In which an ordinary accident escalates into awful child and parent behavior as a direct result of my fear that all 10 bystanders are observing and criticizing my parenting, and none of them offers even one tiny bit of help. In our neat little neighborhood food co-op.

Alternate title: Parenting in America

Yesterday we had a sweet morning at the park with friends. The sun was warm, the water was cool, the children were happy, the ducklings were adorable. Etc.

And then there was the afternoon’s simple trip to the co-op.

Can you bear to hear this story? August tipped over a whole (kid sized) grocery cart full of food. An accident. It made a huge, loud crash, and then August cried loudly, and then May did. At first I was the model calm parent. Stood the cart back up, started loading stuff back into it, talked chirpily to the upset children while trying to efficiently get us and all of our stuff out of the middle of the aisle. Realized August’s tears were partly over having hit her hand on the cart (not badly), so stopped to give her a hug.

Then it all started to go to actual hell: I realized all of our groceries, the cart, and the floor were more or less covered with peach yogurt. August kept crying. Both girls kept putting their fingers into the (all over everything) yogurt and then licking them off, then dipping in for more. I told them no and pulled them away from it repeatedly but they kept doing it. I couldn’t find a napkin or a paper towel or anything.

The lady behind the cheese counter continued to stand still behind the cheese counter, the mom and teenaged daughter in front of us continued to peruse the ricotta, the employee chatting up the deli worker continued to lean on the counter, and at least a half dozen people stepped  carefully over and around us and all our yogurty groceries on the floor.

I became impatient and growly and stomped around the salad bar in an unsuccessful search for napkins to clean things up with. I felt unsupported, watched, flawed, furious, and intensely lonely. August kept crying (in my arms) and May kept swooping in for more gross, dirty snacks of yogurt from the floor, and I lost my patience and became louder and grumpier and stompier and more irritated with my out of control kids and, more than that, with the shoppers and workers around us, who continued their easy little activities while (it seemed) carefully avoiding being caught looking at us.

I finally found some napkins and did a basic clean-up of our groceries, got the girls somewhat calm, and then made a crazed try at grabbing the last thing on our shopping list. I had an awful, grumpy interaction with the cheese counter lady in which she told me the cream cheese was way the fuck over on the other side of the store, and I … I don’t remember what I said but I was an asshole and she ended it with a sarcasm-loaded Have a nice day, and I tossed over my shoulder a nasty, You, too.

By the time we arrived home I’d become calm enough to sit the girls down for a snuggle on the couch and a talk about what better choices we all could have made. How they know that we don’t eat food off the floor of the grocery store, and that when I say no it means no. How I need to not yell, even when I’m mad, and be polite even when I think others are being rude, and probably even go and apologize to the cheese counter lady. How the people around us should have stopped to help, and how next time we see someone having a hard time, we will try extra hard to see what we can do to make things easier for them.

I’m bored, said May, two thirds of the way through this little talk.

I felt like crying for the rest of the afternoon, and then in the evening I raged and ranted through most of A’s and my date night. I believe that at one point I yelled, I would like some sympathy.

A spicy tuna roll, a good night’s sleep, and one attempt to locate and mend relations with the cheese lady later, I am much calmer and less angry, but I still wish I could assemble all the unresponsive onlookers and lead them in a little conversation.

And I’m not sure I’m ever going to visit the grocery store with two children ever, ever again.

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2 thoughts on “In which an ordinary accident escalates into awful child and parent behavior as a direct result of my fear that all 10 bystanders are observing and criticizing my parenting, and none of them offers even one tiny bit of help. In our neat little neighborhood food co-op.

  1. Sympathies. I once yelled “Thanks for all the help!” (only in German) at a bus full of people who did not lift a finger to help me negotiate a stroller with my older boy in it out of the bus while I was holding my crying infant in my arms. Not my finest hour. Though I believe I was at least grammatically correct.

    Now that my oldest is in Kindergarten I do all my shopping with just the youngest while oldest is at school. Every time a school break rolls around (like now) and I have to shop with both of them I am shocked all over again at how much more stressful it is.

  2. Ugh, I’m so sorry. And I so would have helped (have helped in such a situation recently, in fact), and find it inexcusable that no-one did. And at the co-op, too. I also feel compelled to add that for some reason, I tend to assume that your girls never act like that in public (boisterous or disobedient). It is so utterly draining when that happens, and so much worse when you feel alone. J doesn’t go on business trips like A, but with our schedules, I log a lot of solo parenting hours; I’ve had a lot of situations like that with my squirelly boys over the years.

    (BTW, my boys could really use a play-date, if you care to drop a girl off next time you need to shop and A isn’t around.)

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