Neither of my twins, who are now three, has ever been to the grocery store. This is partly pandemic-related, but mostly because they are twins, as grocery stores are not designed for multiples. Look at the carts—one child seat. Except for the ones with the huge plastic extensions that look like little cars. I guess that’s the twin cart, and my local Kroger has exactly one. So I don’t know that you’re supposed to show up at the store counting on acquiring it. I mean, do you drag your toddlers to every cart corral in the parking lot and, if that fails, check for the double car cart inside? And if someone accompanied by just one child happens to be insane enough to want to push that behemoth around, do you demand that they immediately give it up? What if they already have a cart full of food? Do you help them transfer it all to a cart more appropriately sized to their toddler situation? And at this point, have the police gotten involved?
I’m sure there are parents of multiples out there who have managed to find out the answers to these questions, and I admire them. But I have been lucky enough up to this point to have the option of leaving the twins at home when I grocery shop, and I do. Sometimes gleefully. “Honey,” I call to my husband through the shut door of the bathroom, though I never call him honey, “It’s ever so inconvenient for me, but I have to run to the store and get panko bread crumbs and a can of olives.” Then I quickly grab my shoes and bag, and, once I have removed whichever twin is playing barnacle for the day from my leg, run out the door before the relevance of panko and olives can be questioned.
So while I have plenty of complaints about grocery shopping, the fact that it is generally a solo activity is not one of them. But lately, my twins, who get savvier by the day, have begun to show a dangerous interest in where groceries come from. “You need to go to the grocery store and get some blueberry cereal bars/pretzels/ice-cream,” one will say when we run out of a favorite snack. I recently realized through a conversation with him that he thought I only ever left the house to acquire groceries—as if it were my full-time job. Which, maybe it should be. Hunter-gatherer and all that.
But more dangerous than the perception that any and all time I have away from home should be spent searching out toddler snacks is the attitude of twin number two. “Did you get this at the grocery store?” he frequently asks with amazement while sucking on an overpriced and environmentally disastrous pouch of some pureed substance. He says grocery store in a voice hushed with awe and reverence—as if it is surely a place full of astonishing wonders, a place to aspire to.
And I guess it is. When I was their age, I (not a twin) did go to the grocery store frequently with my mom, and back then I thought it was pretty amazing. Nowadays they let kids have a free banana, but in the eighties you got a cookie, and not only did you get a cookie, you got your choice of cookie flavors. There was a toy aisle, a candy aisle, and a tank of live lobsters. On cold days, you could stand in front of the rotisserie chickens to absorb some warmth while you watched the golden carcasses carouseling around. The floor tiles were in a colorful pattern perfect for makeshift hopscotching and bottomless pit-avoiding, and after we got a Nintendo I would pretend that my fingers were Mario jumping through various foodstuff obstacles (I had this concept for a Super Mario Brothers: Grocery Store Edition in which each level would be a different section of the store—cans, dry goods, dairy, seafood (hello, lobster boss!) I don’t know why I have yet to pitch this to Nintendo).
Now that I’m supposed to be a responsible adult, I have mixed feelings about the place. I am aware of how magical it is that I can walk into a building that is full of a variety of food that I can, within in reason, afford to walk out with. But I’m still grumpy about it. It is stressfully expensive to shop for five people. And I am spoiled in the way of a middling age American in that despite all of the variety, I am sick and tired of every last bit of it. My most snobbish complaint is also my most legitimate one—so much of the food sold is really not food. So many ingredients, so little actual sustenance.
But sometimes, I still get a little of that magical carnival feeling if I’m in the right mood. I like the seasonal displays, which conveniently tell you what time of year you need to be in the state of mind for. Who knew I needed to be getting my candy stash in order and decorating for Halloween? I do, since I went to the grocery store yesterday. I like finding half-dead houseplants for 75% off in the floral department. I like it when there’s a line at the checkout and I can pretend to be annoyed while secretly hoping I’ll get to read celebrity rags for ten minutes. And I like it when I get home and it’s all put away and I know it’s going to be at least a week—never mind, forgot the toilet paper and cat food—twenty-four hours—until I have to go back. Because as I kid I could handle unlimited carnival rides and grocery store trips, but as an adult they both make me a little nauseated after a while.
Soon enough, I guess it will be time to introduce the twins to the grocery store. Doubtless the day will be significantly less magical for me than for them. But still, I hope it is everything they dreamed it would be. Hot wheels cars, potato chips, and ice-cream—all under one huge, vaulted roof. A carnival of carts, colors, people, and aisles and aisles of food right there for the taking. After all it really is so astonishing. To witness all that horrific and wonderful bounty. To be there, right there in the thick of it. All of it. Yep, kids. We get all this at the grocery store.