Actual Human Behavior

Mother and baby daughter at the supermarket doing shopping together
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Tired: Complaining About Kids In Stores, Wired: Playing Peek-A-Boo With Them In Line

Because sometimes your village includes the woman playing peek-a-boo with your baby while you unload the cart.

Sometimes your village looks like this — the person behind you in line who picks up the box of noodles your preschooler dropped. The woman in the aisle who can reach the flour for you because you have a baby strapped to your chest. The cashier handing your toddler back the box of fruit snacks they’ve just scanned because they know it makes them happy.

Babies and toddlers and kids and everyone deserve to be in grocery stores and in public spaces, regardless of how it makes you feel to see them skipping down an aisle or shrieking with delight at a case of doughnuts. But time and time again, somebody tweeting from their car after they had to wait in line to buy their produce is fuming that there was a child in the grocery store. How dare a child incapable of regulating their emotions like an adult be in the same space as them? Why aren’t babies all robots, sitting inside their strollers or pushing the miniature shopping carts up and down the aisles like they’ve already passed their DMV test? Shouldn’t every person entering the grocery store be met with an absolute perfect experience, with songs they love coming out of the speakers and only samples they can actually eat on display and all of their items at perfect prices and fully in stock?

You never hear these people complaining about a grown woman screaming at the bakery counter because she can’t order a custom cake and have it done immediately. They don’t go to Twitter and suggest banning the men who ask if they can get in line in front of you — they only have two items, after all — and then proceed to ask for items kept behind customer service that hold up the entire line. Nobody who hates children in the grocery store seems to hate people who leave trash in the grocery cart or put meat in the magazine racks or the ones who keep bumping into you from behind because they’ve never heard of personal space.

It’s just the kids. The little ones who are happy and sad, who have lots of emotions, who are just learning how everything works. These people just truly can’t get over kids being kids in a store — kids being human — and it makes every parent I know stress just a little bit more about being out in the world. You don’t think we know our kids are crying? You don’t think we’re desperately reminding our children to use their inside voices and to stop running up and down the aisle? You don’t think we know that you don’t care that they’re so excited to get a box of Lucky Charms that they run into your cart on accident?

Luckily, for every grouchy person sharing their anti-kid woes on the internet, there is an actual person inside the store reminding me what a village truly looks like. The older people who wave at my baby, playing peek-a-boo with her so she won’t get cranky as I unload the cart. The cashier who always makes sure to give my girls enough stickers to share, and the deli counter employee who gives my toddler extra samples of turkey because she loved it so much.

There are people giving you space to move that enormous car-cart that your children insisted on and there are other moms laughing when they hear your kid shout, “Marshmallows! We eat those at grandma’s for breakfast!” You’ll say, “Oh I’m so sorry,” when your kid darts in front of someone else’s cart, and they’ll say, “Oh no big deal!” with a smile. If you lose your child for a split second in the store — and your heart does that gallop thing where it doesn’t beat for a solid three seconds before hammering back in — there is somebody who will say, “Paw Patrol shirt? He’s right here by the bananas, don’t worry!”

We all want a village. And while you hope — assume, even — that your village will be friends and family members who step in to babysit and pick your sick kid up from school on a Wednesday afternoon, these people matter, too. The ones in the grocery store and the library and the airport who know you deserve to be out in the world with your kids, who know that they’re learning, who know the value in having your children be with you on these errands and on these trips and in these spaces.

And maybe they’ll be the same supportive village when they get nailed in the back of their ankle with those kid-sized shopping carts and just grimace silently, instead of ranting on the internet.