I refer to the list in my hand, peanut butter is underlined twice, as though it could be forgotten. Everything is accounted for on the list except for pickles which are located at the opposite end of the store. I hesitate and consider the need vs. want of the pickles when the baby squawks from his perch breaking my train of thought. Dimpled legs and barefoot feet kick at me, while a black safety belt holds his round belly in place.
“Ok, ok,” I say and start pushing the cart and its little captain again. He is happiest when he is in motion and the squawk was a warning. I don’t want any trouble from the tiny tyrant. The last time I heard that particular noise it was to a little girl who crawled with a threatening quickness towards us at a coffee shop. He spotted her and squawked which stopped and terrified her back towards the legs of her mother. Mission accomplished.
The baby world is strange, they communicate with a series of grunts, shrieks and squeals, kisses and slobbers, pinches and pats. They are the most primitive version of us, totally dependent and yet independent in wanting what they want when they want it. And he wants to go.
“Let’s check out and then we can go home and play,” I negotiate.
He seems to accept the offer as he stares up at the bright lights overhead with a half-smile. I wheel past the self-checkout lanes and towards the only one manned by an actual person. Self-checkout would be great for a single person with a bundle of bananas and a box of lightbulbs, not so great for the two of us and a week’s worth of groceries.
An old man with white hair, faded jeans and shiny penny-loafers gets in line behind us looking weirdly unburdened with only a pack of batteries in one hand. Meanwhile, the baby sets his attention on opening the sliding cooler door with bottles of soda and water beside the checkout lane, twisting his body to use both arms to reach it. I hold him down with one arm and load a bag of salad, lunch meat and baby food onto the moving belt. The cart is still overwhelmingly full to unload with one hand.
From behind me, the old man begins to speak. In my mind, I imagine his gentlemanly offer to help with the unloading. Chivalry is not dead. I chuckle at my geriatric knight and step aside to allow him to put his offer to good use.
In reality he says, “You’re awful small to have such a big baby,” peering over my shoulder and tapping his shoe like he has to be somewhere very important in the next two minutes.
I do not respond with a witty comeback about him being awful old to be so creepy and rude. Although I cringe at the thought of confrontation with a stranger, I am not afraid of it. On this day, however, I am simply too exhausted from keeping the baby happy and healthy, the house clean, groceries in the fridge and on and on to dish it back.
“Why don’t you and your batteries go in front of us?” I omit that he is an oblivious, useless man.
And, of course, he accepts my offer.