My Mommy Love Affair With Stew Leonards
How one grocery store can define a childhood.
photographs courtesty of Stew Leonards
Reflecting on how quickly the last three years have gone by with Hayden, I am always shocked to think about how much she has grown. It seems like I literally blinked and now she can spell her name and carry a normal conversation. I’ve found myself doing something very odd lately. So much of the last three years are a blur that when I try to remember something that she did and put it into perspective with how old she was, I refer back to her “stage” at Stew Leonards. Yes, you read that correctly. I am referring to the huge family owned supermarket in Norwalk.
Clearly, I must spend an obscene amount of time at one single grocery store and oddly, it’s true. Stew Leonard’s has become a staple in this family’s routine. No wonder it has become a focus in Hayden’s life.
It all began with Hayden strapped into that Baby Bjorn. I will admit I felt ridiculous with a huge contraption basically duct taped to my chest that contained my newborn. I always envy those mother’s who have their kid in the stroller. Hayden was colic and pretty much insisted on being held for her entire first year of life. Actually, I’d like to correct that statement; she would still have me carry her everywhere if given the opportunity. I always considered myself a “hip” mom, so awkwardly wandering around a grocery store with my kid’s legs dangling out in front of me in a “front back pack” thing was horrifying. But we needed food and milk. I obliged. I saw the stares. The young people looked at me like I was crazy, the fellow mother’s smiled and understood, and the old people followed me around because they had nothing better to do.
As I approached the freezer aisle, I wondered how I would get my Eggo waffles out of the freezer- So, I quickly opened the freezer door and reached in to grab a box. I quickly felt a bony little finger tap me on the back. I turned around and there was one of the senior citizen women… “You shouldn’t put your baby in the freezer.”… I looked at her and responded… “I wasn’t putting her in the freezer, I just needed to get something quickly.”… She stared at me and repeated “You shouldn’t put your baby in the freezer.” It took every ounce of my being to stay calm. Here’s a tip, never, ever mess with a new mom who hasn’t slept in weeks and is wandering like a zombie through a grocery store with their newborn clinging on for dear life to their chest.
As Hayden became older, I found myself constantly at Stew’s because she liked to look at the Disney “It’s a Small World After All” moving caricatures all over the store. (Please note, I’m sure these mechanical cartoonish animals are not from Disney- but I can’t think of a better way to describe them) I loved watching her eyes light up when she saw one. I found that she would stay nestled in her car seat in the grocery cart in amazement. After seven months of a colic child, I won’t even try to deny it- I would go there just for her to stop crying and to get a break. We had more rice cakes in my house than I knew what to do with.
That love for the mechanical animals turned to fear as she grew older. She became terrified of the “Moo Cow”. If you’ve never been to Stew’s, there’s a huge cow’s head in the dairy section. You push a button and it makes an obnoxiously loud “Moo”. The minute we would pull into the Stew’s parking lot, Hayden would actually put her fingers in her ears and keep them there until we were safely passed that cow. You could not pry those fingers out of her ears. As we grew close to the dairy section, she would bury her face in my chest and whimper. Of course, I would ignore the entire scenario because I felt it was ridiculous.
As horrible as that sounds, I’m glad I did. Because one day when she had just turned two, we pulled in and I glanced in the rear view mirror and I was surprised when she did not put her fingers in her ears. She actually looked relatively stern and determined. I loaded her up in the carriage and off we went. Still no fingers, no crying, no protest. When we got within sight of the cow, she raised her arms as if she wanted to come out of the carriage. I took her out and put her down. She grabbed my hand, led me to the cow and miraculously pushed the button. The cow made a huge “moo” noise- She looked at me and burst into tears. Tears or not, she did it. It was one of the many memories I have of being so, so, so proud of my little girl. To this day, every time we pass the cow, she goes and pushes the button and then she looks back at me and says “I did it Mommy!” She’s actually a professional at this point. She knows where every “button” in the entire store is. She has every word memorized to the “Dole Fresh Vegetable” song… and dances along with the “Chiquita banana”.
Last summer became the summer of ice cream and seeing the animals. Several times a week, we would have to appease Hayden by bringing her to get ice cream and shuffling her across the parking lot to see the animals. I never argued because she was in the “farm animals” stage. We spent a great deal of our day singing about all the animals on Old McDonalds Farm- and since Fairfield County really doesn’t have that many farms, Stews came in a close second. Granted, it is odd that there is an actual mini farm on Route 1 in Norwalk, but I’m happy to have it. Little did I know that this small lesson in farm animals was about to get much more in depth. During one visit, Hayden ran up to me and exclaimed “The goats are getting a piggyback ride!” I turned and sure enough, the goats were mounting each other. Now, I’m no expert in goat reproduction, but I think they were putting on some kind of x-rated exhibition. Hayden looked at me with a worried expression “Are they hurting each other?”. Being a honest mother who fully believes in full disclosure to their children, I lied to her and said they were just playing. Then I took a picture and posted it on my Facebook page like a 15 year old prepubescent boy.
Hayden’s most recent escapade at Stew Leonard’s almost got her grounded for life. We were out in the “grille” outside area. I went to throw away our plates and when I turned she was gone. I mean gone. It was that panicked moment that every parent has when their child is not in sight and your heart stops beating. I yelled out her name, no answer. I turned to my cousin who we were there with- she couldn’t spot her either. I must have looked like a crazed person running around the outside of the picnic tables silently praying she didn’t run off into the parking lot- A woman sensing my panic said that a young girl just ran into the store- I took off running. Would you believe that little rat child of mine made it all the way into the bread section? I couldn’t have taken my eyes off of her for more than ten seconds. I grabbed her and immediately pointed to a strange man standing a few feet away and said to her “That man was going to kidnap you and take you away from Mommy- I would never have seen you again!”- Oh, I guess this is a good time to let you know that I normally make up outrageous lies to scare Hayden straight. The man gave me an awkward look and quickly walked away. Hayden looked surprised- She just wanted to push the buttons and didn’t realize she had done anything wrong. In retrospect, she probably feels so safe and at home there- She’s spent a great deal of her life in that place. She probably knows her way around better than some of the staff. Nevertheless, I will never forget that moment and I can pretty much guarantee she’ll never run off again.
The other day, I ran into Stew’s without Hayden to just grab a few things for dinner. I immediately became annoyed with all the Mom’s taking their sweet time and clogging up the aisles with their strollers, carriages and kids. Then I stopped and realized, this is what other people feel when I’m standing in the middle of an aisle waiting for the next “It’s a Small World After All” show to begin… (FYI, they have a clock that counts down when the mechanical animals will start singing). I smiled, took my time and went around them. Stew’s is equal opportunity for every frustrated, sleep-deprived Mom.
Anna Sforza-Zapotosky is the definition of a multi-tasker. Why have one love when you can have many? She is a full time Realtor with William Raveis Real Estate servicing all of lower Fairfield County. You can hear her as “Anna Zap” on-air with Connecticut radio stations, 95.9 The Fox and Star 99.9. She has performed standup comedy all over New York City, Westchester County and Fairfield County. Her most important role though is as a Mommy to her beautiful three year old daughter Hayden, and wife of seven years to her college sweetheart, Paul. Together, they are making it in Fairfield County.