The family that shops together . . . ends up with a cart full of junk food

Last time I wrote about our family adventures in the grocery store, it was to praise the unsolicited intervention of “helpful” strangers. On our latest trip to the market, we could have used a helpful stranger – one good at pushing shopping carts instead of friendly advice.

If we are only collecting the products we actually need, one cart is plenty. I am more than equal to the task of pushing it around the store while my wife herds the children in the generally desired direction and hunts coupons on her iPad.

But when Buster scoots down the aisles on impulse power, bringing in every item that looks good to his sweet tooth or salty-snack-craving tongue, we could use a second cart for the pile of groceries that nobody with any money intends to buy.

I don’t remember Big Brother ever adding this volume of groceries to the cart. Buster started doing it because he thought he was being helpful. Back then, it was random items to help us fill the cart. Now, he’s become selective, choosing only products that look good to eat.

Buster's groceries

Buster’s stash of groceries that he absolutely needs.

If the cookies look particularly tasty, Buster is not above bringing multiple boxes to the cart. Any attempts to dissuade him from his gluttony are met with a standard reply: “I need it!” When you are two years old, chips and candy are no mere desires. You need these things to sustain you in your never-ending battle against the meat, fruit, and vegetables that are constantly being pushed at your face.

My wife and I have different philosophies about Buster’s foraging expeditions. I try to discourage him from putting extraneous items into the cart, but my wife doesn’t think it’s worth the public whining and crying. She wins this debate, though she now has Buster nearly trained to put his groceries on the bottom of the cart, which is something of a compromise, I suppose.

At least it keeps Buster from dropping a jug of juice into the basket on top of the bread and eggs. Most times it does; as I said, he is nearly trained.

Here comes the juice

Nearly trained, but sometimes you’ve just got to see how a jug of juice will bounce.

At the last aisle, we have another debate over whether to dump all of our unwanted groceries on a lucky cashier or attempt to put them back where they belong. I win this debate. My victory entitles me to be the one who retraces our path through the store searching out the homes of all our superfluous items while my wife distracts Buster elsewhere.

I feel a little strange going through the store putting things onto the shelves. I bet it’s not really what my fellow shoppers want to see me doing. But, it will be over soon. In the blink of an eye, Buster will have graduated from his hunter/gatherer stage. Then he will be right there with Big Brother, pleading his case: “Can we get those cookies? Why not? Just, please.  Can we get just one box? That’s not fair. We never get to buy anything I like . . .”

Kid catcher

When I was a much younger man, I had blond hair. Now my hair is one part dark, one part gray, and one part gone – these parts are neither equal nor listed in decreasing order. In my young, blond days, I would sometimes let my hair grow long. It would get very curly on the ends. Historically astute friends compared my locks to those of Lt. Col. (a.k.a. General) Custer.


My hair twin. He was brave, warlike, and a heavy greaser. I am none of these things, which may explain why I have outlived my hair.

During one of my Custer periods, I worked with a Native American woman. My historical doppelgänger notwithstanding, we got along well. She made dream catchers and one day she presented me with a very attractive dream catcher as a gift.

If there were any irony in this hand-made Native American craft being given to the look-a-like of General Yellow Hair, it did not stop me from accepting the gift. To this day, it hangs over my bed.

It works pretty well at catching bad dreams. Unfortunately, it does nothing to stop children from coming to me in the night. What I really need in my room is a kid catcher.

The other night, Big Brother woke us up to announce that he’d had a bad dream. I know he has his eye on my dream catcher, but he’s not getting it. I earned that dream catcher by proving that all guys who look like Custer aren’t jerks to Native Americans.

Custer's dream catcher

It used to be a bit more ornate, but time and curious children have taken their toll.

I was too tired to endure him climbing over me, so I moved over and let him sleep on the edge. That’s when I remembered how much I hate the middle. There was no hope of rest between two such interpretive sleepers as my six-year-old and my wife.

I was saved from this spot by the silhouette of Buster, back-lit by the hall night light, standing still in the doorway. Whether he’d had a bad dream, or was merely plagued by too many toddler worries on his mind, he did not say.

As Big Brother gets less creepy about coming into our room in the night, Buster picks up the slack. Buster silently hovers in the doorway, a mini shadow of the human form. The mere vibe of it, spurs everyone to full wakefulness.

Since there was no room for a fourth in our bed, Mommy got a brilliant idea. Both kids should sleep in Big Brother’s bed and keep each other company. “Would you like to sleep in Big Brother’s bed?” she asked Buster.

“No,” he replied. “Sleep with Daddy.”

Her great idea wasn’t a total flop. She somehow used the momentum of it to get Big Brother back into his own bed, even without the company of Buster.

But that still left us with an extra human in our bed. Buster tossed and turned as he thought his deep thoughts, and so did I, even though my thoughts were comparatively shallow.

