An Open Letter To The Customers In The Checkout Line Behind My Toddler

Dear Fellow (Hopefully Patient) Shoppers,

Well, hello there. I almost didn’t see you, but then I realized my toddler was staring intently with wide owl eyes that are equal parts curious and judgmental, and of course I had to follow his gaze to see what he’s looking at. Turns out, it’s you! Nice to meet you. This is actually good timing on your part, because I have lots of things to say to the other people in the checkout line that just so happens to also be hosting my toddler and me. Since we have roughly six to eight minutes together, I’m going to take this opportunity to do so now.

First up, no pressure, but these next few seconds are going to be pivotal in determining how the remainder of our time together is going to go. One might think that it’s on me, the parent, to steer the interaction and sure, yes, I take on most of the responsibility here. However, some of it is still on you, ladies and gentlemen of the checkout aisle. Namely, on your faces. For starters, if any of you make funny faces at my kid, he’s probably going to judge you harder than Regina George judges that girl in the vintage skirt. Unlike Regina, his judgmental nature isn’t rooted in self-esteem issues, or power-hungry motives, so please don't take it personal.

My son's judgments come from his desire to figure out the world, and to be skeptical of things that don’t match the puzzles he’s already piecing together. At least, I think that’s what’s happening here. I’m not a child development expert and I'm not a mind-reader and, well, you get the idea. Still, my money is on the high probability that my son is trying to figure out why you're intent on making funny faces, and he’s probably going to think your funny faces are weird.

I mean, you all seem like rational people and the contents of your shopping carts don’t appear to be any sort of cause for alarm (except you, lady with a mountain of tapioca pudding cups. What are you possibly thinking?). Sure, there’s always a chance you really could succeed in amusing my toddler and he’ll giggle and laugh and everyone will smile and it’ll stop raining outside and none of our groceries will end up wet and slimy and we’ll all go home happy. It’s technically possible.

Chances are, however, that your funny faces could make him cling to my legs and make the next steps of our shopping process much, much more difficult.

I mean, I’ve already managed to make it through this store without having to bust open more than one box of applesauce pouches to satiate him, and I’d really prefer to not have to dip into the cheese sticks, or that banana, too. That could get messy, which could end in me relying on that extra outfit I left at home so, please, let's just not chance it, OK?

Because once the leg-clinging starts, the laws of parenting say that it will immediately be my turn to load the conveyor belt up with all my groceries. Like, you know how if you give a mouse a cookie, a bunch of other intense stuff starts happening? This is pretty much the same thing. Once you let a toddler hold his or her mom’s legs, all bets are off and actually holding your kid is the only logical next step. I’m sure you can imagine or perhaps you know from experience, loading gallons of milk and jugs of detergent onto a platform while holding a child is much, much more difficult than it should be.

So, here we are. My toddler is slightly concerned, and I’m doing everything in my power to not let it escalate. At this point, I’ll probably just apologize now because the chances of us making it through this process without inconveniencing you all, are pretty slim. There might be some slowdown of an otherwise efficient process. There might be some noise. There might be some wrangling that borders on wrestling that you’ll have to witness and feel slightly awkward about.

However, please let the record show that this apology is merely about the inconvenience this is causing you, and not simply on behalf of my kid’s behavior. He’s a kid in a grocery store. He will act out and I will have to deal, this is fact, and I don’t apologize for that. Yes, we live in an otherwise polite society, so I do want to own up to the fact that we’re slowing you down. The difference is subtle, but important to me as the mom of a toddler.

At either rate, thank you for your patience. Thanks for acknowledging that there is a bit of a struggle happening here, that it’s not easy to run a simple errand with a tiny human trailing you harder than Angelina’s (rumored) private investigator. Thanks for the compliments on my kid’s cuteness and wanting to engage with him, even if it's somewhat misplaced. I mean, I think he’s the cutest kid ever, but I’m admittedly biased so I dig the extra validation. Lastly, thanks for smiling and being otherwise cheerful towards us, because you have no idea how difficult the day has or hasn't been and, in the end, the kindness of relative strangers can make all the difference.

Except you, tapioca lady. I feel your dagger stares and I don’t like them.

Of course, this might be a moot point, because you could win the cosmic lottery and make a funny face that actually makes me kid laugh which, of course and in that very lucky case, is fine, too.