Who needs the grocery store?
Tonight is the night. I’m going grocery shopping. My three-year-old, Kai, is coming home from 10 long days away, much of it at the beach with her wonderful Vava. They swam and explored and I sense there was no shortage of ice cream and cotton candy consumed. (“Who told you?” Kai would ask, astutely, when I inquired later how she liked cotton candy.)
Husband Joe and Kai would pull into the driveway in two hours. Plenty of time for my assistant – 7-month-old Juno – and me to get to the store and back. I find myself dawdling. Taking a walk through the garden, pulling the first few ears of corn! A zucchini. Tarragon, to sprinkle sneakily into a quesadilla.
Grocery shopping is not fun. It can be kind of fun with Kai in tow, driving the car-shaped cart, leaping out to Vanna White items she thinks we need. But without Kai I find myself slipping into a funk. All that packaging. Those food miles. The illusion of choice, when really it’s the same ingredients cleverly processed and packaged. The guilt when I pick up a carton of almond milk, knowing I’m complicit in sucking California dry. The way you have to take control of the bagging process like a high decibel football coach to make sure everything gets packed into your cloth bags, and still you end up with a few items individually tucked into their own personal plastic bags. When did they do that, while I was reaching for my credit card and Juno intercepted it and I bent over to pick it up?
I do have a weakness for the trashy magazines that I skim at checkout, but overall I find the experience deflating.
I haven’t been to the grocery store in a month. We’ve been out of toothpaste for a couple weeks. Flattened tubes litter the bathroom sink for the mornings anyone feels ambitious about trying to squeeze out one last dollop. Mostly we’ve been hitting up Kai’s kiddo toothpaste, an expensive habit. We’re also out of flour and sponges. Other than that, we’re doing okay. Better than that, actually. We’ve been eating great: our own eggs and veggies, meat and bread and fruit from farmers’ markets, and staples – nuts, dried fruit, bananas, coffee – from a couple local health food spots that are a pleasure to shop at. (I bet I can find toothpaste there, come to think of it.)
The thing I really need right now, the thing that could make or break Kai’s first morning, and therefore her first day back at camp, and therefore our household’s modicum of tranquility, is potatoes. Home fries are her go-to breakfast. Anything else could add unnecessary stress to the system.
The sun is setting on a long summer day. Joe and Kai are due home in T minus one hour. It’s go now or miss my window. My over-competitive nature kicks in. (My high school superlative? Not “best athlete,” which went to a tall, scholarship-bound volleyball player, but “best gym athlete,” i.e. the weirdo giving 110 percent while the cool girls put on makeup in the locker room.) I will not buckle! I feel like Kramer in that Seinfeld where he’s test driving a car and gets carried away seeing how far he can keep driving below the ‘E.’
“Where’s the needle?” the car salesman screams.
“Oh it broke off, baby!” Kramer screams back.
I grab a trowel and head outside, trying to remember which was the first row of potatoes we planted. They’re not ready yet, but maybe, just maybe, I can get at a few early ones. I lay Juno on the grass. Not into that. So we dig, together, using a trowel, which is shiny so Juno wants it. Using my hands.
Rock. Rock. Rock. And then, not a rock but a purple potato the size of a golf ball. One! I cover the hole and move on to another plant. Two. Three. I give the dirt a pat and head to another row. I want to spread out any damage I’m causing so I don’t kill my plants. Four. Five! We are covered in dirt, bitten up by some unseen bug, and victorious. Carrying the baby like a sack of potatoes and cradling my potatoes like a precious baby, I head inside. I lay the potatoes on the counter. Just enough for breakfast tomorrow.
When Kai and Joe roll in, Kai has so much to say! An entire 10 days of adventures to relate. My arms itch to hold her. I scoop her up and bring her over to the potatoes. She gives them a nod. Joe, haggard from sleep deprivation, manages a similarly unenthused acknowledgment. True, we have produced more bountiful quantities and exotic varieties of food.
But now that I have deferred my grocery store trip indefinitely, I find myself feeling nutty. Like the car salesman in that Seinfeld episode, as he and Kramer are about to get off at the exit for the car dealership:
“I wonder how much longer we coulda lasted?” he asks Kramer.
“Yeah, I wonder,” says Kramer, wild-eyed. And they grip hands and screech back onto the highway.