Grocery shopping with my toddler Maddie is a lesson in multi-tasking. I’m picking up fruits and veggies, while my little one wants to look and touch each one. I like talking to her and explaining what each item is. We go back and forth between her wanting to touch each item I’m putting in the basket, to her wanting to drink milk, to trying to remember my grocery list which is 1/3 on a To-Do List on my phone, 1/3 in my photo gallery from my white board list in my kitchen, and a 1/3 scrawled on the back of a scrap paper. As a result, we zig zag between sections of the store instead of moving through sequentially in an efficient way. Oh well, I’m used to that by now.
We finally get to check out and I lay all my items down, appeasing Maddie with an apricot oil bottle, while having a conversation with the cashier. When she realizes that my spaghetti packaging is torn and leaking pieces of pasta everywhere, she asks me if I want to grab another one. There’s a small line forming behind me. Each person with just a few items. I don’t want to hold people up, but I agree since the aisle is not far away nor do I want to go home pasta-less.
I wheel the grocery cart with Maddie in it back to the pasta aisle and get another package. She drops her bottle along the way, spilling milk on the floor. Someone offers to pick up the bottle and hands it to her. I finally make it to the pasta, grab a bag, inspect it for tears, then wheel the cart back to the line. The cashier is about half-way through my groceries when I realize I’ve forgotten tempeh. I look at the rest of my unscanned groceries, the line behind me, and dream of the tempeh BBQ tacos I planned to have for dinner that evening. I have to ask. “Where do you all have tempeh? I completely forgot to get some.” The cashier looks at me confused, “Temwhat?” Hmm, she doesn’t know what that is. “That’s OK,” I say. “It’s probably by the tofu, I’m just gonna run back and get some.” I wheel the baby to the back corner of the store, find the tempeh, grab some tofu for good measure, then head back to the cash registers feeling like I’m on Supermarket Sweep.
The line is longer and now all of my groceries are scanned, including the apricot oil my baby has drooled all over. I try to get a gauge from the people behind me, expecting them to be antsy that they’ve waited this long. Surprisingly no one moved to a different line. Instead, a guy directly behind me with a gentle voice tells me how he was in New York City with a friend who had 2 toddlers. He was just in awe of how she navigated the subway system and busy streets with them in tow. He continued to say how he is just amazed how mothers multitask while caring for their children.
Then he proceeded to tell me something that I’ll never forget.
“You’re doing such a good job. Thank you for being a good mother.”
I was in awe that someone who could have been super annoyed or critical about the scene unfolding before him chose instead to observe how much it takes to get something as simple as grocery shopping done while caring for a young child. I can’t remember if I nodded or smiled, but I put my groceries in my cart and wheeled Maddie out of the store reflecting that multi-tasking in my new normal. In fact, there are days where I am so self-critical for everything from “mommy brain” to piling dishes. Sometimes motherhood feels like this endless sense of incompletion and is a daily lesson in letting go and course correction. When I finally got home and unpacked all the groceries, it turns out I forgot the other half of ingredients to make BBQ tempeh tacos, namely BBQ sauce. And that is OK.