Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grocery Store Math

I have something exciting to share with you--the last few trips to the grocery store with the kids have been, well . . . actually FUN. Before I tell you just why that is, allow me to describe a typical grocery store scene.

Sean usually rides in the cart, as he is the least trustworthy and most likely to cause lasting damage. (It's a close call, between him and Morgan, but he's the one who needs to be in the cart. I think.) We always start off fine--I've got my list, I've laid down the law set kind and firm limits about what I will and will not buy, will and will not do, and will and will not put up with during the trip.

Everyone agrees to the general plan, and apparently I am an idiot because I will often feel good about our prospects for a smooth grocery store run, suffering as I do from Grocery Store Amnesia (similar to Pregnancy Amnesia). Which is pretty funny if you think about it, as I go to the grocery store every three days, and seem to only have kids every three years. You'd think frequency would lessen the effects of GSA, but maybe it's even more powerful than amnesia caused by pregnancy. Hmph.

We wander in, Morgan on one side of the cart, Ryan on the other. We'll pick up the first few items, when suddenly the cart will veer off to the right, as M acts as a wayward rudder due to her grip on the side of the cart.

"Don't pull the cart off to the side, please!" I'll say, kindly and firmly, still in the grip of Amnesia. "Okay, Mom!" says she. Lulled by this sense of actual connection, we keep heading onward . . . toward destiny.

Okay, now we're in the produce section, and suddenly a fight breaks out between Ryan and Morgan over who gets to choose which kind of apple to buy. "Hey, we can get a couple kinds of apples!" I say, encouragingly, and because I'm still filled with patience and kindness. We work out a plan for apples (or whatever kind of fruit or veggie they were wanting) and move on.

Morgan steers the cart toward a little old lady. "Morgan! Watch where you're going!" M: . . . I try again. "Morgan? Morgan? Morgan! MORGAN!" M, surprised to hear her name: "Huh?" "M, watch where you're going! You nearly pulled the cart into that lady!" "But Mom! Did you see the lobsters?"

We all (except for me, a life-long hater of lobsters) stop and admire the lobsters.

Moving on, as I'm loading things into the cart, Ryan has now suddenly decided that the side of the cart M had been walking along was actually the one he wanted, and executes a coup. M complains for a minute, then switches to the other side. Sean, as if on cue, reaches over and pulls her hair.

I extricate M from Sean's grip, pat Sean on the back to soothe his cries as his right to pull Morgan's hair has been violated (as Ryan helpfully points out), and try to check things off my grocery list at the same time (the list is on my iPhone). Sean notices my iPhone and screams for it, just as Morgan accidentally knocks several items off a shelf, as she'd been walking down ahead of the cart with her arms outspread and, you know, actually touching the items on the shelf. I chuck the iPhone at Sean and help M pick up the boxes of whatever, when Ryan starts freaking out "Morgan! Morgan! What did she touch? Did it have peanuts in it? Blaaaaahhhhhhhgggg!"

I try to explain "It's safe, Ryan. She knocked over bags of flour/packages of diapers/the entire spice rack/etc." To no avail. He is now convinced she is contaminated with peanuts and shrieks like a banshee if she gets within three feet of him. Just for fun, Sean reaches down and pulls her hair again.

I'm only halfway through my list now, and start jogging down the aisles, tossing items into the basket (after reading the labels of course!) and trying to check the screen on my iPhone (which Sean is waving in the air over his head) to determine which items are absolutely necessary (wine) and which ones I can buy later, preferably at a time when I can ditch leave the kids with Brendan and come back to the store by myself.

Morgan, still crying from the latest hair-pulling and because she can't keep up with how fast I'm going, gets confused and accidentally turns the other way and manages to get halfway down the meat aisle before realizing that nobody is with her. She panics, not hearing me call her name or seeing me standing there (for I have noticed her detour), and starts to SCREAM.

Meanwhile, Ryan is still complaining that Morgan might have touched something with peanuts in it (no matter how I reassure him she didn't), and Sean has called everyone in the contact list on my iPhone. I decide to eff the rest of the grocery list, and consider developing a religion so I might have someone to pray to in order to get through the checkout line without losing my temper, or without Morgan or Sean actually grabbing something that DOES have peanuts in it, thereby causing Ryan to have some sort of screaming spaz* (or worse, a reaction) in the checkout lane. We finally leave, having purchased only two-thirds of the list, and I vow to NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Until three days later.

