The Gift of Low Expectations: How to Survive Any Errand with Kids

This was me 10 minutes before we headed off to the grocery store. Yep, hiding from my bickering, tantruming, antsy, nap-skipping kids. So, how did I survive a grocery store run with all three mischievous minions in tow? Low expectations.

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Don’t get me wrong I love my kids. I mourned when I thought we couldn’t have our own children. I lament their return to school each fall and celebrate our time together. But some days… woo! Some days I hit a point after 500 snack requests, 20 sibling melees, 3 missing sock expeditions (only to find 1 in the toilet, another on the kitchen table, and 1 forever unfound), and an outing gone awry, that I feel the innate need to hide from my offspring. I’ll quietly slip into a room, close the door, and listen with equally anxious anticipation for the sound of incurred injury or approaching footsteps.

And so, yesterday, after I hid from my children for 5 calming minutes, I made the fateful decision to take my crew to the grocery store.  Because what else did I have to lose?

Had my ever-mothering mind gone berserk? Likely. However, I was armed with something so powerfully self-preserving that no childish onslaughts could undo me: a low bar.

That’s right. I entered the afternoon grocery run fully aware of my fate. I had low expectations, so diminished that simply surviving the errand would stand as a win. This would be a shit show. I owned it.

We shuffled through pre-leaving routine: pottying, pants finding, sock hunting, shoe retrieving, shoe fixing and re-fixing (because despite having only two feet, my 4-year-old can put his shoes on the incorrect feet 6 times in a row), and finally leaving. As I waited for my eldest to get buckled, I texted my dear fellow mom friend and told her of my expectation that my middle son would lose cart privileges before we ever left the produce section. My inkling that my eldest would publicly release a (understandable) fury of frustration upon her irksome younger brothers. My awareness that pushing my toddler in the shopping cart would be akin to maneuvering a rabid kleptomaniacal octopus through narrow aisles of glass jars and delicate produce. This would be a disaster. I knew it. I felt it in my bones. I didn’t dread it. I didn’t fear it. My shame had been whittled down by 6 years of parenthood. I had nothing left to lose but my patience. Her knowing response: “Good luck.”

And so we went. And so the trip descended into chaotic mayhem, with my uncoordinated 6-year-old attempting to simultaneously read a book and walk through the wine section, my 4-year-old hanging in a backbend off of the side of the cart despite my constant reminders that he shouldn’t because his head would get smushed, and my 2-year-old releasing random shrill shrieks just for the hell of it.

At one point, my 6-year-old took to poking plastic bags of bread “because it’s squishy” as my 2-year-old attempted to throw his shoes out of the cart. Then, as I turned to pick up the one jar I needed in the aisle, my 6- and 4-year-olds took off down the pasta aisle in a foot race. Yes, full-on discombobulated running complete with jabbing chicken wing elbows down the grocery aisle of dried noodle and glass-encased marinara. Who does that? Are they new here?

Then, as we reached the furthest back portion of the store: “Need pee-pee! Potty!” Shouts my potty-training 2-year-old. So we haul ass to the front of the store. Every few feet I rerun the kid count: 1-2-3, 1-2… where’s 3? “We’re not buying Fritos. Better catch up or find a new family!” Then we hit a slow moving herd with grandma pushing the shopping cart. They were the hair-ball to the shower drain. As I envisioned a deluge of toddler pee pouring from the shopping cart, I bobbed and weaved pushing my car-shaped cart through the clog, leaving my older two to either follow or flounder: “Better keep up! Your brother has to pee!” I yelled back to them.

We made it. He peed. In the potty. Then there was a meltdown over the hand dryer, but that’s normal. Well, our normal.

Back to the cart we returned. We finished or shopping, skidding into a register lane with the grace of a three-legged water buffalo. There were candy grabs, sibling squabbles, fussing, and “Are we done yet?”s, but we survived. I loaded the minivan and as I shut the trunk door, I felt accomplished. I survived the shit show. I was still smiling. I was certainly laughing. All thanks to my low expectations.

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Cocoons for Babies: That’s a Thing?

I’ve recently encountered a trend: cocoons for babies. Who knew? The practice recommends that parents create a quiet, soothing womb-like environment for their newborns in order to offer a smoother adjustment for Baby into the world and provide a safe haven from the daily din.

