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When Dad Pushes The Cart

When Dad Pushes the Cart

I guess I might as well laugh.

You’re next in line behind me here in the checkout line. By your clothes, your haircut, and that just-happy-to-be-here look on your face, I’d say you’re a senior at the college not far from my house. And now, with the weekend about to kick in, you’ve come in for your grocery essentials:

A bottle of wine.

A six-pack of beer.

A jar of wheat germ.

A jumbo bag of potato chips.

That’s it. Your entire shopping list. Enough to get you all the way to Monday and maybe even a bit beyond.

How I remember those days. After all, I used to be you. And once upon a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I could power through any given weekend on a diet of pizza, Pop-Tarts, and peanut-butter sandwiches.

But that world is long gone, rendered extinct by the meteor-hit of modern family life. I’m a dad and husband now, and I have the shopping cart to prove it. Just take a look at everything I’ve piled high, and behold the future that awaits you, pal.

First off, let me make one thing clear. A celebrity chef I ain’t. Sure, I like the idea of a fully appointed kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and copper pans and kettles hanging from overhead racks as much as the next domesticated twenty-first century guy. But you should know that my cooking skills extend barely as far as the flower-print crockpot my wife and I received as a wedding gift many years ago. (It only has three settings – medium, high, and off – but I still can’t grasp the science of crock.)

Still, even if I only use our convection oven to reheat coffee, don’t know what a “reduction” is, and think of “fry” as something I do only at the beach, shopping for food and family provisions always seems to fall to me.

And I like to think I take my job seriously by paying attention to the minutiae of the supermarket hunt. Take coupons, for example. Once you get married and a couple of kids come along, you’ll go nuts hoarding coupons for almost everything associated with family life – coffee creamer, paper towels, toilet paper, dishwasher detergent, diapers, food for the babies, food for the pets. And in jumbo sizes if possible. Except you’ll forget to bring the coupons with you nine times out of ten. Don’t worry, though. You’ll zip your store’s gas-discount card through the checkout scanner so many times that by the end of each month you can practically fill your tank for free.

End up like me, and you’ll find yourself in the store every day – sometimes more than once – snapping up cold cuts, chicken nuggets, frozen burritos, and anything else you can pass off as something resembling dinner. And that’s if you get your act together enough to eat at home. Our kids don’t like what we cook anyway, and evening activities like dance, soccer, and choir send us through more fast-food drive-thru lanes than I care to count. I could write a dissertation on the finer variations among salsas served in local Mexican restaurants. If Chick-fil-A were a publicly traded company, we’d all own so much stock that we’d have seats on the board.

But even if restaurant leftovers qualify as their own food group – our refrigerator is where Styrofoam goes to die, says my wife – we still buy more food than we ever seem to eat. Call it a crisis of good intentions. To convince myself that I’m organized, I’ll load pairs of everything onto the checkout conveyor belt, as if oversized boxes of cereal, family-pack cookies, and extra-large tubes of toothpaste are all bound, two-by-two, for Noah’s Ark. On another day, I might suffer guilt spasms over the role organics play in our lives. Suffice to say that farm-fresh tomatoes, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, and arugula are all moldering right now in our vegetable bin.

Don’t think your four items are alien to us, though. Note all the chips and popcorn I’m buying, along with all the sandwich bread, breakfast bars, boxes of doughnuts, and other carbohydrates that run amok in our home. Your wheat germ? Yes, there was a time I’d whip up that single-guy power smoothie before heading off to the gym. Now I just push the lawn mower and rake the leaves to stay in shape. And don’t even mention alcohol. These days, the wines we own are only bottles we’ve received as gifts, and a beer might sit in the fridge for months, awaiting the perfect launch window for me to pop the top. One day you’ll find out: Blast-off is fun, but reentry, with dry mouth, headache, and family chores waiting on a Saturday morning, just ain’t worth the trouble.

And then there are the holidays, which present the ultimate shopping challenge. Like the Ghost of Christmas Future, I’ll warn you that your hunter-gatherer abilities will be put to the test. But instead of trekking out to retrieve a buffalo hide or mastodon rib, you will be sent forth to fetch the multiple ingredients necessary to make vast quantities of Toll House cookies. Pop quiz, Joe College: Where do you find the brown sugar and baking powder? Do you buy white eggs or brown? How many cups in a pint, pints in a quart, quarts in a gallon, and teaspoons in a tablespoon? Butter salted or lightly salted? Chips sweet or semi-sweet? And don’t even get me started on vanilla extract.

Fear not if you get a failing grade, though. You’ll get to retake this test in ten or twenty years. And don’t think I didn’t see you smirk as you checked out the number of bags I’m getting ready to roll out to the minivan. Yes, today we live in different worlds. But cast your eye again on my mountain of family foodstuffs, and listen to me laugh. Because one day, kid, all this will belong to you.

Tony Farrell
Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.
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