Sunday, 6 December 2009

Supermarkets and Sunday parenting


It was hell out there today in the temples of Sunday shopping. It was Dad's turn to do the shopping, and to have the children with him to help. As a rule, I really, really like small children and greatly enjoy their company. They're funny, interesting, versatile, endearing, and they love noise, and larking about, and the use of funny voices. They can be great fun to go out with, and if kept interested, can co-operate reasonably well with the peculiar expectations of adults. They can even do supermarket shopping if this is kept brisk and organised, with a promise of sweets and we'll-be-out-in-a-few-minutes.

But today I found myself becoming horribly child-intolerant, coming out of Sainsbury's muttering to myself about the urgent need to ban children from such stores on Sundays, or at least when in the sole charge of their fathers. The combination of father, children and trolleys is the stuff of which nightmares are made, and today there were hordes of such combined mother-free groups. The dads were out in force, and they didn't appear used to it.

These hapless men, peering at lists and bumbling about unable to steer their trolleys because of all their bawling, shrieking, squealing, demanding offspring hanging off them, seemed to have no control at all as their toddlers - Eddie, Reuben, George or Cassandra - veered off to another aisle to stop dead in the path of an oncoming trolley or to pull all the cards off the displays. They just shouted after them, at top volume: "Eddie! Eddie! ED! Not that way! This way! Eddie! No!' and the toddler paid no attention. At all. As is the way of toddlers on a mission. Every adult within earshot paid attention all right.

Then, several minutes too late, the dads would abandon their trolleys to go toddler-hunting, giving the remaining children a chance to fill it with more exciting (sugary) stuff that wasn't on the list, or to escape, screaming shrilly, to the aisle with the toys. Then the dads shouted for those children too, while the toddler threw a tantrum. Once all loosely gathered up, there followed some scolding, hugely ineffective, in what I think of as that unconvincing 'public parenting' voice, intended more for the general audience than for the child itself. The children fidgeted, plotting their next bid for freedom, which they took within moments. Sweets, daddy! Cars! Cola! Harry Potter DVDS! Let's go! Daddy began to look sweaty and anxious; the unaccomplished list was growing damp and the toddler could wriggle like an octopus; this was becoming stressful.

Women with their own trolleys smiled sympathetically at first, perhaps even murmured something about "You've got your hands full!", helpfully retrieving a pilfering tot or preventing the collapse of a wobbling stack of musical reindeer, but the noisy, shambling caravan of chaos, with its list-reciting, name-shouting, child-squabbling, haranguing soundtrack set to Extra Loud, lumbered remorselessly round every unfamiliar aisle. It went back and forth, round and round, a Spaghetti Junction of repeatedly-missed signs and unnoticed produce displays, to search for the eggs, or the bran flakes, and where would the baby wipes be? and the same trolleys met again and again.

Gradually the women shoppers grew tight-lipped and steely-eyed; the father-accompanied children grew wilder as they evaded dad again and managed to reach the soft drinks aisle undetected. Large, heavy bottles of carbonated drinks were hauled about and dropped, fizzing up ominously as they rolled. Strong women clenched their jaws and gave up their methodical tour to hasten to the checkouts; two little girls who had been on their best behaviour beside their mother were spoken to unnecessarily sternly, clearly on the receiving end of frayed nerves and vicarious scolding. They drooped, their thoughts of "Not fair!" showing on their obedient faces.

I escaped too, feeling unusually frazzled, and hoped that the absent mothers who had given themselves a break from shopping, children, and earnest-but-clueless partner, were making the most of their hour of freedom and peace. Maybe, blissfully unaware of the impact of their loved ones on the mental health of other shoppers, they were having a peaceful little lie down in a darkened room; I know I needed to do that too this Sunday morning.

13 comments:

Fran Hill said...

Oh dear. Hope you picked yourself up some nice big bar of chocolate or bottle of wine while you were out ...

Linda said...

I rarely have to go food shopping - hubby loves doing it, has my list, and is efficient re prices and offers, so who am I to stop him?

His particular bugbear is holidaymakers who often seem to shop as a whole, three-generational family.Of course, being on holiday, they haven't agreed any sort of menus before they turn out on a Sunday morning, then completely block the aisles while they discuss who likes what!

One of the trials of living in a tourist area!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Look at families on their summer hols ...Dad , totally unused to the blunt end of 24 hour a day parenting , wilting by day three .
Not surprising that one of the few house husbands I know goes long-distance running in his free time !
Children are great fun , but it's a good idea to take control at the beginning before they realise that they can !!

judy in ky said...

You describe the scene so well. I could almost see and hear the chaos!
As a childless woman, I have different reactions depending what mood I am in. If I am in a good mood, I smile sympathetically at the parents and thank my lucky stars I'm not in their position. If I'm in a grumpy mood, I mutter under my breath and wish they would just stay home.

BumbleVee said...

Saturdays and Sundays in any food store...yikes!! not for me...I usually like to shop Wednesday night... I can fire a canon down the aisles.... it's lovely.....

valct4joy said...

Forgive me for chuckling out loud about your vividly written post. You see, I have grandchildren now, alas in another country, but the only time I see chaos like this is when grandpa takes the kids to the toyshop.

pennygj said...

Oh Rachel, I was with you every miserable step of the way reading that. So vividly described I felt I'd been there with you. Mine weren't angels and I have a few tales to tell, but there seems to be this 'negotiation' policy now with parenting, whereby Mum or Dad say things like,'Now that isn't very helpful, is it' rather than 'Sit down, keep quiet and behave'!! Oh dear, my age is showing, Grumpy Old Womens Anonymous here I come!
Penny x

_lethe_ said...

Valuable lesson learned: only go shopping on weekdays, when said Dads are probably at the office.

Anonymous said...

Know exactly what you mean. We did a Sainsbury run Sat am. By the time I got home, I was in urgent need of a large glass of wine.

Jan

Charlotte said...

I think there should be rules on having children in public. They shouldn't be allowed to make any noise, should be on reigns, and should only be allowed out at designated times such as 3.45-4pm on a tuesday. I blame Supernanny and the naughty step on the lack of discipline 'mummy doesn't want you to do that, it makes mummy sad' whilst their child is kicking the crap out of their mum and running riot. When I was little I got a look and that was it, would never have dared. Now if you tell kids off you get looked at like your satan. As you can probably guess I hate practically all kids with a passion!

rachel said...

My fault for going in on a Sunday, but it was that or lentils for the day.....

Charlotte, I'm not fooled by you, not one bit. I've seen your Facebook page where you go all soppy over friends' babies.....

Charlotte said...

Babies are cute I can't deny that, I love them when they aren't puking up. But I don't like children, you've probably also heard me moan about friends unruly children.

Fourdoors down said...

How funny was this? Very. I suspect, however, that the mothers weren't lying at home with the newspaper and a glass of wine, enjoying some peace and quiet, but instead, in town - busily shopping for the in-laws' and other family Christmas presents.

The happy holiday season's ripples spread ever outwards.

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