I am famous for picking the wrong lane at Target. If someone is couponing, price adjusting, exchanging, or just patently confused, I am guaranteed to wind up behind this person in line. Every time.
One such Friday night, I was on my way to dinner with friends and decided to cruise through Target to grab a kid’s birthday party gift. I was feeling ambitious and decided to aim for a twofer: getting in and out in five minutes and purchasing only what I went in for.
After nabbing the first toy I laid eyes on (a fashion craft of some sort) I bee-lined to the front of the store, sizing up my checkout lane choices as I approached.
I picked a lane with a hip young mom who looked like she was just about done ringing up her purchases. Perfect! A pigtailed toddler was perched in the cart, swinging her little legs and giggling at her preschool-aged sister who pulled faces in an effort to keep the toddler entertained.
While smiling at the girls, I realized something at the register was taking a long time. The mom had just signed a slip of paper and the cashier was examining it – clearly confused. I groaned, assuming this mom was writing a check. Of course I’d picked the wrong lane – again!
Of all the cash register faux pas, nothing sets off my checkout lane impatience like somebody in front of me writing a check. Mostly because it is a preventable inconvenience. But rather than reminding this mom that in 2016 there are wonderful things like debit cards, I just smiled politely.
Lucky for me the next register opened so I scooped up my purchases and nonchalantly scooched over, trying not to seem annoyed with the hold up. Even though I totally was.
I glanced over and noticed the cashier in my former lane put on the light for the manager. I was doubly relieved that I had exited that line. As a manager walked up I overheard the cashier whine impatiently, “She wants to use WIC. I don’t know how to ring it up.”
At that moment, time froze.
I wanted to rush over and hug that sweet mama. I wanted to encourage her and tell her she’s doing a great job with her kids. I wanted to haul my purchases back over and stand behind her in solidarity – just to prove using WIC was not an inconvenience and that I had all the time in the world.
But I just stood there dumbly trying to act like I didn’t hear the exchange, even though we both knew I did.
The thing is, I was once on WIC. After I’d quit my teaching job, determined to stay home with my first baby, money was extremely tight. One of my best friends at the time was a former social worker and suggested I sign up for WIC to get milk, cheese, and produce for our family.
I was shocked she would even suggest it. Not just because my pride was nicked, but because I couldn’t believe we would qualify. She adamantly asserted that WIC is a nutrition program, not welfare, and assured me that we would totally qualify.
I took her advice and signed up. And though I chanted to myself over and over that WIC is a “nutrition program,” I never could shake the feeling that I was living on the dole.
It was one of the most humbling experiences of my motherhood.
I remember sitting at the WIC office, staring at posters with government food pyramids, while some intern cautioned me to not to give my daughter more than four ounces of juice each day. “This is four ounces of juice,” the worker patiently informed me as she held up a four-ounce toy cup.
I wanted to scream, “I have my master’s degree! I set the curve in an organic chemistry class of 300 students. I know how much four stupid ounces of juice is!”
I also wanted to tell her I exclusively breastfed and hand made all of my baby food. I wanted to tell her I had read no less than a dozen books on infant nutrition and could probably do her job better than she could. And I especially wanted to inform her that babies shouldn’t drink juice at all … hello, sugar! But I just smiled and mumbled numbly that I understood.
After all, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Being infantilized at the WIC office wasn’t as bad as going to the store to actually purchase the items. Almost every time I used my WIC coupons, I stood at the cash register shushing my baby while the exasperated cashier overhead paged a manager for help. I would keep my eyes cast on the floor to avoid the looks of impatient patrons behind me, wanting the floor to swallow me up.
So I knew exactly what this mom was feeling.
Not wanting to make an awkward situation even worse for her, I just did my best to offer what small encouragement I could and elected to speak the universal language of moms. I smiled as warmly and said, “Your kids are absolutely adorable.”
Surprised, she looked up and a proud grin spread across her face. She murmured thanks and mussed her daughter’s hair affectionately while the little girl beamed up at her in adoration. Then the mom walked away, smiling.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian MacLaren
Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life we can be quick to judge, quick to be impatient and quick to dismiss. I was so grateful for this moment and the poignant reminder it served as for me to slow down … and be kind.
Lets be always on the lookout for ways to encourage and cheer on other moms in the trenches, many of who are fighting hard battles we don’t even know about.