I drag my kids everywhere. I have no choice: I do not have babysitter/housekeeper/au pair/neighbor whom I can drop the kids off with while I run my errands. Sometimes my husband can run some errands for me, but that depends on whether he will get called up or not, so his errands skew towards non-essential or 24 hr Kroger variety. All the other errands are on me, and that means that I grocery-shop with kids.
I have two secrets: practice and expectations.
Practice: I need food every week, often more than once per week. The means that we hit a grocery store 4-8 times a month. That also means that we have lots of chances to work out how the visit will go. The kids know how to come out of the car in a busy parking lot, how to help younger siblings unbuckle, how to push a younger sibling in a cart or stroller, how to cross a parking lot and how to navigate the store. They know which store's bakery gives out cookies ( if you ask nicely), and how to do self-check-out. They also know that if they help me, it will go faster. I use Myshopi app and always come with a shopping list, so we spend very little time wandering around aimlessly. The kids do not always want to come, and it does not always go smoothly, but because of the sheer bulk of these shopping trips, they get plenty of practice.
Expectations: since we end up shopping so much, they kids know my expectations. They will not throw a fit in the candy aisle: I will not get that candy anyway. They can pick one cereal that they like, but I will ask to pick the one with the least sugar. Then it's up to them to work out which cereal goes in the cart. They will not run off, since I expect the boys to help me maneuver the cart and the stroller. I expect help when I am loading and unloading groceries. All of these work because we shop so much.
Before Succot started, I had a crazy day when I had to take care of multiple errands. First, it was the chiropractor, then I had to get some groceries, pick up mail from a UPS store, laminate posters for the succah and buy wooden clothespins for 7 yo's trivet project. I also needed to drop off the books at the library. All of this had to be completed by 3 pm, when our backyard would be sprayed for mosquitoes. Some days I could have looked at this day and thrown in the towel before even getting started. However, it worked out well. After the chiropractor, I came back to the neighborhood closer to our house. I parked near a laminating place, then walked with the kids to the local grocery store's take-out counter for lunch. I do not do this often, but I figured it will save time instead of going back home and then going back out again. It also put everyone in a good mood. The boys helped me carry food to the tables, thanked me for their hot dogs and even helped clean up when the baby knocked over my container. They helped me shop and carried the groceries to the car. Then they held doors while I picked up mail. While the posters were getting laminated, I asked the boys to find card stock, since we used up all that we had and they did. Afterwards, we went to a hardware store, looking for clothespins. 9 yo pushed the stroller, 7 yo and 3 yo played some kind of imagination game, and I smiled, thinking how idyllic this is, walking down the sidewalk on a sunny day, getting things done and enjoying the company of my kids. At that moment, 9 yo told me how much he is enjoying this day., and I knew that it was truly pleasant.
We fund the clothespins and stopped by a game shop so that 9 yo could ask a few questions about Nintendo DS ( he finally got it, but that's a topic for a different post). Then we all loaded in the car and drove to the library. One of the boys dropped the books off and we made it home just in time.
It is so easy to discount all of this. My kids are not perfect and we've had our share of disasters. 7 yo once hid from me in Costco, and I could not find him. I had to call security. It is equally easy to say that we should not waste so much time on shopping and errands. Maybe they should be sitting down and learning something, producing, creating, feverishly filling out worksheets. After all, you can proudly display a worksheet on the refrigerator; you cannot hang up a memory of a great day when everyone was pleasant and well-behaved. Maybe this is bitul Torah (wasting time not learning Torah). But one needs derech erets (proper behavior) before learning Torah, otherwise what is the point of all the learning, if it's all hypothetical. And in the real world, people still need to buy groceries. People need to plan ahead and stand in lines. People have to interact with other adults and ask for products. People need to know how to walk on the sidewalk so that others could pass.
Finally, people need to know how to acknowledge that they are having a great day in each other's company.