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 . . .”

Killing me softly with yogurt

As a rule, I avoid the ladies (and occasional gentlemen) who hand out samples in the grocery store. My wife likes to see what they have to offer, but I don’t even like to make eye contact with them.

One summer during college, I worked in a grocery store, often behind the bottle return counter. This was before anyone invented machines to take back all those gross, sticky bottles. Instead, they got handed to me. I had to touch every one of them in order to sort them into the proper bins. With that kind of baggage, is it any wonder that I find the idea of eating anything in the grocery store abhorrent?

The days of my youthful exuberance, before working the bottle return counter made me cold and cynical . . . and bald. (My neck is no longer bent under the weight of that hair.)

So, no, I don’t want to try a sample. It’s probably some unholy combination anyway; hence the need to force it upon unwitting passersby. Even if it could defy the odds and appear somewhat appetizing, I have my grocery store demons to keep my teeth clenched together.

I was appalled, therefore, shopping with my son, to find a sample lady beaming at us expectantly from the end of our aisle. This meant I would have to sacrifice another little piece of my soul in declining the generous offer of a kindly stranger.

Worse was the betrayal I felt at realizing that my boy was pulling me toward the trap, eager to see what treats this woman was offering out of her gingerbread house. I hate it when he acts like his mother’s boy and his mother is nowhere near to deal with the consequences.

Overcome with a rare spell of patience, I concluded that it was not right to make the boy carry the burden of my supermarket baggage. I allowed him to lead me to the sample cart, where his instincts were proven to be uncanny. The lady was doling out cups filled with flavored yogurt made especially for kids.

Through what witchcraft this lady wordlessly reeled him to her, I cannot say. I let him taste a sample, but I stayed very near his side. As sweet and gentle as she appeared, she was still a grocery store sample lady.

My son ate the entire sample. He said he liked it. I was skeptical. This boy eating yogurt? It didn’t seem right. I asked him if he were sure he liked it. He nodded. He really liked it. We should buy some for home.

A scientific breakthrough of enormous potential: flavored yogurt developed especially to appeal to kids.

I asked the proud lady where this magical, child-friendly yogurt was to be found. She pointed toward the opposite corner of the store. Excellent. This would give me a chance to remove the boy from her sphere of influence and question him privately about the yogurt. When the truth came out, we could exit the store yogurt-free, and without Yogurt-Mesmer knowing our deception.

She read my duplicitous soul through my eyes. A knowing smile lit her face. “I happen to have one more four-pack right here,” she said, materializing the item from the amorphous folds of her robe. (Robe, apron, what’s the difference?) My son’s eyes grew bright. Mine darkened. Defeated, I took the package and put it into our cart.

Later that day, when my son asked for a snack, I opened one of his cups of yogurt for him. He took the first spoonful willingly enough, but made an unhappy face at tasting it. The second spoonful took more effort. It was the last. “This stuff is disgusting!” the boy declared. He’s never taken another bite of the concoction. He runs away whenever I mention opening another cup of it for him.

Wasted potential: flavored yogurt developed especially to appeal to kids, meet garbage disposal, developed especially to erase evidence of Daddy’s gullibility.

That’s how modern witchcraft works, my friends. No longer does it lure children into candy houses where they are fattened up as dinner entrees. Now it lures them to the sample cart, where Daddy’s money is sucked down the rabbit hole of the retail machine. It’s good to see that even fairy tales are keeping up with the times.