a supermarket story

I began my grocery shopping career in college. Having moved out of the dorms and into an apartment, my roommate and I began to cook for ourselves. Cooking seemed feasible but the trip to the supermarket proved to be more challenging than I thought. How much food should I buy for the week? What price should I pay for it all? How do you know you’re picking food that actually tastes good? We muddled through those early years developing a routine: check the sales flyers, cut out coupons, make a list, shop and make your socially responsible roommate return the shopping cart.

Not long after, I was married and the routine was adjusted: check the sales, bring coupons, shop while roaming the aisles with the husband and declare it the cheapest date around. We moved across the country. Being happily unemployed and unexpectedly pregnant, I continued on while prominently wearing my rings to show fellow shoppers that I was not a pregnant teenager.

Then the little guy came bringing chaos to the routine. Each trip was carefully considered. Shopping lists included a strategy for the best time of day to venture out for the quickest errand possible. Groceries shared space with the infant carrier. The supermarket became an arena for a race against feeding and nap times.

And the little guy’s brothers came along. Shopping with one baby sounded like a breeze. I draped the three of them strategically on and around the cart. Lists were still important but now included the occasional impulse buy selected by small hands.

One by one those pairs of small hands were made their way to school. My supermarket routine was reclaimed. Walking the aisles felt so indulgently leisurely. No one needed the bathroom RIGHT NOW. No one was knocking over cereal displays. I had peace just until the frantic dash to pick up everyone on time.

Today, the carefully considered lists are gone. I stop by any market on the way home from work and stand in the produce section wondering about the contents of my fridge. I decide on some veggies, the kind everyone is willing to eat, and grab the rest in a quick lap around the market.

Occasionally, I’ll drag the three boys to the supermarket after playing chauffeur for most of the day. A different type of chaos ensues. Overcoming paralysis, we must stand in front of the jello selection to consider all the colors and flavors available. A case is made for why we should buy a pack of licorice. The hand-held scanner freezes because someone wanted to know what happens when you press all the buttons at the same time. They join forces and bag all the groceries. Everyone carries groceries to the car. And being socially responsible, I still return the cart.

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