Judgment and the Shopping Cart Rodeo

One of the great things about this whole dad gig is the almost forced introspection. Well, that and getting to play with Legos as an adult without having been committed, but the introspection is nice. It’s like a built in personal growth chart. I don’t think I would have tried to grow so tall had I not been blessed with these two little mirrors of my own humanity that I call my daughters.

One of my greatest flaws has always been judgment. As I think many of us did, I spent most of my younger years thinking that my answers were the right answers. I chalked other’s different choices up to ignorance or laziness or weakness. Ugly, for sure and I’m certainly not proud to say that, but it is true. It has taken years of mellowing and some tough lessons to find the humility, or more accurately, the path towards humility that I would like to see myself living. The residue of my adolescent arrogance, though, is thick and it still sometimes smudges my older, wiser pair of shades.

Case in point: Shopping carts left strewn around the grocery store parking lot make me want to smite the offenders with their own newly purchased tubs of Oleo. Never have I actually smitten one of these inconsiderate turds, but I have often fantasized about taking the forsaken cart to their house and leaving it parked silently behind their freshly waxed Suburbans. A rich fantasy life, I know. But is it so hard just to walk it those few steps back to the cart corral? You don’t have to carry it, the friggin thing has wheels, for cryin’ out loud. Isn’t the cart wrangler’s job shitty enough without having to carry on where your laziness left off?

Yeah, I can get pretty self-righteous about the whole thing. But, aren’t I in the right here?

My girls and I spend quite a bit of time these days in grocery store parking lots, bearing frequent witness to this practice that leaves me so indignant. As you may guess, I have made it a point to always return our cart to its proper pen as an example to them both. I expect them to put their things away, so I am certainly going to model that behavior. Given my intolerant stance on disregarded carts, though, I have also certainly taken the opportunity to proselytize about the virtue of shopping cart responsibility.

Enter forced introspection.

One fine day as we rolled through the parking lot, Bug noticed a woman propping her cart up onto the curb next to her car and asked “Daddy, why is she so inconsiderate?”

Hmm. That didn’t feel right.

Maybe that woman was being inconsiderate, but there was definitely something about Bug calling her out like that that felt like the lesson I was trying to teach, the lesson I thought I was teaching, got lost. While I was hoping to impart a sense of personal accountability and equality with my behavior and speech, what I ended up teaching was my old friend judgment.

True personal growth comes from looking at yourself and only yourself. There is nothing to gain from holding your own behavior up in comparison with others. If we seek only to do as well or better than those around us, then we automatically limit our own potential for self-improvement. If I choose to stop trying to be a good person simply because I feel I am doing a better job than someone else, whether we are talking about putting away shopping carts or treating my fellow man with charity and kindness, then I have failed simply because I have stopped trying to be a good person. That is a journey that should have no destination and humanity is not graded on a curve.

I had been teaching my daughters self-limiting behavior because that is what I had been practicing. The reason I had felt so upright about the carts in the first place was that I thought I was being as considerate and responsible as I could have been. But was I? I hadn’t put it back where I found it in the store. I was still making the cart wrangler come get it and put it away for me, despite the fact that the cart was left in the corral. My effort stopped when I decided I had done enough and I felt justified in judging anyone who did even slightly less.

That is not what I want to teach my daughters. What I want my girls to learn is that there is no such thing as enough when it comes to being a considerate, responsible human being. I want them to learn that the only person you are qualified to judge is yourself. How they are going to learn that is by seeing their father live it.

Now the carts go back to the store and I try to keep my big, dumb mouth shut. The cart part is easy.

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About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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16 Responses to Judgment and the Shopping Cart Rodeo

  1. Robyn says:

    Haha, oh man… YOU give me hope that all of humanity is not lost!! I love how astute you are (and I’m REALLY going to try to contribute to your guys’ Write On project, you guys inspire me!).

    Kids certianly have a way, with their wonderful, innocent yet extremely insightful point of views, to throw our well meaning lessons a curve ball. I’ve noticed this as my kiddos get older (mine are {almost} 13, 10, 6 & 2)… Our parenting is always being shifted & tested, and we’ve gotta just keep doing the best that we possibly can. Because we owe it to them & we love them. And theres no way in hell that I want my childrens moral compass being guided by society! EEEEK!

    Bravo to you to recognizing what you feel you need to do for your daughters – Keep up the great job! : )

    Hope all is going well for you & your family!

    • Wow. Thank you so much, Robyn. And we would LOVE to have you contribute to TWOP. That’s the whole idea – this wonderful community getting together and inspiring each other.

      In my four years on this crazy train of parenting I have come to understand that good parenting does not mean we just have all of the answers, it means we constantly strive to find the next right answer and learn from both our mistakes and successes.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts and time once again. I really appreciate it. I hope you and your family are doing well also!

  2. daddygreen says:

    Wow, you really made me step back here. I too am trying to be simply a good person. I also have spoken aloud about how people that leave their carts out in the lot being jackwagons.
    I never thought about teaching Rose to be judgmental, because of it. An eye opening post Mitchel, thanks.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, DG. I am so grateful for this blogging community in which we have found ourselves because there are so many opportunities to read someone’s thoughts and reflect on how you can do better yourself, which is what I get from your posts so often. I’m really glad we have made this connection, sir.