But this, THIS! scenario hasn't happened lately, and THAT was actually the whole point of this post, but I got a little carried away there. :o)

Our latest grocery store trips have been lots of fun, and it's all because of Math. I know, MATH!

I've always tried to tally up what I'm buying, so as not to be surprised in the checkout lane. (I'm not really one for surprises as a general rule.) In the last six months I've endeavored to be a real stickler for this practice, as I'm carefully watching our money almost like I've never done before. So take the above scenario, imagine me frustrated even more because all of the altercations make me forget how much I've spent so far, and . . . that's not good.

So guess what I did? I involved the big kids! (Seanie still gets the iPhone . . . for now.) I started saying my tally out loud, and saying things like "Hmmm. . . this item is $5.50. I've already spent $32, so how much is that?" And one time, someone piped up with "$37.50!" Conceive of my surprise and delight!

I started making it into a game, and both big kids started joining in. Sometimes things get a little heated when someone is a bit quicker at the mental math than the other, so we work out a deal--M can take this question and Ryan takes the next. Morgan is usually quicker than Ryan, but he has a better grasp on the concepts and can add more quickly when carrying is necessary (such as $39 + $12) because he is able to rearrange and group the numbers into 10s and re-form the problem into $40 + $11.

Oh. My. Goodness. This is so cool. Of course, they get good math practice, and think it's fun! Also, I get help keeping tabs on what I'm spending. I can also show them how much cash I have on hand, or tell them my budget for that trip, and we can make sure we stay within it. If we're getting close to our budget, they don't pester me for extra items, and Ryan will often warn me against buying much else. We talk about other ways to change the equation around. They understand (and sometimes I'll actually point this out) how darn useful math can be, and are motivated to learn more. And now Sean will shout "67!" after the others shout it--he's paying attention and beginning to learn, too.

And apparently, doing mental math is so interesting/fun/helpful to Mom/what-have-you that there's just no energy left for walking down the aisles with arms stretched out, or arguing about who was walking on which side of the cart first. (For now.)

It's so surreal! And lovely. Wow, I hope it lasts.

*For the record, the grocery store is a harrowing place for a kid with a severe food allergy to go, so I don't blame him one little bit for being nervous. I do, however, blame him just a teensy bit for thinking I would cavalierly saunter up and down the aisles if he were in actual danger. But he'll outgrow that. I hope. :o)


Melissa L. said...

My mom used to do this too, having us add up the total in our heads. I still think that this is why my brother and I are so comfortable with numbers. That and keeping score for approximately ten thousand games of UNO. :)

Jeff said...

Great story. At least I feel like I am not alone with dreading the grocery store visits! I will try the math idea next time.



Kate Yoak said...

We often have Russian lessons at the grocery store. :-)

Liese4 said...

Better yet give them $10 and tell them they can keep the change if they get items on your list.

evanescent said...

Hi Jenn

off-topic but it's been a long time and I've been off the blogging scene for a while, but I just wanted to say hi and hope you're well :)

Hanah said...

That's awesome! I think the key is not the math per se, but making them part of the process of shopping instead of just tagging along and being bored. When I was about Ryan's age (though maybe the peanut allergy makes this something to hold off on), my mom would send me to another aisle to pick up items, or would give me a coupon and have me make sure we got the correct product that the coupon was for.

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks for your comments! No, Jeff, you are not alone! :o)

Hanah, I think you've hit on the key thing here--it's getting them involved in the process that has made things more interesting and easier all around. Besides good practice in math skills, and learning about finances, it's just a really great way for them to be involved in real-live grownup stuff.

Even if grocery shopping is mundane to me (and boy is it ever!), it's the kind of thing adults do, any children love to be involved in a real, actually useful way in adult work. At least my kids do, but I can't imagine that they are some kind of exception.

I don't know if this is peanut-related or not, but Ryan is reluctant to "scout" for food much away from me. Morgan's old enough I think, but hasn't done it much either. Maybe I'll start encouraging that more. I do have them look for things with me, but neither wants to go on any adventures in the store...yet!

They do help me manage coupons, too, which is great, because I often bring them but forget to use them.

Thanks again for the comments!

khartoum said...

"...can add more quickly when carrying is necessary (such as $39 + $12) because he is able to rearrange and group the numbers into 10s and re-form the problem into $40 + $11"

I am 23 and sub-consciously work out all my calculations just like that. I was sort of amazed at how accurately you described the whole process!