Shopping Cart Games

I wrote this several years ago when my kids were younger and making it through the store was my biggest hurdle of the day.  It’s not my best writing but I hesitate to go back and edit it for sentimental reasons.

Posted especially for Jody 🙂


The Shopping Cart Games were born after several shopping trips through “mart” style shopping stores.  Put which ever prefix you would like in front of it, I’ve been there and I’ve dragged my three kids along with me.  I’m not sure what college-educated store manager decided that their aisles were too wide and too spacious for their customers and that this should be solved by placing large displays in the middle of them.  Obviously, they have never had the joy of shopping with children.  For this reason, they have inadvertently created what I have dubbed as the “Shopping Cart Games”; a series of events and feats only to be tried by those who have put in hard hours of training.  Only those who can simultaneously write a check, keep a child from straying by wedging them against the check-out stand with her body and stop a candy heist with her foot may be chosen to run these games. 


Before I describe the games, let me tell you how they came to be.  I have a rule for my three children when we go shopping.  It’s called the ‘hands on the cart’ rule.  If you have ever been in a store at the same time as myself and my brood, you may have heard me repeating the phrase over and over and over and over and… on.  It’s relatively simple:  the children must keep one hand on the cart at all times.  The purpose, of course, is to keep them from running off through the store wreaking havoc.  Does it work?  Yes.  And no.  My children seem to take an all or nothing approach to this particular rule.  Either they ignore the rule in its entirety, causing me to annoy my fellow shoppers with the phrase “hands on the cart please”, repeated at 15 second intervals.  Or, they obey it with intensity, draping their bodies over the various sides of the cart.    I have received many a frown from other shoppers as they turn down my current aisle only to find their way blocked by an overloaded cart with bodies hanging from it.  Seeing no way around our rolling roadblock, they must retreat to another aisle.  While the children’s extreme obedience keeps them from running off, it does make navigation difficult.  This is how The Games were born.  Numerous trips through store aisles had me trying desperately not to scrape off the children clinging to the cart for dear life while still trying to leave the aisle displays intact.  Finally, I made it into a mental game.  This does not speak well of my mental stability, however that is another story entirely. 


The Aisle Display leg of the Shopping Cart Games gauntlet is simple.  A mother must use her own knowledge and judgment to decide which is stronger:  the aisle display or the child’s grip on the cart.  You must carefully discern whether the display is strong enough to allow your child to push past it without it collapsing or if the display will, in fact, give way, causing a truly unwanted scene.  If the display is strong enough, will your child be able to hold on or will they be scraped off the side of the cart, undoubtedly voicing opposition.  The goal is to navigate your cart full of children through the maze of aisle displays without causing a scene and being the recipient of the “pity” looks…you know the ones I’m talking about.  The ones that make you wish you had put cleaner clothes on the kids before you left the house, made that one brush her hair, and wish the other hadn’t chosen that particular time to pick her nose.  Yep, you know the look and the feelings that come with it.  The key here is to learn your aisle displays.  For instance, a metal bin full of throw pillows or rugs isn’t likely to move when your child squeaks by.  A cardboard display of cold medicines however, will topple under the pressure.  Any mother worth her salt learns to judge these things after only a few trips.


The next event is the Toy Aisle Dash.  This takes finesse, quick wit and lightning reflexes.  The goal is to make it through the toy section without a tantrum in which the other customers learn that you are a mean mommy who never ever buys them anything (which would explain why their rooms are OVERFLOWING with toys).  Knowing where you are in the store is extremely important.  If you know you’re close to the toy aisle, you better believe those little blood hounds running around your cart do; they can smell that molded plastic from the across the store.  Distraction is the first tactic to employ.  Start talking about school, the weather, what they might want for dinner, anything to keep them from realizing how close you are to those expensive miniatures of their favorite cartoons.  You must carefully steer all conversation away from birthday parties, Christmas lists, major holidays, or anything that may remind them of toys.  Once you are committed to passing the toy section, choose your approach carefully.  You must remember what you have learned in the Aisle Display event.  All bets are off if you scrape the kid off the cart by a display of life-size G.I. Joes.  And finally, once inside, you must maneuver and move as fast as possible.  Keeping your child from being drawn down an aisle by the hypnotic stare of Barbie is paramount.  I will share a trick I have learned, which admittedly only works in the cold weather months:  coats with hoods.  They are like a handle on the back of your child when you can’t quite reach that little hand.  The key thing to remember about the hood grab is whether or not the coat is zipped.  A quick grab of the hood on a coat that isn’t zipped may only leave you standing in the aisle with a small coat dangling from your hand as your escape artist runs into childhood nirvana. 


Now that you have made your way past the toy aisle and run the gauntlet of aisle displays, you are ready for the last event in the Shopping Cart Games: The Check-Out Line.  The check-out line was created by a truly demented person.  Most likely the same person who always puts the maternity clothing next to the lingerie section in department stores so you can remember what you used to look like.  Here, all the temptations are at eye level.  Candy bars, bubble gum and breath mints, oh my!  But, they’ve added another level of distraction:  Magazines.  These are not aimed at distracting the young ones, but the moms themselves.  They lull you into a daydream world of walking off those last 15 pounds and then making the wonderful looking triple-decker fudge cake on the cover.  Only the sharpest wits can remain coherent through the barrage of get-skinny-quick-organize-your-clutter-bake-like-your-mother-in-law headlines.  And remain coherent you must!  Your children cannot keep their little hands from reaching out toward those brightly colors wrappers.  Their brains have become singly focused on getting…that…candy!  And when you decline to buy your sweet angel that wonderful piece of sugar, that’s when the real challenge starts.  You must dodge the disapproving glances of other shoppers as your child wails from the floor, write a legible check for your purchases, and stop your other child from bolting by squishing them against the side of the check-out line with your hip (that’s why God gave us those!), all while appearing to have some semblance of sanity. 


And when you have finished this race and crossed that wonderful finish line at the automatic doors, what do you do?  You load those groceries, strap those kids into their seats, put on a VeggieTales CD and take a moment to congratulate yourself.  No one else, except maybe that mom in the car a few parking spaces down, knows that you have just conquered one of the toughest endurance races on the planet.  But that’s ok, because we mom’s know and we salute you.

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