When I take Lev to Whole Foods I let him push the cart. I don’t do it at any other store — at Trader Joes, the aisles are too narrow, and at Star there are too many people. But I think Whole Foods has fewer people per unit area than any other store (no wonder it costs so much!) so he often has whole wide aisles to himself to cruise the cart up and down. Also, in Whole Foods I don’t mind a baby-led expedition: it is fun to browse in Whole Foods, but I don’t mind being whisked away from the $13 all-butter-puff-pastry hors-devours, or the $23 specially distilled & purified fish oil supplements, or the $4 shea-butter chapstick before I have a chance to grab them when the baby’s short attention-span runs out. I didn’t really want to buy them anyway, but merely marvel at a world where such things are profitable retail items.
The Problem with Small Carts
When I pick out a cart for this activity, I have a dilemma. The smaller, easier to maneuver carts don’t come with baby seats and harnesses. The ones which do have baby seats are huge and heavy. So the first time I tried a small cart, and held Lev when I put him in the cart. However, when I was checking out and had to sign the credit card receipt I couldn’t leave Lev in a cart without a harness, so I put him on the floor. By the time I was finished with my fastest possible scrawled signature, his toddler-scamper had taken him halfway across the store and it was necessary to execute an ignominious scramble to retrieve him. So the next time I decided that we had to have a cart with a seat and harness, no matter how heavy it was.
To my surprise, Lev was still able to handle the full-size cart pretty well. He’s practiced a lot, I guess. Not only could he push it, he could turn it around the ends of the aisles and avoid obstacles too.
This obstacle-avoidance ability is a result of a rule I enforce when he is pushing the cart in the store: no smashing into things. As you could imagine, if a little boy is free in a store with a shopping cart the first thing he’ll want to do is smash into other shopping carts. The second thing he’ll want to do is smash into store displays and knock all the stuff off. But I wouldn’t last long even in a rich and liberal store like Whole Foods if I let my baby do that. So I enforce a no-exceptions rule: no bumping into things on purpose. An advantage of a big cart is that its pretty easy for me to grab it and reroute it to prevent collisions if necessary. And Lev seems to have taken this perhaps fun-destroying restriction, and juiced the lemon for lemonade: he’s taken up the challenge, so that when he’s concentrating on it, he can steer the cart remarkably precisely around obstacles.
An unintended result of this exercise is that the other people in the store marveled at Lev. I suppose if you see a large shopping cart moving around a store, seemingly of its own volition, turning around the corner of aisles and avoiding store displays, and then in surprise you look closer and see a two foot high little guy in the back steering by pushing and pulling on the bottom bar, you will marvel.
Too Nice to the Baby
The main purpose of this activity was to give me a chance to go shopping without having to fight with Lev as he slowly went stir crazy strapped in the shopping cart. Incidentally, it also tired out Lev so he was more peaceful when we got home. Since the purpose was a harmonious life with my baby, I was a bit sad that it did cause an incidental conflict: he didn’t just want to push my shopping cart – he wanted to push other people’s carts too. And I had the difficulty that the other people were far too agreeable about it: “Sure, the baby can push my cart!” They seemed to find it quite amusing; some even seemed actively pleased that a cute little baby was volunteering to push their cart around. The difficulty for me is that life with Lev is much easier if rules are simple, clear and laid down in a tone that brooks no exceptions. And if it was OK to push someone else’s cart, it was always OK until some point when it wasn’t OK anymore, when the person wanted to put something in it, or to go to another aisle, or do something else. Lev didn’t understand — the eventual moment of forfeiture of the cart seemed arbitrary to him — so he had a screaming fit when he finally had to be dragged away from the other cart back to his own.
Alexey suggested I should refuse the other people’s agreeableness — perhaps say nicely “thank you for being so accommodating, but it makes it too complicated to explain the baby what’s allowed and what’s not.” But I suppose that need for firm simple rules, even if they are more restrictive than they need to be, is the beginning of a slippery slope down to a rigid bureaucracy.
In any case, when I got to the checkout line, I found that even in this short visit, Lev had become famous. The bagger looked at him, now strapped in the baby seat in the cart (I was going to sign the slip in peace this time!) and said “that’s the strong baby, isn’t it?” Apparently tales of The Strong Baby had spread to through the store, so that even the baggers at the checkout aisles, who had missed seeing Lev’s antics in person, had already heard rumors of his exploits.