On Thursday afternoons, John and Lauren paint and sculpt with Miss Daphne. I take the middles and the little grocery shopping. I feel like I become a time traveler for these few hours...back to the days when John was seven and Lauren, five. Back to the days when everyone had to hold hands and no one could think for themselves.
"Put your hand on the hood of the car. Wait until everyone is out and all the doors are shut. Charlie, hold someone's hand. Faith, hold my hand. Stay close together the cars can't see you."
We stop at the sliding doors so dresses and hair can be blown by the gust of air in the doorway. Everyone giggles.
The giggles stop when we get to the carts. "I don't want to push the cart. Claire can push it."
"I pushed it last week. It's your turn."
"Girls, you will take turns. Claire, you can have the first turn." We fill two carts with groceries each week. Four gallons of milk go a long way toward filling one of the carts. Little or not, the children must help me with this job.
Claire pushes down the child seat in the cart and peers through the leg holes. She is too short to see over the handle. She is cautious and attentive. The cart is serene and docile behind me the whole time she is at the helm.
The children take turns picking out and putting items in the cart. Until we get to the juice. Everybody wants to get the orange juice. We only need one. "Carry it together, girls. I can't remember who got it last week."
The cart switches hands and becomes an ankle biting monster. It swerves and dawdles. It remains in the cereal aisle when we turn the corner. "Faith, where's the cart?"
"I'm tired of pushing it."
"Just because you're tired doesn't mean you can walk off and leave it. Go back and get it. Claire will take another turn when we get to the next aisle."
Charlie finds a reason for a meltdown sometime after the gust of air and before we put the first item into the cart. This noise often reaches a crescendo in the checkout line. "I want Skittles and milk! I want Skittles and milk! Skittles and milk! Skittles and milk!" Two weeks ago he dumped a full bag of pretzels in line and the week before that he huddled down behind the checkout counter and helped himself to a lollipop. I have taken to traveling with the time-out timer.
This week there were no issues because this week we used the self-checkout lane. The children hummed with activity. Faith and Claire handed Charlie the butter to put on the conveyer belt. They searched for the barcodes. They ran groceries across the scanner and bagged them. My eyes were everywhere making sure that we paid for everything and that we only paid for it once.
"Can we do that again next week, Mama?"
"Maybe. It was fun wasn't it? You were big helpers... Faith, don't get ahead of us... Claire, can you see the yellow pole right in front of you?"
Faith stands still and waits for us to catch up. Claire steers carefully around the pole.
The kids and groceries are loaded up. The carts are returned. We're off to pick up the big guys. Over the course of six months of Thursdays, I'm starting to see the middles learn to think for themselves, to offer to help without my direction, and to take pride in their work. This weekly trip is worth the effort.