We do have a kid catcher in our room after all. Mommy and Daddy have always called it by the wrong name: our bed.


Reading is fun, except for all those words

I was helping my 1st grade son with his homework. This isn’t the perfect bonding exercise, as he does not like doing his homework and I do not enjoy watching him not like doing his homework. It leads to impatience in my voice, which he likes almost as little as he likes doing his homework.

Earlier this year, as I was dragging him out of bed for school, he told me, “I don’t like learning. It’s not really fun for me.” Dragging him out of bed in the morning is not really fun for his parents, but I suppose that’s an issue for another day.

Part of his homework that night was a questionnaire from his reading teacher. I guess she wanted to get a feel for each child’s attitude about reading before getting too far into the year. My son is a pretty good reader, when he has to be. And when he doesn’t have to be, he’s playing with LEGOs.

When it comes to reading practice, he’s lazy. I could compare him to a mule or other reluctant worker, but that’s not quite strong enough. The only simile that fully captures it is: he’s as lazy as a six-year-old.

The first question on the homework was: “Reading is _________”

The boy thought about it for a second, then filled in the word fun.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really? You don’t act like reading is fun.”

“Reading is kind of boring. But I think this is what the teacher wants me to say,” he explained.

It would be hypocritical of me to make him change his answer, since much of my own school career was based upon political expediency.

What books?

He loves going to the library. They have fun toys and games there, and you can even borrow Sponge Bob videos.

He answered a few more questions about his favorite subjects to read before he got to the question: “The best thing about reading is _________”

He didn’t have to think about it at all. He quickly went to work answering the pictures.

This didn’t sound much like a reading is fun kid, but maybe you can like to read and still like the pictures even a tiny bit more than the text. I let it go.

The next question was: “The worst thing about reading is _________”

He didn’t miss a beat. “The words,” he said, quicker than he could touch his pencil to the paper.

I had to slow him down this time. If you are going to start off playing this game of hiding your opinions behind the expected preferred opinions, then you ought not directly contradict yourself by letting your true feelings out later.

I should have let him look foolish with his incongruous answers, but I was in no mood to be dragged down with him.

We discussed it and decided the hard words made a better answer.

So it boils down to this: reading is fun, especially when accompanied by numerous illustrations, but the enjoyment can be diminished by an overabundance of difficult passages.

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable opinion, doesn’t’ it?


Way of the peaceful toddler

Periodically, one or more of my boys will spend an hour or two at work with me while my wife does the things she has to do to bring home some extra bacon for our household. Despite what I just made that sound like, she is not a call girl. She does perfectly legal work, on top of the work of managing three boys every day.

Last week, Buster spent a couple of hours with me. My bosses are pretty tolerant of my trailing a duckling behind me once in a while, but I still like for the children to be as inconspicuous as possible. It’s a handy privilege that I don’t want to lose.

To that end, my wife sent her iPad with Buster so he could play games on it while I got some work done. It’s a good theory, and it worked reasonably well for a while. The problem is that Buster only mostly knows how to play the iPad games. There is a point in every game when he gets stuck. Then he gets frustrated. Frustrated two-year-olds are not good at keeping themselves inconspicuous.

a day at the office

They pick up on things so quickly. Eyeing the telephone with suspicion is one of the keys to surviving an office job.

In order to keep Buster from voicing his frustration in his most piercing toddler voice, I rolled my chair over to him and encouraged him to take deep breaths. “Breathe in. Breathe out. Like this. Whoooooo. Ahhhhhhh. Doesn’t that feel better?”

I may have over-exaggerated the depth of the breaths I demonstrated and he found this amusing.

Before long, he was copying my deep breathing and smiling his bright smile. He was forgetting his frustration and enjoying the breathing game I was playing with him. Of course, it was useful because it was a game; he wouldn’t draw the connection to the calming properties of the deep breaths themselves.

In this way, we eked out the remaining time without any loud whining. My wife picked him up. I took a few calming, deep breaths and went back to work.

Now, Buster is a sweet boy, but he is also a toddler. And you can’t spell toddler without issues. (All of the non-parents are saying, “Wait, what? There’s only one common letter in those two words.” Ah, the innocent spelling rules of non-parents.)

One of Buster’s issues is that he often wakes up angry from naps.

Soon after I got home from work, we heard crying from Buster’s room. I went to rescue him from his nap, but he wouldn’t talk to me nor come to me when I put my arms out for him. I told him to come downstairs when he was ready and left him on his bed to work out his feelings.

A few minutes later, my wife went to check on him. She brought him down with her. He was much more relaxed.

“What was he doing up there?” I asked.

She laughed. “He was sitting on his bed taking deep breaths.”

Sometimes it’s Daddy who isn’t ready to draw the connections.