The world is made up of children wearing monkey leash backpacks and parents pretending they aren’t walking their child in a monkey leash backpack. Nowhere is this dynamic captured better than in my own childhood, as my mom held the corner of the grocery cart, despite my absolute insistence that "I can do it, Mama," because she didn't want me to knock over an entire display of Bounty paper towels or take someone down at the Achilles. Infuriating!
Of course children don't understand. Despite me being *counts on hands* 6 years old — practically an adult, I thought at the time — she insisted on wrapping her fingers around the metal bars of the cart corner, steering me away from knocking every glass jar of jam off the shelf and into the safer, wider space of the aisle. And I was pissed. "Let me push the cart," I'd say once I was old enough to look over the top of the handlebars. My mom would acquiesce, stepping aside to compare the prices of store-brand loaves of bread to ones that came in fancy artisanal bread bags, and I was beside myself. I felt so big, so helpful. I was in complete control of the cart, and with my baby doll in the front seat, I could pretend I was a real grownup, could pretend I was every sitcom mom I watched on Nick@Nite. I was June Cleaver, I was Laura Petrie, I was Samantha Stephens — I was pushing my own grocery cart. The independence was thrilling.
I had a job. And she was taking that away from me.
And then there it was — the mom corner grab. As soon as we head off towards cat food or the dairy aisle or — the horror – the clothing section, I see it. My mom's hand sneaking in as she walked at the front of the cart like a figurehead on the hull of a ship. She was regal, she was grace, she was absolutely not going to let me push that damn cart by myself.
"Mama! I can do it," I'd shout at her. She'd turn to me and nod. "OK, I know." I'd push for two more steps. The hand would sneak back in.
"You said I could push it all by myself. You said!" The indignation of it all. How dare she. We had a deal. Instead of floating next to her like a little ghost child up and down the aisles, interrupting her mental budget calculations to request a new box of cereal, I was going to push the buggy. I had a job. And she was taking that away from me.
If this had been 2017, my meltdowns might have ended up on my mom's Twitter account. Some quip about "my kid was an *sshole today because I wouldn't let her ram the grocery cart into the flocked Christmas tree display at Walmart." But instead, it was 1994, and all my mom could do was roll her eyes and agree to let me push the cart — her fingers still firmly planted in the weaved web of the metal.
It's a metaphor for motherhood, of course. That our children so desperately want to do things without us, yet there we are, holding the corners, guiding them into calmer waters, keeping an eye out for all the dangers lurking as our children push ahead without a second thought. It's why we follow babies learning to walk, our own bodies hunched into the perfect pooping position so we can catch them before they concuss themselves on the hardwood floor. It's why we add blocks to the bottom of the "tall, tall, super-est tallest tower, Mommy!" they're building so it doesn't topple over onto their face and ego. And it's why we hold onto the corners of the carts, carefully steering them towards bigger aisles, promising them that they really are doing it on their own. We do it to foster their independence the best way we can.
And we do it so the lady in Ugg boots ahead of us at Michael's doesn't go on a white-hot Twitter rant after my 5-year-old slices her in the ankles while soaring down the aisle of the make-your-own-fondant kits.
But mostly because love.