grocery shopping, twin logistics, TwinsDay

TwinsDay Wednesday: Surviving Grocery Shopping

I often write about surviving daily life. Sometimes I’m kidding. Sometimes I’m exaggerating. But this grocery shopping thing?

It really is all about survival.

For months after I went from being a mother of one to being a mother of three, pulling into the parking lot of our local Wal-mart would make me break out into a cold sweat. I would not go there alone for anything. Too many things could go wrong…multiple poopy diaper blowouts, preschooler tantrums, tiny babies screaming simultaneously to nurse…

(And to think I used to take SuperSam to the grocery store for fun!)

After about four months of avoiding the grocery store, I had to take the plunge. Waiting until George got home to take everyone out together was making life difficult in the evenings. I had to face my fear and figure out a way to shop on my own with the kids.

Maybe you like grocery shopping…the neat, orderly aisles, the carefully arranged produce, the endless number of cereal possibilities. If you enjoy your trips to the store, I’m happy for you.

For those of us with multiple young children, though, grocery shopping is one thing and one thing only:

I do all my grocery shopping at our local Wal-mart. I don’t love it. I feel guilty sometimes about their business practices. At this stage in my life, though, I’m only going to go to a store where I’m not even tempted to hang around longer than absolutely necessary, and Wal-mart is the place where I have all the aisles memorized. It’s not especially pleasant, but I can do it quickly. It’s close enough to my house that I can transfer children to their beds if they fall asleep on the way home. Their produce is better than the other grocery store. It has some advantages…and when my kids are older, I can shop with a conscience and go someplace else.

Through trial and error (lots and lots of error), I have developed a Super Awesome Grocery Shopping Strategy. A certain mindset is required. When I shop, I am Calculating, Focused and Organized. This is no time for free-floating browsing. This is serious.

Here’s my game plan for shopping with multiple little kids in tow:

1. Your List- don’t leave home without it. Mine is organized by aisle. Part of that is because I’m my father’s daughter (an organizing freak), but in the grocery store game, efficiency is key. I can’t be looping back and forth across the store to pick up stuff I forgot. I keep a pad on the refrigerator so we can add things as we run out of them during the week. My husband almost always asks me where he should write something before he puts it on the list. After 11 and a half years of marriage, he’s learned I’m just weird about the grocery list…but now that time is of the essence in the store, my weirdness is coming in handy.

2. Your Parking Space- know the best space and be willing to fight for it if necessary. When we visited the UK, Tesco (a major grocery store) had special spaces for families with young children. Here in the US, we are all about equality, which means that nobody is getting any special spaces without knowing someone at the DMV who can score them a handicapped hangtag for their mirror. If I’m shopping alone with my children, there is only one acceptable kind of parking space for me any more- the ones right beside the cart return.

Upon exiting the store, I push the cart to my vehicle and unload everyone into their seats. Once they are safely buckled in, I can unload the groceries at my leisure and pretend to be oblivious to their protests and requests for McDonald’s Happy Meals.  Then, I can return the cart without feeling bad about leaving them sitting in the car.

You might think I should park close to the store, but being close to the store isn’t as important as it seems. I can carry them all into the store if I have to, but I am always exhausted on the way out. If you have to choose between “easy in” and “easy out,” making a quick and simple exit plan is the way to go.

If you’re not in critical need of the spaces surrounding the cart return, please have pity- save them for me.

A Wal-mart plus: the garden center makes it easy to replace dead tomato plants.

3. Your Cart- pick carefully. Make sure it has working seat belts for everyone before you start buckling people in. Stick your crew in their seats and tie them down as quickly as possible. Once they’re in there, you’ve got to roll. If you picked one with a messed up wheel or an annoying bump, you’re going to be stuck with it, because the effort of moving everyone to a new cart is such a huge pain.

