Memories of a trip to the grocery store with my daughters from more than 14 years ago came flooding back to me this week, thanks to a story my husband shared.

I remember how the moment elapsed. After working all day, I picked up the girls from daycare and took them with me to the grocery store. Had I planned the day more thoughtfully, I wouldn’t have been wearing heels. But in those days, while parenting a colicky 2-year old and a high-spirited 5-year old as my husband and I worked full-time jobs, I barely had time to blink and breathe at the same time, let alone prepare myself with a spare pair of sneakers for after-work errands.

Being already fatigued, hungry and walking on feet that spent about 10 hours too long in heels, and feeling like I needed to beat the clock to get dinner on the table and the girls into the bathub at a reasonable hour, I just wanted to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Of course, when you’re at the grocery store with toddlers, it’s inconceivable that you could stay on course. It’s the Law of Toddlerhood that every trip to the store entitles her to look at the pretty doughnuts, get a new princess bandage for an owie (albeit one that isn’t even visible) and check out the candy because you promised two times ago that the next time she could get a Dum Dum and you still haven’t gotten her one.

So, now on top of being fatigued, hungry and still in heels, I’m getting sweaty and feeling the walls of the store cave in. We finally made it past the doughnuts to the yogurt section. You may have noticed that yogurt can be kind of pricey, and that is why I probably lingered in that section a little longer than I should’ve to coordinate the store sales and my coupons. It was a bad decision on my part because it cost us the inertia that was moving us forward and closer to the exit.

The yogurt aisle to a toddler is like a smorgasboard — so many options to overwhelm their developing brains. Yogurt is served in small cups and big cups and single packs and six packs and tubes. It comes with candy and granola and sprinkles and cookies. It’s in brightly-colored packaging with rabbits and rainbows.

As I’m putting the healthier selections of yogurt in the cart, my 5-year old daughter is replacing them with her selections. At 5 years old, she could read “Cotton Candy.” Try passing that flavor up in the yogurt aisle. Our dialogue went something like this:

Me: “We’re getting this one, it’s healthier.”

Daughter: “No, I want this one, it has bunnies.”

Me: “But, you don’t like the flavor with bunnies.”

Daughter: “But I do like the flavor with bunnies. I’ve had it before and I like it. You just haven’t seen me eat it.”

Trips to the grocery store were typically sweet, special little times for the three of us. We’d chatter non-stop about anything and everything. Perhaps that was born out of my own childhood. I come from a family of five children, yet from what I remember, I was usually the only one to accompany my mom to the grocery store. It was a time when I got her all to myself.

I am disappointed now in saying that on that particular day at the grocery story all of those years ago, I was becoming more exasperated as the fatigue and sore feet worsened. Anyone within ear shot of me would’ve heard me say “no” at least 12 times. An older lady came up to my daughters and me and said with irritation in her voice, “I don’t miss that at all. I’m so glad that I don’t have to put up with that.” I was taken aback by her comment, and probably with a sharpness in my own voice said, “Someday, I know that I’ll look back on this time and would give anything to have my girls with me in the grocery store.” She walked away with a heavy sigh.

I don’t know if my girls understood the stranger’s comment. But, if ever they replayed that moment in their minds, I wanted them to know that their mom never regretted or wished away time together with them. My words from that day still hold true. Now when I’m at the grocery store alone, I’d give anything to have my two little toddlers with me – even when I’m tired and wearing high heels.

Now fast forward to the present day. My husband follows "Flipboard,” an online app that gathers articles according to the reader’s personal interests. Rick shared a sweet story with me this week that appeared in the “parenting” category. The story comes from "Self" and is entitled “The Sweet Reason a Stranger Asked to Take a Photo of This Grocery-Shopping Mom and Her Kids”.

Here is how the story goes: A mom, laden with a baby in a carrier on her back and three other young children, shares an experience she had at a grocery store. She was having a challenging time at the store trying to juggle four children and get food for her her family. A stranger came up to her and asked if she had a phone with a camera. When the mother said that she did, the stranger asked if she could take the family’s picture. She explained that when her children were young, she wished that she had taken pictures of the everyday activities they did together. The stranger said that she “doesn't miss what made the days hard, but she misses what made them sweet." For the mom telling the story, the photo this stranger took is a forever memory.

When my girls were little, we didn’t have cell phones. Even today while I own one, it’s highly likely that my phone is sitting at home on the kitchen counter or stuck in my purse not charged. But, my daughters are really great about taking photos of everything. Sometimes, they do it in an attempt to capture each other in the most unflattering, unexpected pose to use for blackmail purposes later on. Other times, I think they’re intentionally preserving memories.

The school photos, holiday card photos and church directory photos are all nice. But, seldom do we live our days with perfectly coifed hair and practiced smiles. Don’t forget that whether your children are toddlers, tweens or teenagers, the little unexpected, unrehearsed moments make for great pictures and sweet memories, too.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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