Grocery list: check. Pint-sized handcuffs: check.

My recent braggy fit about our daughter’s budding literacy might have left the impression that we’ve rushed out and purchased a set of kid-sized Latin flash cards. We are thrilled for her, and cliché-proud, and daily taken aback by what goes on in her feverishly active little brain. But we’re more tempted by the “Good Manners” flash cards (yes! they actually exist!).  Because below that brain lurks a heart, and it’s the heart of a three-and-a-half year old. Which spells F-R-E-Q-U-E-N-T   S-A-T-A-N-I-C    P-O-S-E-S-S-I-O-N. We’re holding off on the Nobel nomination just yet.

Three weeks back I alluded cryptically to a nightmarish shopping expedition. The short version ( “Short version?!” some of you just blurted out, sputtering coffee on your monitor, since you know better than to think you’ll find anything other than the long version at Casa LD), ahem, the shortish version is that somewheres about the canned goods aisle, the lil’ monkey realized something. She realized that when Baba is shopping with her and her little brother, Baba will not stray very far from the cart in which said little brother is parked. It didn’t take her long to draw a connecting line between this truth (Baba is a slow-moving, cart-tethered object) to the realization that she could wreak havoc all over the store, limited only by my will to chase her.

She still doesn’t quite understand what I mean when I refer to my “many paws” (it may confuse matters that I always paw the air when I use the word). But she does know that it means Baba can be guaranteed to chart the path of least resistance, so as to avoid boiling her own blood, or flipping a switch and behaving like an angry monkey at the zoo.

The girlie began testing her epiphany with delicate little forays further and further toward end of the aisle. Finally I called out to her, using the absent tone of a parent unaware of the holy hell that’s to come.

“Punky, sweetie, stay where I can see you, okay?” 

Giggle giggle.


I turned to face her, only to see her careening down the aisle, pony tail a-bobbing.  She hooked a left toward the dairy section, and then — poof! — she was gone. 

I thought to myself: “What can she do? She’ll be right back. She’s not really a bolter.” Note this, o ye inexperienced parent, the prophetic ingorance of “she’s not a bolter,” and any such similar pronouncement  (I thought our son was “not a bookshelf climber,” too, until last week when I saw him perched near the middle of the fiction section, as if it were Yosemite’s El Capitan and he were making an historic free climb of it.) Our awareness of our kids’ capacities is always at least two weeks behind schedule.

A minute later she reappeared, laughing maniacally, at the end of the aisle. I saw her out of the periphery of my vision and shot out “Sweetie? Please stay where I can s— ” and she was gone again. Cheshire cat grin left in her wake.

Though the grin was more like that of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 Batman.  A bit more demonic than impish.

“Bwuaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha,” I imagined hearing her say, right before she disappeared again. If only she could say “Bwuaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha.” Which at this rate should be coming any day now.

This routine persevered through the rest of my shopping trip, interrupted only by her little brother’s uprorious giggling when he made another sighting of her. She was a frickin’ UFO with a clown’s wig on or something.

Oh, I could have gone off and gotten her, I’m sure. But that would have surely tripped off a loud round of crying from her brother (another menopausal stress trigger), and it still wouldn’t have guaranteed she’d have consented to stay nearby. The only thing I could be sure of was a crying, upset baby in the grocery cart in addition to the A.W.O.L. toddler.  

For that matter, I could have also rolled over to the liquor section, unscrewed a bottle of cheap wine, and sucked it all down with one of their food sample paper cups, too.  Though that, evidently, is just as effective at exacerbating menopausal stress as, say, a madcap three-year old at the grocery store, zig-zagging out of sight (and into a precarious display of bottled goods? or the parking lot? or I don’t even want to think). 

How bad did it finally get? You want to know? I’ll tell you. I finally had to leave the cart (and the boy) in line to go find her and try to talk sense into her, knowing that circumstances dictated I prepare myself for my least favorite if most expedient parental tactic, coercion using superior force.  I managed to persuade her to join us in line, but her consent lasted for a millisecond.  She had come to love her liberated state so much that I could only keep her there by maneuvering her between my legs and then imprisoning her thrashing body between me and the counter. I was crouched like how windsurfers crouch, knees pinned to the counter wall, arms hanging on to the little platform they have for writing checks and processing credit cards and such. This was Popcicle Debacle, version 2.0.

