Our grocery store has a program for kids that originally seemed like a cute little diversion in an otherwise boring errand (for kids, that is, I love grocery shopping) but has since become impetus for a near panic attack every time we set foot in the store.
It is the reason I drive five miles out of my way to go to the hippy grocery store where the only distractions at the register are two ounce tubes of local honey that you can eat like candy (I am told) and sugar-free lollypops that I tell the kids are medicine.
But sometimes, like when I want to buy bread without mortgaging the house, I have to go to the normal grocery store. And barring misbehavior (usually of the brother pinching variety), I can't get out of the store without a visit to the damn Buckaroo Buck* machine.
We wait while the cashier scans our groceries, Charlie standing with his nose an inch from the moving belt, bouncing on the balls of his feet in anticipation. When we are all done the cashier smiles and exclaims "I see two good boys who need a BUCKAROO BUCK!" And I smile and force them to say thank you and tell the cashier that "YES! They were VERY GOOD BOYS today!"
And then off we roll to the Buckaroo Buck machine, which is tucked into a corner of the Customer Service nook. It is conveniently located for the store, I would imagine, but not so conveniently located for the throngs of mothers, carts laden with rapidly thawing steam-in-the-bag broccoli and tater tots, each with their two-point-two children of varying temperaments by the sticky hands (who are, in many cases, not exhibiting behavior befitting a Buckaroo Buck, if you ask me).
Like my parents before me, who no doubt exchanged "This is stupid" looks with other parents as some minimum wage clown made balloon swords for my sister and me, knowing that somehow this fun thing would cause a huge fight, the other assembled mothers flash between chirpy upbeat encouraging and eye rolling and mock self-strangling motions over the kids' heads.
And that's when the parents are actually there.
Many times it's just me against three or four kids who are just a little too old to be saving up stickers to get a box of sidewalk chalk or some watercolors.
And Wes? Not so much with the turn-taking these days. At least he lets me put the Buckaroo Buck in the machine for him. But after that, I have to watch as he pushes the red button over and over again, sending the crane down into nothingness over and over again, before finally, risking a huge public tantrum, "helping" him get the crane over to the part of the machine where the stickers are. He screams with delight when the crane gets something. Then he watches it drop. And then we spend another lifetime watching him and his eight-inch long arms try to get the ball out of the machine.
And then it's Charlie's turn.
And he doesn't let me help put the stinking Buckaroo Buck into the machine. No!! He has to do it, in order, upside-down, backwards, upside-down AND backwards, and partially folded up, before finally letting me give it a go. By this point I can feel the eyes of the mothers who have ice cream in their carts.
Charlie also knows that if you don't get a ball on your first, second, third, or fortieth try, you get to go again. Until you do! No matter how long it takes! Isn't that great?! So he throws the first couple to make the game last longer.
This lasts until I, once again, "help" move the crane into the right location, or suffer an aneurysm.
And of course no trip to the grocery store would be complete without me crawling under someone's Honda Odyssey to retrieve an errant Buckaroo Buck ball.
Charlie has two-hundred fifty points and is saving for a kite, which is four-hundred points. I wonder how many points a nice bottle of pinot noir would be?
*Name changed to maintain the illusion of geographic anonymity