Exciting news! My first and still-popular book, Carpool Tunnel Syndrome, is now back in publication, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle download. This nearly fact-free book offers wise and wacky parenting tricks based on my boots-on-the-ground, hamper-overflowing life with four kids, one husband, and assorted hamsters hiding behind the bookcase. As summer begins, moms and dads coping with eternal childhood ailments including “fat hair” and “sibling intolerance” must get copies for themselves and for friends, to help them survive the summer. This essay—one of my readers’ all-time favorites—is adapted from the book.
How Green Was My Checkbook
I really love my kids, but I must admit, they are essentially financial leeches. After tallying up my grocery bills one month, I realized that for the same money I could have paid for a series of collagen treatments and made a down payment on a new car.
Wondering how to invigorate both my sagging assets and skin at the same time, I looked for money-saving ideas. I found that one of those member-only warehouse stores had opened up near me, so I ran right over and plunked down $40.00 for the privilege of pushing around a shopping cart the size of a tractor. Once inside Big Food-A-Plenty, I didn’t know where to begin, but I had to think fast: a forklift was speeding my way, beeping threateningly. This was a supermarket on steroids, eight times larger than the Houston Astrodome, and there was nothing it didn’t sell: pasta by the pound, socks by the scores, pickles in profusion. Whatever you wanted to buy at Big Food-A-Plenty, you had better like it, because it only came in multiples. Enthused with my plan to save my family money, I filled my cart with impunity.
Once in the mile-long line to pay, I realized with horror that the store only took cash, checks and an obscure credit card issued by a bank in Nebraska. My four kids see to it that I never have more than $20.00 in cash at any given time, and my checking account had only about enough to cover my twin-pack of gallon-sized ketchup. Exasperated, I left my cart in a corner and zoomed over to the bank to withdraw enough cash to save my family money.
I found, however, that this kind of economy has its own costs. For one thing, I managed to ring up $356.82 trying to conserve our financial resources, even though I mustered enormous self-discipline by forgoing the huge telescope offered on aisle 47 for only $350.00 (a $75.00 savings!). For another, I wasn’t sure if anyone would like the new “Roughage-Os” cereal I found, but I hoped so, since it only came in an 8-pound box.
My kids and I wore ourselves out hauling everything into the house. “Get a move on,” I barked at the two oldest ones. “I’ll break my back lifting that 25-pound bag of brown rice by myself. Each of you take one side of the bag and flip it on its side so it will fit in the doorway.”
“But mom, we don’t like brown rice!” cried one.
“Look, I’m saving money here, and this whole bag was only six bucks. Besides, brown rice has more nutrients than white rice.”
“Hey look at this!” another enthused. “Mom got a box of 44 Kit-Kat bars!”
“Stop tearing into that box,” I said. “No one gets a Kit-Kat until they bring everything into the house and eat at least two pounds of brown rice at dinner.”
“Why do we need twelve blue towels?” another asked, carrying in both the towels and a twin-pack of gallon-sized mystery brand hair conditioner made with chunks of real sea kelp.
“They only sold them in dozens. They’ll keep,” I said, a tad defensively.
“Someone help me with this,” my daughter said, pulling ineffectually on the plastic handle of a 20-pound tub of laundry detergent whose instructions were written in Armenian. “I can’t lift it.”
“Mom, just where do you think we’re going to keep all this stuff? The pantry’s kind of full, isn’t it?”
“You don’t know the meaning of the word,” I said, hefting a crate of toilet paper into the house and deciding it would do as a small end table in the living room.
“Are we having company for dinner?” another son asked as he hauled a 5-pound bag of pre-washed salad greens and a flat of tomatoes into the kitchen.
Looking around, I realized my son’s idea had potential. If I kept shopping at Big Food-A-Plenty, I would need to spend at least another $400.00 for a second refrigerator. Otherwise, I’d have to revert to the wasteful habit of buying eggs by the dozen, when they were so much cheaper to buy sixty at a time. And despite my credentials as a Gold Medal finalist in the “cram more food into the fridge” decathlon, I couldn’t imagine how we would keep today’s purchases from spoiling. Besides, I had also snapped up five incredibly cheap smoked fish, 600 paper plates and almost as many napkins, Styrofoam cups and a case of plastic cutlery.
However, I was too tired to host a block party, so I decided we would just have to start eating what I bought quickly enough to avoid spoilage. When my husband came home, he dropped his briefcase on our new toilet-paper crate end table. Entering the kitchen, he was surprised to see his glum-looking progeny sitting at dinner, forcing brown rice and smoked fish into their mouths.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
“Mom went shopping at the Big Food-A-Plenty today,” explained our daughter, “and we didn’t have room to keep it all. But she saved us a LOT of money.”
Excerpted from Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy.