These days, I seem to spend half my time in the supermarket buying goodies for the kids to munch at home and in their lunch boxes at nursery. It’s an endless procession of whole fat milk, ‘dilutey juice’, fromage frais and Ambrosia rice four-packs. Meanwhile, my ‘mini-consumers’ know exactly what they want to eat and, more significantly, don’t want to eat at the ages of two and three respectively. It’s hard to keep up with the rate of consumption: imagine when they’re teenagers. They’ll literally eat Mummy out of house and home.
But – argh – why do supermarket planners constantly have to use ‘pester power’ as a tool against hassled parents. As soon as you enter my local supermarket, there’s a magazine rack featuring a range of £3 kiddies’ magazines adorned with tacky plastic Ben 10 watches and Spiderman sticker kits, etc., positioned at the exact grabbing height of my three year old. Meanwhile, the confectionery shelf beside the checkout is designed so that my two year old can steal sweeties from the comfort of his buggy. Hence, the terrible twos and threes wait until Mummy is valiantly trying to stuff groceries into those pesky plastic carrier bags that require a BSc in engineering to open, and they start furtively pulling wrappers off Kit Kats with their teeth so you’re forced to buy the half-eaten goods.
Petrol stations are just as bad with their over-priced, multi-packs of sugary, boiled sweets and tooth-rotting lollies placed at kiddie height. This is the same, I guess, throughout Europe. I’ve spent many a sweaty interlude in Spanish petrol stations escorting my three year old to and from the loo while trying to stop him opening plastic toys that cost 20 Euros each and last as long as a service station sandwich. Once, I gave in and bought a 10 Euro plastic garage which looked OK on the box but was clearly made in China for 10p and broke before we even reached our destination – the ferry port. And, on the P&O ferry itself, the mini-bags of sweeties were placed on a carousel in the shop directly opposite the Kids Club. As there was no child gate at the Kids Club, the little terrors could persistently run straight over to the Minstrels and Maltesers and throw a screaming fit when Mummy didn’t want to buy them. Hmm!
Toys R Us is a major culprit of ‘pester power’ where sweeties are concerned. In the Granada outlet, the customer must wait seemingly forever at the customer collection point while their chosen patio toy, play house, or whatever is extracted from the warehouse. The sweetie rack is, unfortunately, located near the collection point. During my last visit, my youngest son waited for a respectable 10mins and then ran over to the glittering, sugary prizes, ripped open a packet of hideous-looking pink sweets with his teeth, sat on the floor and proceeded to stuff them into his mouth. I was mortified and, pretending that someone else must’ve dropped the sweets on the floor, I tried to install my son back into the trolley, which didn’t feature a harness like they do in England. This means that bored kids can stand on the seat and climb back out – there’s little Mummy can do to stop them from escaping.
At least English supermarket trolleys accommodate two toddlers side by side with proper harnesses so they can’t clamber out when you’re parked in the aisle selecting biscuits. The lack of two-child trolleys and harnesses proves a real hazard in Carrefour, Spain. My oldest son has to be installed inside the trolley where he’s free to trample on the bread, rip open crisp packets and eat Baby Bel cheeses, before strewing a trail of crumbs across the supermarket floor. Nowadays, both my sons have taken a dislike to being restrained in English supermarket trolleys for too long – probably because they’re used to the Spanish version where marauding is much easier. A screaming fit complete with attempts at escape is inevitable whenever I try to push them around ASDA or the M&S food hall (they’re not discerning about the retail environment).
Another benefit of shopping with toddlers in England: most of the nastiest artificial colourings and flavourings – the infamous E-numbers - are now avoided by food manufacturers. You can’t say the same about the Spanish version of sugar-coated sweeties in bright primary colours. And, horror of horrors, one of the sweetie packs stocked in Spanish Toys R Us contains a moulded plastic raspberry - or perhaps it’s a hand grenade - filled with a lethal sherbet powder called ‘Rush Pops’. This is, without doubt, the kiddie equivalent of a controlled substance – let them ingest it at your peril.
Online shopping is clearly the way to avoid ‘pester power’ and the grabbing of unwanted sherbets but you have to pay for delivery (£5.50 or £6 for a prime time slot from Tesco – tut!), many goods are substituted when the shopping arrives and the store ‘pickers’ clearly give you the products with the worst use-by dates. Plus you can’t procure those yummy boxes of fresh salad from the salad counter.
I clearly need some sort of personal shopper or a nanny – applications on a postcard, please. Or perhaps a visit from Supernanny would help to control my lively toddlers when they’re loose in a trolley or the supermarket aisle. Meanwhile, shopping with toddlers in tow remains one of the less attractive tasks of the week for Mummy.