An Open Letter To My Toddler In The Checkout Line At The Grocery Store
Dear Little One,
As I watch you sitting in my shopping cart, with your tiny legs kicking and your eyes bright and curious, I can only wonder what it’s like for you to come on a shopping trip with me. See, before you came along, I used to make most of these trips on my own. Your dad (back then, just "husband") isn’t fond of long grocery shopping excursions, so this was kind of my "zen time." to space out and walk the aisles while I'd imagine all the glorious meals I'd inevitably cook. Of course, cooking has never been my forte, so I often wound up purchasing ingredients for exotic dishes that were never actually made. We eat a lot of pizza and burgers at home, if you haven’t noticed.
Then you came around. I still remember my first shopping trip with you. You’d just come home from the hospital a couple weeks before, after doing a long stint in the NICU during which I could not even imagine taking you out of the hospital much less the grocery store. When I got us to the supermarket, you were still sleeping. I brought you into the store, still cuddly inside your car seat, and I hesitated as to how to position the seat onto the cart. I asked three different people passing by, and they all had different advice. I wound up propping you on top and kept one hand on you the entire time, terrified that you might fall, or wake up and cry, or get stolen (still my biggest fear).
You slept during that first trip, from start to finish. You were so much smaller then, able to sleep through just about anything. But, nowadays, we struggle to put you down for your afternoon naps and it’s a true miracle if you sleep through an entire night while in your crib. Still, life is significantly more fun the older you get. So are shopping trips.
I love bringing you with me to the store. You tend to keep me focused on my shopping list because, well, at any point you might get hungry or need a diaper change or just have a total, random toddler meltdown. Long gone are the days of spacing out in front of the healthy food aisles, pretending that I am going to finally start meal prepping with good-for-you ingredients (maybe in 2017!), and then spacing out equally as long in the snack aisle. Instead, I quickly rush from deli to dairy, picking up mainly the necessities (with the occasional stop for a cheap toy because those things are only a dollar and they keep you happy).
Our trips are exponentially more engaging these days, too, since you’re learning how to talk and interact with others. You’re certainly the more sociable out of the two of us, saying, “hello” to random shoppers and waving at passing children, squealing the word, “baby!” when one happens to pass by in their own infant car seat or strapped to their mother in a carrier. These exchanges are wonderfully odd, as I often see you as an infant, being waved to by an older you. Time stops and I'm stuck between a past I enjoyed and a present I truly love.
If we decide to pick up some sliced cheeses and meats, you’re more than content to take samples from the deli worker behind the counter. Cheddar cheese seems to be your favorite but you can scarf down smoked ham too, no problem. And if you’ve been good, as you always are (because toddler tantrums definitely don't make you a bad kid. There's no such thing.), we swing through the bakery for a freshly baked (and free) chocolate chip cookie. When we started the cookie ritual, you could only take two nibbles before calling it quits, but the last time we got you one you finished it all off on your own and even wanted more.
The best thing about the cookies is they usually hold you over during our time at the checkout aisle, when your patience begins to wear down as one customer needs a price check and another has a slew of coupons to sort through before paying 30% less than what I probably do (I should really get around to cutting coupons next year). And when the cookie is over, sometimes you’ll start exploring an avocado or a bunch of bananas. How wonderful it must be to be so in love with the world that looking over every wrinkle and speck on a piece of fruit could captivate you so fully.
As we near our turn to pay, I also wonder about the messages you receive while you wait for us to go. The tabloids with large, absurd print, talking about Brangelina divorcing or Kim Kardashian’s new baby are surely starting to catch your eye, just as the magazines portraying unrealistic beauty standards or fictitious brands of masculinity. You will soon look upon the airbrushed women on the covers, wondering why they look the way they do and wondering why they don’t look a thing like your mommy. We’ll have talks about that, about beauty standards and how we don’t care for them, about false advertising and the lies on the pages. Someday, we’ll discuss why tabloids shouldn’t matter to us and how celebrities deserve to be treated like human beings. Sadly, I feel like this conversation will come sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, you’re still a toddler and, at this point, you’re more concerned about the cashier taking the apple in your hands to scan it than you are about celebrity gossip. And while it may seem like she’s taking away your more prized possession, I promise she’ll return it in just a second. Not that it’ll matter, since by that time you’ll have moved on to the next, new object of your affection (maybe a bag of rice, or perhaps now you’ve taken advantage of mommy not staring directly at you to start biting on a piece of the cart). Or perhaps you’ve just decided to throw the pumpkin I just gave you to the floor, just because you can.
So while I reminisce about the days when you could slumber through the aisles, and wonder about the future when waiting at check-out might result in having a discussion about the objectification of women, I will also try to live in this moment. The moment that allows me to watch you growl and then smile at the young man bagging our groceries, delighted simply to be on an adventure with mom.
Because while it may feel like an eternity at times (especially when it’s getting late and you're due for a nap) I know these moments will be gone before I know it. In the blink of an eye, you’ll be zooming through the aisles, using the cart as your own personal skateboard. And then, in another blink, you’ll let go of mom’s hand as we look for some peanut butter because you’re getting “too old” for that. And sooner or later, you’ll skip these trips altogether to stay in your room and listen to music or go to a friend’s house.
But, for now, you’re here smiling and saying, “mommy” in your own special, sing-song manner, pinching the flesh on my arm and blowing me kisses "just because," and I will appreciate the hell out of it.