Always buy milk.

If you have a family or are a person who doesn’t drink milk, I don’t want to have you read this and give me a lecture about how you don’t drink milk or how your child is allergic or how cow farming is killing the environment. Just let me write in peace, because I am here to talk about a major domestic shift that has been nine years in the making.

For the last nine years — since my little daughter began to drink cow’s milk — I have had a basic rule of thumb which is “every time you’re in the store, buy a carton of milk.” We are very devoted to a particular company’s milk and it isn’t always easy to find; what’s more, if you get lucky you can find it in big jugs, not just waxed cardboard cartons, and this is more cost-effective for us. (I know, plastic, I know I know. I can only be so perfect, okay?) A gallon of milk is for sure a lot of milk to keep in a household of only three people. But once my daughter began to drink milk instead of formula, she plowed through that stuff like nobody’s business; furthermore, I drink milk, I put it in my coffee, and we all use it on cold cereal. And my husband uses milk in his morning oatmeal. And at night, if there’s cake or cookies for dessert, well, that means at least three glasses of milk get downed, fast. In other words, even without things like making macaroni and cheese or a bechamel sauce to put on some cauliflower or using two cups to make a couple loaves of pain de mie, it’s easy to see how a family of three can actually use up a carton of milk in about two days.

So the rule of thumb, I reiterate, is always buy milk. Like, even if you bought a half gallon yesterday. You should probably pick up some milk.

I have never gotten my husband to grasp this. He will occasionally ask me if I need him to pick up groceries on his way home — this seldom happens, I admit, these days, but it was very common when the baby was a baby and then a toddler — and once in a while he takes it upon himself to buy groceries. Last night was such a time. The two of us had planned a nice dinner but late in the afternoon he decided that he had to have a steak as a side dish, so he said, “Back soon!” and headed out the door. I didn’t even have a chance to say “boo!” — he was gone.

Hunting for red meat.

About 35 minutes later he came home bearing bags from the hippie supermarket downtown, despite the fact that he’d said he was going to Nica’s, one of the three Italian markets near our apartment. I was not surprised, because I knew (and had advised him) that Nica’s was already closed for the day (they close early on Sundays). “They’re open!” he insisted. “They don’t close early on Sundays. They’ve been not closing early on Sundays as long as the Metro-North trains have been not running on this schedule you have in your head, the one where the trains run every hour on the hour.” (He’s never understood what I meant by this. He’s been making fun of my attitude toward the Metro-North trains for about twenty years now. This is mean and uncalled for, because my position on the trains is this: there’s always another train coming a few minutes after the hour so you shouldn’t agonize over missing the train if you’ve missed one, unless of course in which case you have to be at Grand Central at a specific time, in which case you should be an hour early to the station because you never know, and that way you might actually catch one of the ones that’s gonna get you there ahead of time, which gives you time to browse the shops at GCT, so what’s the problem?) (Let it be said that my mental clock is not even close to being synchronized with my husband’s mental clock, and, furthermore, it’s easy to see I think why we don’t travel a lot.)

Anyhow. Nica’s closes early on Sundays, and this is no lie. Yet my husband didn’t believe me. Predictably, he got there to find it closed but was undeterred because the Elm City Market downtown is open till 8 or 9 or something even on Sundays. (Whoop! It’s open till TEN O”CLOCK EVERY NIGHT. Good to know; thanks, Internet.) So even though his internal clock was utterly useless, he did come home with two little bags from the Elm City Market containing a couple little hunks of red meat and a bar of lavender soap (a suddenly popular item around here, for daily ablutions, not for eating) and something else I can’t remember. I thought “milk?” because Elm City Market is one of the few stores around that does, reliably, always have Farmer’s Cow whole milk, and even sells the big jugs, but nope, no milk. I said nothing but thought, “If I’d gone with him, we’d’ve bought milk.”

This morning my husband assembled our daughter’s bowl of cold cereal and held the milk carton over the bowl. I was pouring my coffee at the time. “Gee, I guess I should have got milk yesterday,” he said worriedly. “Are we about to run out?” I asked. “Well, I mean, there’s some,” he assured me, “but there’s not a lot.” I poured some milk into my coffee and could feel by the weight of the carton that there was maybe a third of a half-gallon there. Definitely time to buy milk.

“I guess if I’m in the store I should always buy milk,” my husband said.

I did not stop to dance or throw my hands to the air crying “HUZZAH!” but I sure wanted to. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I think I said calmly. My rule of thumb of nine years just occurred to my husband, like, organically, independently of my having said anything. I could have been nagging him about this all this time and it would not have served me well at all to do so; I just waited it out. And he figured it out on his own. It is a great moment. Even if he still doesn’t get why my system of riding Metro-North is really perfectly reasonable.


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