This past summer, we traveled to Washington D.C. for a wedding and a week full of wonderful adventures. It was a beautiful ceremony, and it was so exciting to visit our nation’s capital with the bride and groom as our gracious guides.

Our travel plans required lots of preparation, packing, and prayer since it was the first time we had all been on a plane since spring 2020. And it required snacks. So many snacks.

With four kids who have endless appetites, they ate through the stash of snacks within a day of arriving. So one evening, we found ourselves at a grocery store of the size and scope my children had never encountered. Forget about the Mall and the Washington Monument or even Mount Vernon – this supermarket took their breath away.

shopping cart with groceries and children's hands holding onto the edge of the cartAs the kids were marveling at all the choices of pre-cut vegetables and fruit, I noticed, right there in the middle of the produce section, that I couldn’t move the cart. Four pairs of hands were firmly holding onto the edge of the shopping cart, and I couldn’t go forward.

“Hey, guys, I need you to get your hands off the cart,” was at the tip of my tongue when I stopped myself. Hands off the cart…hands on the cart. Hands on the cart!

Hands on the cart had been my cheery, non-stop, shopping slogan for years. As we walked into the store. As we walked through the store. As we departed the store, my mantra was, “Hands on the cart! Hands on the cart!”

Hands on the cart as we entered the store with little legs trotting along-side the basket.

Hands on the cart as we made our way around the store to keep track of my crew, aisle by aisle.

Hands on the cart as we went through the checkout to minimize the chance of reaching for toys or candy or each other’s hair.

Hands on the cart as we walked into the busy parking lot to make sure everyone was safe.

Hands finally off the cart as I loaded children then groceries into the vehicle and returned the cart to the corral, which more than likely, was right next to our parking space – another strategy I learned with four kids under the age of four.

Our weekly grocery shopping adventures those days required hours of preparation: not until I had my coffee and never after lunch or close to nap time.

It required packing: the diapers and wipes and toys and blankies and spare socks because somehow my children would lose just one sock on the way to the store.

I needed prayer: Lord, give the me grace to accept the things I cannot change and may there be no meltdowns in the dairy department today. I love that my kids love cheese, but why do they always want their own giant block of cheddar?

And my constant reminder: Hands on the cart.

I looked at my four children under the bright lights of that DC grocery store. Those tiny babies had suddenly grown. But their hands were still on the cart.

And I started to cry, right there in the middle of the produce section while trying to navigate around the fancy hummus and select some bananas.

Lean in mamas and let me tell you something – these little humans do hear our words.

Even when we think they don’t, even when we are quite sure they have tuned us out and didn’t comprehend a single thing we said, our children are listening and inscribing our messages of love and compassion on their hearts. They are taking our words with them wherever they go. And when uncertain times or changes in life or the ceilings of giant grocery stores loom over their heads and they feel a little overwhelmed, our words come back to comfort them.

brown paper grocery bags full of produce and bread
via Unsplash by Maria Lin Kim

We just got home this afternoon from shopping at our local grocery store. Our town’s population is about 5,000, so the store is small but well-stocked with lots of snacks for my hungry people. There’s no need for me to shepherd them through the store anymore, so I assigned each kid three items from our shopping list to go find and return to the cart as I waited near the front register.

My hands on the cart while pieces of my heart went running up and down the aisles. May they always know my words.

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