It was a busy afternoon at Trader Joe’s. About eight months pregnant with my son, I had taken my three daughters (ages 3 to 6 at that time) to a prenatal appointment that morning, and we had decided to swing by the store on our way back home.
My family and I love this little grocery chain. I love it for the great prices on healthy and difficult-to-find products. My girls love it because it invites children in several different ways. First, a stuffed squirrel offers a prize to those who can find him hidden somewhere inside the store. Second, employees generously hand out stickers at the checkout counter. But perhaps most significant to small children are the miniature shopping carts, which offer them a way to play grown-up and “help” by putting groceries in their own self-directed vessels.
Now, normally there are only one or two miniature carts waiting out front when we approach the store, which of course necessitates taking turns. But on this blessed occasion, there were exactly three carts sitting in the entrance. My girls—especially the three-year-old, who rarely got a turn—were overjoyed! We snatched up those shiny red carts, and our awkward little caravan rumbled inside.
It was upon entering the store that I realized that 2 p.m. on a Tuesday was apparently the time when half the city requires their wares from Trader Joe’s. As anyone who has ever been inside a Trader Joe’s can tell you, they are not exactly known for their roomy aisles. In fact, they take pride in their limited square footage, as it helps keep their prices down. I take my children out to run errands usually at least once a week, so they are well aware of the rules of staying close to Mommy and trying not to impede the flow of traffic, but it is difficult enough to navigate those aisles as an adult when the store is crowded.
You can imagine, then, how it went with three child-size carts in the mix. I did my best to keep the girls out of other folks’ way, and they really were behaving quite well. But, produce stands were bumped, a few ankles were nudged, and we slowed the progress of several other customers.
Not Everyone Has Patience for Children
To the credit of our local Trader Joe’s clientele, most met these incidents with a smile, a “no problem,” or even an “aren’t they precious.” But while we were in one of the cold food aisles (which, incidentally, has a fair bit more room than some of the other aisles), we inevitably ran up against one who did not take such a gracious view of these affairs.
She was a smallish woman, probably in about her 50s. As my girls circled happily around the mostly-empty aisle with a bit more freedom—not even in this woman’s way, if I recall correctly—I heard a muffled exclamation from her direction. I looked up with a slight smile, expecting another friendly face. But instead… “Three miniature carts in a crowded store?” she huffed. “Really!”
I was so taken aback, I didn’t even answer. I just gathered up my girls and shuffled them sheepishly into the next aisle. I was embarrassed. I began to doubt myself a bit. Perhaps I should have just made them take turns with one cart. Perhaps when I saw that the store was crowded, I should have just ditched the whole mini cart thing altogether. Perhaps I should have been more diligent about keeping them close.
Then again, how much of a problem did they really cause? They hadn’t been running wildly through the store, knocking things over, or slamming into people. The worst they probably did was to cause someone to leave the store with her organic bananas and nitrate-free lunchmeat approximately 30 seconds later than she would have otherwise. Are we all in so much of a hurry that a mother with small children must be shamed for slowing others down by half a minute?
This Wasn’t an Isolated Incident
This little incident at Trader Joe’s is just one example of an attitude I have seen and heard from others regarding my taking my children out and about. I am fortunate to live in the South, where people are generally pretty friendly and casual when interacting with strangers. But even here, with my comparatively calm and well-behaved children, I occasionally get dirty looks and verbal jabs like this one. My crime? Toting around multiple small children… in public.
At some level, I do get it. Most people don’t have four children under the age of eight, as I now do. Most people also have their children in school of some sort by the age of four or five, while we homeschool. Further, a growing number of mothers are going to work, rather than staying at home with their little ones as I do. So I know I’m the odd one out. I can understand why people sometimes stare. What I don’t understand is why our culture seems to view it as such a negative thing to have children integrated into our everyday lives.
Perhaps this may be seen as an overreaction to a relatively tame comment from a single grumpy lady. And if it were based on my experience alone, I would probably agree. But I write because I know I am not the only one. I may be the oddball in our culture, but I have quite a few friends who are in a similar position. I’ve heard numerous stories of strangers giving my friends nasty looks or comments because of a minor incident of naughtiness, or (as in my own example) even the simple fact that they have children in public, being what they are: children. Parents are quite often driven to embarrassment by their children’s behavior, not so much because the children did anything abnormal, but because they did it in public.
Children Are a Part of Life
Why are children so unwelcome at times? We all know the drill.
