Customer With Child

Sep 15 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], Community

My local supermarket has the required handicapped parking spaces in front of the store, but it also has “Customer With Child” parking, a convenience that has lately been the source of a few parking lot disagreements. Patrons of the store don’t seem to be quite so clear on what the sign means. Is it for customers with young children only? Are expectant mothers allowed to use those spots? What about patrons who leave their children in the car while they run in for “just one thing”? And patrons who merely pull in to stop there while another passenger runs in?

The supermarket is a 24 hour facility. I sometimes shop there late at night because it’s convenient, but when I do I often will take a “With Child” spot. If the lot is empty, I don’t see why I should park elsewhere, and these aren’t permit spots. During regular business hours I have no problems parking elsewhere. But not everyone shares that opinion.

Last Saturday, I stopped in to do my shopping. While I walked to the store entrance, I passed a woman and a young couple who were in the midst of exchanging words about parking arrangements. The couple was loading their groceries into the car—correction, the man was loading the groceries, the woman appeared to be in her second trimester and she was preventing the cart from rolling into the lot. The woman had parked next to them—also in a “With Child” spot, but they were closer to the door. She had left a minivan full of kids waiting for her. She didn’t appear to be in a hurry. As I passed, she said to the couple, “I thought these spots are reserved for people with kids.” The man was in the process of closing his trunk. “Excuse me,” he said. “We’re expecting.” The woman repeated in what I thought was a snarky tone, “You’re expecting.” “Yeah. It’s parking for people who need the extra help, lady.” She literally scoffed at them, turned on her heel and stomped into the store.

What is it about parking that brings out the enforcer in people? The sign pictured about tells me those spots are held in reserve for people who have young children with them and are taking them into the store. But really, it’s a convenience that should be extended to anyone with a need to be close to the store, which includes pregnant woman and the elderly. It may take these people longer to get to the store, and there are security benefits as well (e.g., if an older adult trips and falls, and the lot is near empty—as it can be—it’s easier to get help from the store). Now maybe the woman who complained was on her way home with her family, or had nieces and nephews visiting. I don’t know what her story was, but I don’t think she necessarily needed the spot in the same way that the pregnant woman might have needed the convenience of the spot.

But she was the one who chose to say something. Parking spots seem to make us territorial. We want the best possible spot—it becomes a display of strategy in crowded lots. Drivers resort to following consumers who may potentially be leaving, creeping slowly up and down the aisles. I’ve seen drivers out maneuver other drivers by reversing into spots. I’ve seen drivers try to claim spots by signaling even though they are an aisle away and there is another vehicle closer and prepared to take the spot. It’s almost as though we immediately size up the other driver and determine that they don’t deserve the spot. And perhaps they don’t—but shouldn't individuals in need have preference? Of course, then I suppose we enter the realm of defining need.

18 responses so far

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  • I park my not so fuel efficient vehicle in the fuel efficient spaces at Best Buy. The parking lot is empty and there are like 8 spots right at the front, but of course I still get a dirty look from the manager outside on his smoke break. I doubt a group of eight Toyota Priuses are going to show up and one is going to be shit out of luck. People are fickle and I need to get my stuff and get out of the store.

  • I almost always take one of the many "undesirable" spots in the lot, so I don't have to expend any mental effort playing these crazy parking lot mind games.

  • andre3 says:

    It also blows my mind that people spend five or ten minutes driving around looking for a spot or waiting for someone to load their car and leave just to get a spot within a certain radius of the store, while there are loads of empty spot a little further away. Get a little exercise once in a while and leave the close spots for those who need them.

  • Marcus says:

    I've seen spots specifically for expectant mothers. I wonder how it would go over if a woman who wasn't showing took one?

    • kdcosta says:

      This one is tricky because women show differently. What about if a woman took the spot who looked pregnant even though she actually wasn't? Would she get a free pass? Yes, because who is going to question her? I think there is likely less confrontation over the Expectant Mom spots.

  • Karen says:

    I understand (believe me!) that other people need the convenience of parking close to the store, but unless you've tried to wrestle small children into or out of a car with other cars whizzing by, you don't really understand why those spots are important. If you're having a difficult pregnancy, you can get a placard to park in handicapped spaces. If you're old and frail, same thing. Everyone else should probably get more exercise anyway.

    I'm thinking that the couple will realize in about 2 years that they were the jerks, about the time their little Savile or Madison starts arching out of the car seat when they try to jam him/her in.

    • Katherine says:

      Tried to post something like this the other day and lost everything I typed; let me try again.

      In NZ at least (and I realise that rules for this vary widely in different areas) you cannot get a placard to park in the disabled parking if your impairment is temporary or if you are pregnant (even if the pregnancy is causing you difficulty). I assume you know the rules for your area and are not making assumptions based on what you think should be the case, in which case, that is awesome and the people who make these rules need to be commended. Additionally a lot of people (in any area) who need a placard cannot get one because of the rules - just check out some of the disability blogs; some have endless comments about this issue.

