About Me,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  motherhood,  Parenting,  toddlers

Grocery shopping with kids, and other small sufferings

They only occasionally nap together still. Today I figured, still hopped up on legal fireworks lit well into the 10 o’clock hour last night and an endless infusion of high fructose corn syrup and food dyes, would be a rare quad-nap opportunity. Perhaps the last of an era, with the eldest kindergarten-bound in August.

No such luck.

I’ve threatened to pull the plug on Netflix indefinitely, held out the specter of a week without popsicles, and made various empty threats about skipping the zoo with grandma tomorrow, and still they lurk in the shadows, popping up from the basement to inform me of waking nightmares, spooky noises, uncomfortable Star Wars pillowcases lacking sufficient starch, and a host of other ailments too ridiculous to recount here.

I just disciplined thin air. Head whipping around at the sound of crinkling plastic, I barked at a grocery bag to “get downstairs if it ever wanted to play with Toby across the street again.”

My bad, grocery bag. We’re well into mommy PTSD territory now.

Still, when they do awaken for the 43 time from this “nap,” I will probably load them into the car and head to the library down the road. I will probably not put on makeup before lugging the double stroller out of the trunk and filling it with babies and overdue batman comic books, (and actually, this really great YA fantasy novel from Raymond Arroyo that is guaranteed to scratch a lingering Harry Potter itch if there are any other recovering fans out there in blogland) and we’ll stumble into the air conditioned oasis of learning and distraction and at least one or two mom/nannies will raise eyebrows and give a verbal salute to the insanity of taking multiple children anywhere in public.

And I will smile.

Because they will be right, and because it is hard. So is hitting up the doctor’s office and the pharmacy back to back with octopuses leaning out the cart, swiping foodstuffs from shelves left and right and hoping against reasonable hope that today will be the day mom forks over $5.99 for the lego star wars mad libs in the stationary aisle. Dare to dream, little ones. Dare to dream.

Raising children is a lot of work. It’s worthwhile work, but it’s grueling. I feel like those two things go hand in glove more often than not.

I have no lesson to share. I have no happy ending for today. My kids are a hot mess of needs, and I am a hot mess of frustration and pain from a viral illness I thought only people in nursing homes could contract. I cannot call in a sub, hit time out, or free myself from the next 4 hours of life. At least not responsibly, given that I’m the only adult home.

And I wish I could spin this into some fluffy parable about redemptive suffering and the privilege of being a mother, but while those things are real and true, they’re not always in the forefront of my sucks-at-suffering brain.

Nevertheless, I do have a few gems of experience to polish and throw out onto the internet, in case nobody else has explicitly told you these things before.

First, doing errands with kids probably won’t kill you. It will make everything take longer, but it will also create a magical time-sucking portal in your day whereby you can burn 1, 2 or even 3 hours of prime whine-time real estate out in the wild public square instead of your own backyard. Maybe this is a downside for some? But my kids seem to thrive in public settings. Perhaps because we have done so many things as a family unit, minus daddy, for so many years. They’re 100 times more likely to tantrum at home than abroad, and for whatever reason, the gas station and the grocery store are 100 times more interesting to them than their own playroom. Go figure.

Second, people need to see moms doing stuff with their kids in public. When I walk into Whole Foods with half a preschool class and a dead eye stare on my face  smile for anyone to see, I’m sending a very simple message just by existing. It’s something along the lines of, “hi, we’re a biggish family. We come in peace. Where are your sparkle waters and diaper wipes, por favor?”  Why, I’ve trained a whole cadre of food service industry professionals in a 5-mile radius to hardly startle at all, at least visibly, when we walk into their establishment.

Third, my life is actually really easy. Maybe yours is too? I can say this with boldness because even with a teething baby in the house, the aforementioned elderly viral illness, and a pair of cracked out 4th of July sugar junkies “sleeping” downstairs, my life is really easy.

