We park. Both children exit the car as though taking off in pursuit of criminals.
Car doors narrowly miss the paintwork of neighbouring cars.
‘Can I push the trolley?’ shouts Child 1.
‘I want to push the trolley,’ shouts Child 2.
‘I’ll push the trolley,’ says my husband decisively.
This is damage limitation. We are about to enter the stark functionality of LIDL.
LIDL is no playground. Both children produce an elongated moan which starts high, lowers towards the middle section and then goes higher again. It is a sort of U-shaped moan and all the more annoying for that.
I have not written a shopping list. I know this to be a serious mistake. It is because somewhere in my sub-consious I have equated ‘holiday’ and ‘rest’. This is also a mistake.
As we follow the children to the trolleys I notice Child 1 is wearing his jeans so low that virtually his entire cotton swathed backside is exposed. He is walking in a recently adopted style which is close to swaggering. He chews pretend gum. This for him is the ultimate in cool. Child 2 is wearing new sky blue trousers. One leg of the trousers has a slick of muddy water from thigh to ankle. We rarely go out looking like we own a home with a washing-machine and a bathtub.
Both children enter the shop, stop in the middle of the aisle and stare at other
people. This causes immediate gridlock. I put a hand on each of their shoulders and manually steer them to an empty space. This is a manoeuvre I am well practised in
and which I own an ‘across the body’ handbag for the sole purpose of.
I find I have now passed the bread. I say ‘wait here’ and reverse to the bread. They follow me. Child 2 likes to be in front so overtakes and stops again, in front of the bread. I manually move her to one side.
‘Don’t push me,’ she says, a little louder than is appropriate for LIDL.
I pick up bread and search for my Husband. He is just ahead, by hot drinks. My way is blocked, by my children and an old lady with bad posture and a limp. Both children stare at her, properly stare, with open mouths and wayward expressions. We bunch up behind the old lady. Child 2 grabs my arm.
‘I’m feeling clingy today,’ she says into my armpit.
I steer the children around the old lady and as I do this, their heads rotate ensuring that they do not take their eyes off her. We reach my Husband.
‘Don’t push me,’ says Child 1, a little too loudly.
‘Go and look at the surprise aisle,’ I suggest brightly, prising Child 2 off my arm. My brightness is a supreme effort and will be followed, at some point today, by hysterical shouting, mine.
‘It’s over there,’ and I wave my hand in the general direction of Monday Madness. Both children run there, literally run.
I calculate I have bought enough time to do veg, fruit and maybe even cold meat. I am wrong. I am assembling the ingredients for a vegetable Bolognese sauce when two cans of Pepsi Max are thrust in front of my face. I look up.
‘Can we have these?’
‘These’ has the same u-shaped intonation as the elongated moan.
‘No, but why don’t you get a can each of normal Pepsi?’
‘Oh WHY?’ they fire back, loudly.
I repeat myself and they slope off muttering to each other about how I never let them have anything they want, not never. I am left with a fleeting memory of 100% juice and good intentions.
I am deciding on peppers when I feel an insistent tap on my shoulder.
‘Look Mum,’ says Child 1, holding out a bottle of Factor 4 sun tan oil. It is 8 degrees outside and raining.
‘Very good. Now put it back.’
‘Why?’ he asks somewhat aggressively.
‘Because we don’t need it.’
‘Yes we do.’
‘It’s a good thought, but we have lots at home.’
‘No we don’t.’
‘Put it back please.’
He swaggers off, muttering still holding the can of Pepsi Max.
Some tins of tomatoes, puree for pizzas. Buy the heavy stuff while there are more hands. Ham, need ham.
My husband and I trail the middle aisles of random running gear, baby vests and cold
‘Garden clogs, isn’t that what you’ve been looking for?’
They are. Guinea pig feeding clogs. Easy on and off. I pick up a pair. I discover they have the power of the Pied Piper’s pipe. I am suddenly surrounded.
‘What are those?’
‘Wearing in the garden.’
‘I’m just going to try them on.’
I steer the children away to allow me the space to bend down and undo my shoelaces.
‘Can we have these?’ says Child 2 holding a multi-pack of black pretend Oreos too close to my eyes to enable me to focus on them.
