Monday, September 04, 2006

Cats in the cradle

I spent my Labor Day in the traditional manner- I went to the grocery store to buy food and school supplies. There was a day when all you needed to buy your kids was a notebook and a pack of pencils; now they send home a shopping list. One kid needs unpopped popcorn and food coloring; the other needs his favorite snack, plates, plastic cups and napkins. And we still have to pay school fees for the older child. I went to Giant Eagle because they are giving me discount gas when I spend money at their store, and there isn’t anything I like better than someone who gives me gas.

There aren’t many rites of passage for men in our society, not many things that get passed down through the generations like quilts or grandma’s recipes, but for many years my father showed me by example that grocery shopping is a manly art. It’s a science. The grocery cart is not a mere food receptacle but a math equation, a living story problem. Your task is to fit all of your groceries into one cart. Doesn’t matter how many people you are shopping for. You need to think of grocery shopping as Edible Tetris, with your items as blocks that can be turned and manipulated to fit into every available nook and cranny. Even that little space underneath the child seat/bread and eggs shelf can be used for something. Emptiness is not an option.

The first thing I noticed was that for some of the women in the store it could quite literally have been Labor Day. There were an unusual number of pregnant women traipsing the aisles. One woman wore a shirt that barely covered her abdomen, so when she reached up to the top shelf, you got an eyeful of pregnant belly. When she squatted down, same thing. We followed each other around half the aisles, so every time I turned the corner, it was there. It was like a car accident- you dare not watch, but you cannot turn away.

I ran into an old friend there, an old Sunday School teacher named Larry Coleman. We generally run into each other every few months in the post office, but since today was a holiday and the stores were closed…. He regaled me with the story about how family came over and his dog got sick and he had to go shopping today. He went his way and I went mine, with visions of vomiting dogs prancing through my head.

I watched several people trying to manage two carts at once, and I had to smile inside. I could hear my father’s voice echoing throughout the corridors of time- “If I can fit two weeks worth of groceries for a family of six in one cart….” Enough said, father. I bow before your wisdom.

Let’s see. Wings? Well, I really shouldn’t, but my daughter will actually eat them, so… what the heck. In go two bags of wings. Swanson entrees were 10 for $10, so we’ll be eating Mexican food and salisbury steaks this week. TV dinners are great because they stack very nicely in the cart, and you can even turn them sideways. Kool-Aid you have to be careful with, but if you find a box that the Kool-Aid is displayed in, put it in there first. Bags of Lipton rice mixes can be a hassle, but I discovered that you can put them on the top shelf on either side of the eggs or bread, and they are just fat enough that they won’t slip out the sides.

My father taught me one philosophy- maximize the space. I have another one that is unique to myself- you get one pass through the store. When you hit the last aisle, you don’t go back because you forgot something. In and out. Otherwise you could be there all day. I have found most of the things on the school list, but the shaving cream aisle hasn’t appeared. Then I see it from across the room. Cool. But there is one problem-

The quickest way to get to the shaving cream is to pass through THE AISLE.

Guys, you know what I’m talking about. It is The Aisle That Dare Not Speak Its Name. It is The Aisle that men throughout history have let their wives cross through as they went over to dog food and tried to forget what they had just seen. Roosevelt once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself- and The Aisle. Kennedy proclaimed, “Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country; but ask your wife to go down The Aisle.”

I faced with a dilemma. Women, childbirth may be painful, but this runs a close second. But I had barbecued chips waiting for me at home. So I took a deep breath, walked quickly and thought of England. There. I was at the shaving cream shelf. That wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Why yes. Yes it was.

Two cans of shaving cream and one jug of milk later, I’m heading for the checkout lanes. Giant Eagle has about 20 of them, but half are self-serve, and when I have a full cart I don’t like to go that route. I want someone to do the work for me. As I waited I looked down, and what I saw was deeply disturbing to me. It filled me with a sense of shame. I felt as though I had let my father down. I saw… empty space. That little spot underneath the child seat had nothing filling it. I envisioned the scene:

FATHER: Son, you are in violation of grocery shopping code 3.02, section 5.03, paragraph A. I must ask you to turn in your Giant Eagle Advantage Card.

ME (with head bowed): Yes, Daddy.

FATHER: Your mother and I had high hopes for you, son….

I made it home and filled the shelves. My children love me, but when they see me with bags in my hand they only think of one thing- “What did Daddy bring me?” I looked down and noticed something that brought a tear to my eye. My autistic son was rearranging his Uno cards so they all faced the same way.

My boy was just like me.

My dad went shopping just the other day,
He entered the store in the usual way
But he had a list, and a cart that squeaks
He had to buy groceries for two long weeks
And as I watched him load the freezer with food that was new
I’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”

And the eggs in the carton have a little crack,
Lifting bags of charcoal really kills my back,
To the deli I go walking ‘cause my kids need meat
“Popsicles are for desert, son
You know you gotta eat roast beef.”

My son played Uno just the other day
The yellows and the reds had to face the same way
He has many skills that let him organize
His dominos and Cheerios are all one size
And as I watched him and his sister it occurred to me
My kids were just like me
They’re growing up just like me

And the pregnant woman’s reaching for the charcoal bag
The little boy is trying to hide the swimsuit mag
The mother and the father keep the kids at bay
When you go shopping on Labor Day
I went shopping on Labor Day


Blogger Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

I don't think I will ever look at grocery shopping the same again. (lol) Reminded me a little of my husband, SD. In and out and no looking back is his motto!


12:44 PM  

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