Civil Disobedience

Kostyn threw three tantrums last Sunday at Wal-Mart. I know, how cliche of him to throw a fit in a Wal-Mart, right? But rest assured, these were no ordinary toddler tantrums.

The frustration was created out of a desire to help. When he doesn’t ride in the grocery cart, Kostyn likes to help Mommy shop by putting things in the cart. This includes “approved” items I’ve specifically given him off the shelf that are on our grocery list. This also includes two or three extra boxes of every “approved” item, as well as random pieces of fruit and any can of green beans, box of brownie mix and jar of pimientos (how did he even reach those??) that he can grab on our way up the aisles. He also finds it disconcerting when he sees Mommy putting extremely heavy and/or breakable items, like milk and eggs, into the cart without his assistance. (Aaaaand, he freaks when he catches me stealthily putting unwanted items back on shelves.)

Anyway, it was pushing 3 p.m. and he hadn’t napped yet. Plus I was grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, which I never do, so I didn’t know where the hell anything was and it was taking me forever to fill my measly little list. So the small freakout near the bin of plums primed the pump for what was to come.

In the cereal aisle, he took umbrage at me putting back the box of Kix he’d heaved into the cart. (Kid tossed, mother did not approve.) For an overtired Kostyn, this was the last straw — the line drawn in the linoleum over sweetened, puffed corn balls. His lip quivered, his eyes became little slits, and he screamed, “Nooooooo!! Mama no! No!”

And then he looked at me in that defiant toddler way and … carefully sat down in the middle of the aisle. And then he gently, slowly laid his head down on the floor, his arms resting at his sides. That was it; he just lay there looking up at me, stone-faced, turning his ankles in and out so that the toes of his sneakers happily tapped together a few times. It resembled a civil rights sit-in more than a toddler tantrum. I swear if the child could write he probably would have scribbled a protest sign on the back of a Rollback Price card or something.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t muster much anger at a child who had made himself into a human chess piece, his whole tiny being silently taunting, “Your move.” So I held back a giggle and said, “Kostyn, the floor is dirty. What are you doing down there?”

I don’t think he knew. He didn’t answer; he just kept looking at me. It was like (in typical guy fashion) he’d started reading the directions for How to Pull Off the Perfect Tantrum, but he’d thrown the manual aside after reading “Step 1: Make sure your body is in the prone position in the middle of a high-traffic area.” He hadn’t bothered to read “Step 2: Flail your limbs wildly as if they are on fire” or “Step 3: Scream as though an invisible gremlin is tearing off your fingernails.”

So there we were, having a standoff/sit-in over a box of Kix. For a brief moment I contemplated allowing him to get the Kix. I like Kix, and it’s not like it’s any worse for him than the Rice Krispies he eats. But of course I couldn’t set such a precedent. (Darn this parenting gig, with all its lessons and consistency and whole grains.) So as people started wheeling their carts around him, smiling, I began to move toward the end of the aisle. “Kostyn, get up. Evan and I are going to keep shopping…” I said, watching him over my shoulder. I got about 10 feet away when he sat up, looking concerned. “Are you coming?” I asked. No verbal response, but his eyes said it all. I walked back, scooped him up without a fight and carried him like a baby into the next aisle, where he wriggled down from my arms and wanted to start “helping” again.

We went through this whole bizarre “tantrum” routine in another aisle over some other meaningless item. This time he ran back to the middle of the aisle before carefully positioning himself on the floor, his body straight as an arrow, taut with defiance. Again I stifled a laugh and pretended to be stern about the fact that he wasn’t going to get his way every time he … lay down … so … quietly.

Parenting a 2-year-old comes with plenty of challenges; I gotta say, though, this one felt more like a reward.

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A blessing and a curse: The car cart

Before I had kids, I scoffed at just about any mother I’d see wheeling around one of those ridiculously large car grocery carts in the store. She always looked frazzled and fatigued with a vague sense of forced oblivion, as though since she couldn’t see her children at the moment she didn’t have to mind them. (She sure could hear them, though; there’s something about being in those plastic cages that makes kids scream like banshees.)

Now here I am, a work-from-home mom with a 2-year-old and a 2-month-old whose job it is to get the groceries each week. I have become that mom. The frazzled one. The one who gets a workout just trying to maneuver one of those damn things around every display in the store. The one whose toddler’s head is constantly poking out the side of the “car” window, trying to escape from the body that’s strapped down inside.

Here’s a rundown of this week’s grocery store visit, which is typical:

10:45 a.m.: Arrive at the store. After crying at every stop light for the first three minutes of the trip, the baby has thankfully fallen asleep. I get both kids inside, where the negotiations begin with Kostyn.
Me (said with the same amount of enthusiasm one might use when saying to a friend, “I’m giving you $10,000!! Would you like it in cash or check?!”): “Kostyn!!! Do you want to ride in the car or the truck today?!!”
Kostyn: “No. Walk.” He pulls my hand toward the interior door of the store. It opens automatically. I yank him back. The door closes.
Me: “Honey, I’m sorry, you can’t walk in this store, not today. Do you want the red car or the yellow truck? Ooooh, the yellow truck looks like fun!” I beep the horn. It doesn’t work. (Neither the horn nor the tactic…)
Kostyn: “No, no, no. Mama, walk?” He pulls my hand, the door opens, I grab him and move him out of the way of traffic. The door closes. The baby’s getting heavy in his car seat. A senior shopper walks by, opening the door. Kostyn bolts inside. I chase him and pull him back out, making an executive decision: It will be the red car.

