Being a stay at home father I get to do a lot of things with my kids. We visit the playground and library, family and friends. We take day trips and clean our house and we get to go to the grocery store.
Getting to go to the grocery store with small children is like getting to fly on a plane with them or getting to get peed on, it’s not actually that much fun. I've managed to find a middle ground where I mostly ignore my kids and walk just fast enough through the store that if they’re walking they need to pay attention to keep up and if they’re riding in the cart, the scenery changes enough to keep them entertained.
I don’t mind going to the store with just them, because going with their mother isn't much more helpful. Yes, she’s another set of hands and eyes to keep our kids from wandering down the candy aisle (happened once) or getting stuck in a freezer door (partially happened once) or walking out holding something they've begun eating but haven’t paid for (take a guess). Her presence means that our cart magically gets twenty percent more expensive thanks to colored corn products - chips - and whatever snack du jour the aisle endcaps are promoting. She’s also a sucker for suckers, sweets, and candy bars.
Imagine there’s a line in the sand and if you cross that line you make a choice about your life. It’s portrayed literally and metaphorically in movies all the time and on our trips to the store it’s similar. I warm them going in, “if you cross that line, no treats for you.” Then, around the section of eggs and milk I say, “if you can still see that line from where you are, then you can have a treat.” By the time we get to check-out I’ll say in an exhausted voice “If anyone can remember what the line looked like they can pick out one, okay, two pieces of candy.”
One day, after staying near enough to the line, my wife decided to reward our children with candy bars at the checkout line and our five year old daughter selects a Snickers bar and I stupidly ask:
“Are you sure you like that?”
“Yes, why?” she answers, wondering what I’m going to say.
“Yeah, why would she not like it?” my wife asks. One of my least proud secrets is about to pulled out of me like a child throwing a temper tantrum is dragged from a store.
“Ella, you’ve had these before, right?” my wife asks, beginning to unwrap my secret.
“I don’t know.” she says, shrugging, but happy with the idea that inside that wrapper there may be chocolate.
At this point I should have diverted this line of questioning by paying for the treats as quickly as possible, but I’ve never been able to keep anything from my wife and she was on the trail like a dog on a scent. A scent of guilt and chocolate.
Looking at me, my wife asks “Why has she not had one before?”
I stand there in shame, in front of our entire family, the checkout lady and person behind us in line and say, “Because I sneak them out of her Halloween basket.”
“Michael” my wife says, invoking the seldom used full first name, although I can detect some amusement in her voice.
“She’s never had one, ever?”
“No.” I say.
I’ve always had a sweet tooth but very seldom do I allow this part of my body to do any thinking (I let other parts do that) and if I stay away from sweets at the store then I don’t have sweets in my stores at home. However, there is a time of year when people, strangers even, freely give candy to my children, and I, in my attempts to guard them against diabetes, gum disease, and obesity, eat the candy.
All parents do this to one degree or another. At the very least, we go through to pick out anything dangerous or unwrapped. We pull out the pennies a few people gave and then a piece of candy that we’ll enjoy as payment for schlepping around the neighborhood. After the kids go to bed, we go back for a few more pieces and then if we’re smart we squirrel away the rest of the good stuff.
My kids never noticed, so I thought they were implying consent. Because no objection was ever raised about not having Snickers bars I thought they wanted me to eat them. It was their little way of saying thanks. Can I be helped if a five year old doesn’t explicitly state that she would like all the Snickers bars to remain in her candy basket so she may consume them in her own time at her own pace?
I should be embarrassed.
On the drive home, as the kids munched away on their snacks and my wife’s snacks bounced around the trunk we had a talk.
“You shouldn’t eat so much of their Halloween candy.” she said.
“So you’ll leave them their Snickers?”
“Yes.” I say apologetically like a dog that has peed on the rug.
We arrived home and I began putting the groceries away and thought, well, I’ve still got Easter.