This past Saturday, I stopped by Central Market to pick up some oat milk--which they didn't have--and some whole wheat pastry flour. Thinking I'd get right in and right out, I made the grave error of skipping the grocery cart even though I knew that allowing Allyson to walk was a risky move.
Needless to say, my little basket was soon loaded to overflowing with all sorts of exotic products, like the organic whole wheat real-cheese macaroni that Allyson simply had to have--in BOTH the Arthur and the D.W. shapes. I also said yes to all three products I sampled, including the amazing Magic Puffs, which are like giant wheat puff cereal pieces in the shape of a rice cake, and which they make right in front of your eyes--with an impressive POP! as each one shoots out of the machine. Those had to be carefully sequestered from the other items in order to keep them intact.
By the time I reached the whole goods section, where I suddenly remembered I needed oat bran, the basket was getting so heavy that my shoulder and neck were reminding me that I was already sore from way too many push-ups in Pilates the day before. I set the basket down thankfully and poured the oats into a plastic bag, all the while shouting, "NO, Allyson! Don't open that! No, don't touch those!" as she lifted the lid to one bin after another, stooping to sniff the organic dried prunes and the wide assortment of granolas.
Though I could feel my blood pressure rising, I couldn't resist the lure of the freshly made peanut butter. I set my basket down again and laboriously slopped the sticky, runny peanut butter into a little plastic tub using a very long wooden spoon. I managed to smudge just a bit on one of my knuckles, so I held my hand down to let Allyson try it. "Yum!" she cried, and I grinned in triumph--now I could switch her over to natural peanut butter!
Turning to search for the bar code labels, I gradually became aware that Allyson was speaking to me. "Yes, baby?" I said distractedly.
"This is really yummy, Mommy!" she repeated. "You should try some."
I spun around so quickly that I almost dropped the peanut butter tub. Allyson was holding out the long wooden spoon. I sputtered, "What did you...? Oh, no. You didn't!" My stomach dropped when I saw the peanut butter around the corners of her lips.
My face must have darkened because Allyson hurriedly tried to put the spoon back. "No!!!" I shouted. "Don't put that back." I grabbed it from her and looked around helplessly. There wasn't a single store employee in sight.
I set my peanut butter in the basket and slung it over one arm, holding the spoon out in front of me with the other. "Come on," I ordered. "Stay close to Mommy, please." I began to snake my way through the tight aisles and around the displays, intermittently shouting, "Come here NOW, Allyson. Put that back, Allyson. No, we don't need that, Allyson!"
I tried to ignore the raised eyebrows as other shoppers took in the bizarre sight of a crazed, rather shrewish woman wielding a big wooden spoon covered in drippy peanut butter. Finally I spotted a woman in a store smock in the floral department.
"Can you help me?" I asked, my cheeks flaming. "I think my daughter.... touched... this spoon (with her TONGUE, I added mentally). I need to give this to someone and get another spoon." To her credit, the woman didn't laugh--her lips didn't even twitch. But she apologetically informed me that she couldn't leave her post. She tried calling the whole goods department, but there was no answer, so she told me how to find the employees' area in that section.
Switching the basket to the other arm, I sighed heavily and headed back where I'd come from. That's when I looked down and saw a large smear of peanut butter on my pant leg. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh. "Come on, Allyson!" I said crossly. "No, don't touch that. Put that back."
I finally found someone in the employees' area and gratefully passed off the messy spoon. Then I drug my daughter back to the front of the store, where a checker in the express lane beckoned to me. I tried to let another woman go in front of me because she only had two items, and I was pretty sure I was over the limit, but the checker said, "No, you in the pink shirt. Come on up."
I set the basket down with a thud and smiled warmly at her while I tried to scrape the peanut butter off my leg with my fingernail. She told me it looked like my basket was getting too heavy for me, and that's why she'd called me up to her counter.
I figured what she really meant was that I looked like I was on the verge of a mental breakdown, but all I said was, "You know how it goes. I didn't get a cart because I thought I was only going to get a couple of things, but..."
"Yes," she agreed. She finished sacking my groceries and sent me on my way. Her little act of kindness was so heartening that there was almost a spring in my step despite the two heavy bags.
My mood quickly deflated in the parking lot, however. Halfway to the car, Allyson spotted a kid with a bright balloon. "We forgot to get a balloon!" she cried. "You said we could get a balloon."
"Oh, honey. Can't we just get one next time?" I pleaded.
When I saw the tears pooling in her eyes, I heaved a sigh and called out to the boy's father to ask where they'd gotten the balloon. Then I turned around and trudged resolutely back to the front entrance, where a kind man let Allyson pick her favorite color and then tied the string on her wrist.
When I'd finally strapped her into her car seat and dropped into my seat, I mentally reviewed all the annoying and embarrassing events that had occurred on our brief visit. What a disaster! It'll be a LONG time before I take Allyson back to Central Market, I concluded.
At that same moment, Allyson crowed, "That was so much fun, Mommy! I'm so happy I got a purple balloon!"
I smiled in spite of myself. These are the days I'll remember for the rest of my life!