Every now and then, when someone asks me why we unschool, I’ll say, “To avoid crowds.” This is of course not the only reason, but it is a very good one. I hate waiting in long lines for things, which means we hardly ever do any ‘kid friendly’ activities on the weekends, because that is when everyone else is doing them! If the kids want to see a movie we try out best to go on a weekday afternoon before 2pm. When Ben needs a haircut we schedule an appointment for 12:30 on a Wednesday. Toys R Us is an absolute no-no on weekends, holidays or anytime between March 15 and April 15, when most of the country takes its’ Spring Break. Wednesdays are not a good day for any museums, because that is the day most schools schedule their field trips. And of course flights and hotels are cheaper and resorts less crowded if you can travel when everyone else has kids in school. As unschoolers, we have the added bonus of not thinking that we need to take workbooks and ‘lessons’ along with us on any given trip. I don’t worry about scheduling ‘educational’ outings with historic or scientific merit. We do what we like, and usually learn a thing or two along the way.
Our ability to avoid long lines and crowds is almost a science, but every now and then I forget that it’s the weekend, and do something wildly inadvisable, like shopping at Trader Joe’s.
I don’t really get the whole fanatic devotion to Trader Joe’s. (In case you don’t live in the realm of Trader Joe’s, it is a relatively inexpensive grocery store with mostly organic foods, and many people will wax rhapsodic and practically swoon in their enthusiasm to tell you that you Must. Shop. There.) It’s true that much of their stuff is less expensive than you’d find elsewhere, but the main problem I have is that they don’t carry all the things I buy when I grocery shop. Like Diet Coke. Like Froot Loops. Or Amy’s macaroni and cheese. And I refuse to spend all afternoon going from one grocery store to the next. I go to the Food Emporium. If they don’t have it, I don’t buy it. And for the most part, they have everything, even if it’s a few cents more. But we were walking by Trader Joe’s and wanted smoothie makings, so we went in.
They have this whole kind of retro beach bum vibe, and when you are waiting in line to check out there are no digital signboards telling you which cashier is free; instead there are people with numbered flags who hold up the number of a free cashier and wave it around until the guy manning the line sees it and sends you to that register. If a cashier needs a price check or anything, they ring a cowbell. It’s all very low tech.
And on the weekends, it is INSANELY crowded. So much so that they employ two people to hold up flags that look like they belong on the green of a golf course except that they say “Line Ends Here” and keep moving around depending on how many people are there. The line was so long today we wandered through much of the store just trying to find the end, and had Maya and Ben not been with me, I would have ditched the fruit and yogurt and headed out. Because they’ve heard so much about Trader Joe’s but have never been there, we stayed, and were jostled through the aisles by people determined to fill their carts with dried seaweed right now! Let’s just say that the beach bum vibe does not extend to weekend customers who are on a schedule.
We finally made our purchases and got back outside, with me swearing under my breath and vowing never to come close to that place again unless it is 10am on a Monday morning and the Food Emporium has burned to the ground.