The gospel according to Richard Scarry

Confession: I find shopping unbearably depressing.

Bad to start with, it’s an understatement to note that it goes downhill with kids. The more of them, the less of it, if you know what I mean.

It all starts sweetly enough. You may even do it for recreation. He looks so precious sitting in the cart, and he eats his graham crackers with a bib, and total strangers tell you how cute and well-behaved he is. What a brilliant testimony we are to Christian home life.

from “Things That Go” by Richard Scarry

Subsequent kids add challenges. Life is not what it used to be, and graham crackers are in high demand. But you cheerfully hand them round, surmounting the obstacles and finding a new normal. Total strangers mention the fact that you have your hands full. You and your darlings share smiles all around. And Mommy crosses her fingers till we’re all safely home again.

from “Things That Go” by Richard Scarry

And then comes the inevitable point from which there is no return, the tipping point into total chaos. You leave a trail of wreckage through the store, Hansel and Gretel style. You threaten. You beg. You implore. You breathe hoarse warnings and bribes into deaf ears. You fling graham crackers into every open mouth, to no avail. Total strangers come to your aid.

from “Things That Go” by Richard Scarry

I used to think – How can I be a good testimony to Christ if my kids don’t behave? But I have learned this: everyone has happy kids some days. The real miracle, the thing that takes the power of Christ, is a patient mama when it all hits the fan. I think Mrs. Pig has it down.

These days, severe shopping crises are normal for the Zooks. But sometimes I wonder if anything later in life can ever make up to me for them.

  • The predictable-but-no-less-piercing meltdowns in the candy aisle
  • The time I am forced into administering Kelly’s first spanking ever, in a public restroom–at which she is so surprised that when I hold and comfort her, she pees all down my skirt
  • The time Small Son bumps into a display of sunglasses, and the whole case falls forward, strewing most of its contents over the floor.
  • The time a stranger comes to the head of our aisle as we are in meltdown and says in a loud, cheerful voice, “Hey! Who’s makin all that noise?”
  • The time Kelly hits Regan and Regan bites Kelly in the check-out lane, just as it is time to pay. She is screaming bloody murder and I cannot hush her, sharp marks on her arm. Regan is crying too. Aarick is loitering. Cashier is waiting. Unknown man is guarding my cart for me. And we are so distraught that we fail to notice Regan shoplifting a toy bat en route to the vehicle.

Sometimes my face is flaming. Sometimes I am numb. Sometimes I am furious.

I tell myself, “A patient mama is the real witness” and I try, and try again.

And that is the gospel according to Richard Scarry.


All illustrations taken from Things That Go, by Richard Scarry.

Credit to my friend Becca Slabaugh for the graham cracker disintegration sequence.

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mama zook
11 years ago

I love this post, and it made me laugh right outloud…I know, I know, I should feel more sorry for you, but my days with these episodes are mere faint memories, and now I can stand and watch!! I’ve often wondered about setting up a play area at the door to the store and babysitting all those children who hate shopping almost as much as their mommies probably hate having them along to beg for a certain cereal (the one with twice the sugar as real food ingredient), or popsicles, or candy, etc. Wonder if the clerk remembers you when you come back in the next week? BTW, I always loved Richard Scarry!! Every page was an adventure! Just like real life!

11 years ago
Reply to  mama zook

The Meadville Giant Eagle used to have a play area right at the entrance, with fully-qualified childcare workers on duty at all times. I used it a time or two when my oldest was small. Then they remodeled and TOOK IT OUT!! Bad move. I would have done a lot more shopping at G.E. in the last few years if they’d have kept that! 🙂

11 years ago

Oh my! how I can relate. I have always said I could write a book about grocery story incidents with my children. That stage of my life is long past, and I can laugh now. And our children grew up on Richard Scarry too! Great books.

11 years ago

You make it sound funny, but it’s horrible. Maybe humor is redemptive. I wonder about the formative experience of shame. No, I don’t usually take them grocery shopping, but I have vivid memories of shushing noisy beggars in Tractor Supply while I find the exact gadget (x8) that will complete our clothesline project. And then one hurts another, and things go wild. My promises of future glory or threats of dire punishment are vain. So I make vows to myself. I will never take these children with me into a store again. As if that’s an option, right? God help us!

The Scarry illustrations are hilarious! Mrs. Pig looks beatific. I wonder how she lives with herself.

11 years ago

Which is why we are currently out of toilet paper and no near plans are in place to purchase more.

The mother pig and squealing piglets picture: I always loved it and thought it almost unbearably funny until I had 3 children all 3 years and under and began to have similar experiences. I would like it even now if there would be a little steam rising from her body or if she had her mouth wide open in a more threatening manner.

11 years ago

I just sit here smiling because I love the way you put real life into words!

GrandmaKitty Brown
11 years ago

Oh Shari… and Ryan…. How i can relate! Ryan has it right, “You make it sound funny, but it’s horrible.” Having had four children in four years, there were SO many times i wished i could slink away from the cart full of mayhem-makers and slip out of the store unidentified! “What must people think??”
You know what they’re probably thinking? That kids are kids, no matter who the parents are… and that they’ve probably been there, done that, and are EVER so thankful THAT’s over… and they’re wishing ‘more power to you’, Mom and Dad. But knowing this probably doesn’t make your face any less red, right? 🙂 🙂
Hang in there. You’re doing fine. Really!

