There was a time in my life when an afternoon craving for pesto was all it took to warrant a quick pop-in at the grocery store on my way home from work. The hardest part of the spontaneous errand was debating if I should buy fresh basil to make my own or grab a pre-made container from the cold case. Either way, I’d be in and out within 7 minutes, craving satisfied.
That time in my life is over. El Fin. There are no quick pop-ins with two toddlers and two five-point harness carseats to contend with. There are especially no quick pop-ins at the grocery store, which might as well be a Tough Mudder obstacle course when accompanied by small children.
Let’s talk about those let-your-kid-pretend-he’s-driving-a-car shopping carts. Let’s start with those precious gifts, shall we? So adorable! So novel! When your first kid is approaching his second birthday and you think he’s finally ready – what an exciting day that is! He’s obsessed with cars, he loves to sit in the driver’s seat of your car in the driveway, and he’s just starting to understand the basic concept of following instructions, so surely this will be fun for the whole family, no? The Instagram pictures will certainly spread joy to all who see them! Ohmygosh ohmygosh, do we own a tiny driver’s cap he can wear?!
EXCEPT. Except why are the seatbelts always broken? Always, forever, 100% of the time, there is no humane way to secure your kid into that thing unless you travel with your own bungee cord (OMG why don’t all moms travel with their own bungee cords?! How did I just think about this right now for the first time?). Sometimes one side of the seatbelt fastening system is just slightly broken, the break invisible to the naked eye. As you load your kid into the seat it looks fully functional and you think you have stumbled upon a rare endangered specimen, but when you attempt to click him into safety? No click. If you’re smart, you try to fool him by making a little clicking sound of your own to lead him to believe that there’s no way he’s getting out of there until you “unbuckle” him (wink, wink). Good luck with that, honey. All those prenatal horse pills and Omega whatevers that you took to foster his supernatural brain development will come back to bite you when he sees right through your little ventriloquist routine and he makes his car-cart escape 45 seconds into your shopping trip in the middle of the produce aisle.
Sometimes the nature of the seatbelt breakdown is obvious from the start, like in the more common instances of unilateral or bilateral absenteeism of either the belt or the buckle, or both. And I swear to you that I once attempted to buckle my kid into the car-cart to find that the “buckle” consisted just of a little plastic hook on one side, and absolutely nothing on the other side. The “absolutely nothing” side didn’t appear to have been tampered with or broken in any way --- just a nice fresh seatbelt strap ending in a clean, straight hem. No hardware of any kind, and no fraying where hardware may have once been. Just a dare to get down on my knees on that nasty grocery store floor and attempt to secure a toddler into a Cozy Coupe with one singular flimsy hook. Are the employees in the break room watching this on the security camera and placing bets? “What’s the over-under on how long this mom spends trying to strap her kind into that car-cart?” You win, grocery store employees, YOU WIN.
Whatever the circumstances of your grocery store’s particular car-cart seatbelt malfunction, the bottom line is that your kid is not going to stay in that thing. Look, maybe you’re still in denial (“but my son is such a good listener, surely he will sit obediently by his own free will”), or bargaining (“but what if I bribe him with a treat if he stays seated the whole time?”), but the sooner you can get to acceptance, the better equipped you’ll be to handle what comes next.
Your kid trying to amputate his own hand.
That’s what comes next.
They just can’t get enough of those wheels, and they just NEED to touch them, okay? They’re real quiet during this part, so you might miss it the first time. You’re feeling like super mom, loading up your cart with organic quinoa and gluten free kale, thinking your kid is enjoying this thrilling driving/shopping experience so much that he is just mesmerized down there. What’s really happening, though, is that he’s watching those wheels whirl just right outside his car-cart door, and he wants to have a real Montessori sensory learning moment and put his hands all over them to fully understand their glory. If you’re lucky, you see that little hand start sliding down the outside of the “door” and you can stop it before it starts. But maybe you don’t quite catch it until too late, when Driving Ms. Daisy has his entire upper body hanging out of the “window” and is screaming like a howler monkey because his hand has now made two full rotations under the wheel and is being crushed under the weight of all that BPA-free Kefir yogurt and shame-free eggs. You’ll know next time that the silence is the first warning.
Like James Franco in 127 Hours, your child will only make the self-amputation mistake one time. He’ll quickly shift his focus upwards and begin to cultivate a fascination with the roof of the car-cart. Because seriously, if he could just get up there for one second it would be so awesome! The grocery store merchandisers do not cater to the toddler seated in the car-cart, they cater to the young elementary school child who has more thoroughly broken her mother’s spirit by now and has crafted an absolutely airtight argument in the case for Cap’n Crunch, which has not-so-coincidentally been shelved right at her eye level. Know what else is at her eye level? The roof of the blessed car-cart. Your toddler sees all that colorful, sugary goodness up there and quickly realizes that if he could just get on the roof, it could all be his! He gets quick and ninja-like about this. You turn for a moment, checking to see if the last 4 digits on that acorn squash barcode sticker indicate whether or not it’s been vaccinated, and BAM, your kid is on the roof. Give him his pageant queen moment, waving victoriously from his car-cart-cum-parade-float, and then promptly put him up front in the baby seat, where you threatened he’d finish this shopping trip if he didn’t keep his hands and feet in the vehicle at all times.
It always ends this way, with the toddler in the baby seat, devastated, while you attempt to pare down your grocery list to the absolute essentials so you can all just get out of there alive. Must get milks (unhomogonized whole, unsweetened almond, skim – all organic, obviously), must get bananas (did I hear that Dole is using slave labor? Are these local? Do bananas even grow in the continental United States?), COFFEE (whatever, does it have caffeine? That’ll do).
The toddler then starts to climb out of the baby seat, threatening to tip over the entire cart because WHAT IS UP WITH THE WHEELS ON THOSE THINGS? Do any of them swivel? Whose idea was it to put 4 fixed wheels on this extra long Buick of car-cart? Is this your way of telling me that I need to work out more? Because I’m in a full sweat now, trying to round the corner with one hand on the handlebar and one hand on the toddler, and ohmygosh we’ll just eat Kraft Mac and Cheese every night this week because I have to get out of here right this very second.
I just hope you didn’t forget juice.
Written by Anna Quinlan.