The kids and I made a trip to Billings this past Wednesday because we HAD to stock up on groceries. We were out of coffee, sugar, potatoes, rice, vegetables, fruit… all the staples and beyond. As the cowboys around here hustle to finish up fall work, I’ve been fixing lunch for several humans several days a week, and the groceries disappear fast when you’re feeding grown men working in cold weather. On Tuesday, the day before I relented and made the dreaded trip to Billings for supplies, I had to peruse the aisles of our local convenience store, the Friendly Corner, to scrape up enough food to serve Tuesday’s meal. You know you’re in bad shape when you’re grocery-shopping at a gas station… and you’re probably not making much off those $9-a-plate checks that the corporate office painstakingly doles out to us cooks around here, neither.
So it was off to Costco on Wednesday for me and the 7-year-old, the 4-year-old, and the 2-year-old. Here are a few interesting facts about our day.
- We ate lunch first thing when we got there, because… $1.50 for a giant hot dog and an ice-cold root beer? Yes, please!
- The 7-year-old pushed his own cart at Costco. Because we needed two.
- The membership fee at Costco obviously just adds insult to injury. As one of Beau’s more hilarious coworkers puts it: I’m about to spend four hundred dollars in here. I think you could stand to let me in the door.
- All the Christmas stuff is out everywhere in Billings. Thank you to the management for that. Has anyone ever considered putting up a recliner display near the toy aisles so pregnant moms can rest their weary legs whilst the kids ogle this season’s offerings?
- When I say I might have a heart attack at Costco some day, I don’t mean it’s because I don’t like it there. I do like it there. I like all the shiny things they have! I want one of everything! And I don’t mind the crowds too much (yes, there was a crowd, even though we were shopping around noon on a Wednesday). It’s the check-out shock at Costco that gets me every time. Even though I try to be careful to procure only the essentials for our family — and, I’m sure, our first-world idea of “essentials” differs greatly from what really qualify as “essentials” in the rest of the world — my heart still races when we take our place in one of the long lines at the cash registers. (What a privilege to be there, right? The lines are no inconvenience at all, we’re just so happy to be a part of it!) We wait, wedging our cart as close behind the person ahead of us as possible. And then, all of a sudden, we are up! The cashier’s attention turns to our family, and it’s really our turn! It’s a zero-to-sixty-in-a-few-seconds situation, so you better be ready. Not so different from the way the cowboys run cattle through the chute. First thing, get your membership card on the conveyer to prove you deserve to be there! Next, unload your basket like an Olympian — don’t hold up the system! Cart to the right — make sure the baby’s buckled in so she doesn’t inconvenience the boxer! Humans to the left — have your money ready because the checker will be waiting for you to hand it over by the time you get there! Don’t hold up the system! And, for goodness sakes, try to play it cool when the total’s over $400 and they give you that news like it’s no big deal, like you’re just a small fish in a big pond. Try to remind yourself of all the good stuff you’re getting for $400, but still… but still… but. Still. I don’t think I’ve ever left Costco feeling anything less than sick to my stomach, guilty, and nervous. There I am, standing on the west side of the check-out with my laden carts, feeling lonely and scared and abandoned and like everyone just wants me to get out of the way now that they have my money.
- So the question is… is bulk buying really worth it? Is is worth feeling sick to one’s stomach? We’re reminded again and again that the per-unit price is worth it on bulk purchases, but it’s awfully hard to remember that when you’re standing at the cash register with mouth agape. Here’s what I think: Costco would be more worth it if I could conjure up the courage to go there more than once every six months. If a person went there with some consistency — say, at least every couple weeks — you’d eventually get to where you didn’t have to buy one of everything every time you were there. You would just pick up whatever you were out of and some fresh stuff and spend only $200. That would be a real relief, right? And therefore, you would be less likely to have a heart attack in the store. But then there are my other social issues to consider…
- At Costco, who should we run into but a sweet lady from my hometown who can gab like nobody’s business. As I smiled through the pain and fidgeted from foot to foot (I have suffered from a severe case of leg-and-butt fatigue in this pregnancy) and the kids played a screaming round of hide-and-seek in the artificial-Christmas-tree aisle, causing me anxiety on top of the usual shopping-at-Costco-and-about-to-break-the-bank anxiety (though I wasn’t sure if I should be more worried about my kids knocking over a $400 pre-lit artificial tree OR somebody snatching the little one while I wasn’t watching)… the well-meaning lady proceeded to present to me an oral 40-year history of the local public school, including a run-down of bad guys past and present. I definitely learned things I didn’t want to know. This is why I’m not involved in the public school, people! I don’t want to know! I know myself, and if I were to make the public school my business, and take all the little tidbits of news that circulate to heart, I’d be so worked up over the situation all the time that I would be in danger of a heart attack every day (and not just when I was standing at the Costco check-out). I have enough worries as it is without getting involved in the public school — worries like butt fatigue and feeding cowboys on a budget. When I choose not to be involved, I promise you, I’m saving everyone else from myself: from the danger of me busting into the school with a wooden spoon and spanking adults, teenagers, and naughty kids alike.
