Every Saturday, I do the grocery shopping in the morning, and I take the littles with me. It gives my wife some quiet time, and we genuinely love those times together. Our eleven-year-old doesn't come any more, because she's too big for such shenanigans now, so she stays home and gets her chores done. But back in the day, when she was young and didn't care what people thought about her, she used to love grocery shopping day. These days, it's just me and the four-year-old, except on those weekends when our granddaughter sleeps over, when it's two four-year-olds. Once again, that's me and two (2) four-year-old girl BFF's who haven't seen each other for a couple of weeks.
It starts around nine or ten in the morning with a treat. Usually, it's a doughnut or a muffin, but some days require a full breakfast from the drive-through. When our four-year-old was too young to know the difference, and, more importantly, too young to tell on me, we used to get some fancy stuff, but lately, we've been trying to save money to move into a new place, so we've scaled back considerably.
With our breakfast treats eaten and bodies sufficiently energized for the grocery run, we jump out at our first stop. See, one of our money-saving tactics is using two different grocery stores - the cheap one with four letters in the name for everything we can get there, and then Publix for anything else, and especially the sale items.
If you don't have a Publix near you, I feel bad for you, son. Moment of silence.
Anyway, if I had to choose two words to describe grocery shopping with the littles, those words would be - beautiful chaos. There's lots of singing and dancing involved, lots of exciting adventures in the produce aisle, and lots of opportunities to meet new people who may or may not like little kids. The chaos amplifies on those sleepover weekends, as does the beauty. When they were too small to walk or keep up on foot, they used to sit in the cart together and sing their nursery rhyme songs at the top of their lungs, call out the numbers and letters they see like Sesame Street characters, and greet every single person they see.
It's hard to explain what these greetings involve, because I don't want to give the impression that they just say "hello" to people. It's more like an observation mission, but out loud. Basically, they name what the person is doing or call out some interesting fact about their appearance. It's led to a lot of conversations about boundaries and indoor voices and how some people are different. I really want to believe those conversations have been fruitful in teaching them how to interact with people, but just a few weeks ago, they saw a man wearing an eye-patch, and one of the girls is super into pirates, so ....
Another example of what I mean by "greetings" just happened this weekend when a woman passed us in the aisle and my daughter asked me, quite loudly, if I was "looking at that woman."
I gave up on holding hands almost a year ago, and just let them run free, because that's less stressful for all of us. There are some rules, however, and the penalty for breaking them is time out in the shopping cart. The rules are as follows:
1) Stay out of people's way, and say excuse me if you make a mistake.
2) Don't get in front of my cart, or I might run you over.
3) Also, don't get behind me, or I might step on you or fall over you. There's a zone near my hips and beside the cart that's a safe area.
4) Don't touch anything without asking, and if it can break, don't even get near it.
As wild and loud as they can get, they really don't break the rules, much.
Now, within those rules, there's lots of room for fun. Some examples of this are as follows:
1) Using bananas as phones and shout/talking to each other about ordering pizzas while giggling uncontrollably.
2) Using bananas as magic wands and casting spells at each other while giggling uncontrollably.
3) Using bananas for almost anything and giggling uncontrollably. It's a good thing I can use bruised bananas in my smoothies.
4) Pretending to be Spider-Man villains, and running up to strangers, shouting things like "We're doing evil!" and "We have evil plans!", except none of the strangers have any idea what they're talking about.
5) One girl talks to the characters on the cereal boxes and the other does their voices in return.
6) Taking a number from the butcher's station, even, and especially, when we're not getting anything from the butcher.
7) My favorite game is when we're at the cashier. It's called "Stay in the Square," and the girls have to pick a square tile to stand in without talking and without stepping out. Whoever steps out loses. Best game ever.
But it's not all fun and games. There are a lot of valuable life lessons involved as well. The most obvious is that they learn that we make a meal plan, a grocery list, and stick to that list when we go grocery shopping. We buy healthy food because it's good for our bodies. The girls get to pick one drink for everyone, and one candy for everyone, but every other item in the cart has a purpose.
They learn to talk to the bakers and the butchers and use their manners. In Publix, where everything is more expensive, but nobody rushes you and everyone is really nice, they give away cookies and stuff to little kids. The girls have to walk up to the counter on their own and say please and thank you, and if they know the bakers' names, call them Miss or Mister. If the butcher isn't too busy, they can ask for a slice of cheese or ham or something, and practice patience, empathy, and manners over there. Honestly, they get so much free stuff everywhere they go, just based on the fact that they're two adorable, well-behaved, but chaotic little girls with brilliant smiles.
They learn the names of all the fruits and vegetables, and everyone seems so impressed that they can name every single item in the produce section - the artichokes, radishes, scallions, cabbages, dragonfruit (another giggly favorite), carrots, and bell peppers. I do sometimes wonder if the other shoppers would be as impressed if they had to walk around with them every week while they name every single item in the produce section, but I'm glad it gets them positive attention.
Another thing they learn on these trips, at least in their own little ways, is how they fit in the world, how often people will have expectations of them, and how important it is to know who they are so that those expectations don't define them.
One other game they like to play with people is something we could call "what are you?" It starts when somebody assumes that they're sisters. Maybe it's one of the bakers who asks, "Does your sister want a cookie, too?", because my granddaughter can be a little shier sometimes. See, they don't look alike, at all, except that they're clearly about the same age (just eight months difference) and clearly very close. They're both mixed, but my daughter is very light-skinned with blue eyes and tight curls, while my granddaughter is brown-skinned with brown eyes and long, thick hair that's barely wavy. Still, most people ask if they're sisters, and they answer with a loud "NOOOO" and a bunch of giggles, because they know what's coming and it's one of their favorite games. Then starts the guessing.
This is when the stranger runs out of guesses, gets that stumped look, and asks, "Then what are you?"
One of them, usually my daughter, the more outgoing one, grabs the other and shouts, "She's my niece/auntie!" Deluge of giggles.
The person looks from them to me, because it's probably unexpected, and also because they act so silly and play so many jokes on people as it is. That's when I confirm and tell them a little about our family.
If I'm being really honest, the whole morning takes a lot out of me. Aside from the actual chores of the shopping, and at two different stores even, there's the mental energy of keeping track of the girls, although they're hard to lose, with all the non-stop singing and giggling. They have a million questions about what they see and what they want. Then, if they've behaved themselves in the grocery store, they get to spend ten minutes in the pet store next door looking at animals they can't have, petting other people's dogs (after asking first), and creating havoc over there as well.
Those poor birds must hate to see those noisy kids coming.
But despite the fact that I need to lay down after we get back and put the stuff away, I wouldn't trade that time for anything. If my granddaughter is coming over at all on Saturday, I ask my daughter to bring her before we head out, so she can come too, and I've been known to delay the trip until she gets there. It's not like going to Disney World or camping or any of those other trips and activities that we think of as bonding times, but I know we're making memories. We don't spend any more money than we normally would on groceries, and we talk about boring stuff like healthy foods, budgets, and good manners, but we have fun together, and the girls get to explore their community and learn how to interact with all sorts of people. As much as it saps my energy, I look forward to it every week, and I know the girls do, too, and the people at the stores seem to brighten up when we walk in.
The birds, not as much.