Richard Hearn & the supermarket expedition

When I was an adult without children and needed to go out, that’s what I’d do. Go out. It might be just a banal trip to the supermarket and I wouldn’t give it a second thought. With children, there’s more than just a second thought. There’s many things to think about all the way through, and not all the thoughts are calm ones. Let’s list the ways.

First, you have to give a warning. With The Boy and Youngest™, you might have to say “we’ll be leaving in five minutes”, and this always gets negotiated. Then, as you’re going out the door, The Boy will decide he needs the loo; just as a jeweller’s mat is linked to a bell, so my shoelaces seem to be linked to The Boy’s bladder.

I forgot: Youngest™ always wants to put his shoes on while sitting on a specific step, and it isn’t the most convenient step. I’m not sure whether this is superstition, but I know it makes me feel unlucky.

Then, there’s the stuff. This isn’t as bad as when they were younger, when just to go round the block was like packing for an Arctic expedition, but you still have to think about wipes, sun cream, snacks. There’s also the stuff they want to take. Youngest™ in particular never leaves the house empty-handed. It used to be little wooden passengers from a toy bus. He would take them one by one into the car, like a metaphor about the migration away from public transport. At a different time, The Boy once insisted on taking his freshly-constructed Lego space ship – a Naboo Star Fighter for any fans out there – which crumbled in a geometric mess somewhere over Shoreham bridge.

I’ve digressed. We’ll be out the front door, but not yet in the car. There’s normally a bit of mad spiralling about, like cats chasing each other’s tails, and then an ‘independent’ getting into their own car seat. By ‘independent’ I mean Youngest™ goes at his own pace and uses his own route.

We’ll be in the car. Now I sometimes get my choice of music, but often Youngest™ and The Boy start chanting some other singer’s name. The Boy will then discuss the merits of whether the fourth track on an album is better than the second track. Meanwhile, Youngest™ is doing a rock star face, a grimacing headbang.

Almost there. On arrival at the supermarket, there’s a frantic retrieval of whatever mad item they’ve nominated to bring along. Then we’ve still got to navigate from our parking space to the door of the supermarket which involves lots of clambering up onto small brick plinths or coaxing them out of Postman Pat’s van.

We finally reach the supermarket. And I’ve forgotten the list.

Illustration: Paul Lewis

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