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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pearce

No more taters, Tot!

Going to the grocery store became a highly preferred activity for my son when he was younger. It was surprising, because he experienced difficulties in places that were too bright, too loud, too chaotic. We realized he was a foodie, and then it made perfect sense why he adored the market.

He was happy as a clam in high water whenever we went food shopping. Be it a large, well-known chain store or a small mom-and-pop operation, Zach jumped with glee when he realized we were market-bound.

Over time, he got to know the standard items we bought every week, and all I'd have to do was wheel the cart while my little helper selected exactly what we needed. He'd often hover his hand near an item he liked or wanted: gluten-free pretzels, pepperoni pizza, or gummy worms. He'd give you puppy eyes, and certain treats ended up coming home with us. But he was also okay if you said 'no.'

One day, in a grocery store out of town, he made a mad dash for the frozen food section. He spotted French fries, and for some reason, he was not content with our usual one bag; he wanted all the bags.

After several minutes of trying to convince him that one bag would suffice, it became clear this might not go well. One of us ended up on the floor, and my husband had to physically block the freezer door after we replaced a dozen bags of fries.

Thinking this was a one-time-out-of-town random episode, we returned to our favorite market once home. Uh-oh. Something had changed. He was not only on the hunt for multiple bags of French fries - he was wanting to collect multiple bags and boxes of everything we normally purchase.

One of something was no longer acceptable. Going food shopping turned into a Herculean task. Wrestling pickle jars from his arms, pulling popsicles from his steel grip, chasing him down in the produce section...I was getting a work-out I hadn't bargained for.

Potatoes became a particular obsession. He'd round the corner by the apples, spot the potato bins, and BAM! He took off like a shooting star to collect as many potatoes as his arms could carry. (I like to think maybe he wanted to make his own French fries since I wouldn't buy him 15 bags of frozen ones).

When I forcefully limited how many Russets we could buy at one time, I faced a battle. The scene created over the struggle for potatoes went something like this: Zach grabs 10 potatoes. Mom replaces seven. Zach ducks under Mom's arm and grabs eight more potatoes. Mom says we don't need 11 potatoes. Zach spins around and topples the artichoke display. Passersby stare. Mom tries to clean up. Zach puts 20 potatoes in the cart. Mom makes a game of putting potatoes back in the bin. Zach screams. Store manager comes over...

"We've got this," I say, completely unconvinced that I do.

"Let me know if I can help," store manager says with a smile. I sure am grateful for people like that.

For several months, the only time I'd go to the market was when I could have behavioral aides accompany us. We used visual schedules, PECs, visual shopping lists, Dry Erase boards, and lots and lots of Velcro to re-teach Zach how to shop. It was, I admit, heartbreaking for me to have something he once loved to do become such a restrictive, highly-planned "chore." But it had to be so.

Nowadays, we choose our grocery outings carefully. He doesn't accompany me every time, and, of course during covid restrictions, we've had to be extra cautious in every way. We sometimes rely on a visual list, but let's be real: if I don't put the yogurt photo on the visual list and then want to buy yogurt while shopping, I've blown the whole system.

Often, I'll have about five items on my mind that we need on any given day, and since I cannot leave Zach in the car and run in, I will muster courage and we go without aides and without a list. I tell him simply, clearly, and repeatedly that we are going in to get five things.

It's worked well. I can't dawdle, and we have to move quickly. It's get-in-pay-get-out. My smart young man has, naturally, spotted items he wants. And, he's used his iPad to tell me he wants to look at something. We look. I can tell if it's something he really wants, and he knows he needs to ask if we can buy it. I'm good with him requesting, and getting, one thing. We haven't had any produce bins spilling contents on the floor.

He's matured, and that seems to have helped the 'hoarding tendencies.' But, like it is with everyone, there are good days and there are bad days. Like carts in a sloped parking lot, we roll with it.

Now, when I say We've got this! I am completely confident we do.


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