I used to love grocery shopping, especially in the early days of my relationship with my husband when we planned meals together and had oodles of time to wander the aisles dreaming of dishes to create together in the kitchen or daring to try something completely new.
Then we had kids. And we made decisions that affected our finances and before long grocery shopping was a necessary evil. A stress-inducing, let’s-get-this-over-with errand. Even then, though, we had flexibility to shop during the daytime hours. On rare occasions we’d find ourselves in a pinch for dinner at the end of a long week and we’d be in the store scanning the aisles for something quick and not too expensive. Because take-out or pizza delivery wasn’t an option. That’s where we first saw you. Maybe you were a working single mom in the same boat as us, looking for a quick meal at the end of a long week. Or maybe your situation was otherwise. But here’s what I want you to know: I see you. And not in the oh-look-at-her-can-you-believe-some-people-are-like-that kind of way. I. See. You. I know you think people are staring at you and judging your decisions and coming up with all kinds of neat and tidy solutions for your life that they know nothing about. I know this because I’ve done that, to my regret, and I’ve felt that unseen pressure to hide what’s in my cart, to shush my children so they don’t say anything that would draw attention our way. I’ve fumbled with my money and my WIC checks and my SNAP card at the register, certain that everyone in line is both staring and trying not to stare at the circus act that is our family. If you catch me looking at you, it’s not to judge or stare. It’s because I want to see you. I want to look at your face and smile. I want to tell you you’re doing fine and you’ll get through this. I want to. But I probably won’t because my courage leaves me the moment I open my mouth. I see you. And I hear you. Ridiculous, right? Because who doesn’t hear you snapping at your kids asking them to just make a frickin decision? It’s hard not to notice the frustrated words that come out of your mouth. Maybe other people can tune them out, but I don’t do that because the words I hear from your mouth are the same ones I’m thinking and sometimes saying. I’ve wandered the aisles muttering, speaking forcefully to my kids when they’re misbehaving. I’ve threatened and yelled and sighed with exasperation. So, I hear you, but I don’t blame you. I know that it’s hard to make one more decision in a long line of decisions you make every day and hour to keep your family afloat. And the grocery store isn’t exactly peaceful. I see you. I hear you. And I know you. I know you’d love nothing more than to fill your grocery cart with fresh fruits and vegetables but when it’s a choice between eating for a week or eating for a day, eating for a week, even when it’s not the food you want to eat, wins every time. And I know you feel like a bad mom when your kids ask for grapes and you have to say “no” because when you get home the grapes will be gone faster than a snowball in July and you know that the $5 or $6 you spent on grapes could have bought five boxes of pasta instead. I know that some days you’d rather have anything else than peanut butter and jelly, and that you know ramen noodles aren’t healthy but cheap and filling. I know you aren’t ignorant and I know you want what’s best for your kids, but sometimes, the best is too far out of reach. I know. And I’m sorry. It’s a battle our family is still fighting as we emerge from our lowest point, financially. But can I also tell you this? Your kids see you, too. I know you feel unappreciated and like all they do is take and you have nothing left to give. But someday, they will know, too. They’ll remember all the days you did your best with what you had. They’ll remember what a treat it was to have ice cream. They’ll see how you sacrificed yourself for their good. They’ll see, and I hope they’ll thank you. In the meantime, keep the faith. Do what you have to and don’t worry about the people who think you should be doing something else. And if a strange woman gives you a smile and gushes nonsense in the grocery aisle, just know she’s trying to help you feel noticed.