Just The Essentials
It was yesterday. I wore a Hello Kitty face mask and had my ID, credit card, car key and hand sanitizer in my pockets. I performed a cautious and abbreviated version of my tried and true choreography around the store, stopping first for the biggest box of diapers, and ending with two bags of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. When I was done shopping, I stood on the red marker six feet away from the customer in front of me, suddenly remembering all the items I forgot to grab but too fearful to leave my spot. Before, I would have asked the person behind me to watch my stuff, as I hurriedly dodged in and out of people browsing to snag a last-minute item. Now, I didn’t dare. The new can of Pledge and Dove bar soap were casualties.
I waited for a mother in front of me to buy supplies, not only for the week but also what appeared to be the last package of paper towels and multiple children’s Easter basket paraphernalia. Normally, I’d be annoyed. Yesterday I did not care. When she had left, I waited even longer for my turn to approach the cashier, as he took a minute to thoroughly wipe down the conveyor belt. Normally, I’d be annoyed. Yesterday I did not care.
Driving the half-mile away to my local Target was simultaneously miserable and rejuvenating. I almost had about five panic attacks in the aisles over people not respecting six feet of space, but somehow came home feeling absolutely refreshed from the experience of being in the car for 10 minutes with just myself and a low NPR hum. It felt restorative to interact with humans in a public space for the first time in three weeks.
Although it was far from a typical Target run, it brought a simple sense of normalcy I didn’t know I’d been craving so deeply. If the mom buying a million plastic eggs and I are any indicators, Target continues to be a port in the storm of daily for mothers, even amidst a pandemic, when it’s far from a safe place to be.
A couple of months ago on a Wednesday afternoon, I picked up an infant development toy, a 20-pound bag of cat litter, Scrub Daddy sponge, lint roller, baby onesie, striped sweatshirt, breastmilk storage bags, two boxes of diapers, and a new mom friend. I found the last item from my haul in the same aisle as the diapers.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized to her as I lazily took up the entire pathway with my cart. “I’m so out of it. Taking my time while he naps,” I said, pointing to the baby sleeping on my chest.
“Oh, please. I totally understand.” One glance at the size 2 diapers in her cart reassured me that she really did totally understand. We chatted for a bit about sleep, mommy and me classes, and both confessed to using formula, even though that’s not exactly a topic that requires clandestine whispers. After exchanging Instagram handles, we continued on to enjoy respective journeys through our local chapter of the national mecca for mothers.
Since becoming a mother, Target has taken on a new meaning. In my previous life, it was a place I visited once a month to load up on household supplies and impulse home goods, or a midnight savior during a big move. Now, it’s a weekly reprieve from parenthood.
Upon confirmation that I’d need to be induced at 37 weeks pregnant, just shy of a month before my due date, I was understandably freaked out. As we got back into the car from the doctor’s appointment, I immediately opened the navigation to direct us to the closest Target on the way to our next destination. There I stood, pregnant and panicking over diapers, wipes, and literally anything else I could get my hands on in the baby section.
“You should really order those on Amazon,” a mother in front of me in line at the cash register recommended when she saw the diaper box on the conveyer belt. “They’re so much cheaper.” I didn’t know how to tell her that I couldn’t wait for one-day shipping. I needed them NOW.
I didn’t actually need a case of diapers, as I still had a few weeks until my induction date. But, at that moment, I kind of did.
After delivering my son, the first place I went by myself was Target. After about ten days of making a postpartum shaped dent in the couch, I must have looked pretty bleary-eyed because my husband told me to beat it.
“I don’t have anywhere to go,” I robotically replied with my sleep-deprived eyes still glued to a TV show I would never remember watching. Having a baby means all plans are canceled for a least a month while friends and family bring the world to you. There was no reason to leave.
“Go to Target. Get a Starbucks and just walk around,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll find something we need.”
The very idea seemed ludicrous. Just get a Starbucks and walk around? Find something we need? That was the stuff of my old life, not this surreal state of sleepwalking with a baby they let us take home.
He was pretty insistent, so I wedged my marshmallow toes into flip flops because my feet were still too swollen from IV fluids to wear real shoes. I got in my car, still weirded out by the car seat base in my rear-view mirror, and drove to Target, which just happens to have a Starbucks (and a Which Wich!) attached. After ordering my iced vanilla latte with almond milk, I grabbed a big red cart and slowly (and sorely) sauntered down aisles under fluorescent lighting.
Did I seem different? Could anyone tell that I was super fresh off my most major life event? I had just slid a human out of my body. Why wasn’t everyone looking at me and slow clapping as I passed a rack of DVDs on sale (WHO BUYS THOSE??)? I needed everyone to know my feet looked like little baked potatoes for a good reason. I made a life and I still made it to Target. I was drinking a latte like nothing special had happened!
I have no idea what I bought that day, but I do remember returning home with bags in hand, grateful for my husband’s persistence. Target had brought me into the newborn fog and it began to show me the way out.
Though I never really saw them before, now I notice all the moms at Target now. I can’t not see them. It feels like when I got engaged, suddenly, all I could see were diamond rings everywhere. Constantly observing, taking notes, and making comparisons.
Prior to social distancing, on any given weekday morning, you’d see a range of moms in different stages, from newborn to pre-K. Some wearing their babies in carriers, others with older kiddos in the shopping cart seat, and then there is the quintessential stroller, which is actually an effective way to stop yourself from dropping $200 in 20 minutes. There’s only so much you can fit in the stroller basket.
It’s the most perfect place where everyone can hear your child scream, and no one gives a shit. It’s also the most perfect excuse to leave said screaming kids at home and therapeutically roam the aisles, touching, considering, and dropping needless shit into your cart.
During this pandemic, there are far fewer kids, and much less mindless browsing and touching, but Target endures its reign as mom turf. We’re gathers after all. We know how to get in, get out, and still somehow buy an obscene amount more than what was on the list. After all, there’s very little chance my husband would have thought to grab an extra baby saline nasal spray and a box of Whiteclaw to try out of sheet monotony.
I left Target, loaded my car and worried about the fact that I didn’t spray sanitizer on my hand before touching the car door handle, because this is what life is like now. And yet, as anxious as the whole experience left me, it felt good to practice even some distorted version of normalcy.
To many people, it may seem like just a trip to Target, but as any mom knows, pandemic or not, it’s essential in many more ways than paper towels…and a Whiteclaw sampler pack, which we discovered is an accurate reflection of how we’re doing — just OK.