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The Grocery Store Tradition I Am Sad to Lose

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
03/21/19  9:00 AM PST
grocery store

Before I had kids, I loved going to the grocery store. I would get a frothy drink at the Starbuck’s and roll down the aisles at my leisure. I never carried a grocery list. I’d throw in some goat cheese, a baguette, hummus, peanut butter, bananas…maybe a pint of ice cream or two. None of it would make a real meal. It was picnic food. In those early years of marriage that’s how we ate—or we went out.

And then we had Charlie, my son with cerebral palsy. I did zero shopping in the first two years of his life. With his tracheotomy and g-tube, he was immunocompromised on the best days and I was exhausted. We lived off meals brought by friends and I started making lists and sending my husband at ten o’clock at night, after Charlie was asleep—when the only people shopping for food were college kids and the grocers going off shift. He never bought the right brands or enough. But I didn’t care. Food was fuel to get me from one day to the next. My taste buds had gone into hibernation.

And then Charlie got the trach and the g-tube out. We were ready to take on the world. The grocery store became our favorite place. It was an adventure in feeding therapy for him—gnawing on the free cookies. And it got us both out of the house, even if it was just to Kroger.

We kept this tradition up, even after his brother and sister (twins) were born. The grocery store is our place. I make a list when we go now, a long one. It has categories like “fast” and “slow” breakfasts for days we have to hurry and days we don’t, and lunches for school and lunches for home. Dinners are still a hodgepodge, but I do cook now. I make two—one for the grownups and one for the kids, things easy for Charlie to chew, things with lots of fat to put some meat on his bones, things with extra beta-carotene to give his eyes a boost. Baguettes and goat cheese still make their way in, but they’re higher up on the food pyramid.

Now something is happening that I almost don’t want to talk about. All that extra fat is working. Charlie is getting heavier. He outgrew the top of the basket and the little mini-cars years ago. We use the Caroline Cart now or we go home. But even that is getting difficult. I can’t lift him as easily as I once could. Every transfer from car seat to Caroline Cart is a little more nerve-wracking and awkward. I worry I will drop him or bang his head on the roof of the van. I worry after the shopping is done if I will have the energy to get him out again. Ninety percent of our life is easier now that he is older and less fragile, but this one thing, his growth, is turning our mother-son shopping trips into a thing of the past.

More and more often I am choosing to go while he’s at school. Or I take the twins. But it feels a little traitorous, because this was our thing, mine and Charlie’s. And he loves it even more now that he can pack away two or three cookies in one go. All the grocers know him and love him.

So here’s what I’m left with: this is the end of things, when it comes to our mother-son grocery trips with him in the cart and me at the wheel. But maybe it’s the beginning of something new. Because if he can get better at his power wheelchair, then he can be the one to steer, the one with a basket and a list. To let him loose now would be to ask for a “clean up” on all aisles. He’d drive that wheelchair right into the wine. But maybe, someday, these trips can be ours again in a different way. I will still stop at Starbucks and he will still stop at the cookie counter, but then we will shop side-by-side. That’s the hope, anyway.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a mom of a child with special needs, author and blogger.

Read her blog, The Mom Gene.

Follow her on Facebook.

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