“Please can we ride in the fire truck cart? Please, please, please, PAH-LEEEZE?”
It was only the second time I’d been out of the house by myself since bringing the boys home, although technically speaking, I wasn’t alone at all. I was outnumbered five to one, and the only reason I had gone out at all was because I was out of half-and-half. I can survive without a lot of things, but in those hazy days with newborn twins, I was pretty sure I would die within five minutes of waking if I didn’t have coffee.
On this particular day, when the half-and-half container ran out before my first cup was sufficiently creamy, I decided it was time to venture out to the grocery store, with five children under the age of six. It sounded like a good idea at the time, although I failed to account for the way the maternal hormones were playing with my reasoning skills.
I realized my mistake when I spotted the fire truck cart standing guard over the grocery store entrance. A single fire truck cart had the power to turn an ordinary trip to the grocery store into a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie. But my kids could not see the evil that lurked beneath the cheap plastic exterior.
“Please can we ride the fire truck cart?”
“Guys…” I stalled, trying to think of just the right way to formulate my rejection of their proposal so they would think it was all their idea.
“You said we could,” my oldest said.
“I did not!”
“Yes you did.”
“The last time we were in the store, you said we could ride in the fire truck cart next time.” At what point did my children get old enough to remember anything I said?
“Why would I say that?”
“Because you love us,” Jonathan said, smiling. “And you like to make us happy!” All three grinned at me. They were playing dirty.
“Oh, alright…” I conceded.
“Yippee!” Jonathan squealed and climbed into the driver’s seat. Kya got shotgun. Faith dangled off one side, making the whole thing tip precariously. The twins, snug in their car carriers, were stowed in a metal cart where I pulled them behind me like two little outcasts.
I backed the fire truck cart out into the aisle. “Greeeeeeeeee!” It protested loudly.
“It has a siren!” Jonathan exclaimed.
I looked underneath to see if I’d run over a squirrel. The two front wheels spun in midair, hopelessly useless. They pounded “thubthubthubthub” when I pushed the cart forward a little.
I stopped. Five happy faces beamed at me. There was no going back now.
With one hand on the fire truck cart and one hand on the babies’ dinghy, I attempted to maneuver in a straight line toward the produce. The Neanderthal barely moved.
“Push, Mommy! Push!” I felt like I was back in the delivery room. “Go, Mommy!”
I dug deep into my repertoire of sumo wrestling moves and pushed into the fire truck cart with my shoulder, using all my energy to bully it into the aisle while dragging the second cart behind me. I prayed no one was watching me on the security cameras.
“You did it, Mommy! You did it!” The children cheered me on, although I barely heard them over my excessive panting and desperate gasps for breath.
“GREEEEEEEEEEEthubthub!” The cart screeched even louder now that we were going forward. An older lady, who was wasting a decade of her life picking out three perfect apples, glared at me over her bifocals. My two-year-old waved. She was a princess in her very own carriage, riding in her very own parade, pushed by a haggard mother who could very well collapse at any moment.
We maneuvered through the aisles with all the skill and dexterity of a real-life Hungry Hippo. Bread…gobblegobble…peanut butter…gobblegobble…milk…gobblegobble…bananas…gobblegobble…
“Mom! There’s a free sample!” Faith called from behind me, where she’d taken up the job of steering the babies after it became apparent that my ability to multi-task had not magically improved since having twins.
“We can’t stop now!” I yelled back. “I don’t want to lose momentum!”
Given the fact that I had nearly burst my spleen getting the big lug started in the first place, I was unwilling to dawdle. I had plateaued to a reasonable agony now that we were rumbling through the aisles. Not even free coffee could not deter me from my singular mission of getting out of the store without stopping.
“Grab some pasta!” I commanded.
“What kind?” Faith asked.
“Doesn’t matter!” I yelled back. She threw three boxes of orzo into the cart. Interesting choice, I thought. Kya clapped. I knocked in a couple cans of tomatoes as we whooshed by.