‘No, we’ll get some other biscuits.’
They crowd back in on me
‘Are you going to get those shoes?’
I feel like my head is going to explode out of my ears.
‘Come on you two,’ says my husband, sensing trouble.
I hear them discussing batteries. Child 1 needs some for his Playmobil police siren. He swears they are AA. My husband thinks they are AAA. He is right. Child 1 knows his father is right but would die in a ditch rather than admit such a thing.
We regroup and buy crisps. There is gridlock around crisps and both children stop and stare at a man staggering towards alcohol. Again I manhandle them, around
the end of the aisle to UHT milk where things are less busy. A lady in a white acrylic jumper watches me do this and her face paints a vivid picture of her disapproval.
I whisk past bin bags and up to cheap mini-Magnums. Child 1 follows me and somehow gets there first. He shows me how the sliding freezer doors work, several times. White jumper lady is nearby, observing.
Cheese I think, cheese and yoghurt and then alcohol.
At yoghurts I am caught up by both children who stand between me and the pretend Muller corners. I move one out of the way. She wraps herself around my shopping arm.
‘I love you Mummy.’
She looks into my eyes, cocks her head to one side and blinks repeatedly.
I have a brief flicker of what I must sound like to others. These are powerful words meant to bring a mother to her knees in grateful, tearful thanks. I am used to hearing them in similar circumstances to these; when I’m on the phone or in the shower or on the toilet, in other words, temporarily unavailable.
As I pick up the yoghurts she leans into me and I almost fall over. I am being devoured like these yoghurts will be, but more slowly and painfully.
‘Beer, I need some,’ says my Husband, with a slightly crazed look in his eye.
‘I saw some,’ says Child 1, ‘over here look, follow me, follow me, follow me, follow me, Dad, here, come on, come on.’
‘This is what I want, right here.’
He juggles twelve cans of Carlsberg lashed together precariously with flimsy plastic, into the trolley.
‘One two three four five.’
‘Twelve, there’s twelve cans altogether.’
‘Six seven eight.’
I grab two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon which I have a vague recollection of having enjoyed in the past.
‘Did you need some chocolate,’ asks my Husband, breathily.
‘Yes. I’ll go back. You all queue. I’ll see you in a minute.’
I make my getaway. Yes. Past the freezers, past salted nuts. Then, too many taps on my shoulder. It is Child 1.
‘Where are you going?’
‘To get chocolate.’
‘I’ll come too. I want to show you all the chocolate I really really really really really like.’
By the second ‘really’ I imagine running out of the shop and into a waiting taxi.
‘Please go and help Daddy. I won’t be a moment.’
‘No I …..’
‘Go now,’ I snap.
I hide in chocolate and deep breathe. Then I choose some wrapped in cardboard knowing that the cardboard is meant to make up for the low cocoa content. Normally I would care but today I’m after a cheap fix.
I join them in the queue. All three are putting shopping on to the belt, two of them competitively. There is a mass of tangled limbs, toppling food and wound up anxiety. The checkout girl blips it through faster than we can all jostle each other and pack. She exhales, slowly. Items back up. I ask Child 1 to wait by the blue LIDL
counter, provided to allow shoppers space to right some of the wrongs of speedy
packing. He stands there looking destitute. It is as though I have said ‘you
are my least preferred child, leave immediately’.
As we walk out of the shop Child 2 runs ahead and turns to face me and continues to walk, backwards.
‘Mum, you’re so …. stressee.’ It is a u-shaped stressee.
Child 1 suddenly cheers up and joins in ‘Yeah, stressssseeeeee.’ It is a double-dip stressee.
Then they race each other across the car park in a manner which would have the Green Cross Code man wringing his hands in desperation. They try to open the car doors, which are locked. They keep trying as though the situation will change through persistence rather than with keys.
My husband remotely unlocks the car and both children dive into it. We stand looking at each other
It is the first week of the holidays and the change of routine has fired up anxieties
with rocket fuel. In a few days things will be calmer and we will have rediscovered our therapeutic selves. In the meantime we have chocolate and alcohol;
cool balm for fractured nerves.