Did you find everything you needed today, ma’am?
I’m never quite sure how to answer that question. If you looked in my pantry and fridge right now, you would think these people are either fasting or bankrupt. I love cooking, but have always found the shopping tedious. Nani has done her best to make it exciting for me. She is also the reason that question gives me pause, because some times grocery shopping entails more than just finding the groceries.
Grocery shopping with Nani was (and is) a trip, and I mean that in all ways that one can define “trip”. For the most part, she would walk beside me, wait by the cart when it stopped. But most is not always, and that is what made every trip interesting.
I never knew when she would take off and run through the store. Nani runs like Groucho Marx, but she could cover some territory. She’d start running, I’d start chasing. I’m not sure who I look like when I run, and please do not submit any suggestions about that. I do know that I don’t cover nearly as much ground as she does, even when I’m sprinting.
One of her favorite places to dash was the freezer section. At the time, the freezer compartments were long, waist-high, bins. I would come running after her, and reaching the aisle I’d seen her turn down, she would have vanished. Out of sight because she was lying perfectly still on top of the frozen vegetables, grinning from ear to ear! I’d get her out of the bin and walk her cold little fanny back to wherever I’d left the cart.
Often there were not so subtle clues to her whereabouts. All I had to do was follow the line of sight of the most horrified-looking shopper. This is known as joint attention, looking to see what someone else is pointing or looking at. I find it quite ironic that people with autism struggle with joint attention. Lack of it is a hallmark symptom in early diagnosis, and yet Nani was an expert at helping me practice MY joint attention skills.
Take the produce aisle. I’d be giving my attention to picking out the cream of the crop. 15 seconds later, turning to put my selection in the basket, I knew right away if I had a problem. Once I turned to find a woman slack-jawed and wide-eyed, watching Nani run her tongue across the width of the romaine lettuce section. I bought 6 heads of pre-licked lettuce that day, and green smoothies were not yet in vogue.
The wine aisle was obviously a minefield, and not just because I might be tempted to break open a bottle right then and there. My goal was no broken bottles so I kept her especially close to me on that aisle. Yet one day she still managed to plunge her head into the whirlpool wine chiller and take a long slurp from it. Panicked, I sought out the store manager to find out if the solution was just water, or would my shopping be interrupted by a trip to the ER.
I ran up to Juan (yeah, we were on first name basis), and this was our conversation.
Me: (frantically) Juan, Juan what’s in the wine chiller?
Juan: (running over to look in the swirling water) I don’t see anything!
Me: No! What’s IN there?
Juan: (sounding confused) Water??
Me: (Still frantic) Only water? No chemicals?
Juan: Only water, why?
In a nano-second I switch out of crisis mode. It’s a gift.
Me: (now nonchalant) Oh, because my daughter just drank from it.
Oh Juan, that has long been the question.
Middle school age brought the corny dog ritual. In an effort to make Nani’s trip to the store more rewarding, we would begin by purchasing a corn dog at the deli, placing the package in the basket to be eaten at home. The minute she entered the store she broke out in a run for the deli. She would stand extremely close to any other customers in front of the counter, giving them what we refer to as the “raptor eye”. Turning her head to the side, she’d lift her chin and fix one crazy eye on her competition. This was sometimes accompanied by a snort and slight bellow. (OK-so she’s not ever going into sales!) I’d intervene, sign “wait”, pray a lot, smile a lot, sweat a lot. Finally, we’d get the goods and be on our way.
But here’s the trouble, Nani doesn’t understand yours, mine and ours. She just understands “MINE”. In her world, even if all the corn dogs weren’t coming home with us, they were hers. That meant that periodically she would dash back to the deli to inventory them through the glass case. Which explains why one day when we were on the opposite side of the store from the dogs, she felt the need to check her stock.
From where we stood it was a straight shot down a central aisle. As though a starting gun had fired, she was off! In the distance I could see an elderly woman standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CORN DOGS. Nani in the lead, me following, praying, “please God, please God, please God, let me get there before she knocks that lady down.” I watch horrified as Nani sidled up to the woman, shoulder to shoulder, leaned her head in and fixed her raptor eye on the trespasser. I reached the scene moments later, as I approach I hear this gentle soul saying primly, “personal space, please young lady, personal space!” I almost stopped in my tracks laughing. Lady, if you only knew! Nani’s personal space is as big as the universe. The way she sees it, you’re the one with boundary issues. Crisis averted, I was truly grateful for this woman’s kind and respectful manner towards Nani in spite of her odd and very intimidating behavior.
Couple of years ago, HEB decided to drop corn dogs from their hot deli menu.
I have no idea why.