I think nearly every mom blogger has shared stories of the trials and travails of the grocery store.
The colorful packages, enticing food and restraining carts present all kinds of challenges for children.
We recently reached a milestone in our family. The baby graduated to the seat in the front of the cart and the toddler graduated to walking.
This has been going surprisingly well, if it wasn’t for the check-out counter.
We reach the check-out counter when everyone, including mom, is past their limit. The baby is tired and hungry and the toddler has spent thirty minutes fighting temptation, struggling to obey.
The check-out line is merchandised with impulse items and candy, with children’s items placed at their eye level.
Here things begin to break down.
We had three trying check-out experiences this week.
The first check-out of the week was difficult, but I was optimistic.
We were in line for thirty minutes. Well, I didn’t actually look at the clock, but with four full carts in front of me, that can’t be much of a stretch.
The baby is in the clingy stage and couldn’t handle the four inches that separated us while I was pushing the cart, so I had been carrying her for half the trip.
The toddler was busy sorting all the candy and gadgets on the shelves. It was all I could do to keep him occupied in one place for that amount of time.
Were it not for the kind people in line behind me, smiling and talking to my children, commenting on how cute they were, alleviating the pressure of watching eyes, I’m not sure we would have made it.
Later in the week we went to a different store.
By the time we got to the check-out, the toddler was sitting in the basket, smashing the bread. The baby was crying in my arms.
I managed to unload the entire cart with one arm, pay with one arm, sack my own groceries with one arm, load the cart with one arm and push the cart out to the car with one arm. We left exhausted.
The last experience topped them all.
We got to the check-out just before lunch time, and this particular line was filled with bags of chips and chocolates and various types of food. Again I was holding the baby and pushing the cart and trying to pay.
With a long line behind me, the toddler decided to cling to the stand of chips, refusing to come or let go.
I had to practically drag him away in order to pay and escape the store, red-faced.
We hit the breaking point. I collapsed in the car with tears of frustration. I was upset with my son for forcing a stand-off at the check-out.
I was upset with myself for being upset.
The check-out brings out the worst in all of us. I’m hot and tired, trying not to throw impatient glances at the cashier or the chatty people in line in front of me.
Can’t they see that we are barely hanging on here?
But maybe the biggest problem with the check-out counter isn’t the merchandising, line or location.
Maybe the biggest problem is that when it doesn’t go well it leaves the last impression of your shopping experience, effectively erasing all memory of the little successes you had throughout the trip.
You forget that your child finally made it past the big display of lollipops without begging or throwing a fit.
You forget how you patiently waited and encouraged your child as he put a product back in place on the shelf.
You forget that your children were actually well-enough behaved that you got to try on a pair of shoes.
You forget that you managed to purchase everything on your list.
You forget that your child stayed right beside you throughout the trip without running off.
You forget that you were the one who taught them all of those things.
In general it is easier to see our failures than successes.
Often our children move through stages and we are so blinded by the challenges of the new stage that we forget that they have passed through the old one.
At some point the kids will make it through the disastrous check-out phase too.
We may even forget it was ever a challenge until we see another mother of young children struggling through.
When we do, we can be the ones with the words of encouragement, with the smiles and compliments for the children, offering another mom the chance to leave with a better last impression.
The check-out brings out the worst in all of us.