When the twins were too tiny to sit up, I wore one in a carrier and put the other one in her carseat into the basket of the cart. SuperSam rode in the little seat up front, and we piled the groceries carefully around the baby in the basket. It was always a gamble to decide whom to wear and whom to put in the basket…the honor of being worn always went to the one most likely to melt down mid-trip. 

Learn to love the giant cart.

If you can shop someplace with the super-size giant carts (you know, the ones you almost need a commercial driver’s license to operate), it’s worth it…especially if they have little kiddie steering wheels built in. (Ours don’t.) They are just about impossible to steer because of their size. The sheer mass of them makes them hard to stop, too, so don’t be coming out of the end of that aisle too quickly without a clear turn signal.

Don’t expect people to move out of your way, either. You’d think they would, seeing as how your cart weighs as much as a tractor trailer and could squish them flat…but they won’t. People in grocery stores seem to have a special, all-encompassing need to have the right of way (even when they are obviously in the wrong).

You might be tempted to let a kid who is on the edge of being too big for the cart walk along beside you. Resist temptation. Don’t let anyone walk until their legs are too big to fit in the little legholes. It’s our rule. Yes, they are all capable of walking…and if we are all together at the grocery store, none of them are allowed to do it. Buckle them in and fly, mama.

4. Have a built-in motivator. This is ours, positioned perfectly as we leave the checkout line and make a beeline for the exit:

Yes, you may cheer loudly for your coin as it circles around.

Bribing children is not inherently wrong, especially if it benefits a good cause. If I had a nickel for every nickel I’ve given the Children’s Miracle Network, I’d have a lot more nickels than I do.

5. Plan and execute your checkout line strategy.

Let the kids put stuff on the conveyor belt so they will be distracted and won’t bug you for candy. Find the non-candy aisle if you can. I’ve been known to check out in gardening or electronics to avoid the front end lines with their rows and rows of candy and toys. Only do this if you don’t have any produce that needs weighing, or the electronics guy gets really, really irritated. (Lesson learned.)

This, in the checkout line, seems to be mocking me.

Checkout is so, so boring. It makes me physically itchy with longing to leave the store, and I’m 34 years old. How do I expect little folks with 4 or less years of life experience to survive it without some entertainment?

I try to always be prepared to dance and sing in the checkout line if I don’t want my children to scream.  People might look at me funny, but I’d rather them stare at me for being silly and proactive than for snapping reactively at my crabby kiddos.

Sometimes I play peek-a-boo with them using a baby picture of SuperSam that I carry in my wallet. (I don’t have any wallet pictures of my girls because I got a smartphone and I’m kind of lazy.) Sometimes I sing Itsy Bitsy Spider with funny voices and extra made-up verses. Sometimes I pretend my fingers are a little bug crawling up their legs and arms. We play I Spy, recite poems, and count fingers and toes…anything to get through that crucial ten minutes.

 (Lord, have mercy if it is more than ten minutes.)

One more helpful tip that makes a big difference for me- if the children are doing a good job (or even a marginal job) in the store, tell them. More than once.  Maybe you don’t have the energy to write out your list and illustrate it so they can help you find what’s next even if they can’t read yet. Maybe you don’t have the stamina to let them touch and smell all the onions or to compare the different types of cruciferous veggies or to count all the bananas in Mandarin.

Whatever. Nobody’s sending scouts into grocery stores to look for Supermom.

It doesn’t take much extra effort to converse with children when they aren’t doing something we want them to stop doing…yet so many times, if they don’t need help or a correction, we leave them to their own devices. Try this: while you are cruising around the store picking up your stuff, just talk to them about what you’re doing (“Look! Crackers go into the basket,”) and tell them every now and then that they are doing great. It takes some real concentration, since your brain is busy trying not to forget stuff. Just do it anyway. Don’t stop telling them the ways that they are doing a good job. It helps them remember that this is your expectation. It has the added benefit of making other people in the store think that you are a really great parent.

And guess what? You are.

Take a deep breath. You can do this. And then you can go through the drive-thru and get yourself a Diet Coke on the way home.

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