“Okay, we’ve got a turn coming up. Everybody hold on tight!”
“GREEEEEEEEEEEEE!” The cart protested.
It soon become apparent that whoever designed the fire truck cart flunked basic geometry. The turning radius of the cart far exceeded the width of the aisles, which I proved by bashing into a cardboard display of Oreos.
“Mom, you hit some cookies,” Jonathan observed.
“Thank you. Yes, I know.” I backed up the truck and tried again. The Oreo display, not being smart enough to move, got hit a second time.
“Did you mean to do that?” Jonathan asked.
“Not really,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Then why’d you do it again?”
Sweat beaded up on my forehead. I wondered if I could get an epidural for this.
“Let’s try it again, Faith!” I called. She tried to guide the caboose as I ventured out into the roomy aisle by the hot dogs. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a wiry little woman. She was coming right toward me, and she wasn’t stopping. Neither was I.
“Oh my goodness, don’t you have your hands full!” She cried. I gained more weight during my first trimester than she weighed soaking wet.
I tried to ignore her. Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, I chanted under my breath, desperately trying to turn before I ran into the chest of sale-priced bacon. But she was persistent.
She put down a shopping basket full of Lean Cuisines and grabbed Faith’s cart so she could peer in at the boys, who were now wide awake. “Are these twins? I always thought I should have twins. Oh, they’re not identical! I think identical twins are so cute. You know, they’d look more alike if you dressed them alike.”
My cart had stopped. Stopped. The two front wheels spun idly until they stilled. A silent tear slid down my cheek. The boys began to whimper as the stranger poked her head into their space. “Where are their pacifiers?”
“They don’t take pacifiers,” Faith answered.
“What?” My new adviser took this as a personal offense. “Well, I’m sure I’d give my children pacifiers before letting them scream in the store.” She waved her hand in the air and said with a snort, “Better you than me!”
She sauntered off with her dainty little basket and left me with my beast. I imagined what she might look like with her twiggy legs sticking out from under a fire truck cart. It could look like an accident.
“Mom? The boys are getting hungry,” Faith said, interrupting my daydream.
“Oh! We’re almost done, my boys,” I exclaimed, leaning into the cart with my full postpartum body weight and channeling the dread of nursing twins in public into a heroic burst of energy.
“GREEEEEEEEEEEthubthubthub,” the cart protested. It was much heavier now, loaded down with groceries and diapers and about thirty pounds of chocolate, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
“I think we should just take what we have and check out,” I shouted back to Faith. She had the concentrated look of a race car driver trying to maneuver her way through the course without hitting a wall. “We’re in the home stretch, sweetie!” I said. But, I had forgotten to look where I was going. I turned around just in time to see the front end of the fire truck cart on a collision course with another shopper. The Hungry Hippo honed in on its prize.
“Watch out!” I yelled, trying to stop the cart. But the momentum could not be harnessed. The fire truck cart sped on ahead, its front end swaying menacingly back and forth while the useless front wheels spun madly.
The lone shopper looked up just in time. She jumped out of the way at the last second, but her pathetic little wire cart could not be saved. We rammed into it at full speed.
“Oh, Mommy…” Kya exhaled. She had never seen a metal cart fly through the air before.
The acne-flushed young man who escorted us to the checkout was both morose and apathetic, two qualities I suddenly found quite charming. He did not care how many children I had or how old I was or whether or not my twins were dressed alike. He did not mention the clean-up on Aisle 9, nor did he question me when I opened a bag of white chocolate truffles and began to consume them two at a time. He silently plunked us down in the check-out lane and sloughed off to the next menial task in his meaningless job. I wanted to hug him.
But the checker was tapping her fluorescent orange fingernails impatiently on the register, so I hurled groceries onto the belt as quickly as I could. Beep….beep….beep… The scanner kept time until the cart was empty and she said, “That’ll be $236.57,” and cast a look at my four-year-old, who was staring at a picture of Dolly Parton on the cover of a glossy magazine.
