The boys and I have been diligently working to sharpen their behavior in the grocery store.
For example, we'll have a little more of the quiet obedience, and quite a bit less of the wrestling, whining, showing off, dancing around, touching produce, knocking over displays, arguing with brothers, and begging for rewards.
I have many strategies for altering behavior, and they have varying degrees of effectiveness. And as you might expect, what works on one day does not at all work on the next, and what has never worked before sometimes comes through quite swimmingly. Live and learn; choose your battles; keep buying groceries.
I had committed to visiting the grocery store every day of the week, to buy only five items or less, just to show them that less than exemplary behavior will result in our leaving the store immediately and consequences ensuing. (Hence, the five items or less. Such a threat is empty when my cart is full. At that point, I'm buying the dag-gum groceries, even with my children hanging on my heels and begging for mercy.)
We had made some great strides in the dailiness of our practice, and our most recent trip had only a few hiccups. We finally arrived at the checkout, and I had a full cart to show for our valiant efforts toward behavior.
But, I have to say: they were nearing their limit. They were like horses with the barn in sight, or perhaps young shoppers with the penny horse in view. "Please, let us go. Let us free. We did what you've asked, now let us be free men."
Here's the point of this whole blog post: why is it, in this moment of all, that the cashier must ask me fourteen questions about how I'd like my groceries bagged?
The boys are now both out of the cart, eyeing the penny horse, steering clear of the gum and candy, loving the shelf for writing checks, hanging from the chained pen... wearing me down.
And here stands the 19-year-old cashier.
"Ma'am, would you like paper or plastic?"
"I brought my own bags, thank you. You can use those."
"Oh, of course."
I gather the children around me knees once again. (Almost finished, guys.)
"Do you want your meat in a separate plastic bag?"
They start wrestling with each other. Tickling, poking, slapping, pushing, shoving, breathing. I intervene. Only to be interrupted.
"Ma'am, do you want your milk in a bag?"
"What? Um, yes. Sure."
I go back to navigating World War III that's happening under my elbows.
"Ma'am? Do you want your milk in your bags or ours?"
"What? Oh, mine. Mine are fine. Thank you."
Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle.
"And do you want them both in one bag? Or separate?"
At this point, I want to scream, "For the love of all things sane, please make your own decision about the &#@%$ bags. I chose this grocery store because I trust you to bag my meat and milk appropriately, with care, and without my constant supervision. Please. Make a decision without my approval, right this moment. Because many other things are begging for my disapproval."
But instead, I deeply exhale. And I say, "Yes. Mine. Sure. Whatever. Thank you."
And somehow, we finish the whole exchange, I have my groceries, the boys have their pony ride, and I get out the door with my meat and milk bagged precisely as I reluctantly requested.
Until next week, when we'll try it all again. And everyone will want my careful instruction - everyone, that is, except my children.