Running the gauntlet

By admin
09 September 2013

It’s sugar – not harassed fellow shoppers or the hefty bill – that’s the great leveller at the supermarket checkout

So in the old days they’d punish a soldier by making him run between two lines of his peers who whacked him with whatever weapon they happened to have in their hands. This was called “running the gauntlet”. The Romans did the same, but they threw in an extra challenge – a guy with a naked sword. His job was to march backwards in front of the condemned man, using the tip of his blade to gently remind the soldier not to run but to slow down and wallow in the full benefit of the learning experience.

Seems barbaric, doesn’t it? Well, for all our claims of being civilised, I’ve discovered we have a similar punishment. It’s called shopping. I’ve no doubt whoever designed modern grocery stores had Roman in his genes, soldier in his blood and sadist tattooed on his forehead.

Any parent who has battled their way through a monthly shop with a hungry toddler or two will know exactly what I’m talking about.

The shopping itself is a challenge. In one trip, the average toddler is capable of breaking something in the kitchen aisle, sneaking the most expensive toy into the trolley and massaging a tub of yoghurt into every item you’ve selected. Just when the till is in sight, an alarm bell will go off in a tiny bladder. It’s a given. And by the agonised “I have to go NOW” look on the little face, you know waiting will end badly. There’s only one thing to do: abandon the trolley, leave the shop and pander to the bladder (all the while hoping your yoghurt-smeared shopping isn’t seen as abandoned and unpacked, forcing you to start all over again.)

Add a second toddler and the potential for disaster increases exponentially. Instead of dealing with simple destruction, you now have the added fun of relationship dynamics. Two toddlers in close proximity have the potential for an emotional blow-up that could rival Hiroshima in its fallout. It is enough to push any mom’s multi-tasking skills to the max. I watched one in action this weekend. It was an impressive sight: calculator, shopping list and pencil in one hand. The other palm plastered firmly to her son’s forehead to keep him at arms-length from his impish sister who seemed hell-bent on taunting a smack out of him. Every now and then her foot got involved too. The mom’s, not the kid’s.

And that’s the easy part.

Survive all that and you get to face the gauntlet. Single file, you shuffle into a narrow passage that aims you at the till like sheep towards a dip tank. You’re stuck. No turning back, no pushing to the front. Just stuck.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with being hemmed-in between harassed shoppers. I’m even happy to pay for my shopping on the other end, yoghurt and all. But the nightmare in-between? I shudder at the thought.

Every step you take is between well-stocked shelves of sugar. Sugar wrapped in foil, encased plastic, coating peanuts and cunningly hidden between pulverised cocoa beans. Sugar coloured pink, green and blue, with a sour tinge or a raisin or two. Sugar that sings in dulcet tones to tiny tummies wedged between trolleys . . . cue Jaws music . . . da-dum . . .

“Mommy, can I have a chocolate?” No. “Easter egg?” No. “I’m hungry Mommy!” Too bad. “Want a sucker!” No! Every step, every no, sends your offspring closer to the brink of full-scale meltdown.

I know I should stay strong. I know I should hide behind my shield of No’s and beat off every fiery dart of I want. And I’m proud to say I make it to the till with no added sugar at least once a year. Granted, my toddler is a blubbing puddle plaintively wailing “I want another mommy!” but I can cope with that. She calms down as soon as I break off a tiny corner of the slab I picked up for myself as I rounded the last corner.

By: Di Wilson    

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