I pull in to a spot next to the cart return. Put the van in park. Sit for a moment to take a deep breath. Then I turn the keys in the ignition. I feel the resistance of the keys. I have to hit that sweet spot of pushing slightly while I turn them. I used to struggle with that as a new driver, it always felt like I’d turn too hard and snap something off. Now it feels normal like breathing. I feel the van go still and quiet beneath me. I breathe out and hold my breath that way for a moment. Then I breathe in and it feels like relief.
I’m talking to you, self.
This here’s a pep talk.
You’re about to walk into a grocery store with four kids.
You’re not going to get an A+. You’re not gonna ace the quiz. You’re not going to be that unnoticeable girl in the hallways that never gets in trouble and that speed-walks between classes. You’re not going to unlock your locker on that first try.
You’re gonna be more like that kid that drops her books. That stands in front of the combination lock spinning it the wrong way half a dozen times and missing the sweet spot between “unlocked” and “try again”. Over and over. You’re going to bump into the kid that is always in a bad mood. And he may yell at you.
This isn’t school anymore.
And you’re not the kid.
You’re the full grown adult.
And you’ve got four little people in tow.
Look at them, self.
And they’re gonna act like happy kids.
Remember that time that one of them dropped a container of blueberries in the frozen foods section and blueberries went everywhere? That may happen. Or the time one of them cut in front of four people pushing shopping carts like he was dodging the defense to slam dunk a basketball? And he hugged a watermelon because he was SO excited to see it? That may happen.
And you’re gonna do what a grownup freaking does.
You’re gonna keep your calm. You’re gonna remind them of the rules. You’re gonna make hand-holding chains and you’re gonna play peekaboo with the toddler while you recite your grocery list from memory (The five year old wanted to hold it and it blew away in a gust of wind while you were reminding everyone that we don’t run after things in parking lots.) You’re gonna MAKE IT INTO A RHYME so that your kids will repeat it too. And you’re probably going to butcher it. Because no one really rhymes that well on the fly. Unless they’re famous for freestyle or really good at improv. You? You’re going to be distracted by runaway children that want to shake bags of tortilla chips victoriously in the air while you cringe and wonder how many will survive.
People will look. That’s what people do. They look at things that stand out. And I don’t think there’s really any way to not stand out when you have gleeful happy creatures with you.
Your cheeks may turn bright red. Maybe the two year old will start talking loudly about poop in her pants. (Which she may or may not have.) Maybe the five year old will randomly repeat anatomy facts, forgetting for a moment that such things are private conversations. Maybe your eleven year old will try to be helpful by playing with the toddler and he’ll forget that tag is not a grocery store game. Maybe your seven year old will be so excited to see someone with a shirt that he loves that he’ll forget that we don’t hug perfect strangers just because we love their clothes.
Some people may be like the grumpy grouches that believe children must be whipped into shape. And you’re going to feel deeply ashamed. Because being scolded always makes people feel that way. They’re going to believe that you should spank some sense into the two year old who has feelings about having to say goodbye to the giant bag of chocolate candies. And the sippy cup that she already has at home.
Some people, though. Some people are gonna look at you and see a mama who’s being patient. Who is repeating the rules calmly. And they’ll see kids that are trying hard to follow them. Not because their mama’s mad. But because they want so hard to do the right thing and remember how things are done. Some people are going to notice that your toddler wants to be held while you push the cart. And instead of being grumpy about your decreased ability to steer the stupid thing, they’ll smile at your kids and wait for you to do your thing.
You’ve gotta make a choice right now, self. Are you going to be one of the mean people that expect children to take up the amount of space allotted to a single adult shopper?
Or are you going to be the you that you try so hard to be all the time? The you that believes your kids are trying hard. And that learning does not usually look like doing things perfect on the first try?
Make that choice, self. And walk in with your head held high and your wits about you.
And only.. ONLY make eye contact with the people that are smiling.
That’s how you’re gonna get through this, self. Okay? And… Go.