Grocery Shopping with the Kids – Special Ops Style
ONE MAN’S STORY as told to L.T. Fawkes
The strike force was assembled for the pre-invasion briefing. As their leader I stood before them, tensely flicking my car keys against the taught muscles of my thigh.
“Listen up, people, while I say a few final words. First, I’m not buying Cavity Berries Cereal. This is an order straight from the top. Mom says you can picket the kitchen table, you can threaten to hold your breath until you die, you can post Youtube videos of the fungus growing at the base of the bathtub . . . she doesn’t care.
“There is to be no Cavity Berries Cereal, not now, not . . . Stand at attention, soldier. I’ll change your diaper in a minute. And second, anybody who bites or pulls hair will be put on report and sent to the car. That’s it, troops. Lock and load. We’re going in.”
On arriving at the Invasion Sight (the parking lot of the U-Breakit, U-Boughtit) the first problem I encountered was that of troop transport. I thought it over as we entered the store and reached the staging area. Clearly, two shopping carts were needed.
I placed the two- and three-year-olds in the kiddie seats of said carts, arranged the carts into a convoy and advanced them by means of the famous Flitman Push-Pull Technique, named for Lt. Col. Betty Flitman, mother of seven, who developed and gave instruction on the technique right up to the day she ran off to Scandinavia with her NATO liaison.
But transporting the five-year-old brought me into a gray area. Should he ride in the basket of one of the carts? Or should he be given marching orders, with all the inherent risks, such as the possibility of a defection in the toy aisle, or his penchant for cutting too closely around the nine-feet-high olive jar display? I threw caution to the wind and let him march.
We crossed the store’s demilitarized zone and the action began almost at once when we infiltrated the crowd around the free-pizza-sample table. Gnawing on our free samples as we advanced, we immediately encountered an enemy agent who had parked her cart in the middle of the canned goods aisle, thus blocking off a viable escape route.
Fortunately for her, we weren’t under fire at the time, so she didn’t have to be liquidated.
I sent the five-year-old ahead to take a number at the baked goods counter, hoping he would have the strength of character necessary to stand up under the stress. Would he buckle, I wondered? In the event he were taken and questioned, would he confess that the force was about to cash in for the third time on a one-to-a-family offer? But the mission was accomplished without incident and we moved deeper into the interior.
Everything went well until, as we approached the egg case, I suddenly heard someone shouting my name. I whirled around and stared down the long aisle. There, at the far end, was a friend of the wife’s. “Matt,” she shouted. “Hey, Matt.”
Cursing softly under my breath, I pulled my coat collar over my face and hoped against hope that the camouflage would confuse her and she would pass us by. But a surreptitious peek told me it was too late. She approached us with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Geez,” I muttered. “I knew we should have worn glasses-nose-and-moustache disguises.”
“What in the world are you doing?” she asked when she finally stood before me.
“Some things you’re better off not knowing,” I said cryptically. “Go back to your shopping, Ma’am, and forget you ever saw us here.”
“Do as I say,” I ordered. “You’re about to blow this whole operation.”
“What the . . . ”
“All right,” I said. “I didn’t want to have to do this, but you’ve left me no other option. We’ve been watching you. We have a dossier on you as long as that roll of paper towels you’re holding there. For instance, we know that you’ve been leaving your house Monday nights on the pretense that you’re going to the library. But you don’t really go to the library, do you, Ma’am? No. You do not. You slink out to attend a tap dancing class where you are enrolled under an alias.”
“Alias? What are you . . . of course you know that. I go with your wife. It was her idea. She said it would be a great way to get back in shape.”
“Don’t try to cloud the issue. And there’s more, believe me. I’ve been thoroughly debriefed. I don’t want to have to use this information against you, but I will if you don’t move on, right now.”
She stared at me in disbelief. “Okay, okay, I’m going,” she said. “But first let me write you down the name of a counselor who might be able to help you.”
It had been a close call, but we came out of it uncompromised. We trekked up and down aisles, completing the mission as spelled out in our marching orders, and before long we were ready to begin the most difficult part of our mission – the journey back to freedom.
The slow and grueling ordeal through the hostile territory of the check-out line was the ultimate test of leadership. I knew I had to hold my troops together, even though the strain was beginning to show on their battle-weary and cookie-crumbed faces. When a small sticky hand reached out to loot the Life Savers display, I was there – alert and ready to prevent the potential plunder.
A minor problem came up when I discovered I’d forgotten the mustard, but the five-year-old made a fast dash across enemy lines to grab a jar and we were able to stay on our timetable. We moved ever-so-casually through the line without arousing any suspicions, and then the race was on to get troops and freight back to headquarters before the Klondike bars melted.
On our return to base, we brought the freight inside and secured each item in its proper place, keeping a running inventory so as to be sure nothing had been overlooked. This was quickly accomplished.
I placed the last can of green beans on the pantry shelf. Then I turned, knelt, and faced my comrades who stood waiting expectantly in a semi-circle around me. Our eyes met, and the realization began to grow in our minds that it was all over and the mission had been successful.
Our tight and determined faces slowly began to dissolve into wide grins. Someone began to laugh and the laughter quickly spread to the rest of us. The feeling of elation grew in us until we were hugging and back slapping all around.
Some time later, the exhaustion of the ordeal began to take its toll. Our hilarity subsided and we sank en masse onto the living room sofa. A hush came over the members of my brave band. I knew they were waiting for me to address them one last time.
“You were good out there today,” I said tremulously. “There’s not a finer unit anywhere. I hope we’ll work together again soon but for now, stand down. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”