Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Epic Childhood Tale of Love, Sacrifice and Courage

As you might remember from this post, when I was a kid, I was as delicate as I was beautiful...

In other words, extremely delicate.
And when I was tiny, probably like two or three years old, I LOVED GOING TO KROGER (grocery store) because it meant I GOT MY OWN CART!!!!!!!

They were this exact model! I am an internet sleuth!!!
Thinking back, I can't believe a grocery store would ever encourage little kids to push tiny carts around the store next to their parents...parents who were actually at the store trying to complete task "Buy important food items for the survival of family" and not task "Watch child ram plastic shopping cart into Oreo's display" on their list.

My mom put the most important items in my cart, she said. But come to think of it, I realize that important was synonymous with heavy (a gallon of milk, frozen turkey, laundry detergent). I also observed that all of the other little kids had the same important stuff in their carts, too. That slowed a kid down, alright. But man, those ten pound loads gave us so much purpose, and dare I say, dignity. The way we struggled, we must have looked more like the pioneers than suburban babies in jellies.

I was a good little girl, perpetually terrified of getting in any type of trouble from anyone, even my saint-like mother. I was a steadfast co-shopper. I'd carefully follow mom from to aisle to aisle, white knuckles on my cart, be-glassesed eyes wide and darting like a war veteran. I had two missions and OH HO HO you BET I knew them: 1. Do not knock anything over, and 2. Do not clip anyone's heels.

In my short time as co-captain, I was good at navigating my vessel.

Damn good.

Except for one incident...that which ended my career as a Kroger Kidz Junior Shopper.

To be honest, I don't remember much from that day. Partly because it was so much to take in, but mostly because I was only three years old. Was it a hot, muggy day? Were mother and I giggling as we walked from the parking lot? Was I wearing my favorite pink jumpsuit, the one with the doggy's face on the front that my mom sewed pink glasses onto in order to show me that glasses were so normal, even doggies on sweatshirts wore them sometimes? I can't answer those questions. All I know was that it had been a good trip, and things were nearing the end when, suddenly, I had a vital decision to make.

In the canned food aisle, I was pushing my cart of milk directly behind my mother, as I had done a hundred times before. I felt cautiously carefree (for I was always vigilant), watching the shoppers that we walked past. I was behind mother as we passed a woman pushing a cart the opposite way. The contents of her cart were not only intriguing, but they were brightly-colored: six cases of Otter Pops. SIX!!! Does the grocery store even sell that many? I thought to myself. Is she allowed to do that? Should I tell someone what I just saw? I was enchanted, scandalized, and disgusted all at once. But, determined to appear nonchalant, I forged ahead with my cart, eyes at a sidewards glance.

When I finally looked forward again, I panicked. My cart was fast approaching the back of my mother's legs as she now stood still, reading the back of a can of tomato paste. With the gallon of milk in my cart, I had far too much momentum to stop, but was flanked by the Otter Pop cart on one side and the shelves of Ragu 66 ounce glass jars on the other.

As an experienced Kroger Kidz Junior Shopper, I knew this was my moment, whether I wanted it to be or not. All of my self-training had come down to this choice...a crippled mother? An infuriated stranger? Or the loud clank of my cart hitting behemoth jars of spaghetti sauce? I knew what I had to do.

I swung my cart hard to the left, and it tipped over, careening into the row of Ragu Homestyle jars. The sound of jars falling and bursting was shockingly loud. Mother spun around instantly. Otter Pop lady jumped sideways to avoid the sauce splashing. And, when the last jar's cap stopped spinning, my brave face melted into the distorted, goblin face of an upset child.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" I shrieked, throwing my arms across my face, like I was giving myself some sort of  face-hug.

A quick breath.

"GGGGGGGGGGGGUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" My shrieks crescendoed, and I wandered blindly, like a frightened and lonely leper, with my elbows still crossed over my eyes. My mother knelt down beside me to comfort me. She grasped me tenderly for a moment, then pulled down my arms and held me gently by the shoulders.

"Baby," she said softly over my heaving breaths, "you broke these jars, so you need to go find someone to clean this up. Go tell that young man right there." She pointed at a bagger nearby.  I almost fainted with dread. My mother knew me too well...this was well beyond the worst punishment she could have ever given me. Walk over there? Ask him to clean up the mess? BY MYSELF?? I dropped my head in shame and let my glasses slide off my face into the puddle of spaghetti sauce.


By this time, I was pretty sure there was snot down the front of my shirt, on my shoe, and...in my hair, somehow, even though I had a bowl cut (I mean, it must have taken some sort of conscious decision on my part to get snot up there, right?) Anyway, I knew deep in my soul that if I tried to approach that bagger, I would die. However, I also knew that if I didn't do what my mother told me, I would die. Either way, I was truly and sincerely resigned to the fact that my life was over.

I trudged slowly toward the checkout where the bagger was standing with his back to me. It was less of a trudge and more of a limp, because in my emotional state I had managed to lose a shoe. I kept my face down, my shoulders slumped. I tapped him on the knee (remember, I was three). He turned around and then peered down at me with a questioning look. I froze. Then I unfroze.

"HEEEEEEELP MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" I bellowed up at him, grabbing at the neck of my shirt and wrenching it in anguish. I put so much power into that shriek that wobbled and fell backward.

"JUUUUUUST HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP!!!!!!!!!!" I closed my eyes and clamored to my feet, running back toward my mom, who was still standing at the mess in the aisle.

He came with a mop and cleaned up the mess while my mom hugged me and made me watch. Amazingly, my sobbing managed to become only louder and harder the longer we stood there. I distinctly remember the bag boy smiling and reassuring me several times that it wasn't a big deal. "It happens a lot. See, it's already all cleaned up!" He threw open his arms like he'd just done a magic trick.

My mother placed me in her shopping cart and dragged my tiny cart along as she pushed me to the checkout. I hadn't stopped crying by then...not even close. Not while we loaded the groceries. Not during the car ride. Not while we unloaded the groceries. I cried myself to sleep on the couch in the living room, still wearing my glasses and one shoe.

That same day, I promised myself I'd never push another cart again, as long as I lived. And, though it's been hard, I've kept that promise ever since. Well, not really, because that was probably a little too unrealistic of a promise to make in the first place. I mean, how else can I get all of the stuff I need at the store? It's just not efficient.


  1. Never have I felt so much and anxiety and anticipation from a childhood story! To think that she made you get the bagger for help yourself! Cruel, cruel punishment. The real question I am wondering through this whole emotional journey, is: Will you let Next Rehder push a cart at the store... Do they even still have those little carts? I loved those things.

  2. I think it's time to start compiling these and whatever else is going on in that little head of yours and start writing your memoir. No joke.

  3. I let little Josh push a mini-shopping cart through Kroger just the other week. With two bags of apples in it. He was so proud of himself. I was just glad he missed the lobster tank.

    You have a wonderful mom, do you know that? I'm imagining myself in that situation and it is a lot more...colorful...

  4. SO FUNNY! And yes, they do have those little carts still, at least at the Smith's in Logan. And my kiddos haven't learned to be as careful as you tried to be because I curse those carts and the number of times I've gotten my heals clipped.

  5. Delicate? Innocent? I remember a very different pre-schooler: one capable of third-year-law-school sophistry. And for what it's worth, I think the jury is still out on the Spaghetti Sauce Tsunami of '89. In the end I think you managed to get what you sought: undivided Mommy attention and cuddles in the middle of a grocery store. It's something none of us other little moore-lings figured out how to do.

  6. And your post was very funny and I liked it. Thanks for sharing.