  3. nicole kelly says:

    The every day activities are so full of chances for growth and learning. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was trying to impart a lesson on my girls, when the real lesson was for myself. The whole art/issue of patience comes to mind.

    • Amen. I have said many times that I have learned more about myself in the few years I have been a parent than I ever did in all of my previous years. My kids make me a better human being.

      Thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts with me.

  4. Brad White says:

    It’s hard not to judge, but it’s important to realize that there is always more to the story. Someone might pull an inconsiderate act on the freeway, but maybe they just got a call that there house is on fire – you just never know.
    The shopping carts make an excellent example. I used to bag groceries when I was in high school. It sucked. Standing there for hours filling bags, trying to figure out what items should be grouped together in each bag, putting the right thing on the bottom – it just sucked. But there was one relief – shopping cart duty. It was like recess. I got to go out into the parking lot for some fresh air and exercise. And when I was out there you know who I used to judge??? All the guys putting their shopping carts properly in the rack! I would think, “Geez dude, don’t you know how much this job sucks? Don’t you know that the only thing that keeps me sane is the time I get to spend out here in the parking lot? And now you’re going to minimize that time by eliminating the need for me to scour the parking lot for every forgotten cart?!?!!? If everyone followed your example then I would never get any recess. Thanks a lot model citizen!!!” The people you find inconsiderate with their thoughtless shopping cart etiquette, I adored them – I wished everyone would follow their example.
    And I digress. My point is before you judge, just assume there are things you don’t know – and then get over it.

    • I couldn’t agree more about how there could be (and usually is) more to the story. That is one of the ideas that has occurred to me since being inspired by my short gurus to think deeper about all of this. Kinda like passing judgment on another couple’s relationship, you never have any idea what else might be going on.

      That’s hilarious about the wrangler’s perspective. What an ass I have been. I think I will drive back up to the store and drag the cart I put away this morning out to the far reaches of the parking lot. Maybe I’ll even cover it with some palm fronds or something.

      Thanks for your thoughts, my man.

  5. Jan Page says:

    Mitchell – Oh the number of times I have commented on inconsiderate behavior, which drives me nuts, not considering the self-limiting aspects of my own behavior. Wow, but you are something special – how justifiably proud your mom and dad must be of you. Your girls are going to be something special as well – stay the course. Jan

  6. laurel says:

    I am still shaken by the woman who, over a year ago, laid into me about not putting my cart back in the corral. Here I was with my 3 kids and my cart spilling over after an exhausting shopping spree for my family of 5. In order to get the groceries in the car, I had to first assure that all little people were safe in their seats. The parking lot is not a playground, you know. (Can’t count how many times I have uttered those words, even though I swore I never would.) After the cart to car transfer of all our goods I am left with just myself and my weightless cart. I look around for the corral and accept that it is just not close enough. I am not willing to put that much distance between myself and my children waiting impatiently and alone in the car. This happens to me often, and I handle it the same way every time. I find the closest space that is going to securely keep my cart from rolling away and is not blocking a parking space. There it would stay, out of the coral, sharing space with the other orphaned carts. As I went to get back into the cacophony that was taking place in my car, the woman next to me decides this was her day to expel her demons of years of pent up cart fury. Shaken, I quietly told her that I was unwilling to walk that far away from my children, I got into the car and left. I am still shaking, remembering how I felt that day. Her voice echoes in my skull every time I abandon my cart, as I did just yesterday.
    I also have to give a kudos to Brad, I too was a cart wrangler in high school. I LOVED getting the carts. It was my freedom! The fresh air, no one watching over me, no old ladies griping at me, it was my only respite!
    Praise be to the cart deserters! Oh, and lay off my Oleo!

    • Thanks for this, Laurel. That woman is a hell of an example of exactly what I would like not to be – judgmental, self-righteous and volcanic. There are far more stories going on behind the scenes than one could possibly understand before a judgment of another becomes justified.

      I can’t say I’m going to go so far as to start advocating cart desertion, though. 🙂

  7. Maggie Batt says:

    I’m with Laurel…sometimes I don’t want to leave my kids in the car with all that food…lol! Now that they are older, I am putting more space between me and them at times. I too catch myself in judgement from time to time and I try to quickly let the kids know that I may be overcritical. It’s okay to make mistakes I say, it shows we are human. But our indigo/crystal children have a way of seeing through any bullshit, so we openly address our behaviors as if we were seeing it from a bird’s eye….objectively. We have to remember to not be overcritical of ourselves too.

    • A fine balance we must find in our assessments of the world we see and of ourselves. True growth does seem to come more fluidly when we are closest to that point of objectivity.

      Thank you, Maggie.

  8. Marge Dean says:

    Hi, Mitch. I love the way you find the most common of things that surround our everyday lives and write something of substance! I’m going to think differently every time I go to the store now! I must say, that when I park I try to find a cart that’s been left out and bring it in with me…my little way of helping to reduce the load of the one who has “cart duty.” Maybe now, if I have the time, I’ll bring it back into the store when I’m done. And when I don’t have time, I’ll be comforted by the fact that there just may be a bagger inside who is dying to get outside for recess!!!

    • Hi, Dr. Dean. Thanks for your kind words once again.

      I have to say that when the girls and I took our cart back to the store yesterday I was wondering if there was a bagger who was silently cursing me for cutting his recess short. So wonderful to consider so many perspectives, no?

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