It’s been months since I had the guts to take my son to the supermarket. I’m not sure if every parent necessarily develops this form of shoppingwithtoddlerophobia, as I do sometimes see these relaxed women followed by faithful toddler girls doing a neat impersonation of a bonsai shopping housewife – but MY life does not look like that.
When my son started going to preschool, last November, I swore an oath to myself that I would always use those precious hours to practice the craft I love and WORK on my writing. But the craft I love is a foxy beast who knows many magic tricks to make time disappear, so slowly, over the months, I came to embrace the notion that slicing a tiny 25 minutes out of the two-hour Tuesday to dash get bread and a few other groceries for dinner was not such a bad idea after all.
For it spared me having to go with my Toddler.
He loves to be chased, it’s stronger than him, I get it. No-one can deny that, when done in a vacuum, this kind of past-time may be tons of fun. But NOT in a crowded department store on a Sunday afternoon. NOT at the petting zoo’s labyrinth, NOT at the open-air music festival, NOT at every single supermarket your little foot ever stepped on because if you do, there is a high chance you WILL eventually get lost while your parents will get heart attacks so bad they’ll leave scar tissue in their wake.
We lost our son five times to date. Never for longer than three minutes, but if you’ve ever tasted that kind of panic you know that three minutes is a nightmare enough. The last time (at the big playground in the the big park) the Little One himself got so scared he was sobbing and trembling when we found him and has been promising he will never do it again ever since.
He solemnly sticks out his index and looks me in the eye stating, “I pWomise you Mama, I pWomise. I do not run away again! I want to always be close to you, Mama. Don’t let me alone’. And indeed, since the big playground incident, he developed an almost equally exhausting separation anxiety thanks to which, whenever we are in a public space where, ideally, he should entertain himself while I read my book, he clings to me, whines if I don’t let him knead my earlobes, wants all the snacks, and bursts out with sentences such as, ‘You will not go away, Mama, I must always be with you. I am your Bambi’.
Given this new turn of morale, and given the simmering irritation this prolonged sacrificing of oh-so-scarce writing time is giving me, today I decided to dedicate the entire Preschool time to the story outline of a movie I’m working on and go pick up the chocolate-oatmilk (my son’s dope), the laundry detergent, and the buffalo mozzarella after I picked him up.
So this is how shit worked out.
On the way to the supermarket he whines forever about wanting to go to the ice-cream parlour instead, so when we park the bike, I come down to his eye level and offer a deal. If he will behave himself and not run away from me, I will get him a box of pear-flavoured ice lollies. He happily agrees, we seal the deal with a shake of our pinkies, and enter the supermarket.
Inside, he behaves not so terrible, and indeed he does pretend to run away a few times, but he doesn’t do it. So, to stand up to my side of the deal, I get him the promised lollies.
At the cashier’s, the Little One helps by proudly unloading our groceries from his mini-cart onto the belt and right when the first items are being scanned by the lady at the cash and I’m already pawing in my bag for my wallet.
HE TAKES OFF.
Bloody brat – I’m mere seconds behind him, but that’s already enough advantage for him to escape and zigzag across the whole damn store roaring with laughter. I catch him when he’s already by the bananas, steps away from the entrance, and that only because I knew what he was trying to do.
His goal is always the sidewalk.
‘NOOOO MAMA PLEEEEEAAAASEEEE, NOOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOO! LOL! LOL! LOL!’ I stomp back to the cashier’s, where the lady has already scanned everything and is throwing impatient glances at the small queue forming at her spot.
‘I’m sorry my friend, but you just screwed up your chance for lollies!’, I inform the kicking child flung across my shoulder then I walk up to the bunch of groceries waiting at the end of the slide, pick out the box of lollies and ask the lady to take it off the bill.
‘WHAT!? NO MAMA NO MAMA NO NO NO PLEEEEEAAAAASEEEEE MAMAMAMAMMAMA PLEEEEEEEEEEEEASEE ICE LOLLIES!!!!’, to the cashier’s dismay – I take off again.
‘Forget it kiddo the ice lollies go back to the freezer this very second if you think you can corner me with this last-minute escape bullshizz you better think again I’m tired of this crap Little One you are old enough to understand what…’
‘ICEEEEE LOLLIEEES! ICE LOOOLLLIEEEEES!! IIIICEEEEEE LOOOLLLIIEEEEEESSSS!!!!! ICEEEEEEEEEEE LOLLLLLIEEEEEEEEEEEES!!!! ICEEEEELOLLIEEESICEELOOOOLLIEEESSS AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!’
The entire supermarket is staring at us. This is one of the rare moments I feel grateful for the bits of acting training and stage experience I had in high school, as they allow me to block the ‘audience’ out of my consciousness – the aghast faces gathered by cashier’s where my mozzarella is still waiting for me.
But I do owe these people something. A shadow of an explanation, a fragment of logic onto which to hold so they can see me as the struggling human I am, and not a degenerate who likes to torture children in public places by taking pear-flavoured lollies away from them! I need to have these people on my side in order for things to go smooth, convince them of the gravity of the situation and so I finally explode, shouting at the top of my lungs so that every last radish in the salad department would hear it unequivocally,
‘YOU BROKE A PINKIE PROMISE, GODDAMMIT!!!!’
I put my sobbing child down next to the cashier’s, mumble an apology to the lady, fumble for my wallet without taking my eyes off my son to make sure he doesn’t do it again.
‘Don’t worry, take your time, calm down’, the cashier lady looks at me with eyes full of understanding, ‘You can give him a few slaps once you’re out of here’.
Wait. What? I freeze with my ATM card in my hand, stare at the woman as if she had spoken in an alien tongue and suddenly all my irritation and existential exhaustion shift focus from my misbehaving offspring onto this stranger who assumes I’m someone capable of slapping a 3-year-old.
‘Thank you for your support, madam’, I seethe with murder in my stare, ‘but for your information, I do not hit my child. Ever! So he’s not going to get any slaps from me, not inside and not outside of this shop. BUT NO ICE LOLLIES EITHER!’
‘ICEEEEEEE LOLLLLLIEEEEEEEESSS!!! MAMMAMAMMMAMA PLEEEEEEEEEASE! ICEEEEEELOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLIIIIIIEEEEEEEES!!! BWAAAAAAAAH!!!’, and so I throw my shopping into my backpack, pick up my wailing son, hold him tight, and get the fuck out of there before the cops arrive.
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Marta Parlatore is currently an Artist in Residence in Motherhood – find out more on the official ARiM website. Subscribe to this blog to never miss a post and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.