It was past 8 on a fall evening when I wrapped up my final parent conference and shut off the lights to my classroom. All I wanted to do was head for home, put my feet up by the woodstove and sip the allotted 5 ounces of red wine. However, I had promised my husband that I would swing by the grocery store and pick up a few things, so I reluctantly pulled into the Shaw’s parking lot.

The store was near the school, so I wasn’t surprised to see a young family whom I had just seen a few minutes prior in the school halls. I recognized the boy as a first-grader from the classroom next to mine. They were pushing their cart ahead of me, following the prescribed path: first through produce, then the deli, then along the back past all the meat and dairy cases. The mother was busy consulting her list, putting things in the cart. The father and son were talking and joking, as if in their own orbit.

I was exhausted, and a blur of thoughts was running through my head: What a sweet little family … I would have been happy with just one kid of my own, boy or girl – how is it I have none? It’s rather late for a first-grader to be up … Where is the almond milk in this store, anyway?

The lights were bright, some inane music was playing over the speakers, the huge market seemed deserted except for this family and me. Our small parade was passing by all the ends of aisles where food companies pay big bucks to have their products displayed so that you can’t miss them.

One end cap was a cooling unit emblazoned with a giant Pillsbury doughboy, aka “Poppin’ Fresh.” He was sporting his trademark scarf and chef’s hat. With his friendly blue eyes and helping hand stretched toward you, he was the epitome of loving kindness. There was a button on his belly you could push to make him emit his endearing chuckle. I started humming the jingle from the 1960s ad, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven …” I began to feel slightly giddy. I was really tired.

The young family I was trailing had stopped alongside the doughboy case. I was jerked from my reverie when the father suddenly yelled, “Kick him, kick him!”

To my horror, the boy started whamming the doughboy’s belly button repeatedly with fist and foot. The father was laughing and egging him on until the mother finally intervened and scolded the two of them, putting an end to it. I was shocked and disgusted. I briefly considered letting loose with a full-blown eruption of my own: “This is why things have deteriorated so in the schools! Why first-graders feel free to tell their teacher to f-off! Parents have no limits, so their kids have no limits!”

Oh, I could have climbed up on a soapbox and carried on in grand style. Instead I marched past with my cart, quickly grabbed the items on my list and drove home to my refuge in the country. I told my husband what happened as we put the groceries away. He commiserated briefly, and then went back to the TV. As for me, I allowed myself a full 8 ounces of libation as I stretched out by the fire.

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