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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Tidd

I Think We're Underestimating the Trauma of Grocery Shopping

I know you might be thinking, "Trauma? Grocery shopping? This woman really needs to get a life."

Well, maybe. But that's another topic.

I have been doing everything I can to avoid going to the grocery store unnecessarily and I've been using the pick-up service available so I don't even get out of my car. But, as many people have found, you don't often get your entire list which means that while we're supposed to be sheltering-in-place...sometimes a girl's got to get out and find some t.p.

And I did! I scored big time today. I got a package of chicken, picked up the one package of toilet paper that I was allowed (and there were probably 10 more on the shelves!), and I even bought a flat of pansies to plant for spring - something I was worried I wasn't going to be able to do.

I got in my car and drove home, trying to tell myself that this was a good thing. And then I sat in my garage and I cried.

I've already shared the desperate feeling I experienced when I shopped for the first time after the crises really hit here in Colorado. While I suffer from a panic disorder, it was pretty much under control...until I saw all those empty shelves about a month ago.

think I've been able to weather the shelter-in-place pretty well because I actually really like to be home. I worked out of a home office anyway and once I got all my kids home and safe...I've actually been okay.

But here's the thing: My version of "The American Dream" doesn't involve fancy cars or a huge mansion. I don't really care that much about travel and I'm just as happy in a Motel 6 as I am at the Ritz (although I wouldn't turn down a room at the Ritz). I think my needs and what makes me happy are pretty simple.

And one of my favorite things to do is cook.

I have Pinterest boards full of gardening pictures and fantasy kitchens, but I really use the account for recipes. I'm a Food Network addict and love flipping through magazines looking for new things to try. Nothing makes me happier than finding something new to cook, going to the grocery store, and absorbing myself in the kitchen.

That was then. This is now.

Today was the first day I put on a mask to go to the grocery and I took a deep breath as I did it (which I immediately regretted because then you have to exhale your own hot steam onto yourself). I looked at my suburban grocery store that had - for the first time - yellow security tape to allow people to line up just to get in. There were markings on the floor to indicate where you could stand in line. There were arrows that told customers which way to walk in the aisle (which had everyone confused and no one was doing it). Plexiglas protected the cashiers. One package of toilet paper was taken away because I had two in my cart.

People smiled behind their masks. Everyone was friendly and laughing in a shocked way like they, too, couldn't believe this was happening. One older woman stopped me for a few minutes to talk about the chips her husband likes and then thanked me saying, "I just want to talk to people. Thank you for stopping."

I bagged my groceries while the exhausted checker passed them down the moving belt. I thanked her (as I had every employee who crossed my path). I loaded them into my car and then stared at myself in the rear view mirror.

Why was I so upset? Compared to shopping trips in the last month, this one was amazing! Yes, the shelves were a little more bare, but they weren't empty. I got pretty much everything I needed and what I wanted to make one of the kids' favorite meals for dinner.

But it didn't feel okay.

As I drove home, I thought of all those days I took for granted, when I would just hop in my car and run in for the few things I needed to make a new recipe I couldn't wait to try. The sheer luxury of buying anything I wanted and going home to make it without wondering, "Should I wipe this down?" Running to the garden center to buy the plants I wanted for my garden, working in the yard all afternoon, and then sipping a glass of wine while something amazing sat on the grill.

It occurs to me that even though I was able to get what I needed, part of the freedom of buying it has been taken away. I went knowing that I probably wouldn't be able to get everything, so I'd need to change my plans. I experienced my local grocery store roped off like a crime scene. Just the feeling of inaccessibility (and lack) because you have to wait in line just to get in was so upsetting that I almost turned around and went home.

So many of my conversations with family and friends revolves around, "Guess what? I was able to buy _____ today!" - naming some everyday item that has never been an issue before. And then we give a time and location: "Wal-mart, 30 minutes ago" so the other person can scramble to get there if they need to.

Excuse my language, but it's just fucking surreal.

I realize that so much of this sounds like the rant of an entitled American - and one who lives in the suburbs. Many people who live in the city or in other countries are used to shopping day-to-day and not finding what they want when they want it. But I think we all have something - some daily something - that we can't do or have to do differently right now that reminds us of how different life is. For you, it might be not going to the gym or the vacation you've had to cancel.

For me, it's the freedom of recklessly gripping the cold metal of a grocery cart that probably hasn't been wiped down, walking into a store filled with food, leisurely choosing what I want, and not smelling the breath that's been trapped behind a mask.

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