Dimmed lights, calm energy, cozy decor, serenity, hush. A baby cocoon. How precious! How loving! How utterly unattainable for any child but a firstborn in an affluent home.

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Now, I love the concept of preparing a loving, welcoming, unobtrusive environment for the baby-to-be. The neutral decor, the soft fabrics, the gentle atmosphere… how sweet! The planner in me adores the meticulous research and purchasing, arranging and staging that would be entailed. The 6-years ago first-time parent in me sees the beauty and seeming prospect, the adoration- and protection-based desire and demand to create such a space for the anticipated bundle. The mother-of-three in me shudders at the thought of feeling pressured to somehow maintain any sense of zen tranquility in my bustling abode of child chaos. I can only imagine the effort it’d take to silence my entire herd for one morning. It’d be more feasible to ship them off for the baby’s infancy.

Then, I think of myself and my friends with multiple children. Their youngest child — like my own third child — entered into a world of noisy siblings, bright lights, and pinging toys. Yet that youngest child (barring any special needs) is the happiest, most well-adjusted, and adaptable of the bunch!

Babies are precious and beautiful. Babies are noisy and exhausting, messy and stressful, demanding and resilient. As any pediatrician will tell you, babies are tougher than we think. (Have you ever seen an Apgar test conducted or seen a baby birthed vaginally? Then you know they’re sturdy buggers.)

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Do I think putting effort into spinning a warm environment for your cherished offspring is ill-advised? Not entirely. Placing love and excitement, care and appreciation into your baby preparation does nothing but positive things for all involved. If it feels right to you, do it! However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task, don’t do it. Eventually your child will regularly be present in the world and, well, the world is not womb-like.

Do I think everyone has the means to create this soothing space? Even with upcycling hacks and thrift store finds, no. Not everyone has the economic, spatial, environmental, or emotional ability to create a womb-like home. Some can, and that’s wonderful, but it in no way puts those children raised outside of the cocoon at a disadvantage.

Do I think creating a quiet, serene home gives the child a leg up? If anything, I’d argue the opposite. I know far more children raised in noisy, stimulus-filled homes who are happier and better adapted to the outside world than those who easily adjusted from quiet, low-stimulus homes to the chattering world. A cocoon is not the only way to ensure a baby feels loved and secure. And, heck, the womb is not silent. There are plenty of stimuli — from stomach churning and inhalation, mom’s road rage shouting and shower singing, Dad’s yelling at the TV and sibling tantruming. Baby has already heard the outside world before ever entering it. Life is loud, inside and out.

Do I think it’s feasible to maintain such an environment? As a mom of three close-in-age children, my response: hahahahahahahahaha… no. Absolutely not. Not in any way. Nope. It’s a lovely gesture rooted in the best and purest intentions of sheltering one’s cherished child from the overwhelming world. The desire, effort, and act are nothing but sweet and commendable. However, making a womb-like home for your child is not the only way to create a safe space for your little one. Your loving arms and healing kisses, you’ll soon find, will serve as such. You needn’t paint the walls “Morning Mist” and hush everyone in your home to make Baby feel loved. Just love Baby, that’s all.

Do I think feeling compelled to maintain a hushed, serene cocoon is problematic? Somewhat. If the endeavor is to envelope the child in love and comfort, beautiful! However, any parent is soon to discover that babies are not quiet or serene… and neither is the world. Does that mean the child should fall asleep to prerecorded audio of Tokyo Street sounds or NYC at rush hour? No. I simply think the pressure to create unnatural, inorganic sensory white space in a bright and loud world is an unattainable goal for parents — especially first-time parents — who are about to enter the wholly noisy, exhausting, stressful, life-upending, relationship-testing, goal-shifting, painful, emotional, rewarding, confusing, ego-obliterating, priceless gift of parenthood. Yet, if the womb-like space — either in creation or practice — enables the parents to better cope with the monumental shift of parenthood, proves agreeable to the baby, and is easily and stresslessly maintained, by all means do it! Just don’t stress yourself — or those dwelling with you — trying to make your home, your life, your world something that it’s not.

You are your child’s sanctuary. Your arms are her safe place. Your breath and heartbeat are his lullabye. You are all the comfort your child needs.

Love your baby. Forget the rest.