds trying to correct the problem.
It was hopeless. The heavy, sliding glass door was knocked so far askew that only God or a team of brawny men would be able to put it right.
So far no one had noticed my situation. I planned to keep it that way. I snatched the cart and rallied my children with a cry of "Quick! To the van!"
My oldest thought we had to hurry before the police came and arrested me for destruction of property. My youngest was confused to find that our shopping trip was already over and he'd missed most of it. My middle child wanted to ram the door again just for fun.
And that is why I never go grocery shopping with all three of my boys anymore.