My daughter and I have developed a tradition of sorts in the last few weeks. After we do our weekly grocery shopping we sit down together in the cafe at Sainsbury’s and share a biscuit. She drinks a juice. I’ll have a cup of tea or a fizzy drink and we read through a magazine I’ve just purchased for her as we while away twenty minutes or so, talking about the people walking by, discussing where best to put the 300 stickers or so which come with the magazine and sharing the occasional cuddle.
It’s a lovely time out which more than makes up for the panic half hour or so which has come before it. With the boy now being eight and generally interested is spending as little time with his mother as possible I had forgotten just how ‘interesting’ a trip around the supermarket can be with an inquisitive three year-old.
The fun starts as soon as we arrive the car park. Madam informs me she wants to walk around the shop. She’s not one for wandering off, so this doesn’t necessarily strike me with fear. But I have learned my lesson that, just like her mother, my daughter is a fickle creature.
Should I choose a trolley with no toddler seat, based on her assurances that she wants to walk, no sooner will I have placed my first item in it than she will be clambering for a seat. So, even if I’m only going in for a few things we always choose the monster trolley. Thus begins the toddler hokey cokey as we go around - she wants up, she wants down, she wants up again and so on.
By their very nature toddlers are tactile and inquisitive people. I like to encourage this as much as possible with my daughter but when it comes to her manhandling the apples and bananas and attempting to take bites out of same this is not always a good idea.
It’s hard to strike the balance between that sing-songy teacher voice parents have to perfect to teach their children the names of fruit and their colours and that slightly hysterical high pitched squeal not to to eat the as yet unpurchased strawberries.
When manufacturers and advertising gurus came up with the concept of pester power they had my daughter most certainly and firmly in mind. She is a marketing executive’s dream. It matters not what the product is but stick a picture of Mickey Mouse and his Clubhouse Crew on the front of it, or Hello Kitty, or Peppa Pig and she is sold. (And she doesn’t even watch Peppa Pig).
I have a weekly “discussion” with her about how we aren’t buying certain yoghurts just because they have a cartoon pig on the front or how the spaghetti without the white cat on the front tastes just the same as the stuff with the cartoon logo and costs just that bit less. (Three year olds, I’ve found, aren’t all that interested in the concept of an economic downturn, rising bills and the adage that every little does in fact help.)
The added extras which dot the aisles - tiny plastic toys destined to provide five minutes entertainment before disappearing down the back of the sofa never to be seen again - scream out to her and she in turn screams out to me and because I am crippled with the guilt that only a working mammy can know, I tend to buy one or say no and feel rotten for the rest of our wander around the aisles.
Saying no is a necessary evil on a supermarket trip and starts almost as soon as we walk through the doors. No, we don’t need more bananas. No we already have cheese. No, the Peppa Pig yoghurts are not as nice of the other ones. No, we can’t have those biscuits. Or those ones. Or sweets. No, we definitely don’t need sweets. No, we don’t need that much spaghetti. Yes, Hello Kitty is very cute, but all the same, we can do without. No, it’s not your birthday this week - we don’t need a birthday cake. No, you don’t need dummies any more. You are a big girl now. No, you can’t run over to play while mammy puts the shopping through the till. No, no, you can’t have a drink of Diet Coke because you are three and hyper enough without a caffeine hit.
While saying no is a skill we have to hone, so is being able to detect rogue treats in the supermarket trolley - slipped in by tiny hands when they know I’m distracted with something else.
These have to be replaced on shelves or handed to the cashier in a discreet fashion so that the girl does not know I have returned them and will not throw a hissy fit.
Of course the trauma of battling my way through the supermarket fades that little bit when we sit down together afterwards and share our magic moments.
It’s then it becomes worthwhile and I forget about the stress of what has just passed. I look at the bulging trolley and back to the girl, who only managed to guilt me into buying one magazine and one packet of Peppa Pig yoghurts and I watch her delirious with excitement as she goes into a sticker frenzy.
Then she kisses me, gives me a big squeezy hug and tells me she loves me and that I’m the best mammy in the whole world and I promise I will bring her again the following week.
After all, the entire experience is our wee treat.