Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First grocery shopping without my little shopper

Flickr Photo: MyEyeSees
When I got to the grocery store last week, it was my first regular weekly shopping without Teddy in the cart since November 2008.  He's too busy with kindergarten to go shopping with me now.  It hit me with a pang in the store, but I held my emotions together...temporarily.

The words "grim" and "bleak" came to mind to describe shopping without him.  Regular readers will know that Teddy considered the grocery store the best errand we could run together.  On most trips, he got to ride in a race car cart with two steering wheels of his very own.  On most every trip, he got a cookie card cookie at the bakery.  He could tolerate other errands if I promised that the grocery store lay at the end of the rainbow.  He chattered happily through a trip except when he was ingesting that precious cookie.  He just brought a shine to the whole experience.  So if "grim" and "bleak" go too far, "lackluster and "workaday" certainly don't.  On this trip, I suddenly noticed a fair number of older ladies shopping alone; yes, they were mostly ladies.  It reminded me how short the window actually is when little kids accompany their parents to the grocery store regularly.

It's felt like a long pull for me because Paige entered law school when Charlie was a year old.  From then on, with short interruptions, grocery shopping has been my purview, usually with at least one young patriot in tow.  I've become conditioned to a small human presence with me, often right in front of me, increasingly-longer legs sticking out those two windows in the wire mesh or curling up in the race driver's cockpit.

Later that day, in the library, I had a strange "phantom limb" experience.  Running errands with little kids means walking at a slower pace than one might alone and constantly checking to make sure they're keeping up.  I strode into the library and instinctively started to perform the tag-along check only to realize that nobody would tag along.  That this solitary circumstance would persist on the vast majority of errand-running outings in the foreseeable future hit me pretty hard.

There are advantages, of course, to flying solo.  In the checkout line as I told the clerks that I was shopping without my little guy for the first time in a long time, a 2-year-old in a stroller melted down two lanes over.  Mom struggled to console him while keeping the checkout process moving.  Also, no one asked me (whining) when we would get to the grocery store before I got there.

I had to grieve the loss of an occasionally-troublesome companion.  In the parking lot, when I finally let the tears flow, I called Paige (who thankfully answered) to unburden myself about how lonely it all felt.  I just needed to cry and feel the pain of realizing how Teddy's sunniness about the grocery store could bathe the whole enterprise in a positive glow.  It's easy to notice and complain about the efficiency drag a young, mercurial child can put on just getting things done.  It took his absence to remind me of all the positive aspects of his companionship.  When I first went part time at work, I thought about all of the intentional, enriching things that daddy and son could do together in two whole days every week.  Pretty soon, I realized that what we mostly had to do together was transport ourselves to various places where we could acquire, service or divest of the various things our household needs or no longer needs: grocery store, dry cleaner, library, city compost dropoff, butcher, "fix it garage", gourmet cheese emporium, consignment store, shoe store, (ugh!) mall.

That kind of stuff made up the bulk of our days together, and sometimes my challenge was to engage with him there in the trenches.  He could learn and grow there with me; we didn't need to be at the museum or on a playdate.  A proud moment occurred in the grocery aisle when he asked that we buy some product and then said "which one's on sale"?  A few moms nearby overheard, and we shared a knowing laugh together.  He had adopted a chief norm in our family's culture.

Although the end of this season approached for months with no hint of surprise, it's taken certain physical moments to understand how real it is: he just got on that school bus; I just walked into this store without him.

We lose our time with them in stages.  He still comes home in the afternoon.  I find myself looking forward to days when school is closed and to next summer.  Older parents always tell younger parents to "hold onto these days and cherish them".  How can one possibly do that?  One must decide to do that.  And the only day that any of us can hold onto and cherish is the current one.  We have to decide that the moment we're in - no matter how insignificant it seems - is the only moment we actually have and control.  This is the moment whose positive attributes we should appreciate.

I hope Teddy learns more at kindergarten than he  learned with me, but I know there are certain things he could only get through the contact we had these last three years.  Also, I hope he wants to go to the grocery store on Veteran's Day.  It's a Friday.  School is closed, and I don't work on Fridays.


Azure said...

Really beautiful!

Anne H. said...

Always they grow and move further into the world and need us less. We wouldn't want it any other way but it's still hard.

Lauren Jackson said...

Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about when I said that Colin heading to Kindergarten has been the hardest transition I've had to make as a parent. Though I'm now also dealing with transition from primary to secondary parent and that's kind of hard, too, though less abrupt.

For Teddy's sake, and yours, sounds like you'll need to save some of those grocery trips for weekends, not just Labor Day!