There was a time about 12 years ago when I thought going to the grocery store was fun. I was newly married, and I found it exciting to pick new ingredients for meals and to browse the aisles. Two-and-a-half years later that changed.
We became parents.
It now meant lugging a baby carrier and heaving it onto the cart and entertaining a little person throughout the entire trip. That baby then became a crabby toddler who needed a nap and tried to grab things off the shelf. That toddler then became a walking, talking preschooler who needed every sugar-filled item in sight and did not understand why she couldn't stand on the side of the cart.
Photo submitted by TABITHA GOODLING
Lydia Goodling, 4 1/2 years old, center, is pictured in a shopping cart with her sisters, from left, Hope, Lily and Melinda, 2 years old.
Then we had the triplets.
Briefly I grocery shopped alone because I had someone at the house who could watch my triple bundle. Soon, however, those babies also became toddlers and they began the journey to the local grocery store every other week with mom.
How did I take four kids ages four and under to the store peacefully?
I became thankful for the carts with the cars on the front. I would perch two toddlers in the car and one in the cart facing me. The oldest child would simply have to walk. That contraption/scenario lasted until the triplets were about five years old. Their long legs now reached the steering wheel of the car. So now everyone must walk.
How do I do it?
I don't. It became too chaotic.
First of all, I used those car carts as long as I could; but I have to admit I didn't like them that much. First of all, if you have so many kids that you need to use one of those buggies, you obviously need a lot of space for your groceries. It seemed like the actual grocery cart itself was smaller than the average cart. I was stacking giant packs of toilet paper on top of the car roof and holding on to gallons of milk threatening to roll out of the cart. Plus the steering on those things was ridiculous. By the time I mastered steering the dumb thing and could parallel park it between other carts (OK, maybe not), the girls were too big to ride in it.
My problem with bringing all four kids to the store after age 5 was that they were on the loose. They were free. I tried to stuff them in that car up until their sixth birthday. Their knees were touching their ear lobes. I insisted it would be OK and to enjoy the ride. But one of them always seemed to get her arms free enough to smack the one next to her. And close quarters meant arguing and shoving and crying and even some unfortunate and unnecessary bodily noises which would cause unsuppressed giggles that could be heard two aisles over.
The one walking would start to whine and want to push the cart. So I let her push the cart. It always ended up on my heels. Always. The music in the store would make my whimsical triplet begin to dance - whether she was in the car cart or walking in the store. She would insist on shaking her entire body and making her sisters giggle. She is the same child who would ask the cashier questions. An example was when we went to the farmer's market and she asked the not-so-friendly lady behind the counter, "Hey. Are you the farmer?" She did this at Wendy's by asking the cashier if she was, in fact, Wendy.
Besides trying to limit my daughter's interviews, I was trying very hard to keep the four kids in order.
I would constantly find myself shushing them, apologizing to other customers as we went by and trying very hard not to laugh at their antics as though I was in favor of them.
So then they went to school.
And thus began grocery shopping alone. I felt free. I was the one dancing in the aisles now.
I realize this is not an option for everyone. So I have some advice. Every now and then I have no choice but to drag the little monkeys into the store.
First of all, if you have kids younger than age five - or a kid with nice, short legs - encourage them to get in the car cart. Urge them. Buckle them. Make a few "vroom vroom" noises to make it enjoyable.
But if you're like me and your kids just don't fit anymore, try to let them help. Give each kid a department or aisle of the store that he or she can put things in the cart. Let them try the samples. If they're eating, their mouth is too busy to whine or shout.
Make a game of it. Let them find the letters of the alphabet in each aisle.
Keep them busy. That is key. The more their little minds are thinking, the less likely they are to drive you insane.
Talk to them. This is your chance to talk to your child(ren). Ask them about their day while you scan the cereal shelves. These are moments you won't get back. I tell myself often as I sigh in exasperation that one day I will be without this part of my life. I will long for the days of the car carts.
Tabitha Goodling is a freelance writer from Juniata County. She and her husband, Jeremy, have been married 11 years and share four daughters: Lydia, 9, and triplets, Hope, Melinda and Lily, 6.