“Honey, don’t look at that,” I said as I lugged my diaper bag up to the counter, wondering how Dolly Parton was still making the covers of magazines.
“Mommy, that lady has really big…” he paused, searching for the right word.
“Yes, yes she does. Don’t look at them.”
“I mean, those are some really big…hips. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lady with such big hips.”
The checker smiled in spite of herself. I dug through the piles of diapers for my wallet.
“She probably had lots of babies,” he reasoned. Kya nodded.
“Uh-huh,” I said, distracted by the panic rising in my chest. For the life of me, I couldn’t find my wallet. A line of impatient shoppers watched as I emptied out a burp cloth, diaper rash ointment, a bag of Cheerios, diaper wipes, and five matchbox cars. No wallet.
I could feel the cashier staring at me through her blue mascara. “I don’t have my wallet,” I nearly sobbed.
The cashier blinked. She had scanned and bagged over two hundred dollars of groceries while my children caressed the candy bars and put brown paper bags on their heads and crawled on the floor on all fours and pushed all the buttons on the credit card scanner over and over again. She looked at me from across the conveyor belt. We shared a moment.
“Isn’t there any other way?” She asked. “Do you have a debit card?”
“It’s in my wallet.”
We both stared at each other, silent and thinking. “I don’t think there’s any choice, really,” I said slowly. This was harder than a high school break-up.
“You could come back? I mean, I’ll wait for you.”
“No, no, the peas would be all melty by then,” I paused. “Besides, there will be other customers. Look, they’re already lining up for you.”
“I don’t care about them!” She was taking it hard.
“I’m sorry,” I said, looking at the cart full of neatly-bagged groceries. “I wish I could put everything back the way it was.”
“It’s okay.” She was trying to be brave, I could tell. “Just go. Go…”
I turned away. I wanted to look back, but sometimes it’s best to make a clean break. “Come on, kids.”
“What about the groceries?” They shouted over the rumble of the cart as we headed to the car.
I tried to explain, but they didn’t understand. Their questions ran together like a mantra.
“Listen!” I said sternly, my heart still broken from the way things ended. “I need everyone to be quiet for just one minute, okay? Just get in the car and be quiet!”
The three older kids scampered into their seats without another word. I put my head down on the steering wheel. The small of my back was still sweaty and I had pulled a muscle I didn’t even know I had. Worse, I was out of half-and- half.
The car was strangely silent except for the sound of a baby sucking on his fist. Then a small, tremulous voice ventured into the stillness. “Mom?”
“Yes…” I answered in a tone that said I wouldn’t bring up bananas if I were you.
“I have a dollar.” Jonathan was holding out the dollar he had earned wedding Mrs. Smith’s driveway.
“And I have some dimes,” Faith added. She searched in her pocket for the four dimes Nana had given her for collecting snails in the garden, a penny per snail. “Is that enough?”
“Oh, guys,” I began, but Kya interrupted me. She was too young to understand what had just happened, but she knew when a collection was being taken. She held out a small paper cup filled with stale animal crackers from the church nursery. “I share, Mommy?” she asked. “I share?”
“We’re sorry you had to leave the groceries. We don’t need bananas,” Jonathan reassured me. They all nodded solemnly.
“We’re not even hungry,” Faith added.
It took me a moment to regroup, to realize that only a wealthy woman could be so inconvenienced. Only a rich woman could be hassled by driving a fire truck full of groceries around a store only to discover she had left her wallet at home. I had been blessed with children to feed, blessed with food in abundance, blessed with money to pay for it. What a small thing it was to have to drive back home and feed my beautiful children with the “nothing” I had in my pantry. What a small thing it was to go without coffee, or to have to make a second trip to a store that had everything I needed and much that I didn’t. Only a wealthy woman could complain about such trivial things.
Only a wealthy woman needs to forget her wallet to remember how rich she truly is.