11 years ago

I am laughing and feeling the horror all at the same time. There were times I thought I was going to lose it. Talk about losing all your poise and dignity. My advice: next time, bribe Ryan ,with whatever it takes, to keep the kids at home. 🙂

11 years ago

My supervisor at work sometimes tells me stories of her kids’ early years, and the many times she’d turn her back for a brief moment to pay for groceries, only to have a stranger intone in a super-polite voice the dreaded words, “Ma’am? You might want to pay attention to your kids.” Like the time her youngest, despite his being in the front of the cart with his shoestrings tied together to keep him seated and injury-free, took out his bubble gum and wrapped it, suffocation style, around the face and head of his brother in the back of the cart…

I thought of her stories as I laughed until tears over your post. And I thought of her parenting philosophy: hang in there with your kids and try to keep them from causing any permanent damage to themselves or anyone else until they begin to model the ways they have been treated. 🙂

And I don’t have kids to embarrass me, but I have learned that God can use humiliation and lack of control for powerful personal sanctification. 🙂 For the record, I think you guys parent extremely well, and I know your kids see God in your patience as well as your honesty.

LaDonna Nice
11 years ago

That’s why my I quake in my shoes when I think of taking my 4 little ones into town by myself. I have yet to do it. It was hard enough with 3! Yes, one day we will look back and laugh, but right now it’s horrible. I will say my mom’s have encouraged me to make my shopping day be a couple hours to myself, and they are wonderful about babysitting for me.
However, last time I took just my youngest into the store and I had just nursed not long before we went into the store and she still ended up screaming almost the whole time. It was a short shopping trip to say the least. I was so embarrassed, people were commenting, “Wow, she’s mad,” I finally took her out of her car seat and she immediately turned the screaming off. That was after a very nice lady suggested I go in front of her, so I could get out of the store and take care of whatever was ailing my baby.
The worst thing was I got home and realized that I had somehow forgotten one of the most important things on my list that I was almost completely out of …toilet paper.
Hmmm, anyway basically what I’m trying to say is, you are not alone, and I loved this post! 😉

11 years ago

This post is beautifully real…and quite funny too.

I remember going shopping with my mom and seven (or so) of my siblings, and I think back now and don’t know what posessed my mom to EVER take a whole gang of us shopping with her.

And yet, some of our most fun memories with mom, were shopping trips. Isn’t that ironic? (I’m not sure that some of her most fun memories with us were shopping trips, but that’s besides the point!)

One thing that worked for us, was knowing that the tool of discipline (well, one of them…and probably the most hated one!) was along on our shopping trip. My mom carried one in her purse and was not afraid to pull it out (in the bathroom or an unplanned but necessary trip back to the van) and administer it if need be…

Much grace to you in all your future shopping trips.

And for the record, I was a cashier for you on some of your trips, and I never thought your children were out-of-this-world uncontrollable or bad. I thought they were quite normal. 🙂

Jen Rice
11 years ago

Humiliation in the grocery store with your kids….we’ve all been there. It’s hard to not join them in their meltdowns sometimes. It always sounds funny when someone else tells it, and even sometimes when I relive it with Seth. But in the moment…not so fun. I have realized since having kids how little patience I had for “that Mom” in the grocery store pre-kids. Now I’m her! Oh how the tables have turned.=) God does have a sense of humor.

11 years ago

Flinging graham crackers into any open mouth forms a hilarious word picture that’s not so funny in real life.

The first time I took my three children shopping, we stayed out too long. By the time we reached the check out 6 week old Lisa was being held and still screaming. Alex was crying loudly. Tristan was doing an angry dance while pulling up the legs of his shorts so that his underwear was showing.

The cashier asked if I’d ever tried a pacifier. My probably-not-too-meek response was that there was a rejected one in the baby’s seat.

At home, I told Geryll that the next time I say I’m going out with all the kids he should stop me. Well, several days later I had them all in the car again because I needed some things for our upcoming trip and didn’t know when I could leave them with Geryll and go alone. Before I left Randolph St. Lisa was already yelling. I thought, “Feels like I could wreck with the way my nerves are.” 2 min. later I had rear ended someone. Life went on without those groceries.

Mom Coblentz
11 years ago

My laughing turned almost uncontrollable, serious!! Altho the situations described are anything but funny when you’re in the midst of them… I know, mom’s, and I’m sorry. It won’t always be this way, for whatever it’s worth, and I know that doesn’t take care of the here and now emergencies, either. Shaunda, hope by now someone’s fixed the T. P. crises…let us know when it’s safe to visit you again. 🙂 I howled some more, reading your response. Thanks to all for bringing humor to my day!!

11 years ago

What they said . . . I know what you mean, and thanks for writing about it in a way that makes me see the humor instead of the horror. Those Richard Scarry illustrations are priceless.

9 years ago

LOL, that is really cute but all too true!

9 years ago

I hope it is okay if I pin this?

7 years ago

Too funny! I thought my shopping crises were over since my girls are now ages 21 to 10, but then we had an unexpected melt down by the TEN year old in WalMart the other day! We were shopping with the 14 year old who had a friend with her and the 10 year old had been feeling marginalized all day by these older girls who were putting up with her tagging along with them…then she hurt herself by falling over a sharp shelf and they didn’t respond sympathetically enough to suit her tender feelings, and it escalated until they drug her back to me, and she laid down in the aisle and WAILED loudly despite all attempts to calm her ruffled feathers. Oh dear! I got some strange looks from passers by and yes, the red face and helpless feeling 🙁 And the girl was embarrassed by her melt down after she calmed down later!!) Whew! Does this parenting stuff ever get easier?

6 years ago

I had to pin this one. It’s helped me restore a small semblance of dignity, in the aftermath of more than one shopping excursion. After all, if Mrs. Pig can do it!!

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