Thursday, August 27, 2009

Monster Carts

I am not one that usually gives in to the constant solicitations from my 3 year old (also on behalf of my 13 month old) to be chauffeured around the grocery store in the monstrosity they call "the fun cart". You know the one, the large colorful plastic cart that beckons the little ones with it's familiar characters plastered on each side, grimy steering wheel, and blaring Disney cartoons. Can you picture it? I like to call it The Monster. Aside from being heavy and awkward, I shutter to think about the various breeds of germs being harvested in every crevice and corner that a little finger could reach. After all, it has been occupied by every snotty, sneezing, drooling child that has ever gotten his or her own wish for a ride. But on this particular day I felt like rewarding my well behaved children during our quick trip to the grocery store.

I carefully sanitized every area of the cart that they would possibly touch all the while holding them back as they anxiously awaited their ride. This alone exhausted me. I carefully sized each seat belt and buckled them in only to find that the video player didn't work. Being a patient person, I dragged the cart to the customer service desk for a refund to swap the cart for a working one. After repeating the same laborious task of disinfecting and buckling, once again, the video player didn't work. I carefully explained to my little ones that they could enjoy the ride without the company of Disney this time.

After pushing, pulling, hard steering, the occasional direction to the little ones to keep their heads inside, and many an apologetic "excuse me", I filled my cart in only twice the time it would have taken with a normal cart. This alone is a feat worth a rewarding coffee cooler. I somehow managed to squeeze the monster through the checkout, reloaded my bags, and off we go. Now I knew that I would not be able to take the monster out to the car, so I scheduled a cart swap into my schedule. Nearing lunch time, I headed to the opposite end of the store to make the switch. As I tensed my muscles to make the sharp turn, I felt the monster come to a sudden and abrupt halt. I put more force into another push, but to no avail. I could almost smell burning rubber as I forced it across the floor, moving less than an inch. I felt the sweat forming on my brow and my face turning red, from both embarrassment and frustration. You guessed it, the wheels locked. All manner of thoughts roamed through my head. Was there a time limit? Had I steered wrong? Whatever the reason, this meant that I had to unbuckle the kids, abandon my already purchased groceries, and walk to the other end of the store to bring another cart back. But not before airing my grievance; I felt sorry for the first employee that would cross my path.

Now I am definitely not one to put up a stink, not in the least. In fact, I tend to err on the quiet side even when it is well within my right to speak up. Not this time. Someone, somewhere, somehow was going to hear me out! And she was in my line of view. A short, middle aged woman whose sole purpose was to meet and greet at the front doors had the sole misfortune of standing right in front of the cart rack. She was the one! By the time I reached her, with a baby on my hip and a toddler in hand, I could barely formulate my words. Wrought with frustration, I struggled to organize my thoughts and start with a coherent lead in.

I still can't remember exactly what I said. I know that I was trying to keep my tone light and pleasant, typically a normal thing for me, but on this occasion it was a struggle. I somehow managed to relay my extreme frustration with the entire experience. And after I was finished ranting and raving about how inconvenient and ridiculous it was, she had the audacity to defend it. “There is a trigger that disables the cart right after you pass the register.” I felt my face turn bright red, again. I struggled to speak, again. The only thing that I could muster was a loud and confused, “WHAT?!” After standing for what seemed like minutes absolutely speechless, out came the rambling, “How can that be? How do you figure this is in any way convenient for parents? Do you mean to tell me that it is purposely forcing us to abandon our items, drag our kids across the store, get another cart, drag our kids back, unload and reload our groceries, leave that…that….thing in the middle of the aisle, and then walk to our cars? That doesn’t make any sense?” Now she was calmly listening to me the entire time. I can’t tell you what her face looked like or even if she was mouthing potty words at me, but I can tell you what she said next. “Don’t worry. After you unload your items, I’ll go get the cart and bring it back.” The nicest thing I could do was shoot her a look of utter and complete confusion and storm off.

Typically I find a lesson or nugget from every little life experience. And they generally are pretty obvious to me. This one took a while. The only nugget I could get from this was to never treat my kids to The Monster again. Or to warn every unsuspecting parent I knew, or didn’t know, to never go near this cart. But that couldn’t be it; all of these were just too obvious. There had to be something else gained from such a personally frustrating experience. After several days of cogitating on my experience, I was able to move past my own personal frustration and focus on the experience of my little ones. And with all of that, I couldn’t find one negative experience for them. From the very beginning when we had to swap monsters to the very end when we had to swap again, not once were they unhappy. They so anticipated how wonderful the experience would be. Wonderful was all they expected and all that it was. Even when the video player wouldn’t work, they reveled in the independence they had driving at the front. They giggled and squealed with each turn pretending it was because of their own efforts. They played with the clicky turn signal and tooted the horn. And it was just as delightful watching them. But somehow I had gotten so removed from that. As I recounted the tale to others, I would throw in “well, at least the kids had fun” as if it was a pity when in fact it was the sole purpose.

As busy parents, we try to cut corners and remove such frustrations from our lives. And reasonably so. We are too quick to dismiss events and experiences justifying to our kids “it’s too much trouble” or “I don’t have time to deal with it right now”. But in reality, I would love to see them enjoying themselves in that way again. It will take adjusting on my part, and it definitely won’t be that often. But I can manage it now that I know what will happen. Those things that take a little extra effort, and may not be as amusing to us, can be special for our kids.