Not like my expert positioning kept her from doing further harm. Just as I had scrawled my electronic signature on the keypad thingy and was about to finish the credit card transaction, I watched in horror as her pasty little fingers emerged from my carefully constructed human jail, and she hit — yes, she did — she hit the “CANCEL” button on the transaction. And thus the whole thing had to be re-mounted.

A woman and her two children had been gaping at the whole tawdry scene in silent amazement. I looked up at her and said, “Let this be a negative example for all of us.”

I mean really. The pinnacle of my parenting skills was to physically restrain the thrashing child. Defusing the source of the thrashing was well beyond my capacities in the moment.  

Bless her soul, as her children were furiously taking mental notes, the woman in line said to me: “She’s my daughter’s twin! My daughter’s twin! ” Bless her even more for resisting the natural urge to preface “twin” with “evil.” We were both in the same boat, she conveyed to me, even if it was the Titanic.

The only way I could leave the store with the girlie was by carrying her under my arm. Shopping cart pushed with the one hand (agog and infinitely entertained brother perched in the childseat), maniacal three-plus-year-old under the other arm.

I drove home in silence. Periodically, the lil’ demon monkey would say from the back seat, “Baba, how come you’re not talking?” She knows that only a freight train could stop her loquacious Baba from bantering with her about events of the day. And she had a good sense that she was that freight train.

When we pulled into the driveway, I said, “That was the absolutely worst grocery shopping experience I have ever had.”

To which she replied, “But Baba, that was the best one I’ve ever had.”

And I believe her.

14 thoughts on “Grocery list: check. Pint-sized handcuffs: check.”

  1. Oh, I know this all too well. We had a spate of such incidents on holiday in the UK in May. Cue frantic mother running haplessly down aisle after aisle looking for only toddler.

    We chose the truth as our approach: we simply sat her down and explained that there are many nice people out there, but the world also comes with a few nastier apples. And that said apples are not always nice to sweet munchkins. And that this was the reason why we preferred her to stay near to us, or at least within view of us. It worked, although it had her terrified for the first few days, which, in turn, made us feel guilty.

    Now, although she does stray from my skirts to explore, she always makes sure to remain in view or calls out gently to remind me and herself that we are near each other. I also have her help me do the shopping, which, I must confess, has led to some mighty interesting purchases.

  2. Our awareness of our kids’ capacities is always at least two weeks behind schedule.

    Ain’t it, though? It’s like trying to find a pattern to quicksand. Just as you think you’ve got it figured out, or a routine is established, everything moves. It’s almost like we don’t notice the routine until it’s been shattered. Horribly. In our faces. With audience participation.

    (We will do anything, anything, anything to avoid grocery shopping with our girls.)

    “Baba, how come you’re not talking?”

    Love this. My girl goes straight for the jugular when she’s in the sh*% and she knows it.

    “Are you happy, Mama? Are you really, really happy?”


    All that said – great post! I was living it with you.

  3. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard of that happening: another parent actually being supportive instead of looking at you like you’re the worst person/parent on the planet. That’s amazing.

    Both my kids were bolters from the minute they could walk. I kept them attached to me.

  4. OMG too funny. What made it even more funny is I could picture it the entire time because my son has done the same thing. And like you said, once they start, stoping them is next to impossible. My son usually does the “mom are you mad?” when I ride home in silence trying to keep my cool.

  5. Online grocery shopping. Honestly, it’s a gift from the goddess. I still have horrible, sweat inducing memories of a trip with a four year old that involved a big, white teddy bear in a Christmas gift display and screaming. Clicking a mouse while sipping tea is so much easier. These days my kids are beyond the tantrum in the aisles stage but it means I can avoid other people’s kids doing it!

  6. Eeek. Wow, you handled that incredibly well. I sure hope my daughter grows up to be as petite as I , because I’m basically screwed otherwise. I absolutely loved this one by the way.

