[Short Story] Grocery Store Parenting

May 15 2020

Today I just witnessed something incredible.

As I approached the checkout aisle, one side stacked with the latest magazines and three feet across stuffed with confectionary, a dreadful screech clawed at my ears. A toddler was wrestling a box of chocolate popsicles from his mother. Awkwardly bent over and unwilling to exert force, the mother meekly tugged at the box in one hand and held a credit card in the other. Her husband, I presumed, watched helplessly at the end of the conveyor while lifting heavy bags into a shopping cart. The cashier pretended to ignore the crying as his face winced with each burst.

“Honey, we need to go now. You’re causing a ruckus.”

The boy screamed louder with a pitch that wavered low to high.

As his resistance showed no sign of stopping, the mother bent down and cooed, “You want Mommy to buy this?”

His crying stopped. The toddler widened his eyes. I could see the joy of his tongue in his gaping mouth.

“Let Mommy pay for the popsicles first.” Obediently, the son gave her the box. She put it on the belt and passed her card to the cashier. Before the cashier could bag the popsicles, the woman waved her hand and pointed at the box. “Can I take this?”

She got the box and tore apart the flaps. The child gasped in anticipation, his gleaming lips cutting a smile through tear-stained cheeks. His chest rose, his head cocked. The mother rummaged around, finally fishing out a wrapped bundle, and handed it to her husband. Confused, he beheld the ice pop. She took out another and offered it to the cashier. “You want one?”

“Oh, ah, no thank you. I don’t think my manager—”

“It’s ok, just take it.” She stretched her arm out farther and gave him the whole box.

The cashier grasped the box while muttering, “What am I supposed to do…”

“You can give them to other people, like the ones in line.”

The toddler tapped his feet and hopped up and down, his arms outstretched towards the box. The mother continued loading groceries and paid for them. Perhaps clutching at the dregs of indignity, the toddler’s face twisted. He started gurgling, but his mother shot him a glare of fatal proportions that squashed all resistance.

“If you whine now, I will never buy you ice cream. Ever.” She turned to the cashier with a sheepish expression. “Sorry about all that. Thanks and have a good day!” she said while packing things into her purse.

I approached the mother. She stiffened.

Mustering all my sincerity, I said, “You’re a good parent.”

For a moment, nothing happened. Then she sighed and smiled, finally turning to follow her husband who was almost out the door, licking his chocolate pop. Their son ambled behind them listlessly, a battered soul staring at the cracks between tiles.

I started loading my groceries onto the belt. “I’ll take them.”

Author’s Note
I’ve never seen this happen before. I wonder if I’d make a good parent. I don’t know if hard flexing like this would be healthy. Then again, toddlers haven’t developed empathy yet.
I also wrote this in high school, but I revised it for consistency, pacing, and to make the cashier’s reaction more realistic. I still think this is hilarious.

Photo source