It happens every Sunday afternoon and never fails to put me in a foul mood. I make a list, collect the reusable bags, and put my shoes on. I walk slowly toward the door past my 4thgraders lazing on the couch and my husband holding the clicker. I step over a dozen shoes in the mudroom, open the garage, and head to the old minivan. I will spend the next 2 hours considering, choosing, bagging, driving, and unpacking food for my family.
I pull out of the driveway, flip on the radio, and enjoy a fleeting moment of satisfaction as I tune into NPR without the back-seat groans. The drive is actually ok because escaping dirty bathrooms and piles of laundry is a welcome relief. But the positivity ends as I pull into a parking space and prepare to tackle my least favorite chore.
When the kids were small, I entered the grocery store near the bakery so that I could give each one half of a bagel. I called them “shopping bagels,” because I could only peruse the aisles for as long as those bagels lasted. As soon as they were gone, it was over. Like, crazy over. If it wasn’t in my basket by the last bite, no matter how much I needed it, it was not coming home with me. Bumping into anyone I knew made me nuts. I’d stand there chatting through clenched teeth while my kids quietly munched away. Could these people not understand that the length of our conversation correlated directly to this evening’s dinner? Checking out was a whole other debacle, as those huge carts with the cars attached only fit into certain register lanes. On occasion, I’d finish the job, load all 4 kids back into the car, only to realize that I forgot to pay for the stupid bagels. Unable to muster the energy to schlep them all back into the store, and reassuring myself that there’s never been a 2-year-old with a record, I’d go home, vowing to immediately donate money to charity.
Those crazy days are long gone, and I’ve been grocery shopping alone for quite some time now. I really should enjoy it, but that’s utterly impossible. In fact, my distaste for it seems to get worse every time I go. There isn’t any one part of the process that I dislike more than another, but sometimes the deli counter is particularly painful. Recently, the woman before me requested that her turkey slices be thin and folded. I couldn’t decide whether to pity her or punch her. I did neither. Sometimes I just want to be done shopping so badly that I decide that I am done, even when I’m not. I leave the store without finishing. I just need to get OUT.
By the time I get home, I’m feeling pretty aggravated. My kids help unload the car and I begin the agonizing process of putting everything away, wondering why I don’t just use a grocery delivery service. My teen daughter and her friends have cookies, chips and soft drinks delivered to our home on a regular basis. And, in my husband’s defense, he regularly offers to do the shopping for me. But, as the primary caretaker of the kids and facilities manager for the house, I’m the one who knows what brands, flavors and quantities we use. I could spend an hour writing a detailed list, but it just makes sense for me to do it instead. I want to be the one who picks our produce and checks expiration dates. And, the truth is, I enjoy taking care of my family, and feeding them is part of it. The whole process just happens to be a major, unavoidable time-suck, and there’s no way around it.
I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings about grocery shopping, and ranting about it is somewhat cathartic. I will continue to plan meals, make lists, buy food, and nourish my family. I’ll keep on doing the grocery shopping, and although I will never enjoy it, I’m going to try to not hate it as much. And if you ever happen to bump into me at the deli counter, don’t ask to have your turkey slices folded.
Abby Helman Kelly owns Gluten-Free New England. She lives in Simsbury with her husband and four kids.