For a while I went on strike from bringing Henry with me to the grocery store. Grocery shopping is hard for Henry. He’s a sensory seeker and a voracious eater. So basically he wants to shake and bite all the crinkly food packages and eat everything in sight. He would grab food packages from the cart, give them a lick, then throw them on the floor. There was this one episode at Trader Joe’s when he was literally throwing things out of the cart as quickly as I could pick them up. We were in this nightmare cycle: as soon as I’d get a package back into the cart and before I could grab his hands, he’d have already thrown another one. We were like a cartoon mother and baby that would be funny to everyone else except us!
After that I swore I’d never take him to the grocery store again.
A few months later, we moved to a new town. (We moved across the country, actually.) New routines, new job, new neighborhood, new grocery stores.
And one day I sucked it up and loaded both boys into the car to try again at grocery shopping with them in tow. Even Henry.
I do think that repeated exposure could help Henry learn to deal with the grocery store. As he gets older he may be able to understand the concept of food shopping. So part of me felt like it was important to try again. Give him another chance.
And, hey! It went ok! Not so bad. They had those double carts that look like race cars and the two kids seats face away from the person pushing the cart. The kids are also far enough away from the basket that Henry can’t reach the groceries and therefore can’t throw stuff on the floor. Hooray! When he got a little fussy, I let him shake a box of rice like a maraca. When that wore off I fed him some cereal that I’d brought. And when I could tell he was getting really fussy, we checked out and got out of there.
Over the next couple of weeks we had a couple more trips to the grocery store that were pretty much identical. I’m thinking, Ok. This is going to work. I can get the shopping done with the kids. It’s not terrible.
And then I was like Hey, let’s check out this other grocery store nearby! Maybe it’ll be nicer or have lower prices or something.
Or, maybe they won’t have any double shopping carts.
In the single cart, Henry can reach the groceries and throw them on the floor. He’s also facing me while I’m pushing the cart. Which apparently makes him think that I could be carrying him. And that’s how the meltdown started.
More and more often I see his meltdowns start as tantrums. It starts with a relatively typical toddler “want.” This time, he wants to be picked up. He’s reaching for me and fussing and leaning out of the cart. I speak to him softly, but firmly. “Mama can’t carry you. Mama is pushing the cart.” I pat him on the back and keep moving. He gets more insistent, more agitated. I try to distract him by letting him play with a box of pasta. He throws it on the floor and gets more angry.
Before I know what hit us his tantrum has lost all logic and he is in meltdown mode. A place where it’s like he can’t hear me or himself and neither of us knows how to get him to stop yelling and thrashing. It happened fast.
I try picking him up, since that’s what he’d wanted to begin with, but it’s already too late. In my arms he keeps thrashing and it’s hard to hold him without dropping him. I put him back into the cart and strap him in again. He starts aggressively trying to throw his body out of the cart. I don’t trust the lap belt. I go into survival mode. I should have gone straight to the checkout, but we really needed milk and I’m thinking, No way am I walking out of here without any milk! So I press on toward the milk cooler. Calvin is toddling along slowly beside us stopping to stare at green bottles of dishwasher detergent. Maybe people are staring because Henry is still yelling and thrashing, but I don’t even know because I only have eyes and ears for the tasks at hand: get milk, get out, and keep the boys safe. Eventually I pick Calvin up and put him in the basket so I can move faster. We get the milk and I attempt to beeline for the registers, but I can’t go that fast because now I have one arm wrapped around Henry, trying to both console him and protect him from his own thrashing.
In line, I take Henry back out of the cart and bounce him like a little baby. It doesn’t calm him and now we’re basically in the cashier’s face. So I sing him his favorite song. It’s the All Aboard song from Dinosaur Train. And it works. Thank goodness. The song snaps him out of it. His body stills and instead of trying to arch away from me, he grabs hold so that he won’t fall. He stops crying. He gives me a big drooly kiss.
I could feel the stress in my body for the whole rest of the afternoon. When the boys were napping, I came across this post about meltdowns on The Mighty and I just cried.
I know there are so many things I probably should’ve done differently. Starting with going to our usual grocery store. Sometimes I take a chance and things just don’t work out. Sometimes my own stubbornness gets in the way. Sometimes it takes all the courage I’ve got just to get us out the door because I know episodes like this are an all too likely possibility.
But I promise to keep trying. I promise to keep showing up and venturing out into the world and trying to figure out how Henry and I and our family are supposed to fit.
And the next time we get to a store and find out there are no double shopping carts, you can bet I’m turning right around and leaving!