Battle-Tested Mom’s Survival Guide to Shopping with Children

When looking for exceedingly talented strategists, the Army is missing its mark. They need to recruit mothers.

Written January 23, 2012.

When I walk into a store, I always turn heads. Jaws drop, eyes follow me, and comments often trail behind me in my wake. Oh yes, I am something else. I’d love to say it’s because I’m so ravishingly beautiful, but alas, that is not the cause of the stares. I’m more like a circus sideshow than a celebrity sighting, because I shop with four kids in tow, ages five and under.

My ordinary life doesn’t seem remarkable, until I look at it from an outsider’s perspective. I remember in my pre-children days, occasionally seeing a mom in the grocery store with a swarm of four or five children around her cart. When I saw those moms with scads of kids, my reaction was aghast horror and pity, mixed with admiration for their extraordinary maternal dexterity. Four kids no bigger than waist height in the grocery store looked like a little slice of hell. How do they even get down the aisles without losing someone or breaking something? Who in their right mind would willingly submit themselves to that torture? Fast forward a few years, and the answer is, of course, me.

Money-Saving Tip: Simply bear children until your cart has no room for unwanted impulse items.

Where we currently live in Montana, shopping with kids is even more of a challenge because of the distances involved. The closest grocery store is 30 miles from our house, in the city of Billings, and most of the stores are on the far end of Billings, 40 miles away. Anytime we need something beyond the basics available at our Broadview gas station, just commuting time on the road to stores and back takes an hour and a half. Because any shopping trip means at least 80 miles of driving with a van load of four little monkeys, I tackle the ordeal no more than once a week. When shopping day comes around, the outing is not luxuriant retail therapy, but a feat of endurance.

In a few years of wrangling babies, toddlers, and preschoolers through stores, I sustained a few battle scars, earned my stripes, and am now convinced of this: when looking for exceedingly talented strategists, the Army is missing its mark. They need to recruit mothers. Any mom with young kids can anticipate and strategize with the best of military planners. After all, in the fierce world of parenthood, one must develop superior tactics, or quickly suffer a swift, decisive, and embarrassing defeat. For parents, a successful day of shopping requires nothing short of a battle plan that includes equipment, emergency rations, and stealth tactics. Below is a technical guide for surviving logistics and acquisition with your little soldiers.

 Shopping with Monkeys Survival Guide

Battle Plan: Before deployment, create a plan of attack. Consider the number of goals to accomplish. Now, cut that number in half. This is what you can accomplish. Any casual shopping is best done in your mind. Actually attempting to browse will only create anguish and undue stress to all involved.

Deployment: Prepare children’s gear in advance, allot a sufficient amount of time for unexpected disasters, double that time, and you will arrive only slightly late at your destination. Leaving home during nap time, while possible, is not advisable.

Equipment: Contain as many of your monkeys as possible in the cart to prevent anyone from going AWOL (Absent Without Leave). Note: children not in a cart will gravitate to the blind spot in the front of the cart, where a cart-to-child collision is inevitable. Finally, while using cart as a battering ram for slow-moving shoppers may be tempting, this generally should be avoided.

NOTICE: In some states, operating this high occupancy vehicle (HOV) may require a passenger endorsement and/or specialized training courses.

SCUBA: Self-contained Underutilized Baby Attachment (AKA baby slings, wraps, front/back carriers). Compact and easy to stash in a purse or diaper bag until needed, baby slings and wraps are a vital part of the mommy arsenal that save many shopping trips. Slings are a veritable Swiss Army Knife of convenience: tired babies and toddlers can survive through a store when held, and parents can get through the store with their hands still free. Use this secret weapon freely.

PT: No, not physical training. Regularly hauling 20 and 30 pound packs (children) is plenty of strength training already. PT is Potty Training. Best tactical maneuver: Offer bathroom time as you enter the store. Pottying is a covert operation that strikes with little warning, generally when your defenses are at their weakest. Be assured that when the cart is full and your closest bathroom rendezvous is entirely across the store, that is when potty time will strike. Knowledge of store layout is critical. Avoid hazards such as slow-moving browsing shoppers and mine fields like the toy section. Action must be swift and decisive, or you will certainly suffer defeat.

MREs: Meals Ready to Eat. Feed early, feed often. When pondering eating or a going to store, eat first. Food must be available at all times. If no food is readily available, hungry small children rapidly fill the cart with Brightly Colored Corn Syrup Food Substitutes, AKA “bright substitutes” or BS.

Evasive Maneuvers: One of the most critical techniques to master is evasiveness and stealth. Small monkeys are irresistibly attracted to bright, shiny objects. Attention must be diverted in order to prevent unwanted accumulation of expensive objects in cart. The specific technique is not important: conversations about stinky feet, what to eat for lunch, and making embarrassingly funny noises are equally useful. Just create a diversion, and make a hasty retreat.

G-Force: G as in grandparents. When fatigue sets in and your defenses weaken, never cease to believe in the power of the G-Force, grandparents. Unrelated, random grandmas are your friendly allies in stores, often appearing suddenly, and sometimes reluctant to leave when engaged. Empathetic comments like “I remember those days” “I had (x) kids, so I know how busy you are” or “Looks like you’ve got your hands full” can propel you on when you want to collapse. Do not neglect simple compliments of “What a cute bunch of kids/ what a beautiful baby/ what a nice helper she/he is.” Those compliments can sustain you through shopping fatigue. Be advised: Do not expect friendly grandfathers to correctly identify gender. Any hairless baby is male, regardless of clothing color or accessories. Just smile and nod. Attempting to correct this grandfather anomaly is futile.

Exit Strategy: Recall countless war movies. At some point, when a battalion is obviously outnumbered, beaten down from prolonged onslaught, out of rations, etc., the general faces a tough decision: either beat a hasty retreat, or face certain slaughter of all the troops. When there are no alternatives left, remember this: there is no place for pride in parenthood. Toughen up, soldier, and admit defeat when it is apparent. Abort your shopping mission and flee homeward. Retreat! Retreat! Retreat! A word of caution: the battle that you surrendered to today is the battle you must fight once again tomorrow. That shopping list will not simply disappear, but most importantly, you may live to shop another day.

© 2012

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