      • kdcosta says:

        Thanks for reposting Katherine. My guess is that you might have been caught in the server kerfuffle, but I'm glad your comment came through.

        Good point on the placards. I'm not sure if they're an option in the NYC metropolitan area. We have "courtesy" rules in many places that just aren't enforced other than by the means of goodwill. Anyone out there know differently?

  • I'm with CPP, when the lot is busy I just get out and walk. Its a hell of a lot faster than circling the lot for another ten minutes just to get three spots closer to the front of the store.

    • kdcosta says:

      I'm with you guys. I like to get in an out of the store quickly. I can walk. No biggie. If it's late and the lot is empty, it's a different story. No one is going to use those spots all at once (similar to your Prius story above).

  • Theresa says:

    Parking seems to bring out a troubling level of aggression and territoriality. I have a feeling it's not the length of the walk from a "bad" spot that really makes us upset, but rather that you can't help noticing all the other cars that got "better" spots. There is a feeling of hierarchy, even though the place in the hierarchy has no meaningful consequences for the able-bodied.

    Calvin Trillin wrote a very funny "novel of parking" (Tepper Isn't Going Out) set in NYC, illustrating how deeply one can care about the quality of "his" spot. Street parking in NYC is competitive but not excessively aggressive, in contrast to the large parking lots. The Seinfeld situation, where one person heads into a spot cutting off another driver who was preparing to parallel park in the usual way, is rare in my experience.

    One thing you cannot, socially, do in NY is "reserve" a street spot, even by standing in it until your partner drives around the block. So I was surprised to read that Bostonians do reserve spots by placing chairs, garbage cans, etc. in the spot. I think the NY Times covered this recently, of course emplying the patronizing dry humor they usually extend to other cities.

    • kdcosta says:

      No, you definitely cannot reserve a spot in NYC with a person or a trashcan, though there is a bit more leniency in Queens at least (cannot speak for the other boroughs) for trashcan spots within reason. I have seen things get very ugly in those types of circumstances when parking is limited. i think it might encroach on a sense of equal access--getting a pedestrian involved changes the parking game which is somewhat of a contest of skill between drivers. I absolutely agree about the aggression and territoriality.

  • neurowoman says:

    Okay, clearly people who do not have small children have no idea what the deal is. When you have a small child, you have to either carry them or hold their hand through a busy parking lot to get to the carts at the front of the story - and if they wriggle out of your grasp no one will see your toddler before they back over them. So the closer you are to the store front, the stress of getting there is eased considerably. Then you put your kid in the cart, shop, and take your groceries back to the car. Then you have the choice of unloading your groceries first, with the chance that the cart will roll away with your kid in it, OR you strap your child in the car seat, unload, and then figure out what to do with the empty cart - leave it in the next spot for the store cart wranglers to come get? Or return the cart while locking your child in the car (gasp! leaving your child alone in a closed vehicle?! bad parent!), leaving your child strapped in but unlocked (but not out of sight - someone might abduct your child), or unstrapping them and taking them with you back to the front of the store to return the cart, reversing the first trip.
    My strategy has become to park next to the cart return that is usually located far out in lot where there are lots of spaces - easy in, easy out, never leaving your kid alone. Longer walk to the store, but once your child is in the cart, it's not a big deal. I've also started shopping at stores where there seems to be a cart/lot attendant who comes and takes away my cart after I'm done loading the groceries! magic! luxury! Third option is to answer yes! to the question: do you need help out to your vehicle! I used that most often when I was in third trimester superwaddle mode.
    More than you wanted to know - but THAT is what those signs are about. Deduce what you will about the rest of the issue.

  • brickwej says:

    As a parent of a baby, I find the customer with child parking spots at my local grocery store to be lifesafers. They are located on either side of the cart corrals which makes getting a cart, unloading the cart, staying near my child in my car, and putting the cart in the corral easy and safe. Unfortunately, more often than not, people do not respect these spots, whether the lot is busy or not. There have been many times when I have gone grocery shopping with my 1 yr old and have been unable to park in one these spots because they're all taken. I have seen people unloading their groceries (healthy people with no impairments) who have no children with them at all. Tonight a man parked in a child spot, the last spot available at the store, driving a Miata. When I said that these spots were marked for a reason, his response to me was that he was picking up his son and wife!! He was driving a 2-seater and he had to be at least 60 yrs old!! He then laughed and walked away!!

    These spots are there for a reason. The people they're there for should be respected. When my daughter is not with me I don't park in them because I have something called common courtesy! Others should start having some too.

  • norman says:

    Leave your brats at home! Your choice to have kids in the first place. Definitely your choice to drag them to the supermarket!

  • Monica says:

    I think these parking spaces are stupid and mostly done for $ reasons. I have young nieces, nephews and godchildren - I have taken them to the grocery store many times and never needed a closer spot.

    What about ladies who can't get pregnant? It seems like a type of discrimination. Mostly though I think the stores are just trying to play up to customers who do the shopping whether it be food or toys.

    It is really lame. Handicap I understand - I would even be ok with elderly parking but "customers with children"? Come on.

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