The produce aisle smells like deli meat, specifically bologna. Bologna isn’t produce. This is strange and kind of makes me feel a little nauseous. Today’s been a bad day. Today’s been a disgusting day. Just a lousy waste of a day, and honestly, I’m over it.
Mom marathoned TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” last night. She took notes. There’s a one-day sale at the local grocery store, and we’ve been here for hours. My feet are blistered, throbbing, aching. They hurt. They are dying. My feet are dying and so are my legs.
My little brother, Calvin is dealing with less than half of both the physical pressure of walking and the mental pressure of trying to figure out how mom can get two hundred dollars’ worth of dog shampoo for twenty, which is ridiculous because we don’t even have a dog. Calvin’s being pushed in the cart, by me, obviously, and he’s too young to understand the math behind pro-couponing, or whatever. Both of these things are just as ridiculous. He has feet, and I’m pretty sure that couponing is something Mom doesn’t even really understand.
I think grocery stores in general are ugly, too-cold of places to be, but now that I’ve spent hours in one with a mom on a couponing mission and a lazy baby brother who I’m mostly responsible for, I’ve realized grocery stores can be a lot more than that. They highlight a person’s weaknesses and strengths. They are a source of true pain, maybe even premature aging or death. They provide you with food, toiletries, and cosmetics, but the cost is so much more than what you pay at the checkout. We have to ask ourselves: Is this really worth it?
“Free cookies!” my lazy, little fish-boy brother shouts. Calvin’s eyes are wide, and so far apart. He is such a fish. I think Mom would argue he’s more of a puppy, or maybe a bunny rabbit. She’d be wrong.
“Kenzie, take your little brother to the bakery,” Mom looks at Calvin, “and you, you need to get out of the cart. I need it right now!”
“Seriously?” he groans.
I roll my eyes. I want to hit him, but I don’t think it’s okay to hit an eight year old boy. Plus, eye-rolling is excusable. Hitting isn’t.
Mom lifts him from the cart. He could’ve gotten out on his own. I don’t mind walking him to the bakery. I’m hungry and cookies are good. I want a cookie too.
“Where did you see the free cookies, Cal?”
He points to a sign. “Free Sugar Cookies,” is typed in big, bold letters, beneath it specifies “take one,” and “for kids.” Calvin already has his, for some reason, wet hands on a cookie. Powdery blue frosting is already coating the corners of his also wet mouth. I still haven’t taken one.
“For kids,” is a vague thing to write on a sign. I don’t know if I’m a kid here. I’m not a kid when I get flu shots. They don’t tell me to close my eyes, give me lollipops, or even try to shift my attention to something else. They don’t treat me any different than my mom, and I know she isn’t a kid. I’m a kid in school, and a lot of other places, but am I a kid here? Can I take a cookie? I feel stupid. I should just take one. I don’t.
It’s weird, I used to think being a kid was so limiting, but now that I’m a little older, I am faced with so many more restrictions. Being fifteen, I still can’t do a lot, if not most of the things I couldn’t do as a kid, and this cookie dilemma is a reminder there are things that I could do as a kid that I can’t do now. I wish I didn’t take those things for granted.
“Hey, Kenzie,” Calvin smiles at me, “Hey, Kenzie, I know him. I know him, Kenzie.”
“You know wh-”
“I know him,” he points to a blonde boy about his age in a striped blue t-shirt.
“I’m going to say hi. He’s my friend,” Calvin is running spastically toward the boy now. He is such a weird little boy.
I’m alone with the cookies. The tension is high. I still don’t take one. I watch Calvin with his friend from a distance. He’s chatting up the boy’s parents and making abstract shapes with his hands. I don’t want to interrupt, but I’ve got go. I leave him under their supervision and catch up with my mom.
By now, she looks like she wants to leave too. Her originally bright, Disney-like eyes are small and sleepy. Her sloppy updo is even sloppier with frizzy strands of brunette hair curling where they definitely shouldn’t. She’s already at the checkout. She’s handing the cashier a fat stack of coupons. Mom gives a small, embarrassing smirk. I can tell she feels triumphant, but is too worn out to give any other sign of it than that tiny half-smile. The cashier’s face gives that annoyed look, “I don’t get paid enough for this.”
The cost of the trip, which was determined after almost an hour of scanning the aforementioned fat stack of coupons, and around twenty-five minutes of the cashier asking the manager if this was okay (or legal), was around four thousand dollars. Four thousand dollars! That is an absolutely baffling amount of money for a family of three to spend on one trip, an astounding four thousand dollars was not my mom’s budget. She miscalculated.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the coupons were expired, combining store and manufacturer’s coupons was against policy, and a lot of the unexpired coupons that might’ve actually been useful were lost in mom’s purse. Common, but fatal mistakes of the newbie couponer.
Even though I expected this trip to be unsuccessful, and was already having an awful day, I feel bad for mom. She was, like, super excited for this, and throughout the day, I could see she was feeling more and more defeated. My attitude, excusable or not, couldn’t have made things better. Now we’re here. No one’s happy. Actually, Calvin might be, but that’s not really comforting. He’s always happy.
“I’m sorry. We can’t buy all of this.” Mom sounds hurt. The cashier looks a little concerned, but mostly angry. Her eyebrows are very arched. The rest of her face is just droopy and tired looking. These things probably contribute to the anger in her face.
Mom apologizes again and again. Each “sorry” transforms the concern on the cashier’s face to sympathy, and the anger to more of an understanding annoyance.
“Kenzie, where’s your brother? We’re leaving,” She’s guilty. It’s sad, but she should be. She did waste both of our entire days at an icky grocery store, only to leave empty handed.
“I left him with his friend somewhere around... I don’t know. I’ll get him,” As I’m walking towards the bakery, I see boys in my class taking handfuls of cookies, disregarding the sign like it’s nothing. I guess they consider themselves children. They’re not wrong.
I want to scream or hit them. I don’t do either. Hitting isn’t excusable. Neither is screaming. Instead, I take a cookie myself. I take two cookies, and another for my mom. Mom is not a child, but that’s fine, because neither am I. In fact, I think today I was more the adult than her.
I really pulled through as a daughter and a big sister today, even when it felt this disgustingly vile and vast supermarket would break me. Even when my head hurt so bad it felt like my brain had a heartbeat, I was calm, at least on the outside. I am not a kid. Though the sign says that’s who the cookies were for, I could take one. And after today, I deserve a cookie.