- In total, my kids and I made seven trips to public restrooms the day we were in Billings: Costco three times, Wal-mart three times, and Hobby Lobby once. For more on the subject, check out Public restroom misadventures.
- I let each kid pick out a treat (well, a case of treats) at Costco. Asher picked out a big bag of dried plums. When we finally made it out of that store and back into the sunshine, and I got all the goods unloaded and packed away in coolers and all the kids safely buckled in to their seats, I doled out snacks for everyone. Ravished and in a stupor after wandering through the twilight zone of Costco, I absentmindedly helped myself to several dried plums — conveniently forgetting that dried plums are also known as prunes. As I pondered my will to live, I marveled at their deliciousness. But I sure had a belly ache by the time we got home that night.
- After Costco we ventured to Hobby Lobby because I needed to have a picture frame repaired. I had never been there before but was curious because everyone, at least in my social circle, raves about the place. And I have to admit, it’s pretty neat in there. I kinda wanted one of everything, which seems to be the theme of my shopping style. Despite their fantastic sales (Christmas stuff was 50% off, of course), I was still reeling from the Costco experience and so managed to coax my children back out the door without buying (or breaking) a single thing. But I was totally inspired in the time we spent there and I wanna go back. Without the kids.
- Of course one can’t get everything one needs at Costco on any given day. One must go to Wal-mart or some other store that sells things like kids’ socks and stationery and tea bags and cans of enchilada sauce and boxes of jell-o and half-n-half in sizes other than the half-gallon. I think it was about 4:30 by the time we hit Wal-mart that day. Knowing my energy was waning, I parked the kids at the Subway inside the store and reviewed my list, trying to figure out what we did not have yet and absolutely could not live without. Eventually we left the safety of Subway and merged into the Wal-mart cart traffic. The farther we ventured into the cave of Wal-mart, the shorter I considered my list of things we absolutely could not live without to be. Then came that moment, as I was half-heartedly searching for little boys’ socks, that I realized I could not stand to be in that store for 3-1/2 more minutes. I high-tailed it to the check-out with my three kids flagging behind and we escaped with our lives. But only narrowly. Back at the pickup and trying to rest up for the 70-mile drive home, it’s possible that I fell into some sort of post-shopping coma with my head on the steering wheel. I vaguely remember my sweet son using the cell phone to call my husband and telling him with genuine concern, “Mama’s really tired. I’m worried about her. I think you might have to come get us.”
- When I came out of my parking lot coma, I’d gained enough energy to drive us home. Along the way, I called to reassure my husband that I was fully conscious and that the kids were not in any greater danger than they ever are when they’re shopping with me. And when we finally parked in front of our home sweet home, who else but him came out to unload all our plunder.
- While at Wal-mart, I did buy four pre-made pie crusts with the upcoming holidays in mind. There was a time, just a couple kids ago, when I thought I would spend part of my life perfecting my pie-making skills. I had decided back then that I wanted to be known for being really good at something, and I determined to become a pie pro. Pie pros, I’ll have you know, don’t settle for pre-made crusts. But those years when becoming a pie-pro seemed essential to my well-being — or, actually, anything less than frivolous — are far behind me now, and surreal, just another silly dream that non-adults dream.
- Our 2-year-old has been in a bad mood for… oh, about two years now. Don’t get me wrong, she has her very sweet moments and we all love the heck out of her, but my goodness she has a cranky little personality. Makes her a real joy to take to town. (Just kidding.) I wonder if she’s destined to grow up to be one of those crabby adults? I think her main trouble is that she plays her “baby of the family” card for all it’s worth. She’s in for a shocker, though, because she’s gonna be the baby for only two more months. I can only guess at how the whole situation will shake down. Stay tuned!
- The day after shopping, on Thursday, we served prime rib for 19 out of my kitchen. Good thing I’d stocked up at Costco! My mom and a good friend came over to help and, thanks to that, I was actually able to finish the day feeling like I’d gotten around to most everything that needed to be done. As that feeling of accomplishment grew, the hole in my heart left there by Costco started to heal up. Thanks, Mom and Brit!
© Tami Blake