There are times in one’s life where one has to stop being humorous and take a serious view about certain things…don’t worry, however, this isn’t one of those times. Today I will write about the war. Which war, you ask? The WAR! You know, the war at home. The war most of us have to wage weekly. The war at the supermarket. You know, the STORE WAR! Of course, if you no longer have kids, it’s more like a skirmish. This story took place over 25 years ago when I took my 4 kids to the grocery store.
There’s nothing like the heat of battle to get your blood pumping. I feel it every time I maneuver into the parking lot and search for the ultimate launching point for our assault. You know…a good parking space. Not too close, yet not too far. It needs to be accessible for a hasty retreat if needed. Before exiting the vehicle, I turn to the kids to give them their pre-assault briefing.
“Men…” I begin.
“I’m a girl,” my daughter, the oldest, my second-in-command, aptly pointed out. A stern look usually corrects this kind of insubordination. “Sorry, dad.” I forgive her because she usually is dependable in crucial situations. I look back at the other kids.
“We’re about to enter the brunt of the battle,” I continue. “I expect you all to perform with honor and valor!” I paused for effect, but all I saw was bewildered faces.
“Huh?” my four-year-old asked. As usual, my second-in-command daughter translated.
“He means not to touch anything, not to beg for anything, and not to goof off.” Nods of understanding followed her explanation, except for the one-year-old. He seemed to be more fascinated with something on his finger. His inattentiveness was ignored because he was pretty good at his role of just sitting in the shopping cart and looking cute. His military skills as a decoy were unparallel.
We left the security of the vehicle and began the generally fruitless search for an Urban Assault…um, shopping cart (for you non-military folks) that worked as intended. Settling for one with only one wobbly wheel, a functional seat belt, and only a trace of grime, we assaulted the building.
We were hit immediately by the smell of the battlefield. The moist heavy smell of the produce sector, the deceptively soft billowy aroma of the bakery sector, the cold frigid feeling in the freezer sector, and the putrid smell of raw flesh in the meat sector. Ah, the memories of past battles, both won and lost, wafted through our, well, at least my mind. It was as if I trained my whole life for this moment! But first, we had to traverse the dreaded sale sector. This is where the enemy hits you with their heaviest artillery barrage…you know, stuff for kids.
“Look, Daddy!” my four-year-old says as he starts to succumb to their trickery. “Kool-Aid Bursts! Can we…”
“Don’t give in to their commercial warfare tactics!” I cried, a little panicked.
“Medic!” I yelled. My kids just looked at me strangely…even the one-year-old tore his eyes from whatever was on that finger of his to look at me strangely. We rolled on as I noticed the kids weren’t the only ones looking at me strangely. Just a bunch of civilians caught in the crossfire, I thought.
Anyway, as in most military operations, there was always something ugly that had to be done. Many men out there know exactly what I’m talking about and no doubt still suffer lingering nightmares over it. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded feminine hygiene product sector, a place usually avoided by most males. Some of us, namely me, think we have a good plan for the extraction of this product without detection. I simply hover about near the aisle until it’s empty, quickly roll through and grab the package, then hide it under the other groceries until the moment of truth…checkout. It’s a dirty business, this war stuff.
Of course, it could go very badly at checkout. If you ever watched the movie, Mr. Mom, you’ll know what I mean. The scene where the cashier did a price check on the feminine product traumatized me. What if that ever happened to me? What would I do? Would I crack under the pressure? Is there even a military training protocol to handle this situation? I don’t know and I never aim to find out.
Something similar did happen to me on that day, however. We hit the checkout lane with a false optimism that we were going to win this battle today! The kids were good, the aisles were free and clear, and we were making incredible time. I was feeling pretty good about our chances of getting away from the battlefield without casualties until I began to load the conveyor belt with our spoils.
The only child in this story not to be mentioned yet was my eight-year-old son. Until now, he was quiet. In hindsight, he had been a little too quiet. I should have observed this earlier, but ended up paying for my lack of attention with his betrayal.
“I thought we didn’t need diapers?” he asked, his little hand reaching for the feminine hygiene product I had just smoothly placed on the conveyor belt as if it were a bag of noodles or something. I grabbed his hand before he could ruin everything. I had mentioned this fact while we rolled through the battlefield, but I didn’t realize it would turn into such a grave tactical error. I panicked and told the truth.
“They aren’t diapers,” I said quietly, very aware of the civilians both in front of and behind us.
“Then what are they?” he asked loudly. Wouldn’t that kid shut up? I could feel all the civilian eyes turning to us. I looked at my one-year-old decoy with pleading eyes. Do your job, I thought, but he just stared at me with a smile, as if he could sense my discomfort.
“Something for Mom,” I informed him, thinking that answer would pacify him.
“What do they do?” he continued. I clenched. I’m pretty sure the checker clicked the PA button by now and the whole store was listening. I imagined my entire life was put on display and it was time to take my measure as a soldier and as a man. This was to be my heroic moment, I thought, if only I could just shut that kid up!
“Um, you can ask Mom when we get home,” I answered tersely. Why should I have all the pressure?
“Why? Don’t you know?” he asked as I swear thousands of spectator civilians gasped. The checker stopped what she was doing and looked visibly nervous. If I didn’t get ahold of the situation, there was a chance it could blow up and create an international incident. As a parent, I always prided myself in knowing most of the answers to most of the questions my kids would ask, something I learned from my dad. Now, how would he answer?
“Um, sure I do,” I answered with a wink. “Let’s just see if your Mom does.” Sighs of relief surrounded me. The checker went back to work with a smile. Disaster avoided, mission accomplished, battle won…at least until I got home.