Ah, the supermarket. That testing ground of parental competence. I only have three things to get, but as soon as I pick up the first, E runs off. I walk briskly after him, calling him to come back without trying to alert my fellow shoppers that there is an unruly child and ineffectual parent on the loose. But he takes no notice whatsoever, so I resort to shepherding him from a distance into the aisle that I need. I feel like an amateur contestant on One Man and his Dog. Or is that One Mum and her Sprog? Sweating with the stress, I pick up my last required item before E puts on a spurt of steam and disappears round a corner. Immediately, my heart is racing and I rush to get him back in my sightline. Thank fuck, there he is.
I grab his hand, the abduction scenario narrowly averted. Okay, perhaps it wasn’t a narrow aversion. The aisle E absconded to contains one elderly man pondering the relative merits of tomato or minestrone as soup of choice, a mother with a sickeningly well behaved child who is not trying to escape every time she turned her gaze shelf-ward and a middle aged bloke with a basket full of bread products and milk (perhaps he is a professional hedgehog feeder). None of them a particularly obvious weirdo but I never underestimate the evil potential of a minestrone soup eater.
I reach to the shelf for something, and E is off again. I call to him in my best public-mummy voice. This is a complicated one to perfect, what with it being a blend of warm, maternal engagement, a dash of strictness to emphasise that I am a Mother In Control and a smattering of fun, lest someone think I am a mardy old bitch. I am trying hard not to grit my teeth as I speak.
E stops about ten foot away and turns to face me. “Come here sweetie,” I call gaily, whilst fixing him with my hardest, unblinking stare in an attempt to make clear the subtext of my words: if you do into come here now, I will throw you in the carrier bag recycling unit.
He smiles and runs off. Okay, I am officially teetering on the brink of losing my temper. I have never done this in public, and the thought of the shame and the looks of disgust from onlookers (along with the other mothers looking on and making silent judgments about my poor parenting skills, whilst secretly being fucking relieved it’s not them) makes me take a small step back from the crumbling edifice that is my patience.
I have no choice now but to break into a run to catch him, otherwise in a few seconds he will be out of sight again and into the ready meal aisle, and if there is ever a place where abductors are likely to be found, it is surely in that hallowed ground of abundant saturated fat and colossal salt intake. I scoop him up in my free arm and march to the tills. E is shouting at me to let him go and flailing wildly. He is gradually slipping out of my grip, and before we reach the crisps his feet are nearly trailing on the floor, his belly is on display to all and sundry and my arm is basically around his neck. I hitch him back up and try not to think about the sweat that I can feel is trickling down my left temple or the people who must be staring at me, wrestling with my yelling, puce-faced child. Thankfully, there is a self serve till free and I rush toward it. Now I am confronted by the logistical problem of actually being one arm short of being able to scan the items, bag them and hold onto a wriggling, shouting toddler. I attempt to start to swipe a cucumber through the till, but it is no good. I am half expecting the automated voice to announce: “Unexpected tantrum in the bagging area. Please seek assistance.” It is at this point I discover an entirely new manoeuvre: the thigh lock. I shove E between my legs and clamp him tight between my thighs, under his arms. This, he does not like. This, I like very much. E continues to make his displeasure known, but I ignore both him and the stares of the self-serve assistant who hovers nearby. Finally, I complete the payment and I pick E up like a short roll of carpet and head purposefully out the door.
Now screaming about the injustice of not being given a go on Bob the Builder which I tell him is not plugged in as I carry him past it, I wrestle E into his car seat. His tears plop forlornly onto his tee shirt as I drip sweat onto his trousers. I want to berate him for his behaviour but I am so angry I appear to have forgot how to formulate speech. No doubt provoked by my silence, he ratchets his wailing up a notch or two. It is at this point that my brain seems to make a decision. It can either instruct me to match his anger, which would probably mean me slamming the car door shut and walking home alone, or to not lose the plot and do something else instead. So I become really, really calm. Two seconds ago, I could have screamed until my tongue fell out, but faced with pretty much no other option, I regain utter composure. I calmly walk round to the driver’s side and get in.
“I think we’ll listen to mummy’s songs today, shall we?” I say in a happy voice over the shouting, as I turn on the radio. I fear that one hint of Incey Wincey Spider may propel me back into tongue-falling out territory. We drive home, E still crying and shouting, me ‘tra-la-la-ing’ along to the radio with all the forced gaiety and barely concealed bitterness of a CBeebies presenter.
As we reach home, I try not to think about the impending ‘get child from car to house’ battle in which I am about to engage, nor the refusal of E to move away from the fridge so I can shut the bloody door, nor his insistence that he must drink a smoothie that I have just purchased right now or the world may very well end.
Ah, the supermarket shop. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving.