Of car chats and grocery games

Every time I see a child in the grocery store, shuffling behind Mom with his or her eyes glued to an electronic device, I can't help cringing.

Yes, I know how hard it is to get your shopping done with a tired, bored, whiny kid along. As a veteran of two decades in the SPWM (Single Parent While Married) Club, I only rarely enjoyed the chance for a leisurely grocery trip without two or three kids in tow.

Trips with the kids were invariably hectic – and almost always abbreviated. I can't count the number of times I came home from those trips to be told by Cranky Spouse, "You forgot the [insert favorite food-of-the-day here]!"

No, I didn't forget, I would explain. "[Favorite item] was on Aisle 7; we only made it to Aisle 5 before [Cranky-Child-of-the-Day]'s meltdown."

But over the years, the kids and I developed a grocery store routine that made shopping a pleasure. Yes, a pleasure!

My youngest daughter in particular grew up to be a foodie and bargain hunter who liked nothing better than a trip to a farmers market, salvage grocery store or Asian market. Many's the time she'd head off down the next aisle and I'd come around a corner to find her fist-pumping and shouting "Score!" as she discovered a crazy-good deal in produce, or a tasty haul in the fresh seafood department.

More importantly, though, the grocery store trips were a big part of the girls' education.

At home, they helped me keep a running list, and would try their hand at estimating cost totals on the ride to the store. In the store, they learned to compare sizes and weights, round off prices to the nearest nickel, and evaluate items for over-packaging and other environmentally-unfriendly no-no's.

Early on, they also learned to love the thrill of the hunt – because Mom would only buy certain items if there was a sale or good coupon. Once the girls were old enough to leave my side, they would fan out with fistfuls of coupons to see what finds they could track down.

In addition, they each were given a personal "grocery store dollar" for every trip. They could choose to scour the aisles for bargains and spend the dollar immediately, or save the dollar for a later trip. On the ride home, they would peruse the store receipt and I'd challenge them to math games – like finding five items that added up to less than $20.

Car rides in general were another learning experience that I would not have dreamed of wasting by letting them check out of the conversation. When they were young, our discussions covered topics from "Why do we need traffic signals?" to "Why do we go to school?" As they got older and had conversations among themselves or with their friends, it was often Mom who got the education, picking up tidbits that she might never have heard at home.

And what better place than in the car for the kids to stretch their lungs and belt out a chorus of all those "great" [pause here for communal parent groan] repetitive, nonsensical children's songs?

I hope I've made it clear that I am not against children gluing themselves to devices in stores or cars because I think electronic entertainment is destructive to young minds and a killer of initiative (though you won't find me arguing either of those points).

No, I am against electronic devices because of what device-addicted kids are missing: the chance to learn and grow and interact in real-world situations and conversations, with real flesh-and-blood people.

In the 30-odd years since my children were born, the world has seen an explosion of high-tech devices – and of our appetite for electronic entertainment.

Who knows what new gadgets and toys will be the rage by the time my as-yet-unborn grandchildren come along?

But I don't have to have grandchildren yet to know what the rules will be. While the kids are in Grandma's car, and with Grandma at the grocery store, and eating meals at Grandma's, it will be nap time for electronic toys. All will be silenced and checked into Grandma's duffel bag "hotel" for a rest.

I might be willing to allow one concession, but one only.

And that's to bow to inflation and bump the "grocery store dollar" up – by at least a few cents.
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August 2017
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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will present Flowers After 5 on Thursday evenings through September. Stroll through the gardens and enjoy live music from Trio na Bossa, as well as family activities, wine and beer, dining and shopping. Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome. The Garden partners with the Richmond SPCA on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month for Fidos After 5 where leashed pets are allowed. Admission is $8 to $13 or free for members. For details, visit http://www.lewisginter.org. Full text

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