Every now and then when I’m at the supermarket—usually in the produce section—wandering around sniffing the melons and squeezing the grapefruit, I return to the wrong grocery cart.
Without looking, I place my new items in someone else’s basket and start on my way to the next aisle. I am quickly stopped by the original cart pusher, who politely informs me that I have hijacked her grocery cart. She has put some time and thought into its contents and obviously has a problem with accepting my choices. I try not to look hurt … or senile … or both.
Anytime this happens to me, I wonder what new experiences we each might have had by simply exchanging carts. For most people that is too risky a proposition. But I think it would be fun and I know my granddaughter Harper would. We could unpack the groceries excitedly.
“What is this?” I might ask, holding up a kohlrabi.
She would shrug her little shoulders and laugh.
“I think it’s a toy monster!” I’d say. “An edible toy monster.”
“And, this patty pan squash? Do I put it on my head, cook it, or return it to the store?” I would inquire of her. She’d giggle. What fun we would have with our surprise groceries.
Now a teenager would tell me that I was being silly, but not a two-year old, who keeps an eye out for humor in everyday occurrences.
Making off with the wrong grocery cart is the equivalent of the youngster, who finds a playmate has picked up one of her toys. She reaches out to reclaim the item, but without well-honed social skills, she is unable to be as forbearing as the woman that I victimized in the produce section.
“Mine!” a toddler would insist, hugging a prized possession to her little body. Kids know instinctively that possession is 9/10ths of the law.
A toy might not be part of the youngster’s collection, but if it is in hand that’s what counts. Typically, the child will kick and scream to maintain control. But, as we grow older we sublimate this instinct to fight for what is right and just, at least, in our own mind.
Thornton Wilder expresses the nobility of the fight with the assertion that: “Every good and worthwhile thing stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for whether it’s a home, or a field, or a county.”
The nursery-school-age child learns this quickly. If the playmate stands firm in a tug of war for the prized item and replies, “mine!” then we have a potential dispute not too unlike those we see regularly in courtrooms around the country.
“Mine,” “yours,” and “ours” are difficult concepts to sort out at any age. Eventually, we figure out when to stand our ground, when to relent, and when to share, but it takes a lifetime.