Monday, October 7, 2013

Bringing My Happiness Project to Walmart

Last Friday, I decided I was ready to attempt my first solo grocery run with the three kiddos.  I thought an outing to Walmart was the perfect opportunity to put my Happiness Project into practice.  I'm so glad I did because I know my changed outlook made my solo grocery run a success.

Friday was a dreary, rainy morning.  When I pulled up to the Walmart parking lot, I took a few moments to collect my thoughts.  I decided it was easiest to run in, grab the "monster cart" (my affectionate name for the shopping carts with seats on the end for shopping trips with multiple kids), and bring it back to the car for loading everyone in.  I loaded Jane and Walt into the cart, put Harry in the baby carrier, and headed on in to the store.  As the automatic doors opened, I said a silent prayer.  "Blessed Mother, please give me a healthy dose of your perfect patience, tenderness, and love."  I kid you not, I felt a wave of calm come over me--and I was walking into Walmart with three kids 3 and under!

You know the saying, "The harder you work, the luckier you get"?  Well, the phrase rang true as I started tackling the grocery list.  After a few trips to this particular Walmart, I have the grocery list down to a science.  I organize the list by section and have all of the items on the list in the order that I'll find them in the store.  It makes searching and backtracking an almost non-occurence.  Working hard on the grocery list before leaving the house allows me to have a few extra brain cells available when the inevitable hiccups occur.  

Five minutes into our shopping, Jane announced, "I have to go potty!"  Before my Happiness Project, I probably would have either tempted fate by asking her to hold it or taken her, but not until I said some guilt-inducing comment like, "You're a big girl, and you need to learn how to hold it.  We went 15 minutes ago before we left the house."  But, no, I was in the first week of my Happiness Project, and gosh darn it, I was going to be happy--even if I was 5 minutes into my shopping trip with 3 kids 3 and under and my 3-year-old had to use the potty!

So, we made the trek across the store to the restrooms.  Lo and behold, God was looking down on this mama, and my Walmart had a family restroom.  Alleluia!  Jane is very into having privacy in the potty these days.  A little kickstand holder on the outside of the door allowed me to leave it slightly propped open so that I could keep an eye on her and the monster cart outside.  When she was finished, I was able to leave the door completely ajar so that Walt was still in view in the cart while I helped Jane to wash and dry her hands.  Hooray!

We were back to shopping within minutes, and I said a quick little prayer of thanksgiving.  As we made our way through the non-perishable food aisles, we encountered several store employees and customers.  I made it a point to smile at every person we met and greeted them with a cheerful, "Hello!" or "Good morning!"  Instead of receiving the usual barrage of negative comments like, "Oh, dear, don't you have your hands full!" or, "You're brave, honey!"people usually smiled, returned a cheerful greeting, or even offered to help when they saw me struggling to reach something or bend over with Harry in the baby carrier.  At one point, the kids even starting singing nursery rhymes, and I joined in.  We ran into the same elderly couple half a dozen times.  The kids adored playing peek-a-boo with the mischieveous man and smiling at the sweet woman. 

We wrapped up our trip in the produce section and made our way to the checkout.  I told Jane and Walt that they had done such a great job of being patient and sitting nicely that they got to have their traditional Oreo in the checkout aisle.  As I backed our cart into the checkout, the thirty-something single guy working behind the register seemed a little nervous about all of his young customers.  He didn't seem to be having a particularly good morning.  The customer in front of me had taken their receipt from his hands without a word, and he was spraying down the belt when I pulled up.  I startled him with a big, "Hello!" and started loading our groceries onto the belt.  I smiled and asked, "How are you doing today?" while I got the kids situated with their Oreos and sippy cups.  He returned my greeting with a big smile and said, "I'm good."  He still seemed caught off guard by the three-ring circus in his lane.  I think he was even more caught off guard that I had asked him how he was doing and that I was really asking for the answer.  

As he put the groceries into bags he said, "You know, you really make it look fun."  

"What?" I asked.

"Grocery shopping with three little kids."

I laughed and said, "Well, I'm glad I have you fooled!  I don't know if I'd call it fun.  I just do the best I can to keep them happy and lead with a positive attitude.  Today, I think I fooled them (pointing to the kids), too!"

"Well, whatever you're doing, I think it's working."

During the checkout process, I learned that the cashier had one sister, that they got along great, but that he always wished he had more siblings.  He said he thought big families "always looked like so much fun."  He asked how old Harry was, and that got Jane and Walt talking alllllllllll about their baby brother.  Walt was especially precious chiming in with Oreo all over his face.  "Das Harold!"  

We finally got all of the groceries loaded back into the cart and paid for.  The cashier handed me the receipt, smiled, waved at the kids, and said, "Be good!  Have a nice day!"  

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about it being easier to be "heavy" than it is to be "light."  In other words, it's easier to be grumpy and negative than it is to be friendly and positive.  Similarly, my dad always liked to tell us when we were growing up, "Smile, and the whole world smiles with you.  Frown, and you frown alone."  It turns out Gretchen and my dad are both right.  

Even if I'm feeling down and out about things, it doesn't do me any good to dwell on it or broadcast it to everyone willing to hear.  Instead, I'm better off choosing to be light.  There were several times during our shopping trip that I had the option to be heavy or light:  when it started raining in the parking lot, when Jane pulled several (breakable) miscellaneous items into our cart, when Jane decided she had to go potty, when Walt pinched Jane in the produce section, when Harold started whimpering halfway through the trip, when I got meat juice all over my hands, when a grumpy employee seemed annoyed that we needed an item he was stocking, etc., etc.  I had to choose:  Am I going to be light or heavy?  That rainy morning at Walmart with the kids, I chose to put a smile on my face, reach out of myself and whatever was going on, and chose to brighten someone else's day.  Even though it felt phony in the beginning, the returned smiles made it easier for me to feel genuinely happy.  

I want to be clear on a few things, though.  First, let's disabuse you of the idea that the whole trip was sunbeams and rainbows.  My kids are just as prone to tantrums and meltdowns as every other kiddo--especially at Walmart.  (What is it about Walmart and meltdowns anyway?)  

Also, I'm not advocating for phoniness.  Like I tell the kiddos (and myself), it's okay to feel whatever emotion you're feeling, BUT, this is the key: it's not okay to do whatever you want with the feelings.  For example, I'll tell Walt he can be sad when he doesn't get a second cookie, or I'll tell Jane it's okay to be sad when her favorite toy breaks, but it's not okay to whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine about it or have a royal freakout session.  

As Mommy, it's okay to feel the gamut of emotions as I respond to the curveballs tossed at me in any given day.  It's not okay to allow those emotions to determine the direction of our family's day.  I'm learning that I'm the nerve center of the home as mama bear.  When I choose to take care of my primary needs, it's easier to put on a happy face when I don't feel like it.  It's easier to clean up a potty training accident and say, "Accidents happen."  It's easier to choose to take the kids to the park after a morning of whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiining.  

It's contagious, too.  I think that the cashier at Walmart had a better morning after we left--simply because we smiled and asked him about his day.  And, you know what?  The rest of the day wasn't perfect or even close to it, but it was a lot easier to keep choosing to be light, and, if I had to guess, it was probably a lot easier for that cashier to smile at the inevitable curmudgeonly customer.  

What helps you to choose to be light and not heavy?      

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