Comforts all around us

After going for about 3 years, I still have to control the frequency of my trips to Trader Joe’s. I go about twice a week, one big trip, one little. This is ok. When I baked weekly for Six Apart, I’d also pop in on a Tuesday afternoon for sugar or butter. And let me tell ya, you don’t take 3 young and hungry children into a grocery store on a whim. But I like to bake, and I love Trader Joe’s.

When Brad’s father was very ill and his family needed him, Brad went to Mississippi in early 2008, not knowing how long he’d be there. (This is important, as I stayed behind with our children, not knowing how long I’d be alone.) His father passed away three weeks later; a week after that, they had the funeral. Brad was gone for a month. There were a couple of people in the church who offered to help me with the children. And I don’t mind saying yes, but it always seemed “like more trouble than it was worth,” as my mother would say. Am I really gonna get a babysitter just so I can go for a run? My people don’t really do that.

Instead, I have a friend who was going through the same experience at the same time. Only her father-in-law lived a few miles away from them and was dying of a different cancer. We visited each other during those weeks, and she needed my help for a couple of weekends. Her boys came to spend the night so she and her husband could have time alone and time for the funeral. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Is it odd that we were given this experience simultaneously? Or perfectly planned by a God who knows the comforts we need?

People were not meant to raise children alone. Ask a mother who’s husband is travelling for long periods of time, or divorced or just plain abandoned. There is a period of time they’ll tell you, even decades later they remember it, when everything felt black. It’s hard to find joy, even in children you love, when there’s no one sharing it beside you. It never got that bad in 2008. I knew Brad would come home.

Two parents who agree that children deserve respect will keep each other in check. We don’t hit our children. I understand the desire though to knock two heads together. I choose not to. Brad’s daily presence in our lives keeps me on this childrearing path, and vice versa. If a second parent isn’t around, who is there physically to be witness and confessor? Imagine when a single parent doesn’t believe that God is watching either.

My days definitely got murky. I clench my teeth in times of stress. My language internally isn’t clean, and I’m not proud. I’d often put the kids to bed early. There is something endlessly sad and tiring about doing and serving and teaching children when there’s no adult conversation to balance your days. Driving round for my errands, I’d sit in a fog at traffic lights. When the light turned green, I’d have to slowly make my brain tell the rest of me, “Green means go.” And then I’d go.

Later, looking over our spending during that month, I’d been to Trader Joe’s 16 times. That’s 4 trips a week. I’d broken a record! The grocery store never goes anywhere. There will always be women there, and a few men who don’t mind the company of women. We can share it with you, but it still feels like ours. I meet my Trader Joe’s friends on Tuesdays. It’s where I met Lucy who trades me Spanish lessons for help on her spoken English, which is already excellent, and the writing she does in her classes. Arwen is crazy about S., who always gives her attention. S., flirts with the burly men who come by, and the women pretend not to notice. I haven’t seen K. there in a while. I think things are looking up for her, so her routine must’ve changed. And there’s A. who works at the sample bar. She’s the one who feeds us! I’ve met others that I’d know by name but rarely see.

I can’t stand going into Costco anymore, the vast headroom, heavy carts, unparalleled quantities, impulse buys, and clothes I can’t try on - but especially, no one to talk to. Safeway is the same way. Nobody knows my name. They look at the receipt and mispronounce it, which does not offend me. It’s just a stark contrast to the intimacy of the small scale at Trader Joe’s, where they’ll wave across the store if they see me.