I have very little actual suffering to my name thus far. I’ve had the usual share of heartaches, disappointments, wounds, and losses to bear, but in the grand scheme of things, my house is not going to get torched by militants, my children are not going to starve to death, and I’m (probably) not going to die in a terrorist attack. There are so many suffering souls in this troubled world of ours, and it is good for those of us who live privileged lives to embrace the small suffering we do encounter and bear it, if not well, than at least adequately. And yes, it’s pathetic that my suffering involves trips to the dentist and pained attempts at daily Mass spent mostly kneeling in the vestibule angry-whispering, but you’ve got to work with what you have.

Finally, people are really, really good. They are! Deep down most people want to interact with you in a positive way, even if they think the proper foray is a question about your sex life. I can count the truly mean-spirited comments on one hand, and that’s in 6 years of motherhood. I cannot count the positive comments, because they’re well into the hundreds. If you go out in public with your children, I can almost guarantee someone is going to smile and say something so undeservingly good to you that you might choke back tears.

Agree? Disagree? Rather have a root canal than take your kids into the liquor store for a bottle of wine and a handful of suckers? I know at least one of my sisters will read this and shake her head over my gluttony for punishment here, but surely I am not all alone.

bottle service


  • Ashley Smith

    I needed this today! With a husband that has always worked A LOT, my three kids and I have done a ton of solo traveling (like 19 hour roadtrips one way) and have most always done all the day to day errands together. Now that they are older (it does get easier!!!!) the logistics are better but the bickering hasn’t stopped. Summer is currently killing me…KILLING ME…

    If only we didn’t live in a dry county and we could take a “field trip” to the liquor store real quick like. I ran out of wine. Send help.

  • Janice Richardson

    Yes, something about getting out of the house does help our days pass in a happier way, generally. From my experience the type of comments or looks from stragners depends on where you live/where you’re going. I’m trying to learn to have a thick skin as I am out and about with my five young children. And almost without fail when it seems that everything is going wrong and the world is condemning me with their works or glares, a kind stranger drops a sweet undeserving compliment or word if encouragement. One if my goals when I am a grandma is to be one who always praises mothers with young children. Heaven knows how often kind grandma’s have lifted me. Thanks for your words today.

  • Lisa

    Love & needed this!
    Right now the herculean logistics of taking four small children anywhere in public by myself has me wanting to remain home until I’m about to die from cabin fever but I know I’ll have to brave it one of these days. 😉

  • Mary Ellen Arnold

    I love it! I loved all of it! I second your whole post. I too go out in public with my 6 children to run errands, wander aimlessly, etc. It airs the children out nicely, and it is much better than being stuck in my house where no one can hear my cries for help 😉 Kidding. But seriously, I also agree that when I am out, people really *are* nice. They may all make the same repetitive comments, like the classic “You’ve got your hands full” (which actually doesn’t bother me, and (side note) is recently being replaced with “You’ve got a lot of helpers”. I like that one. It gives me the opportunity to chat about how unhelpful my children are ;)). But really, I would much rather have people make small talk with me than run. And lastly, your point about your life having very little actual suffering thus far, well I’m right there with you too.

  • The English Major

    The good news is that it does get easier in many ways. The older ones get old enough to get themselves in and out, then they get old enough to help a little one buckle in, then they can push the super heavy grocery cart for you, then, eventually, they can stay home with at least some of the brood, while you go shopping with the two littles ( by the time you get to this point, going out with just two littles is a dream!). And after awhile, the comments are just amusing, since you’ve heard the same questions over and over, while the person asking thinks they are the most original ever. You are definitely in a hard period of parenting, with everyone little, but it will get easier! (I know this because I had 4 children who were under the age of 5, but now have 8 (plus one on the way). Life is much easier now than it was then!)

  • Maureen

    Does it get easier? It gets ……different.

