Life Told Through a Grocery List

Friend Nancy Zintak has five children, all girls.  Her oldest, Sally, grew up with our Arielle.  Nancy describes the different phases of their life with five kids through the family grocery list.  Here’s her funny account from the AJC. 

May 23, 2010
(Nancy Zintak is vice president of marketing and communications at Georgia Public Broadcasting. She and her husband, John Zintak, vice president of Daniel Corp., have five daughters: Sally, 21; Polly, 18; Lily, 16; Daphne, 12, and Annie, 10. )

Read the (grocery) list, learn the life

You can tell a lot about people by what’s on their grocery lists.   In the ’80s, before kids, the list was short: ramen noodles, cheap vodka, dog food and coffee. These were the salad days of early marriage when I cut my nurturing teeth on our Lab retriever pound puppy.  Many women get their first taste of motherhood when they get a puppy. It’s a sweet way to ease into the rigors of being a mom.

I actually cut my “mom” teeth on radio talk show hosts. You haven’t seen colic until you’ve heard Neal Boortz rant about tax dollars going to performance artists — there isn’t enough chamomile to calm those nerves.  When I started down the road to motherhood, my “mom” skills were already honed from my career as a talk show producer.

I knew about sleepless nights from booking shows for the next day; I learned patience from watching talk show hosts saunter into the studio as their opening music hits the air.  I learned about spills from the talk show hosts, who daily spilled their coffee on the soundboard. I was ready for kids after this job.

And so they came, beginning in the late ’80s, at which point my grocery list changed dramatically: Similac, Pampers, Cheerios, Smirnoff vodka (a more discerning palate with age), pasta and dog food.  At this point I had a 2-year-old and an infant, and a talk show host.

They cried and cried and needed constant care and supervision, they needed this and that with a sense of urgency I’d never known. The baby and the 2-year-old were demanding, too.                                                        

Juggling work and kids was challenging. This was during the annoying “super mom” era.  Every magazine cover featured a snappy working-mom type with perfect hair and makeup, bragging about her Excel carpool spread sheets along with chore charts and business-trip packing tips. I was lucky if I brushed my teeth. Then I found out I was pregnant with baby number three.

The grocery list grew in size and cost: Similac, Pampers, Cheerios, chicken nuggets, sippy-cups, grapes, back to cheap vodka and now store-brand dog food. Three kids ages 4, 2 and 3 months presented new challenges. Sleep was the first thing to go: 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to read three newspapers and prepare the topics for work.  Make coffee, highlight news articles, arrange ballet carpool, call and wake up Senator [Sam] Nunn’s wife in hopes of booking the senator, pack lunches, warm the bottle, throw the load of pink laundry in the dryer (red shirt ran), wave to the baby sitter, run the pantyhose, spill the coffee, change clothes, off to work.

Baby number four arrives, grocery list: Clearasil, microwave grits, Lucky Charms, Absolut vodka (gravy years in real estate for my husband) and Boca burgers. (One embraces a vegetarian lifestyle.)  The new century brought the same old story: baby number five. We’re well out of bedrooms, we’re up to three dogs, and the grocery list has gone from $27 to $270: Similac, Pampers (still), Clearasil, Lucky Charms and Special K, birth control pills, vodka, Lean Cuisine, Boca burgers (it wasn’t a phase . . . she’s still a vegetarian) and cat food (bought by accident for the dogs — believe me, they’ll eat it).  In case you haven’t guessed, I go to the grocery store every day.  I am acutely aware of the 10 for 10 and Buy-One-Get-One-Free deals. I can be found at the grocery store at any hour: midnight trips for poster boards; 5 a.m. runs for cupcakes never baked; breakfast trips for milk and juice, and 2 a.m. runs for the Rent-A-Wet-Vac (don’t ask).

They all know me at the grocery store — they have held my babies while I wrote the check, held my groceries when I forgot to bring the check, and they have held my children at the front office when I lost them on aisle three.  I know the store by heart, I even write my lists in aisle order.  There’s a lot you can learn about me from my grocery lists. With two girls in college now, and the little ones getting older, the list has changed somewhat . . . the Pampers and Similac have been exchanged for designer hair products and free-range chicken. We’ve traded in our sippy-cups for six-packs of Vitaminwater and our vegetarian child has remained committed, but has switched from Boca burgers to actual food, like broccoli and salad.

The grocery store is really an allegory for my life — it is always open, it never sleeps, and where else can you get corn syrup and cash, sympathy cards and lice treatment 24 hours a day?  And thank goodness, they’re open on Thanksgiving and Easter, just in case I forget to put something important on the list, like the turkey or the eggs.

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