The baby sleeps blissfully in his car seat perched on the back of the cart while I manage to get a wiggly toddler through a plastic window against his will and belted into a seat where….wait …Are those crumbs? And what the hell is that toddler goo all over the horn? Damn, I forgot to wipe down this sweet ride….

Bakery: The bakery smells like fresh donuts, but there are two standalone displays of buns making it impossible for me to maneuver my way to the donut case. Score 1 for the car cart: It keeps me from ingesting a sugary second breakfast.

Produce: There is no good place to park one of these things in the produce section while keeping your kids close and not getting in everyone’s way as you bag your fruit. So I plod through the section apologizing as I go, backtracking and meandering and “Excuse me” and “Sorry!” … when I see her, a kindred spirit, another mom huffing behind one of these stupid car carts. She’s got two kids, both in the “car,” and they’re arguing. Another shopper asks if they’re twins, and I hear the woman say, “No, they’re 13 months apart,” and I do the math on that one and think “Holy shit.”

Aisle 2: Every time I stop the cart, Kostyn sticks his head out the side or cranes his neck around to find me and asks if he can walk now. This will continue for the next 9 aisles. Every. Single. Time I stop the cart.

Aisle 5: I’m pushing the cart slowly, looking for the needle-in-a-haystack kind of bread Chris likes when I feel a thump. I’ve knocked over an entire display stand of individually wrapped Hostess cupcakes. The stand seems like it’s 10 yards away from where I’m standing, but then again, so is the front of my cart. A nice woman stoops to help me pick them all up. For the next 15 aisles I will pat myself on the back — and sigh with remorse — for not putting a single cupcake in my cart.

Aisle 11: Kostyn stops asking if he can walk and instead tries to escape all on his own. He manages to get his head, shoulders and chest out the side window of the car despite being buckled in. I’m tempted to let his determined little noggin *tap* the cereal boxes on the bottom shelf as we pass. The image makes me giggle.

Aisle 12: I picked up the taco seasoning but forgot the refried beans. I cannot turn around in the aisle, especially with people behind me, so I have to cruise up Aisle 13 to return to Aisle 12.

Aisle 12 redux: This thing has more blind spots than a semi. I almost bump into an old lady with a mini-cart. As I swerve to avoid her, the stack of coupons I had sitting on Evan’s legs flutters to the floor. I won’t realize I didn’t find them all until I’m checking out.

Aisle 14: Another run-in with the same old lady, only this time I hit her cart. Oops. Quick, Kostyn, look cute…..

Aisle 15: Kostyn has begun chanting. “Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama…” At first I try to answer him, but soon realize he is not expecting an answer. This is some type of song. Or rhetorical statement. Or form of torture.

Meat counter: At this point I’m absolutely sure this godforsaken thing was not designed by a mother, or anyone with kids, or anyone who shops for more than one person or more than one day’s worth of food. The engineers shrank the size of the basket to compensate for the size of the car attached to it. This makes very little sense since the people who use these carts have more than one mouth to feed. My basket is full and I’ve still got six aisles to go. I have to perch my stack of fresh meat packages on the top of the car.

Five seconds later, they fall off.

Aisle 18: While I’m trying to decide between the Steam Fresh green beans or the regular frozen ones, a young guy stops beside me at the same case. He’s holding one of those hand-held baskets and I smile at the memory of those lovely days gone by, when I’d breeze into the store alone and grab one of those tiny baskets from the stack to fill with my lettuce and yogurt and chocolate chips. He smiles at me, presumably thinking I’m smiling at him, not his basket, and I realize I’m standing a good 5 feet from my cart, and my kids. I take a giant step back toward the cart and the guy suddenly sees the whole picture. He flees, and I smile again.

Aisle 19: The woman with the car cart and bickering siblings is at the other end of the aisle. As we approach one another I give her the “Isn’t this a pain in the ass?” eye roll-slash-smile and she gives me the “Oh God I hear ya sister” grin and I answer with an “I used to vow I’d never push one of these friggin’ things” face and she nods with an unspoken “I wish they gave out samples of wine here” look that makes me want to hug her. Then we heave our carts in opposite directions, but mine feels a little lighter. There is strength in numbers.

Aisle 20: There’s a giant delivery cart filled with boxes of eggs taking up half the aisle. It’s in the way of the yogurt I need to get for Kostyn, and I begin to huff at the stock boy before realizing that my car cart is actually slightly bigger. And the way I feel about him right now is how everyone else has felt about me for the last hour when they saw me coming up the aisle.

Checkout: Kostyn yells the entire time we’re in line. Not words, just “Aaaaah!!!! Aaaaahhh!!! Aaaahhhh!!!” at the top of his lungs, a wordless “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” tirade. I try to talk to him. Scold him. Bribe him. Finally, I push the cart into the tiny checkout aisle and, since I can no longer see or reach him, I ignore him. Forced oblivion. Ahhhhh.

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