    I have 5 wonderful children spread over 13 years. So while the baby was teething I had a 12 year old girl kicking off and her older brother in full adolescent grunt mode.
    Yet I felt a loss at not having them all together in the van ( car too small) or at the supermarket. Once they hit teens they have other places to ‘be’ and it’s not cool to be seen with the family. All sad, yet part of growing up. So not too sad.
    So now when I see mums in supermarkets looking frazzled I am one of those grans who says hi, smiles, mutters what I hope is encouragement.
    Hang in there girls. All things change.

    How boring would life be if they didn’t !!!!

  • Kate

    Yes! And Amen! I only have two of those crazy little creatures we call children under the age of two but it is still HARD! Good reminder to put it all in perspective, though, and to offer our suffering up for the redemption of souls in this world! Thanks for posting this piece of encouragement, Jenny!

  • Amanda

    Wonderful post! Fresh off a couple surgeries and this being the first week I’m officially solo parenting (during the daytime hours) again, this was a fantastic read. I too am a poor sufferer so any encouragement to do better in that area is welcome 🙂 Praying for you today by offering my small sufferings.

  • kharking

    The baby had an appointment this morning and I decided to sweeten the morning for the tag-alongs with a trip to the zoo afterwards. Which entailed a stop at what we call a schmancy grocery store (the kind that sells vegan carrot tears and sustainably harvested chicken tongues as well as more usual fare for double the usual price) for lunch supplies. The kids asked me why people were staring at us and I told them it was because they are cute. I hope I wasn’t lying–I mean they are definitely cute but I can’t be sure that was why the people were staring. #goingtothezoowhenyouarethezoo

  • Jessie

    I make it a point to get out everyday with my three. Public meltdowns? For sure they happen. Not terribly infrequently either. But it passes the time until nap and gets them tired enough to take one, to boot. Ask me again when I have six kids – probably #notworthit at that point.

  • Lis @ Catholic Mommy Blogs

    Love this. Thanks, Jenny. 🙂 My 2yo’s very painful molars are taking a month to come in and it’s driving her and her sister crazy. I had that naptime incident yesterday. Except one of the kids poured water on the other kids’ face. Ahhh. Today will be better. 🙂

  • Phyllis Poole

    I was in a grocery store ck out once and heard the mother say” I just bought them all a candy bar -and look at them” they were jumping all over the place. Later in life I thought , I could have told her , her mistake. sugar gives energy -so what could she expect.?! A toy doesn’t give energy and puts their energy to playing with the toy.

  • Bertha Islas

    Thanks I had a good laugh at the memories this brought back. I had 6 wonderful babies & they are now in their 30’s & 40’s. People weren’t so kind back in the early 80’s. I heard a lot of nasty comments when i was out with my children. But I was so very proud of them when we would all walk into Mass on Sundays(after all the rushing & shouting to get them there) and they would actually sit semi-quietly, semi-giggly through the whole hour. Now i have house full of grand kids 25! & 2 great grand kids! I’ve been so blessed 🙂

  • Liz Healy

    I have a grocery store moment that have lived with me for 25+ years. My two youngest were with me and they were doing the usual climbing out of the cart and trying to run away. I’m sure I got a “the look” from a shopper which shouted, “why can’t you control your kids”. I was feeling very impatient and angrily thinking, “why can’t you sit still for once!” A few isles over I spied a mother with a son in my daughter’s preschool class. She was making progress on her grocery list followed by her two sons sitting still in wheelchairs. I felt like God slapped me. I often think of that moment to remind myself of my many blessings.

  • Miriam del Hierro

    Hi! I read your blog all the time, and I just want to say you’re wonderful 🙂 I come from a family of eight, and my sisters are all having big family’s too, and their struggles and joys and hardships I find are all mirrored in your inspiring, grounding, and hopeful posts. I have one little man, and another on the way, and in my daily life I am very happy when I see another of your posts pop up for me to read. God Bless and Keep You, and your beautiful family.

  • Mom of multiple multiples

    Just loved this post. I have 2.5 yr old twins and 4 yr old twins and most days I feel like we are roving circus performers anywhere we go! But you are so right- the good, kind people way outnumber the inconsiderate. Encourages me to keep powering through those all too often tough days!

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