Today we hit the HT, or Harris Teeter, for those of you not on nickname basis with your grocery store. For us stay at home moms the grocery store is a big deal. We’re getting out. We’re going to see people. We might brush our hair into a pony tail instead of just slinging it on our heads. We wear our good yoga pants, check our backs for spit up and slime, plan the nap times around this. Then we remember. We’re going out. We’re going to see people and after our kids reach a certain age just planning naps isn’t enough. We have tactics. We actually avoid this. We buy what we can through amazon mommy, then we pack snacks, memorize aisles, write lists, calculate duration till meltdown and then we just fear melt down. Operation, “avoid it at all costs” begins. This isn’t just a battle for me- I’m a general, planning the war over here. I want a pleasant life people. I want you to have one too. I want to minimalize casualties and collateral damage.
That is how Harris Teeter went from being one of my favorite grocery stores to one of my least. I know, I know, blasphemy, but hear me out. Sure the bread samples are nice, the cashiers plentiful and the curbside pickup pretty fine. In fact, it’s not necessarily HT. It’s any traditional grocery store that just isn’t making the cut for me anymore.
I’m a farmer’s market junkie, I confess. It’s like crack to me -has been for years. You get to know the vendors. You know where your money goes, who it helps, you see how relatable they are, and how wholesome you imagine your food is because you know where it came from. You feel like you’re making a difference in their lives: helping them buy seeds or pay their mortgage. In exchange you expect they are keeping those cow stalls or chicken cages clean. At least, the produce really does seem to last longer than what the grocery store claims to be local. As an added bonus there are no irritating checkout lines, but there are samples, oh so child distracting samples!
I digress. I can’t help it. I told you I’m an addict. But, I’m an addict who lives in the Northeast so there are only a few strong hold markets that stay open year round. They’re too far away for this mommy who needs a simple life style, so I’ve staked out other almost traditional stores like MOM’s, WHOLEFOODS, and Trader Joe’s where I can lose all my money. I mean spend. I mean get great food. The truth is all of those are true. It’s great food, supremely fresh and, with the exception of Trader Joe’s, EXPENSIVE. But they get me all winter until the market is back in town because they are a great compromise. They are closer to me than the markets that run through the winter, their food seems wholesome and the environment is pleasant. It’s like what GMOs were intended to be: the best of both worlds.
There are samples at MOM’s: always free coffee or tea and bread, and usually bars, cereals, drinks or snacks of some sort. The checkout lines are not littered with magazines, batteries or candies. The wait is nonexistent and someone always offers to help me to my car. But more than that, the advertising at MOM’s will tell you that they do not carry products that market to your kids. I find the only signs that I’m reading are information they post about how to be more green, a how portion of the sales on a certain day is being donated to cleaning up the Chesapeake, what constitutes compost or what a Terrapass is. None of these things are the least bit interesting to my kiddo.
Today I noticed why I’ve been avoiding my old BFF HT. It was actually stressful to shop!
I tested what I thought I had been noticing- that my son is a mess by the time we leave HT. I can get through a trip to the farmer’s market with my toddler and we both have a good time. It’s an experience for my little adventurer. I can get through a trip to MOM’s with just a few tactics: a “ta”(taste) of coffee, a stop at the bread counter for “toast”, a cup of crackers or sample cereal for the ride home. At HT I break out the whole game of tricks. We get at least three samples of toast at the bread station to make it through the store. I have the store memorized and a list in my hand. I hit maybe 6 lanes total-ever-and spend most of my time in the meat and produce sections. My little man gets to be captain of the airplane cart. I make plane noises the entire time (of course). Still he always has to get out and push the cart. Usually he tries to fill the basket with whatever items he can reach. My new distraction and appeasing tactic is to let him ride the dinosaur by the exit before we leave. Then I find I need to refill his cup of crackers on the ride home, which is weird because HT is closer to my house than MOM’s and I don’t recall refilling the snack cup on those trips.
Today I took a look at the aisles in the HT. There were so many colors, shapes and graphics. There were kid-sized, neon footballs hanging down on a display at the end of the bean aisle. Just forget the cereal aisle people. It’s like a freaking color bomb. Scary cartoon mascots of Tony the Tiger, the Trix Rabbit and the Honey Nut Cheerios BuzzBee punctuate the madness. Displays of brightly colored sprinkle toppings of sugars, nuts and cinnamon balls were at our eye level in the freezer section. Holy shaky sugar balls it’s a sensory explosion in here!
