Live ducklings took a shopping trip with us through the grocery store (the poultry department offended them) and once I brought a half-wild cat to church service. A few Sundays later, angry that we were having stew for lunch instead of hamburgers, I informed parishioners that the cereal (Cracklin’ Oat Bran™) I snacked on before services was really cat food Mama forced me to eat because we were too poor to afford real food.
But to my happiness (and my mother’s horror), the adventures only got bigger as I grew older. I jumped off the top of the monkey bars, believing I could fly like Wonder Woman, and became engaged and married in kindergarten. Once, one a dare (and half-hoping Mama would let the visitor become my roommate) I led my horse into the house.
For most people, the thirst for adventure diminishes when they reach young adulthood. I was an exception. During my senior year in college, I braved rattlesnakes, jumped feet-first off a thirty-foot cliff, and was forgotten in a New Mexico desert, all during an archeology field school.
Life with my children has been enlightening and at times…heart-stopping. There have been hide-and-seek sessions with an orange seed in a toddler’s nose (holding him down, extracting the orange’s offspring was like bathing a cougar), make-up sessions with the cat (red lipstick isn’t her color) and deep-sea diving expeditions to rescue my cell phone from the toilet. But the even bigger adventures have occurred in the grocery store.
Just minutes after walking through the automatic doors, my cart-wielding older son, Jonathan, makes it a point to turn my heels into speed bumps. In earlier years, nothing was too confidential in my kids’ opinions. Bowel movements and the family’s choice of toilet paper (and why) was the topic of conversation between my children and strangers—that, and the fact of my polka-dot undie-clad bottom somehow has the power the make meat rancid.
I remember one escapade. Okay, that's putting it lightly--the entire trip is burned into my brain. It was just going to be a quick trip to get supplies for an impromptu dinner party. As usual, both boys would come along. My younger son, Joseph, has autism. After being diagnosed at two-years-old with the neurological disorder, I waited three more years before I heard the words more precious than gold to a mother’s heart: “I love you, Mama.” Over the following months, he become more verbal. With each uttered syllable, I rejoiced—except for this trip.
Jonathan fought coming along with his brother and I like a sleep-deprived donkey. But fourteen-year-old boys in a grocery store amaze me. The minute the automatic doors swoosh closed behind them, all surliness evaporates from their face and is replaced by a dreamy glow in their eyes. These young men are drawn to the magazine rack as if pulled by magnets. With all the studliness they can muster, they reach for the most impressive magazines. They casually peep over the cover, ignoring the articles, scanning the perimeter for beautiful girls. And on this trip, Jonathan was no exception.
“I’m divorcing you,” he yelled as we walked in the building. My cheeks reddened as several customers at the espresso bar stared curiously at us.
“’Separate…the word is ‘separate,’ I called after him. “Meaning that you’re going to go your way and meet me later.” I would have gotten a better response from a gumball machine. Jonathan scampered away faster, intent on pretending I . was non-existent.
Moments later I saw him, leaning against the wall, legs crossed at the ankle, a picture of confidence and coolness. I watched with mixed emotions, fighting the urge to yell “He pooped all over himself in a restaurant yesterday,” as girls walked past and boldly stared at his chiseled Mediterranean features. Jonathan had the accident in the restaurant thirteen years earlier, but for me, it was like just the day before.
Joseph fumed beside me as we walked down the aisles, obviously upset that Brother got time by himself while he was tortured with talk from me about bargains, coupons, and off-brand products.
The child held his tongue until the pasta aisle. Bored with my coupon browsing, Joseph waited until the aisle was full of other shoppers before announcing, “My mother is having a fainting spell and will go home with anyone who has a mattress.”
My heart raced as I felt several pairs of eyes staring at me. “Just help me find this mac-n-cheese,” I mumbled, handing him the store coupon.
Promptly, Joseph grabbed a box of dinosaur-shaped pasta off the shelf and threw it in the cart. “Done. Let’s go.”
I took a breath and rubbed my temples. This was going to be a glass-of-wine-in-the-bathtub type of day. “No,” I began. “You gotta match the product with the coupon.”
Joseph folded his arms and glared. “Don’t want it.”
“You don’t have a choice, it’s what we’re getting.” Again, Joseph waited until a group of shoppers were around before announcing “How sad. We can’t even afford a box of mac-n-cheese.”
No jury in the land would convict me if I hid him in the pasta display.
I’ve had many adventures in my youth, and came out of many unscathed, but I hadn’t been truly challenged until I had an argument in the pasta aisle of the grocery store.