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Yes, my hands are full

This afternoon a man yelled at me from his car.  They are words I will never forget.

He must have seen us inside the grocery store. It was the first time we were going in without a stroller.  Everybody do good listening for Momma, okay?  Six innocent eyes peered back at me.  You will hold hands and stay by me?

Oldest:  “Yes Mommy. I go shopping.”
Twin B: “Momma!”
Twin A: “Nose!”

I’ll take it.

We create the cutest chain of hand holding I have ever been associated with. I am holding the hand of my oldest. She is almost six, sporting a pink ball gown that she thinks Pnina Tornai designed, as a result of too many viewings of Say Yes to the Dress, but was really on sale at Costco.  Her red cowboy boots complement her rainbow wig. She is holding hands with her baby brother, Twin B, who refused to leave the house without a bright green arm warmer and his sister’s hat. On the other side, I am clutching the arm of Twin A who is covered in a mixture of guacamole and applesauce and is giggling at the puddles he is falling into. It takes us about 10 minutes to get through the revolving door, but we got this.

We are here for a mission. My daughter has proudly remembered the four things we need to buy. She has spent all week working on identifying them and is here to generalize the skill in the grocery store. With the support of her therapists, we have a modified PECS system where she can look at a picture of the item and put it in her grocery cart.  Today’s haul includes: Strawberries, Milk, Popsicles, Chocolate Chip Muffins.

 Aisle #1: “Looks like you have your hands full greets us in the produce aisle. Yes, it’s our first time without the stroller, I hear my chipper voice respond.

“STRAWBERRIES”! My daughter spots item #1. And they are all off. Despite the fact that two of my three children wear orthotics, they are suddenly faster than I can ever imagine. Their physical therapists would be so proud.  Someone needs to tell the produce people that the height of the fruit is the exact wrong height for almost two-year-old twins. They have each put five cartons of blueberries into the shopping cart, but they are not tall enough to drop them gently, so there is now an avalanche of tiny spherical berries surrounding the cart. Twin B sits on the floor to start eating them.  Yum ‘erries.  Twin A can’t stop giggling and our fearless leader is shouting, “Not on the list. Only Strawberries.”

Aisle #2: I have now bribed Twin A to sit in the front of the shopping cart with the stolen remnants of the berries I couldn’t return into the package. This is a gentle reminder for consumers to wash your fruit before you eat it. Twin B is holding my hand singing “EIEI-O” and we are stopped by a fellow shopper at the deli counter.  Looks like you have your hands full.”  Yes, this was a terrible idea. “I have two children. One is a newborn. I don’t think I will ever take them to the grocery store.” Would you excuse me? It looks as if I have misplaced one of my children. Don’t worry about helping me sir, just watch me, frantically throw a child into the back of a grocery car while his twin is grabbing my glasses from my face. Nose. Yes, honey, that is Mommy’s nose. Jordan!  Jordan! Can you hear me?  Has anyone seen a little girl in a pink dress and wig? There can’t be many in the store. Jordan, Mommy can’t see you! I finally make it to the snack aisle, with every cliché of panic on my face.

“Hi Mommy. I found pretzels. Not on the list. Keep going.”

Aisle #3: I have bribed Twin B with a lollypop to sit in the grocery cart while Twin A insists on pushing the cart while I carry him.  My daughter is leading us towards the milk aisle. We walk past a maintenance worker and his full butt crack as he bends over the lobster tank. Look Mommy, tushie.”  Yes, honey I see it — let’s move ahead.” I grab the milk with my other arm, throw it in the cart, and we head toward item #3.

Aisle #4: Everyone is now sitting inside the cart, with squished blueberries on their pants, devouring the box of popsicles we just located. I go back to get a second. Of course I left the wipes in the car.  Yes, I do have my hands full. Thanks for noticing. 

As we approach the final aisle, I compliment my daughter on her strong shopping skills. This is a big deal for her, and we have to finish the entire task to make the lesson stick. She is the most excited for item #4.  The chocolate chip muffins.  I, too, have never been more excited to purchase an item, because it means we can go home.

We turn the corner and I can see, like a glaring spotlight, they are sold out. What about blueberry muffins?  They are delicious. “No! The list says chocolate chip!”

If you have ever been around a child, let alone one with special needs, the space between the expectation and the reality is frankly — painful. I was ready to handle the breakdown. I had my contingency plan in place. I mean I wasn’t too far from the beer aisle — maybe if I just hid. “Mommy.  No muffins.”

Yes.  I see that. We can get them next time.

“Okay Mommy. Let’s go home. My list done.”

This momentous occasion practically makes me float out of the grocery store.  And for the record, not only did we not float, we disrupted an entire display of candy bars, Twin B signed the credit card receipt, and my daughter did her best rendition of Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side.” (Less than appropriate, but that’s for another day).

We piled into the car. A full 50 minutes after we had arrived. Four items in our bag. As I buckled the last car seat, I hear a man’s voice shout from behind his steering wheel.

“Hey Lady-”.
Yes.
“Hey.  I saw you in there.”
Oh, I’m sorry. It was our first time –
“You are a terrific mother. Have a great day.”

Thank you, kind stranger. I will have a great day. And I’m going to figure out how to turn strawberries, milk and popsicles into a meal — because while we were at the grocery store — I didn’t have any time to get dinner.

— Leah Moore

Leah Moore is a teacher and mother of three delicious children. She captures the stories of her special needs daughter with Cri Du Chat and the adventures of her twin baby boys in her blog, www.thecheesebus.com. She believes life’s odysseys can best be handled with kindness, a sense of humor and the perfect pair of sweatpants.

Reflections of Erma