The earth is inhabited by two kinds of people: Those who love to go to the grocery store and then the other 98% of the population — those who have a life. Until my son came along, I was among the 2% who rank a trip to the grocery store right up there with a day at Six Flags. Lately, however, going to the store is more like going to a friend’s Tupperware party — you are obligated to go, you’re looking for the cheapest thing to buy and you hope you don’t have to go again for a long time.
Once upon a time, my weekly visit to the store was a serendipitous adventure. Tom Thumb was my boyfriend. I couldn’t wait to see him. It was exciting to think about what new and exotic fruit or vegetable or gourmet item he might have for me – would it be tomatillos, star fruit or imported olives? I would spend several hours going systematically up and down the aisles looking at all the different items and thinking about what fabulous dishes I might prepare. My cart runneth over (or to use proper Texan, my “buggy” runneth over). Even though my household consisted only of my husband and me, the boy bagging the groceries once asked me how many children I had to feed. Unfortunately, for him, he happened to ask this question too soon after a failed in-vitro attempt. I burst into tears. He tried to become invisible, and in fact, he was never seen again.
Now that I have a kiddo, I’ve quit seeing Tom. Sam is my new guy. If Tom Thumb is Omar Sharif, Wal-Mart is Al Bundy – convenient, cheap, annoying. The truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. I hate how they dominate the retail landscape. I hate how they wipe out the small mom-and-pop businesses when they come to town. I love that they are a block away and sell formula and diapers for less than anyone else in town. And most of all, I love the entertaining study in humanity that is Wal-Mart — almost as good as the airport, only with more local flavor.
Aside from where I shop, how I shop has changed as well. Where shopping once was a leisurely exercise, like golf only with more physical and mental exertion, it’s now a study in ergonomics and economy of motion. The goal of every trip is to maximize the shopping that needs to be done within the time restraints of my toddler’s disposition on any given day. No wasted motion, no wasted effort, no wasted time. Not even a second glance towards the beloved olives. I remember how, in my previous life, I used to see women in Nike’s, running through the store like spooked race horses that had somehow gotten out, pushing carts laden with children and macaroni and cheese, taking corners on two wheels. And I would think to myself: “They should really slow down and stop and smell the cilantro — life is short.” (Apparently I also had more time to wax philosophic.) What I didn’t know, until now, is that no one with a toddler buys cilantro and yes, life is short, but a toddler’s cart-tolerance is even shorter and death is only a slightly less attractive an option than a toddler melt-down.
Before Sean came along, there were no daily emergency trips to the grocery store. I consulted my cookbooks, I made a list, I pressed my clothes. If I were out of, say, anchovies, it could wait until next week. These days, it seems that I am at Wal-Mart just about every day for some emergency item, like chocolate. I realized this recently when the greeter, who knows me by name, calls to me as I’m pushing my over-the-legal-weight-limit cart out the door. “Nice Nike’s,” he says with a knowing look and a wink, “See ‘ya tomorrow.” I felt so cheap and tawdry! As if no other grocery store would have me! Tom wants me back you know. He still sends me coupons….