On Wednesdays we go to tutoring; words I never imagined I'd say, but my emotional baggage related to math and the new world of Common Core delivered me to the doorstep of this decision. We would neither give up, nor we would not resist – we would wholeheartedly seize the opportunities available to help us all succeed.
Sometimes this means that I grocery shop during tutoring.
As Briar goes in for her lesson, Fin and I usually hit up a park or run errands. This week we were going to make our way to the supermarket to buy a few things.
“You guys drive careful,” the tutor called out. He and his family have come to feel like extended family to us, so the caution felt familiar. I said that we would and as I walked down the driveway I heard him asking Briar how school had been.
It had snowed recently and the roads were slick with snow-covered ice. I drove slowly, knowing that if the store kept me late, he wouldn’t mind. “Don’t rush,” he tells me, “I remember when our three were young we were always rushing. It’s ok, take your time.”
As we walked into the store and I read the list aloud, Fin matched me syllable for syllable asking for anything and everything in sight. “Mom, can I look at some fun things that I promise I won't ask you to buy?” I felt my eyeballs weakening, one moving off on its own making it impossible for me to focus.
My husband has talked about the zoned out women he sees in the store. “Manda, it's like they lose their mind and they just stop, carts parked in the middle of the aisle, dead looks in their eyes.” When he described that I thought, Exactly. Yes, it's the supermarket trance where I forget everything and am Vegas-level overwhelmed by it all.
“Huh? They just stand there? Really?” I was embarrassed to admit how my brain responds to the hanging aisle signs and endless cans and displays. Complete shutdown, list forgotten, detached from time.
“Mama, do we need straws?” Finley asked with excitement.
“Ah, yes, we do. Go ahead,” I said. She grabbed a package of drinking straws from an end cap.
“Oh, no, I thought you meant 'veggie straws,' we don't need those.” She pivoted easily, putting them back without a word.
We circled the produce section grabbing broccoli and celery when I remembered we needed ham.
“Can I go get the sauce for homemade pizzas?” she asked.
“Sure, it's just past the salad bar,” I told her.
The woman at the deli asked what I wanted. I winced.
Whenever I go to the deli and ask for 1.5lbs of turkey and 1.5lbs of ham they ask it back to me twice, as if I couldn't possibly mean a whole pound and a half of each.
“A pound of the brown sugar ham, please and a pound of the roasted turkey,” I said.
She smiled and started on the ham. When she was done she said, “Did you want something else?”
“Yes, a pound of the turkey,” I smiled.
“Yes,” I took a deep breath and plastered a light smile on my face, “Five lunches a day.”
She stopped, looked at me, and said, “Bless you, mama.”
I laughed. She said, “That isn't easy. Good for you. Make the investment now, it will matter.”
I smiled and thanked her.
She worked quietly smiling softly. “Did you know what I meant when I said that earlier?” She asked gently.
“I think so,” I said. “Thank you.”
“You are doing a beautiful thing,” she said not looking at me. I watched her slice the turkey, her eyes were far away until she handed me the packages and asked if she could do anything else for me.
The sting was sharp in my nose, my eyes burned, and I thought I might cough it was so sudden. I started to cry. She smiled as Finley ran up and hugged my waist. We locked eyes and she nodded once before turning around to tend to something in a cooler.
I walked away in shock. Making or not making lunches doesn't change my value as a mom. Racing back and forth from the tutor doesn't either. But tonight, the sandwich effect of the tutor and the woman slicing the lunchmeat engulfed me.
The man who took on our family and my daughter’s struggle in math as his mission. Then this stranger with no investment in making me smile or feel important taking it upon herself to tell me that I was making decisions that would matter.
I guess I’m shocked not by what she said, but by how badly I needed to hear it.
Don't ever doubt that you can say or do something, no matter how inconsequential to you, that just might make a huge difference in someone's life.