The Grocery Line

“I’ll take him with me”, I shout across to Jen from the kitchen.

“Are you sure? You really don’t have to.” Jen bounds into the kitchen wearing yoga pants and her athletic top, gearing up for some morning exercise. “I can go for a run later”

“It’s really no problem. Plus, it will get me out of the house”.

Vaughn is on the floor of the family room, building houses of Lincoln logs. I am impressed at how good he is at creating stable structures. He follows the pictures provided in the box, and has just completed an impressive two story log lookout post, and is moving ahead to building the barnyard.

I am truly looking forward to getting out of the house. It is a beautiful May morning, the trees in the backward are budding, providing brushstrokes of light green across our back yard. A trip to the grocery market will give me a chance to roll down the windows, smell spring in the air, and shake off the long winter.

“Where’s the list?”

“It’s on the counter”

“Oh, right…..”

Jen and I have already decided our dinner plans over morning coffee – homemade pizza. I grab the grocery list: whole wheat crust, pizza sauce, green pepper, onions, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese. Gosh, we must not have any of the ingredients for a pizza. I’ll need to pick up everything.

“I’ll hit Dave’s Supermarket. I think it’ll be easier on a Saturday morning”

“Are you sure you want to go?” Jen says with genuine authenticity, “really, I don’t mind, I can stop after my run.”

But I know that Jen does mind. It’s not fun for her to go grocery shopping after a run, sweat on the brow, strands of hair coming out of her baseball cap. I know her offer is genuine, but what kind of Dad am I if I can’t bring my 3 year old son to the grocery store?

“Vaughn, we’re going to go the grocery store in about 15 minutes” I shout from the kitchen. “Hurray, some Daddy time! We get to pick out everything for a pizza”.

Vaughn doesn’t seem to hear me, or show a hint of interest. He’s got a toy cow clutched in this left hand, ready to place it in the barnyard.

“Go, go, off you go……” I bid to my wife, “we’re fine”.

I get dressed in my usual Saturday morning attire. T-shirt, jeans, sneakers. I haven’t yet showered today, so I stuff my hair under a baseball hat. Looking in the mirror, I am unshaven, which makes me look even more like a Dad who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in over a week.

Vaughn and I make our trek out to the grocery store. I choose Dave’s for two reasons – one, my ability to access it via back roads, a very pleasant trip through winding roads lined with trees. Secondly, this is a small supermarket, easy to navigate, without the breadth of a super store. With Vaughn, I don’t want to be wandering around a large super-store looking for the last ingredient. This has happened to me before, and the shame of having to text my wife, asking “where do they keep the sloppy Joe sauce?” is embarrassing.

The trip within the store is pleasant and uneventful. It is not quite busy yet, and I enjoy having Vaughn in the shopping cart seat, planted directly in front of me. His new tactic to gain my attention is to grab the front collar of my shirt and pull me towards him. This is a fun game at first, but becomes old as I start looking for the pizza ingredients.

Success is achieved in about ten minutes. Perfect. Like many Dads, I perpetually feel like I am under the clock. Vaughn is wonderful now, but his mood could change at any moment. If we are delayed, our time out of the house will be tenaciously too close to nap time. We snake our way to the express lane.

As I pull up to the express line, an older woman swings in behind me. She is pleasant, wearing a black hat with a flamingo-colored rose on the brim. I’m guessing she is about 60 years old and gazes at me and Vaughn with a moon-faced grin. Vaughn quickly grabs the collar of my shirt again. He wants to pull me into him again. Since I am unloading the cart, I am partially strangled and gently chastise him.

“You are such a wonderful father!” the woman exclaims.

“Thank you” I respond, “he can be quite the handful….”

“It’s so nice to see fathers with their kids these days…..so different than when I was growing up”

“Thanks.”

I continue to unload the groceries. As I do so, it is unmistakable that the woman is still gazing back and forth at me and Vaughn. It is an odd combination of feeling both complimented and stalked.

“Well, see you….” I say as I wheel around with the bags of groceries.

“You take care now, honey”, her lips still pursed in a grin.

Vaughn and I make our way back to the car. As we drive home, I think of the woman. I appreciate the compliments she paid to me, though they were so poorly earned. All I did was take my son to the grocery store. Big deal. The bar is set so uniformly low for fathers. We receive compliments by doing such routine tasks with our children. Had my wife taken our son to the store, she would receive no such commendations. She could have had three children in line: one by the hand, one in the cart, another being breast-fed, and no compliments whatsoever. Perhaps she even would have been chided if any of the children were perceived as “acting up”.

As we pull into the driveway, I notice that my wife is already back from her run. She has a glass of water in the kitchen and has that post-endorphin high that all runners get after completing a run.

“How was your trip?” She says taking a swallow of water “Anything out of the ordinary?”

“No, nothing at all” I say. “nothing at all…..”

© 2020 by Paul Carroll