By the time I pulled in, the parking lot was packed. My husband usually picked up the turkey but he couldn't make it before closing so I loaded our youngest, then two, into the car and drove over in the dark.
In an alternate universe, Billy would help check the eggplants for freshness.
In this universe, he'd look at his mother like she was a meanie and keep yelling.
After I found a parking space, I grabbed a cart and lowered Kristen into the seat, heading for the butcher counter in back. Me and a hundred of my closest friends. Also with carts. It’s amazing how many people wait until the last minute to shop for Thanksgiving dinner.
The aisles were jammed, mostly with women, contemplating serving sizes and brands. I pulled a number at the counter and waited for the fresh turkey my husband ordered. And waited some more. Who in the hell orders a pound of ground chuck at a time like this?
Kristen sat quietly, people watching. She was always a dream to take along, a buddy. One moment she looked fine, but the next she was red in the face and trying to stand up and leave. Surprised at a behavior I’d never seen, I became that ‘reasoning with a toddler’ mom. “Just a few more minutes, honey. We have to be patient and wait for blah, blah, blah…” Mainly, I didn't want a scene because we were blocked in by loads of carts and people living their own holiday dramas.
Re-seated, she suddenly started rocking back and forth like those rowdy people in Ferris wheel carriages. I considered ditching the cart but knew I couldn't put her on my hip AND carry the turkey. Finally, our number was called and the butcher went to retrieve the order – a fresh, 12-14 pound bird. I started to think he went for a smoke, too, because he didn't come back. Growing more self-conscious, I could feel people staring as I was now in full wrestling mode with an angry, wild child.
They didn't have our order. On top of looking like a mother who can’t handle her kid, I looked like a ditsy woman who can’t order a turkey. After analyzing the look on my face, the butcher offered me a 25 pounder. I took it. Hell, I would have taken 25 pounds of bratwurst.
Now all we had to do was negotiate, again with the hundred close friends, our way to check-out. Surely my daughter would sense the progress. I don’t know how long the aisle was but I know it felt like a mile as she lurched side-to-side with every fiber of her being. Maintaining protocol, I’d say, “Excuse me,” to each shopper blocking our path, as if no one heard us coming.
It got better. Steering to the aisle’s side to avoid traffic, Kristen, now grunting in a low voice, grabbed whatever she could off the shelves. Sensing she was about to throw a pass, I’d strip the can or package out of her hands and steer away. As soon as I got the item shelved, she’d grab onto and pull from the opposite shelf or, utterly out of character, another cart. This happened over and over within the cramped aisle. I looked like a careening drunk with a whirling tantrum and a huge turkey.
Somewhere 'down field' I began to laugh. An unfortunate trait in certain situations, I know, but I couldn't help it. The more I tried to stifle giggles, the redder and angrier Kristen got.
Finally (!) we made it to the end of a long check-out line. Using the cart to hold my giggling self upright, I embraced the moment. After all, a force of nature cannot be thwarted when one is trapped in a shopping cart. Sometimes people blow a gasket.
By the time we reached the cashier, she and her bagger were ready and gave us the bum’s rush. Once outside in cold, fresh air, my laughs settled into a smile and Kristen became her old self. Lew cooked the huge bird without missing a beat and Thanksgiving dinner was delicious.
It was years before I brought my children back to that store.
Postscript: remind me to tell you about how Kristen, age four, quit ballet in the parking lot right before a class while dressed, adorably, in head-to-toe pink.