It was in the cereal aisle my son started begging to “poush” (push the cart). The bean aisle he started to yell for the balls while Momma reached for redirection. In the freezer section we took a moment to explore the sugar shaker. I couldn’t even pretend that it didn’t look like a toy. I bought none of those things, and rather than feel like a champion, I was tired.
When we got home I realized why I had to break up with HT. Well, maybe not break up so much as utilize sparingly and when not in the presence of toddlers. The sensory bombardment made lunch and naptime a blood bath for this momma. We made it inside the house ok. As you moms know, the trip to the grocery store is not over when the car stops moving. Oh no, there’s the deceptively difficult task of getting both toddler and groceries into the house. I aspire to put away at least the cold things within 15 minutes. Key word in the previous sentence is “aspire.” Let’s face it; it could take me 2 days to get the rest of the nonperishables in their rightful place. No judgment please, we’re a family just trying to make it here people. We’re high on the love and attention for the kiddo and low on the attention to house details.
I got the 2 minutes I needed to put away the cold food, and 3 minutes I needed to warm up and set out his lunch. I thought I was all good. Then I realized… I lost our chicken. It wasn’t the new raw chicken we had just bought at the grocery store; it was the fully cooked one we set out for his lunch. Yes, “we” it’s teamwork over here and I hate to crush his independent helping spirit. So yes, I am a sucker, but since he helped I also had no idea which one of us lost the chicken. It was a mad grab and go when I opened that frig. So I started a man hunt. I asked my son where it was. He checked his places: under the couch, on the window sill, in the trash. I checked the places I usually lose things: the freezer, the pantry, the table, the bar. No luck, so with time ticking till melt down, I forfeited the search.
I was welcomed back into my son’s loving and Pi Po (code name for Poo Poo) scented embrace. Pi Pos are normal. The ensuing emotions were not. My typically Zen boy was like a kid on crack. As I started to discuss what needed to be done given the presence of Pi Po, he ran for the pantry. He pulled out the dreaded tea bags. Like lightening he was in the living room. He had fished out a bag. Before I could negotiate a standard trade- where I give him something I don’t mind him having, in exchange for the contraband- there went the dreaded tea powder all over the clean white (yes white) rug. As I ran for the vacuum to salvage the floors for the company that was soon to arrive, my loving child took it upon himself to grant himself a timeout. Before I could wonder at how quickly his Zen baby senses had returned and fully appreciate his awareness of needing to remove himself from a situation, I realized it wasn’t just him cozying in to the soft white (yes, white ) papasan chair. It was he and Pi Po. SHIT. Just as I gave him my “Oh, my…” look he goes, “Dada?” which I know is code for Momma you’re handling things really well.
So up we went for the diaper change. Which went, well let’s face it, it went as well as you might imagine given the premise of this story. He was on the table yes, but there were tears. And Pi Po, well it was the kind of Pi Po mommies talk about at play group. Then he pulled my second least favorite move: assisting with “towel” to clean up “Pi Po” (sob). Then he progressed into my absolute least favorite move: the hand in Po grab. SHRIEK. It’s me people. I’m the one shrieking because, holy lord people, this momma has only got so much. I. Just. Wanted. To. Get. Food. To. Make. Having. Company. Easier. So there I was. Hair everywhere, and well, just all kinds of messed up. So I stunned him, unintentionally, with the shriek. I pulled it together. We made it downstairs and into the high chair at which time my son announced, “Bowl!” By George he found it! There was our chicken in a bowl on the floor of the dining room where we all lose everything. I have no idea which one of us ditched it.
We skipped the chicken for lunch and made peace over pulling pork together. After 3 books, a cup of milk and a tickle fight all was right in our house. He settled into sleep. During my naptime strategy time I decided to hang up my general’s hat. We live a quiet life. I don’t want to be at war with anyone. I don’t need tactics to avoid meltdown if I don’t walk into a war zone. I need to rethink that battle field and my general surroundings. If no grocery store means no meltdown, let’s avoid that grocery store and pay a little more at MOM’s. Like all kids my son seemed to know something better than I. We were being bombarded with colors and shapes and cartoons. Even if I had tuned it out a little, it still wasn’t as tolerable as subdued colors and subtle messages or even as pleasant as no distractions at all. If I had remembered what’s good for the baby is good for me, I might have known that the cheaper prices and aisles and aisles of products are expensive too. They cause me an uncomfortable hum of stress that I didn’t even realize was wearing me down. They cause him so much excitement they wound him up past sanity. I like my quiet, loving, people centered whole self. I will find a way in this world to make that for us.