I stand in grocery store check out lines a lot. Like, all the time. Over and over and over again. I’m serious. I live with 5 humans of the male gender, and all they do is break stuff and consume. And consume. Then consume some more. Soap, bread, razors, juice, toilet paper, cheese, chicken, tylenol, pretzels. Eat. Poop. Repeat. I stock the fridge, stock the pantry, stock the bathroom cabinet. I go to bed, sufficiently stocked. I wake up and POOF! They are glaringly empty. Heigh Ho! Heigh ho! It’s back to the store I go! To fill, to push, to load the cart, heigh ho! And then I stand in line at the check out lane. And I wait. And wait. 20 items or less? Ha. That’s funny. I have 20 items alone that came from the same dairy case. But hey, it’s not all bad, as it gives me plenty of time to peruse the periodicals . Right now I can tell you which celebrity looks bad in a bathing suit, who is back in rehab, how to make a killer summer pasta salad, and the current cost of a four pack of batteries, beef jurkey, and Peanut M&Ms. (Hey chocolate pushers at Mars, Inc., $1.49 is a bit steep for the small bag.) I can also tell you that standing in lines give you plenty of time to think. And look around. And to think about the people you are looking around at. And as fate would have it, (Fate stalks me- you’re listening to a lady who delivered the same exact baby four times in a row) when I find myself in front or behind these people, I have all four kids with me. And I am at the end of a bad day. A bad day which had me washing dishes, floors, and butts, but not myself. A day in which I embrace my morning lamenting “I just can’t do this anymore” and end it in the evening saying, “I just can’t do this again tomorrow.” That is usually when I meet the following check out line people;
“Young Lover Guy”
Inhale. Wow. He smells amazing, or my nose has become so accustomed to toddler feces, that anybody who simply showers smells amazing. His shoes are shiny, he is clean shaven, his shirt is crisp at the cuffs, his smile beaming so brightly it almost hurts my eyes. He is buying a bouquet of flowers, some good chocolate, and a Hallmark card. This guy is totally having sex tonight. He shyly grins at me, I return with a dumb stare, too sleep deprived to form an actual word. I can’t even manage a weak “Hello.” I’m sure he thinks I am his mom’s age. I gawk again, and I pray, PRAY, that my eyes can convey the following; “DUDE. Take a good look at me. Look HARD. Not with that. With your eyes. This is what getting laid looks like nine months later. It ain’t pretty, right? Listen pal, I don’t want to see you here in a year, sleep walking down the diaper aisle, on the phone with your screaming wife, tapping me on the shoulder to ask if I know where the nipple cream is. Got that? Now march your horny heiny all the way back to the pharmacy and pick up some condoms for God’s sake. Ribbed. For her pleasure.”
He doesn’t move. Shame. He’s still single, and clearly hasn’t mastered the woman eye read yet. He will. Ohhh will he ever. At least I know where the nipple cream is so I can help him next time we meet.
Millennials, three guys and three girls, all uncoupled but curious. They are wearing torn jeans, North Face henleys, cross body messenger bags, flip flops, and smelling faintly of good weed. They are buying two cases of micro-brewed craft beer, frozen pizza, whipped cream, a jar of honey, a couple cans of red spray paint, and Twister. The game, not the movie. I look into each of their faces, focusing hungrily, almost desperately. No chance in hell they can eye read yet but I give it a shot anyway. “Please, please, please… for the love of youth, take me with you. I can ditch these kids in about 20 minutes and be free. I have not been on a reckless romp in almost a decade. Wherever you are going and whatever you are doing, take me with you. I know I look admittedly frumpy, and one housecoat away from your grandma, but I swear I can be fun. And bonus! I know people. Important community people, like cops, judges, and even the mayor. Trust me. Whatever wicked trouble we get into, I can get us out of. Please. I’m ready.”
She’s retired, with soft gray hair and light pink reading glasses chained around her neck. She is buying cat food, tea bags, and a frozen TV dinner. Her kids are grown, now scattered around the country, her grandkids scattered around the world. She gives me the once over, and I brace for the “Wow, you have your hands full comment! ” But she stays quiet. I look fixedly into her eyes, and she holds my stare. This one is different I think. She must of had all boys. She’s been there, done that, and knows what NOT to say. Right now she is remembering it, her gaze passes beside me so she can recall the moments clear in her mind. We make eye contact. She can eye read. Of course she can! I pause, releasing the chaos of my kids, and look into her eyes. We silently converse.
“I’m so tired. I can’t do this anymore.”
“I know it’s hard, really hard. I did it when cartoons were on only one morning a week!”