They are noisy. They are messy. They are naughty. They are expensive. They get in the way. They are inconvenient. But hey, guess what? They are a part of life. Without children, we have no adults, we have no future, we have no human race. Yet there seem to be some who, if they could, prefer to segregate out this entirely necessary segment of the population and put them all in neat little boxes where they won’t inconvenience anyone in the adults-only world.
Further, as we are reminded by the recent Roe v. Wade anniversary, there are those who believe that children are inconvenient to the point of being expendable at will. Remember when the pro-choice slogan was, “Keep abortion safe, legal, and rare?” Yeah, neither do I. The abortion industry no longer tries to hide behind the excuse of rarity.
Our government now provides nearly half of the funding for Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, which performs about a third of the nation’s 1 million-plus abortions each year. This funding is defended on the grounds that Planned Parenthood provides all types of women’s healthcare, yet according former clinic director Abby Johnson (now a well-known pro-life advocate), the organization no longer bothers to offer prenatal services. You want to get rid of your baby? No problem! We’re here to help. You want to keep the baby? Well, sorry… Good luck with that. Have a pamphlet.
Oh, and if you’re having trouble conceiving, like several friends and a sister of mine, be prepared to potentially pay about the price of a new car, because even most insurance companies won’t help you much there. I’m not advocating for handouts here, but I think it tells you something about a culture when it can be so simple to take a child out of this world and so difficult to put one into it.
Try Embracing Children for a Change
Now, just for the record, this post is not meant to criticize anyone for not having more children than they already have. This is also not a finger-pointing post telling everyone that my kids can behave like Tasmanian devils if they want, and you have no right to object. This is my attempt at food for thought.
Currently, our culture’s view of children seems to be that they’re okay if they’re planned, and if you only have two or three at most. They’re okay if they are kept out of people’s hair, and if they are mostly “seen and not heard” by the general public. But heaven forbid that they be a little noisy or rambunctious, or that there be too many of them, or that they come at the “wrong” time. Politicians and social commentators may talk big about doing things “for the children,” but what many of them seem to mean is “for the children who are wanted and whose parents follow the unwritten rules of society.” Is this the kind of treatment these little people deserve?
What would our culture look like if we started placing more value on children? Yes, they are messy, noisy, inconvenient—all that. But they are also playful. They are friendly. They are curious. They are refreshingly honest. They are adventurous. They are imaginative. They are passionate.
In short, they are everything I think we all are at heart, but in the process of conforming to our normalized, sterilized adult world, we can sometimes forget the magic of childhood, the call to have adventures, learn new things, forget our inhibitions, live life to the fullest. And even when they are difficult, children are often a reminder of how we all would be if we could get away with it. Their behavior can provide insight into our own character flaws when we realize that our thoughts or behaviors are exactly the same as theirs, just in a more “adult” scenario. That’s what my kids often show me, anyway.
So rather than assuming that we would be better off without children in our everyday lives, what if we embraced them as the wild and beautiful little people that they are? Even if we don’t feel a desire to have children of our own, what if we looked at the bearing and rearing of children as a normal and important part of life, instead of a task only suitable for the crazy people who would willingly give up their freedom for little bundles of trouble? Would we show a little more support for those who dedicate a major portion of their lives to bringing up the next generation?
Instead of a sideways glance and a whisper, would we perhaps give that overwhelmed mother a helping hand with her groceries? (Trader Joe’s gets five stars on this point, by the way.) Would we give that sleep-deprived father a word of encouragement rather than an elbow jab and a, “You do know what causes that, right?” Or that couple in the process of adoption a check, instead of mutterings about how much kids cost? Or that pregnant teenager some love and shelter, instead of a ride to the abortion clinic?
Forty-two years ago last month, the law of the land ruled that certain reproductive “rights” were of greater value than the lives of the tiny human beings we all once were. And rather than supporting the couples who choose to use their reproductive capabilities to bring life into the world, our culture tends to ridicule and shun them for causing public inconvenience (especially those who reproduce more abundantly). Apparently we fail to understand a simple truth that a grocery chain gets right: children matter. I hope this year we can begin to see that the lives and the presence of all children have value. These little ones may yet help us to learn and grow in ways we never imagined—whether they may be a three-year-old toddling behind her big sisters with a little red grocery cart, or a tiny, fragile person with little more than a heartbeat, who just hasn’t had the chance to grow up yet.
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” – Matthew 19:14