Negotiations with a baby

cartI 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.

How People Eat

grocery

The check-out lane extended into the cereal aisle, illuminated overhead by a harsh florescent light.  A couple pushed a cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and paper towels forward and took their place at the end of the line.  They inched forward at a pace only tolerable by those with an unlimited amount of life.  Unfortunately, it did not appear that any of the patrons in line had recently tasted of the sweet waters from the fountain of youth.  

The couple spoke in low voices, discussing meal planning and their weekly budget.  At the register, a man with a silver pinky ring and basketball shoes dropped an armload of goods onto the conveyer belt.  A can of peas rolled backwards as the cashier picked up a bundle of green bananas and swiped them across the scanner.  She wore a massive Afro picked out in every direction; her hair was loud and proud.

A woman in baggy jeans and a cat sweatshirt was next in line.  She dropped a bag of cat food onto the belt and unzipped a purple fanny pack from around her waist and started to dig around, while muttering something about coupons.   

Behind the couple, a thick woman with mascara heavy eyelashes rolled up with a cart full of breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, Poptarts, cereal and milk.  A chubby girl with her hair pulled into sections by colorful barrettes sat in the front of the cart, while an even chubbier boy stood at the end of it.  She was a distracted driver; the woman focused on a cell phone letting her cart find the way.  Meanwhile, the kids chattered back and forth in their own language, like birds on a wire.  

The boy looked around and rested his hands on his protruding stomach like a wise old man.  He was tall and nearly as wide as the cart.  Rolls held his head up, and gathered at his wrists and elbows.  The extra weight prematurely aged him as much as his surrounding environment, punishing and unfair to someone so young.

An elderly woman in large, round glasses and neatly bobbed grey hair, who looked like an elementary school teacher in a not-so-distant, pre-retirement life joined the line with her cart and stood behind the family.  She saw the boy looking so worldly, so bold and bright in that moment, she couldn’t stop herself from striking up a conversation.  

“Oh, hello there, you’re a big boy.  I bet you’re in…” the woman paused thoughtfully considering his age, “third grade,” she said triumphantly.

“Yup,” the boy agreed, nodding his head.

“Sure am.”

“K, you stop it.  You know you a kindergartener,” his mother said.

Without looking up from her phone, she took a few steps forward with her cart, not seeing her son’s crestfallen face and or his apologetic shrug towards the elderly woman.  The boy knew shame in that moment and pushed it down, deep into himself where it would stay with so many other hurts long after he became a man. 

The older woman looked at the boy through her thick lenses with love and appreciation.  She sought out his sad eyes and winked, bringing a quick smile to his face. 

This is how people eat.    

Grocery Store Sushi

sushi
The night after a weekend snowstorm is perhaps one of the best and worst of times to shop for groceries.

Generally, the shelves are picked clean of bread, meat, beer and potatoes (the usual Midwest fare), leaving only limp vegetables and over-priced granola for the unfortunate post-storm shopper. The positive side is that the aisles are usually just as empty as the shelves, a definite silver lining for any mildly anti-social person.

So this Monday, I popped into the grocery store for a few staples to get us through the week. While most of the store was creepily abandoned, there was a most surprising person standing angrily at the deli-counter. A Precious look-alike, if not the real Precious, stood with her chubby arms crossed holding her ground with a worker behind the counter.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to people watch, I rolled my cart towards the nearby cheese and sausage display. I pretended to examine a block of Munster while “Precious” remained in a heated argument with a small boy/man who appeared to be the sushi roller for the day.

“This time do it right,” she demanded and went on. “Just cream cheese, that’s it. That’s all I want.”

The young boy/man was baffled. This was not a restaurant or the type of store to make sushi to order. This was the wrong zip code for that type of grocery store service. He was simply under orders to make a certain number of several kinds of sushi to fill up the display case.

I risked a quick look at the counter, and it actually appeared that several pieces were missing from a container of sushi, now lying open in the neutral space between the two adversaries.

It is possible that in spite of the clear plastic container, she didn’t notice that various colored contents of each roll. She was then quite naturally shocked and disgusted to discover vegetables, seafood, and other unidentifiable contents in her mouth, when she only expected rice and cream cheese. Logically, she then had to eat another few pieces to make sure that this was not what she wanted. Each involuntarily eaten piece only increased her emotions and confirmed that she was tricked.
Now was the time of reckoning and she wanted this little boy/man to right this apparent wrong.

In an unexpected move, the clever boy/man nodded his head to the woman’s demands.

He said, “This is a very bad thing. I will get my manager.” He slipped through a swinging door into the back of the deli, never to be seen again.

Meanwhile, the Precious-look-alike waited and helped herself to a container of fried chicken which was her dues for suffering through the injustice of grocery store sushi.

I left humming the lyrics to an old song by Stephen Stills called, “Love the one you’re with.”

It just felt right.

Here’s a link to the song:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_the_One_You%27re_With
http://foodimentary.com/2012/04/19/origins-of-sushi/- interesting read on history of sushi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sushi