I’ve heard the sentence “Target is my happy place,” uttered a lot lately. And I am totally with you. It’s bright and clean and festive and feels like a neutral-zone for both makers of ankle-biters and non-procreators alike. It’s safe to take kids because, unless Mercury is in retrograde, the chances of your child throwing the hugest tantrum are minimal. And it’s HEAVEN for parents when they’re without kids, because while we’re perusing the aisles of greeting cards and languidly sniffing shampoo options, the child screaming murder in the toy aisle? Heh. Not ours!
Mmm. Target. So yummy.
But the “happy place” sentence is almost always followed by something like, “I always leave with a bag of stuff I don’t need” or “ I go in for laundry detergent and I leave with a receipt totaling $117.” It’s a universal form of commiseration because we’ve all been there: cart so full of plastic storage containers and BOGO chem-free sunscreen that one kid’s dangling under the non-cart arm while the other limps pitifully behind the fray (please LORD may the lost shoe be somewhere under the bags).
That’s the thing with Target, y’all. It’s like a bad night in college every single time I go. I walk in coiffed, wrinkle-free, and buoyant with the anticipation of what fun little escapades lie ahead. Flirting but no funny business. Three drinks MAX and definitely no shots. Then I leave in a daze, carting around unnecessary baggage, hoping I don’t see anyone I know, and usually missing an earring.
Look, if you can walk into the bullseye-emblazoned door to Narnia with your Post-it of necessities and leave having exclusively purchased its contents, then I salute you (and also, we can’t be friends, because you are a witch). I am among the many who dance through each aisle trying on infinity scarves and faux-leather sandals, lose all concept of time, then emerge, squinting into the too-bright sun and wondering “what the shit just happened?”
Costco is another matter entirely. Please forgive any air of wonder and naiveté as the magic that is Costco is a new experience for me. I understand that hundreds of families have warehouse store memberships, but we lived in tiny apartments prior to having children and were lucky if we could jam a 4-pack of double-roll toilet paper into one of the two bathroom cabinets. We moved to Nashville, into a house with multiple rooms (like, a bunch of ‘em, y’all. We unloaded the entire contents of our apartment into one and then walked through the rest of the house whispering “echo” for the first year), popped out some offspring, and THEN drank the free-sample of Costco kool-aid.
I left the first visit feeling a bit like a doomsday prepper. I strolled down the enormous flourescent-lit aisles in a state of perpetual shock thinking things like:
“No one on earth could go through that many paper towels before the tree-pulp itself disintegrates and blows back from whence it came.
“What do I need with a quart of maple syrup? Can it also serve as bubble bath? Can I pour it on the rose bushes?
“What is happening? Who are these people and why do they all need a 3-lb block of parmesan cheese?”
Then, less than two months later, my family of sticky, muddy, bodily-fluid covered creatures had consumed ALL of the aforementioned paper-towels and I returned, humbled, and ready to spend a little more time investigating. And here’s what I’ve learned about Costco in the short time I’ve had a membership:
- I’d much rather take kids to Costco than Target. Their gigundous bulk-purchase accommodating shopping carts also fit BOTH children. Buckled in! The changes-by-the-season mid-section is always an exciting attention-grabber (I seriously took Sadie there weekly last December to “look at the Christmas Lights.” As a field trip.) and as long as I avoid that one section with books and toys, I can also reduce my chances of wrangling tantrums. Additionally, I don’t have to make lunch on Costco Day. For anyone. Because, you know, samples and hot dogs.
- Impulse purchases at other stores tend to leave me filled with a low-grade sense of regret and shame. Impulse purchases at Costco grease the gears of my very existence. Bad storm? Grab the enormous-but-shockingly-lightweight umbrellas I got 2-for-$20 last month. Forgot to do laundry and it’s swim lesson day? Good thing I picked up three $7 beach towels on Tuesday. Yes, neighbors, while it’s true our lawn hasn’t been mowed in three weeks, I just purchased 8 solar-powered sidewalk lights at Costco! They’re super fancy. You’re welcome.
- Being a parent socks a person with the one-two punch of feeling perpetually out of control and being constantly required to solve problems. I said “I don’t know” to my 3-year-old so many times yesterday that I got teary about my lack of knowledge about everything and general ineptitude as a human. When you’re childless and run out of mustard, you choke down a dry sandwich. When you run out of diapers at 2am because you’re a first-time parent of a screaming 1-week-old, all the fears—that you’re incapable of caring for another person, that you might have made a terrible mistake, that it’s always going to be this hard and this terrifying—descend upon you as thick as your fatigue and that pre-dawn Walgreens run is the embodiment of Things Never Being the Same. I come home from Costco with my two precious babies and give them all the empty boxes to climb in. Then I unload my apocalypse-withstanding quantities of paper products, animal crackers, and batteries into all my closets and cabinets and feel, just for a moment, like it’s all going to be okay. Come hell or high-water, y’all. I’m prepped. I’m ready. I’m good.