Monday, February 11, 2008
I stood in line at the grocery store checkout Saturday night, my cart modestly filled with the makings of a steak dinner for me and my boys. I had considered taking them out for dinner, but after a ten-hour weekend workday—and due to the fact that I hadn’t showered or curled my hair or put on a speck of makeup—I opted for a nice dinner at home. Made by me, of course. Also, I wanted to have a family meeting to talk to the boys about helping me out a bit more than they have been during this whirlwind work time for me.
The day before, after working fourteen hours, I came home to a sink full of dishes and a coffee table playing host to fast-food wrappers, ketchup-laden salad plates, cups and glasses and bottles of soft drinks, and bags of chips with the last few crumbs waiting to fall on the floor. I was disgusted and irritated, and that was all before I found the two piles of dog poop on the carpet in the living room.
I like a neat house. I keep it cleaner now that I’m doing the work myself (with the supervised help of the boys) than when I hired someone to do it for me. But the time had come for a “Come to Jesus/Momma” talk with my boys as I gently encouraged them to help me out a little more over the next six weeks. I wanted to have the talk while their mouths were munching on well-prepared food that I knew they would like. Hence, the steak dinner.
I stood in line, contemplating my upcoming talk, thinking about the work ahead of me and behind me and lying in the cart, awaiting my attention as soon as I walked in the door at home. I looked around. I saw a wizened old man, graying whiskers accumulated, it appeared, for two or three days in the style bewitching on Hollywood’s leading men but looking like neglect on the old man’s face. He smiled at the clerk as he handed over two twenties and a five for his three bags of groceries. He struggled slightly, lifting the milk and orange juice into his cart, with the bread, eggs, and apples following in turn. Although his gait was ungainly and his grip on the handles of the cart absolute, his joy at just being there, still alive, although most likely alone, was visible and tangible and beautiful.
I smiled to myself.
I made him my valentine.
I sent him love energy for as long as there was life left in him. I hoped for him, for me, for all of humanity, continuity of joy so obviously a part of his soul.
In the next moment, he was gone, and the scanner started beeping with the groceries of the person between my cart and his. My gaze shifted to the father and son ahead of me. Mom was busy rummaging through her purse to find her wallet. Dad was holding his four-year-old boy, explaining why he couldn’t get the magic markers displayed in the checkout aisle, nor could he have the deck of cards resting to the right of the markers. He was gentle and kind to the little boy, but unrelenting in his refusal. The little boy considered a tantrum. I recognized it in his face puckering in protest. Dad sensed it, as well, and chose that moment to raspberry the little boy’s neck, distracting him from the moment and sending him squealing in delight at the teasing antics of his father. Mom glanced up from her task and smiled a tired smile of appreciation.
I noticed their faded clothes, the generic groceries, the haunted look of the struggling working class.
I made them my valentines too.
I sent the little boy wisdom and love and generosity, because although he wasn’t getting magic markers and playing cards, what his daddy gave him instead was so much more important. And his daddy—oh, how grateful I was to see a good daddy at work right in front of me. No harsh words, no smacked hands, no insults, just love and consistency and distraction. I loved the mom, too, at that moment. I wished for her a spark of passion at the end of the day, a bubble bath now and then, and a really good romance novel and a warm cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon. I hoped that their partnership, obvious even to me, would last as long as the two of them were alive.
I watched them leave as the checkout girl snapped her gum in rhythm with the scanner, and my steak dinner for my boys slid into the waiting hands of the stock boy bagging them in handled plastic. The dad still held his boy, the mom pushed the cart, and the boy paused in his chattered repertoire to rest his head on his daddy’s shoulder for a moment before popping back up to clamor for a gumball.
I loved the whole world in that moment.
I hope I can hold onto this until Thursday.