Taking my Kids Grocery Shopping, A Lesson in Diversity


I love taking my kids grocery shopping. (Said no mother-of-four ever.)

I mean, where else can I hear people say to me over and over as I push my (literally) 220 lb. cart, "Gosh, you've got your hands full!"?

The first three times I generally reply, "With good things most days!", but by the crackers aisle I'm mumbling, "Ya think?" And by fruit I'm hissing, "Are you serious?"

Once I had my four-year-old twins elbowing each other in the extra, double-wide bench seat, my two-year-old sitting in the infant seat crying, and my five-year-old standing on the back picking his nose, and I ran into one of their preschool teachers.

"How's summer vacation going?!" she sang out in her preschool teacher, fun voice.

"Are you drunk on vacation time? You do this miserable job all year long. You know better than to call it "vacation" time," I said. I may have even used air quotes. And then I laughed, Jack Nicholson-style, like maybe I was kidding. Or maybe I was a serial killer.

But in the end, I always take them with me when I can.

I tell people the main reason is because I don't need to pay someone $15/hr. to make my kitchen and family room messy while I spend $250 on organic milk and bananas. Seriously. I could put that $30 towards a couple bottles of wine or getting my upper lip waxed. (Mama's not high maintenance, but she's got needs.)

But really, I do it because my kids live in this decidedly peaceful suburban world of free-range chicken eggs, farm preschool, fresh water, and healthy people. Their lives are pretty Leave it to Beaver if you ask me; stay-at-home mom, hard-working dad, slightly naughty white middle class friends. I mean sure, they have a couple pals they describe as tan or brownish, one of our favourite people is a marathoning little person, and two-mom families are pretty standard fare in our circle, and yet, fairly mellow world out there.

At the grocery store though, things get real. Elderly women wearing bright lipstick and painted-on eyebrows, plus-size people on scooters, brown skin and black skin, head scarves and wheelchairs. We have a favourite checkout person who I'm pretty sure was a puckish, female-ish person named Krystal and who is now definitely an adorable, petite man named John. And we've loved being in his checkout line throughout the glorious transition.

There's a Brazilian man working in the produce aisle who rubs my kids' heads (whether they like it or not) when I stop and pantomime that I'm looking for a coconut or basil. And there is invariably a person wheeling oxygen by the rotisserie chicken who asks my kids if they're being good for their poor Mama.

Like clockwork, a van pulls up while we're shopping, unloading residents from a group home who come in various shapes and sizes, accompanied by two exhausted-looking aides. And my kids have to make sense of this.

"The world would be a pretty lame rainbow if everyone looked the same. It'd just be one boring, flat color," is something I've said so many times in the checkout line that I've shortened it to "Hey! Rainbow." And they get what I mean.

I don't remember going to the local grocery store much with my mother while growing up in the 70's and 80's; she never had to tell us not to stare. I stayed home and was watched by my older sisters until I was old enough to watch my brothers. We let my mother have some peace away from her five kids, including one with severe and obvious physical and intellectual delays (we used to say retarded back then, before all the ignorant people co-opted the word.)

In my home my father had a feeding tube, my sister had thick glasses and a hearing aid the size of an iPod that hung around her neck. For my mom, the grocery store was the homogenous place where she could basically disappear into a sea of mostly white suburban moms, amongst Morton's frozen chicken and Little Debbie cakes. No cilantro or ginger or plantains, no sushi or hammentaschen or tahini, no disability or difference.

"You can look at someone who appears interesting, but smile when you do it, and say something nice," I remind them before we enter the store. This has lead to everything from, "I like your tiny head," to the bagger with the incredibly tiny head, to, "I like your shoes," to anyone in a wheelchair. It's obviously not always a home run, but it reminds them that people are people, whatever the shape. And more importantly, it says to the people around them, "I see you. I want to know you better. You matter."

On the way home, over star fruit or kiwi or whatever other healthy snack they've tricked me into buying, we have real conversations. About why Krystal's name is now John and how hard it would be to appear one thing on the outside but be another on the inside, how Pop-pop Groeber wore a tube on his face just like that elderly man with oxygen, and how headscarves are just a way to show respect and modesty, we should all be so respectful and modest. Where else in the 'burbs is so much diverse and divergent humanity crammed together in cattle chutes, all grabbing for the same Frosted Mini-Wheats box on sale this week for $2.99?

No place, that's where.

It's never the easiest two hours of my life, pushing that $250, 220 lb. cart through seventeen surprising aisles, but I maintain that I love taking my kids grocery shopping. Because it's a great big beautiful world out there, and I'm going to help my kids embrace every rainbow-colored bit of it, one crowded aisle at a time.


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Author: Jen Groeber

Jennifer Groeber is a mother of four, artist, writer, and blogger. You can read about her escapades parenting, reliving her childhood and obsessing over Bruce Springsteen at jen groeber:mama art

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