“It never stops. The neediness, the housekeeping, the cooking, the whining. It never stops.”
“You can do it. And it will stop. And no, I am not going to say you are gonna miss these days, but you are gonna miss these days. You will blink and then be shopping alone, with nobody to cook for. You can do this. You have a beautiful family. You are doing a good job momma. It’s worth it.”
“Thank you for not saying I am gonna miss these days. I know it’s worth it.”
I smile back at her, grateful and showing great aplomb, and pay for my stuff.
I actually FELT her first. Not because she touched me, but because her stare was so condescendingly enveloping, it practically breathed down my neck. She came up in line behind me, perfectly wardrobed in a sheer black shift dress, belted for her workday look, but stylish enough to take her into evening. Carrying a Tory Burch tote, french manicured nails, shaved legs, not a wisp of hair out of place, she was the epitome of “I am twenty-something, I have a great job, and I totally have my shit together.” She was buying a petite filet, asparagus, and a bottle of pricey pinot noir, presumably on her way to meet ‘young lover guy.’ She was everything I wasn’t, and she made me feel it. Meanwhile, I was in the throws of post-partum hysteria, juggling a 3 month old in my arms who was trying to eat lunch through my shirt, another kid was in meltdown mode, and another kid, well, I had lost him back in the ice cream aisle, and was currently screaming his name. I was filthy, exhausted, brutally overwhelmed, and if provoked could go from zero to crying in roughly .3 seconds. Filet girl was silently chastising me, saying with her glare, “Lord help me but I will never turn into this mother; completely unkempt, her kids dirty, whining, and inattentive, wearing mismatched and lunch stained clothes, buying chicken nuggets. That will never be me.” She had taken me down swiftly, and I had no reply, after three kids my quick witted brain cell bank was depleted. I drove home from the grocery store that day sobbing fat tears the whole trip, and wondering, as many moms do, how did I get here and will I ever get out?
Years later, on a beautiful morning that saw me get my four kids off to school successfully, have a good run, shower AND shave, and put on something other than yoga pants, I decided I would treat myself to a well deserved lunch out, because for once I totally had my shit together. Then I would do some grocery shopping ALONE. I have come to a point in my life where grocery shopping alone is borderline orgasmic. I had also just started to feel like I had ‘gotten out.’ Out of all the sleepless nights, the toddler tantrums, nap times, snack times, the witching hours, diapers. I am slowly making my way into a new season of motherhood, and I kinda like it. I happily filled my grocery cart, and headed for the check out lane. And that’s when I saw her, twenty-something girl. She was in line ahead of me, unloading her cart. It was full of pads; Swiffer, breast, maxi. Ah, the goodie bag of young motherhood. She was wearing sweatpants and an old men’s t-shirt. Her newborn baby was wailing in the bucket seat, turning a lovely shade of blue. Her hair was unwashed and in a ponytail she had slept on, her nails bit to the quick, her breasts leaking. Her toddler was shoving RingPops in his pocket, and from the smell of it, had just pooped a fresh one. She was stretching her neck over the lane, frantically calling out the name of child number three. “Emily!” Yea, I just saw Emily. She’s wearing two different sandals, a tu-tu from a halloween costume (It’s February) and doing cartwheels three aisles over. Oh, and there is gum stuck in her hair.
I took a deep breath. I had dreamt about this moment, actual fantasies about what I would say if I ever saw twenty-something girl again. I had the line ready. It was so deliciously revengeful, so spiteful and malevolent, I was practically drooling. I had to physically hold myself back from having the line leap off my tongue and stab her right in the back. Then, when I was good and ready, I let it rip.
“You look so familiar to me. Have we met? Your name is KARMA, right?”
“Oh thank you. I never thought it would be this hard. I’m glad to hear it gets better. Some days I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
You see, I couldn't do it. I couldn’t pull the trigger of takedown on twenty-something girl. Just couldn’t. Because if I did, I know her next few hours would include crying all the way home. I know exactly how she was feeling, and what she needed to hear. So in that moment, I became the “doting grandma.” I told her she had a beautiful family, and that these are the hardest years (ok, I lied there a little, teenagers SUCK) and that it will get easier. I told her, “You are doing a good job momma. You can do this.”
She gathered her kids, paid for her pads, smiled admiringly at me, and left. Maybe what I said helps her get through the rest of her day. Maybe her week. Perhaps the whole year. Maybe she will pay it forward, when in the blink of an eye, she finds herself shopping alone, buying cat food and tea bags, and instead of silently chastising, she silently praises the young mom standing in the line head of her. I hope she does. Because I know I will.