Down the Aisle

I was convinced I had not changed much since having Clara until I told the grocery store clerk, who nicely offered that almond milk didn’t taste as bad as it sounded, that it didn’t constipate my daughter like cow’s milk. I almost described how differently the two looked, and smelled, coming out the other end. It was the first time I had been grocery shopping without Clara and I was excited to make conversation.

It seems all of life’s changes can be measured in how you grocery shop. At 20 years old, Aaron and I would go to the Harris Teeter in Cornelius, NC, at 1:00 a.m. and spend fifteen dollars a piece on enough spaghetti, tuna, canned corn, and soy sauce to get us through two weeks. If we were at the super Walmart in Mooresville, we would wax collegiate on how mind-numbing was the incessant beeping of the new self-checkout scanners. Aaron would withdraw and say he hated corporate America and especially Walmart. I would be cheery because back then, grocery shopping together felt wildly domestic.

In the early years of marriage, when we were renting a 500 square foot cabin without plumbing for $300, we bought Brie cheese and lobster and asparagus for the first time. We splurged on seaweed wraps so we could make our own sushi. We did not buy generic, not even generic ziploc bags, and when the recipe called for fresh oregano or rosemary, we spent $3.00 on 1/32nd lb of herb. We bought Kahlua for White Russians as an evening nightcap. Every dinner involved more than ten ingredients, and every dinner was candlelit and set with matching place mats and cloth napkins.

Five years into marriage, the trip to the Publix in Tallahassee was like a date, a time to cajole and go slowly and see and be seen. It began with a  cup of complimentary coffee and ended with a weigh-in on Publix’s industrial size scale.  We would take turns loading the groceries to the conveyor belt, checking out our weekly weight, and too enthusiastically announcing whether we were up or down a pound. We scoured the buy-one-get-ones for sales on coffee and bread. Aaron would go to the meat section once we hit aisle 12, the tissue and napkin and Rubbermaid container aisle, and then find me again once it was time to buy cheese. We spent time comparing how much each item cost per ounce, and I smelled the onions for freshness.  I remember feeling very patient at the seafood counter as people decided between shrimp or scallops and asked how should they cook mussels.

When I was bulbous and pregnant, nearly bursting out of polka-dotted dresses, I would go to the grocery store to be reminded how happy I was to be having a child. If you need to be assured that people can be generous and good, be pregnant in public places. In the last trimester, I did not lift a can of tomatoes from the bottom shelf nor trigger the opening of a single automatic door without someone trying to help.

When your child is only months old and in the faintly chilled produce section, she cannot be wrapped in enough blankets to appease the grocery store new-parent watch dogs. Every time we took Clara the Infant to the store, we were told that she was too cold by some well-meaning, plumpish, perfumed woman who did not approach us directly but instead huffed her cautionary words as she passed us on the way to the apples. During this time, we discovered instant rice and casseroles that called for cream of mushroom soup. Back then, food preparation needed to happen in twenty minutes or less since Clara was always eating or sleeping or crying because she needed to eat or sleep.

Now, with a child who is generally happy to sit on the icky green plastic flap in the grocery cart, but who also makes no guarantees to stay this way, I am that woman and I’m sorry. I didn’t even know I cut you off when I crossed from the rows of chips into the rows of soda. My grocery store GPS is a list of thirty or so items organized according to aisles and a stack of coupons. Distracted by whether or not a coupon is for the 12.5 or 16 ounce box of Oatmeal Squares, I’ve been known to leave my cart in the middle of the aisle, unaware that people are waiting to pick up their granola bars for the week. I think I let Clara drop a couple Cheerios on the floor. I’ve bought more than one bag of tater tots and yesterday on the way home, I snacked on string cheese and a fruit roll-up.

When we get a chance to shop together on Sundays, Aaron is usually slowly pacing the aisles with a car-seated sleeping baby. Meanwhile, I am frantically bagging oranges and broccoli since the reigning law of parenthood is what goes to sleep must wake up.  Aaron will ask what he can get and I’ll say, just get whatever you want, thinking such a prospect must be very exciting for him. We’ll smile lovingly over the head of our child when we serendipitously pick out the same brand of salsa.

I still try to get Aaron to stay up late and he still tries to get me up early, but the truth is I can’t think of a single thing that hasn’t changed.

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