Abandoning the shopping car beside the milk display, I dash between refrigerator cases of eggs and butter, hoping to cut him off before he makes it to the frozen foods.
I’m too slow. He’s almost made it to the liquor department by the time I catch him. Either he ignored, didn’t understand or was too distracted to respond to my calls of “Philip, STOP!”
Then there was the time I let my cart roll into the tomato display as I sprinted through the produce department to catch Philip just as he reached the bananas. No tomatoes were harmed.
I’m certain that I have chased Philip through every department of the grocery store at least once. I try to ignore the looks from other shoppers and employees. “It doesn’t matter what they think,” I tell myself.
Philip is approaching a height and weight that exceeds the maximum of the seat in the grocery cart. Letting him push our shopping cart is good heavy work for him and allows him to contribute to our weekly shopping trips. As long as he is propelling the cart forward, he doesn’t feel compelled to run off.
Obviously, though, we do have to stop in the aisles to grab a loaf of bread or compare prices. When I do, I hold his hand to keep him beside me. When it was time to transition out of a stroller, I spent quite a bit of time teaching Philip to hold my hand like this. While he occasionally struggles free from my grasp on our walks, he actually seems more comfortable holding my hand. It has become part of our routine. Doing so at the grocery store has become a habit, too.
However, when I visited his preschool in the fall, the teacher was specifically working on increasing Philip’s independence. He is now expected to walk down the hall between the lobby and the classroom without holding anyone’s hand.
This is good, because there are some tasks while shopping, like grabbing a plastic bag and twist tie for broccoli, which require me to use both hands. At those times, I position my body and the shopping cart so that I am fencing him in.
If I’m lucky, Philip is content to blink at his reflection in the mirrors behind the vegetables or to examine the colorful labels in the displays. When I’m not lucky, he is tempted to throw a cantaloupe (because it is shaped like a ball). Or he bolts.
I need to teach Philip to stay with me without holding his hand. The preschool hallway is a relatively safe environment to practice this skill. I don’t have that luxury, so I have to try it out when the risk is reduced. When we walk the dog in our neighborhood, I only let go of his hand on the side streets. Even then, I’ve had a moment of terror when Philip ran down the sidewalk as a car turned onto a little-used street. Such near-misses make me wary of practicing independence here.
So, if you spy a half-filled shopping cart in an otherwise empty cereal aisle, please let it be. As soon as I have Philip back in hand, we will continue our shopping adventures.