  7. You are too kind, bossanders (and welcome!). I’m guessing I handled it well, only if the “Laissez faire” strategy counts as handling it well. Laissez faire whilst wiping the brow frequently. I think the girlie would have called it “Laissez les bon temps roulez,” or however they spell it down in the Big Easy.

  8. That sounds harrowing. Can you leave her home when you grocery shop (not by herself, obviously)? It need not be punishment, if you’re not into that, but you can calmly explain to her that it is the logical consequence of not listening to Baba while out at the store. She’s old enough to understand that she shouldn’t be running off like that for a variety of reasons, and smart enough to understand when she misses out on something fun. Perhaps coupled with a new adventure where she can run and hide to her heart’s content to show her the appropriate (and safe) way to run and hide and play.
    Just a thought. Glad it wasn’t me!

  9. As they get older you realize that they aren’t cute enough anymore for anyone to actually take them. Well, that and that the potential hijackers know you don’t have any way to pay any ransom anyway… Eight is now so anticipating freedom that she’ll lag far behind on nearly any expedition. And I mean WAYYYYY behind. I’ve taken to allowing the, as they say, ‘natural consequence’ happen and move to preparing to hear my name over the store’s loudspeaker that they’ve found my child.

    Harsh, I know. And I’m not even menopausal!

  10. Your satanic text was reminiscent of our ‘burnt pan’ phone calls: named after a senior colleague once very publicly took a call from his wife at work. She was phoning him in a state of great distress for guidance as she had burnt a pan whilst trying to look after their 3 children.
    At the time we mocked the futility and helplessness of it. Fancy phoning someone for that!
    The burnt pan calls that permeate our daily contact between work and home are a continued source of mirth. (Though wifey insists her breathless ‘Where have you lost all the dummies?’ was not burnt pan).
    Oh that we had seen the omen for what it was…..

  11. wow. wow.

    I tried so many times to talk to you (or just stand next to you) over the blogher weekend, after you stole my heart (along with about 600 others) at the community keynote. you were always surrounded – I am reticent to interrupt. but i lived those words – i held my breath with you – i remembered the breath holding, the hope, time moving ever so slowly- during my entire last pregnancy (after our son had died).
    thank you for sharing them.

    when my daughter was around 4, I lost my patience and scolded her wildly and angrily for hiding in racks of clothes, not coming out when i called her. she wanted to know WHY i was so scared, so upset, so afraid of her being out of my sight.
    I told her there were people out there whose brains worked very differently from ours. There were bad people who would hurt people, and especially children, because they could not fight back. She asked me, “why?”
    All I could tell her was that these bad people *had no respect for life*.
    Apparently, recalling the last time she had heard these words, in the context of an attempted explanation to ‘what is war?’, she said, “OOOOHHHH! Like GEORGE BUSH!!”

    yes honey, close enough. Stay away from child abductors and George Bush.

  12. ‘Burnt pan’ and ‘burnt pan phone calls’ have now entered my lexicon, Chumpy, thank you very much for that.

    And gwendomama, you are very kind. We all did a lot of good for one another at that conference, basically listening to one another tell our stories. I was honored to be able to have told mine, especially to an audience uniquely full of people who would know whereof I spoke. So thank you for listening with such heart.

    When I recovered my composure later in the day, I talked to our daughter about why it was that I was so upset when she slipped out of sight (and stayed there for so long). It was so hard — as you describe — to walk the line between making the proper impression and pulling the veil back on the viciousness of the world too early. Ick. One parenting task I dread a whole hell of a lot more than poopy diapers.

  13. Pardon me for laughing, but I’ve BEEN there. My girls are 2.5 years apart so about the same age gap as your kids. After one particularly horrible grocery trip with demon possessed children I started putting my oldest in the cart with the groceries and the youngest in the seat. Much to my surprise they liked that arrangement. Sure there were less groceries I could get and the occasional box of crackers or cookies pillaged during the outing, but much less bolting! And ya know, it didn’t involve handcuffs or duct tape. 😉

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