Red Pepper Mayhem: The Grocery Store as Exploration
I was trying to rally myself as we entered the grocery store
and made our way to the produce section.
My list was long. My patience was short. And the kids were
already bickering, whining and poking at each other. (The children in your
lives don’t do this, do they?)
“OK. I am going to need your help,” I told the kids, in a
sing-song sort of fake happy voice I sometimes instinctively adopt, even though
I hate it. “The best way for us to get out of here quickly and go have some fun
is to work together.”
The kids seemed delighted by this notion, viewing it as one
more sign that they are, indeed, growing up.
We made our way through the fruits and vegetables, with the
kids meticulously picking out apples, orange and a jumbo-sized carton of strawberries
with guidance from me.
I was wowed by my own patience, as I explained how to pick
the best fruit, how the cost of some fruit is measured in pounds, but packaged
fruit has a set price.
“Maybe taking the kids to the grocery store really can be fun,” I told myself, while
directing Hunter to pick out two red peppers from a towering pile.
And then it happened. (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?
How was I so blindsided?)
Hunter pulled a particularly shiny red pepper from the pile.
Then, he pulled out a second, right in the center of the stack.
And, in what seemed like slow motion, the mountain of
peppers came tumbling down.
Red peppers seemed to be everywhere.
Shoppers seemed to come of nowhere, milling about, talking
to each other, confused about how to maneuver their shopping carts around the
“What happened here?” one lady asked, her grocery list in
“I think they had something to do with it,” another woman
stage whispered. (Surely she knew I could hear her!)
Hunter stood frozen, tears falling from his eyes, his fists
clenched in this signature way that I know means he is trying very hard to stop
crying but just can’t.
His lower lip trembled.
“I didn’t mean to. It was an accident,” he said to me – and
to everyone who was standing about.
I weaved between a mini-maze of peppers to get to him.
“It’s OK, my boy,” I told him, wrapping my arms around him in a full body embrace.
This had the effect of making him cry harder. And Hannah,
who, despite all that poking, really hates to see her brother sob, started crying, too.
I wanted to cry myself, actually.
The shoppers in the store were getting restless. One lady
felt the need to inform me that she needed to get some red peppers but “most of
them seem to be on the floor.”
This was not helpful.
I considered just sitting on the floor, hugging the kids and
waiting until we felt better to get up and do the rest of our shopping. But
really, it would have been tough to find a pepper-free spot. And it seemed like
I had a responsibility to get things moving here.
I told the kids we needed to help pick up the peppers – to
make things right. (Where were the produce people during all of this?)
We started scurrying around, scooping up the peppers. (The
kids managed to drop some of them yet again before getting them back on the
And then, near the time we were finished, a man of about 50
came through. He seemed irritated that the kids – and possibly even me –
existed, never mind that we were also in his path here in the grocery store.
He looked at me, still scooping peppers.
“This is a good example of why they shouldn’t even allow
little kids in the grocery store,” he said, plucking a pepper from the stack
without even looking at it.
Considering the mayhem we had created, I didn’t feel like I
was in much of a position to argue.
“It was an accident,” I told the man weakly.
“It always is,” he said flatly, and walked quickly away.
I guess I could have argued with him — maybe I should have.
But I know he would not have changed his view. Nothing I could have said would
have changed things. And who knows what his story is – how it is he came to be
so cranky and seemingly bitter on that blindingly sunny day.
The truth is, exploration gets messy – and that is
particularly true when kids are involved.
One of the biggest challenges that kids – and their parents
– probably face is that kids inevitably need to explore in a world that is not
really made for them. It’s still a world that is too big. And complicated. Things
are out of reach. Accidents happen easily.
Our role as adults who love them is to help them navigate it
as painlessly as possible, while teaching lessons that will serve them well
And if a few beautiful red peppers get bruised along the way
and a shopper to two become more cranky than usual, maybe that’s OK.