The Grocery Store

Today I had to go to the grocery store.

These days that task is as mundane as it sounds.

Except for that the grocery store is never mundane, especially if you shop at Walmart as I often do.  Walmart embodies the whole of the broken state of humanity. It is where it all hangs out — literally.  It is the state fair and the airport all in one place.  Every person pushing a cart has some wild crazy Pulitzer Prize winning tragic story.  And I can see that, I can smell it and that lights some sort of fire in me, those stories that hide in plain sight.

And that’s why I love the grocery store.

Even with all that lurid carnival-style enticement, the store is not the same as it was when I had a grocery store buddy, a chubby fisted helper who was thrilled and delighted with all the exotic marvels that the grocery store offers.

I thought of that today as I was pushing my cart towards the checkout.  Right in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts there was a man going up, up, up on a vertical lift.  He was retrieving a helium balloon from the ceiling.  Did his mother never tell him that if he just waits long enough it will come down?

Had my little boyfriend been with me, even today, we would have stopped and watched and marveled at the machine and it’s scissor-like arm reaching for the ceiling.  We would lie with all sincerity about how we wish we could ride the vertical lift.  Except that we would be too scared.  And maybe we would impulsively buy a balloon when we got to the checkout and promise not to let it go.

But today, there were no brave wishes or balloons or grocery store buddy, just a cart full of mundane to get through the checkout.

As I waited my turn in the checkout line, I thought about how much I enjoyed going to the grocery store with Sean and how I miss him hanging off the end of the cart and his running observations and commentary.

And then I caught myself.  Surely that is not really true, surely there were days when I just wanted to go, get groceries and go home — and not have to stop and watch a man on a vertical lift or see how much two apples weighed or see if they had any cookie samples for good boys.

Has the same time that heals all wounds also rewritten the tedious and mundane days of my motherhood into a more lovely narrative?


But if so, if going to the store with a little boy was a chore and a pain, I honestly don’t remember it that way.

And so I should like to do it all over again.

The Holiday Shop

If there was one thing I thought I knew about my child it is this:  He cannot keep a secret.

Early in December, Sean brought home a flyer from school announcing the annual Holiday Shop!  I put the exclamation point there so you might know just how thrilled I was with this news.

The flyer reported which classes would visit the Holiday Shop on which days and at what time.  The flyer also stated with vehemence (probably inferred on my part) that there would be NO preview this year and that the vendor was the same as last year and that it was NOT a school fundraiser.  It was totally for-profit crunk selling.

As it turns out, we were not at the school last year, so that information, vehement or otherwise, was not useful to me.

What information I did require was the following:  What in the heck is a Holiday Shop? What kind of holiday crunk is stocked in Ye Olde Holiday Shoppe, and most importantly how much does this crunk cost?  Oh, and hey, what about the kiddos who have no Holiday Shop spending money?  And then the question I always have when it comes to these kinds of extra-curricular events:  Can’t we just do math or phonics instead?

So as usual when faced with a conundrum, I called my friend Jennifer who knows stuff.  She gave me the low-down on the Holiday Shop and a suggested a budget of about $5 to $10.

When I talked to Sean later, I asked him about how much he thought he needed for this shopping spree.  He said about $30.  So I said, how about $5?  He said how about $10?  I said how about I give you $5 and you take $5 out of your bank.  He said, “Deal!” and we shook on it and signed the papers.

Then we had a little chat about how this was Christmas, not Seanmas, and that the purpose of the Holiday Shop was so that he might buy presents for others, and by others I meant People Who Are Not Sean.  Then we had a discussion about fractions and percentages as we negotiated about how much he could spend on himself.

The next day I sent him off to school with his $5 and my $5 expecting the same winning results you might get in Las Vegas.  When he came home from school I asked to see his purchases.  With much pride he showed me the Cowboys pennant he bought for his father and the camouflage-motif pencil he bought for Papa George.  And then he showed me the dog-tag style necklace with a soccer pendant he bought for himself.

“Did you get anything else?” I asked coyly, “Anything for anyone else?”

“Nope,” he said definitively and handed me the $7.25 he did not spend.

I chuckled to myself as I turned his backpack inside out looking for the other gifts. Surely there were other gifts, surely.  But no….

We wrapped the pennant and the pencil and put them under the tree and I thought no more of it because I knew my broken and wounded heart would someday mend.

On Christmas Eve I unwrapped the gifts from my big boyfriend and my little boyfriend — an ornament from Target which I had purchased myself and handed off to big boyfriend for wrapping, and a pair of much-needed slippers which I requested.  No surprises there but much delight all the same.

“Oh, one more thing Mom!” Sean said as he dove under the tree.  He returned with a tiny package, merrily wrapped with a ribbon and secured with a lot of tape.  He handed it to me, glowing, as though it were a jewel he had just plucked from its slumber in the earth.

I couldn’t imagine what it could be but suspected it was something that he had made at school, something with glitter and glue and probably macaroni.

Inside was a pretty little ring with a blue stone that he had purchased at the Holiday Shop.

“Are you surprised Mom? Are you? You thought I forgot you, didn’t you!” he laughed.

“It cost a dollar!” he enthused, then  quickly added, “I’m sorry it’s not a real diamond.”

“I love it,” I said with all honestly.

I slipped it on my finger, adjusted the band for a custom-fit and then held out my hand to admire it.

It was a complete surprise.

It was beautiful.

It pinched my finger.

And my heart.

Gratitude + Contentment = Joy

Busy today. Another excerpt from my speech.

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I think most of us recognize the material blessings in our life, that we live in a wealthy country, that all of our needs are met with abundance.  Some of us have a little more, some of us have a little less, but all of us are well off by the standards of the world,  so it’s not too hard to be grateful for our stuff.

I do think however that we forget to be grateful for something far more valuable than our stuff, and that is our time. We all assume that we will grow old.  We’re all going to live to be a 100, aren’t we?  But you know what? None of us are guaranteed another day.  There’s no guarantee that we’ll even make it to the end of THIS day.  We all know that.  But few of us really live as though we know it.

I recently read the story of a man who knew his days were numbered.  He knew he probably wouldn’t  live to see the next season. And what struck me in his story was the gratitude he had for each new day, even though he suffered tremendously and was dealing with a lot of anxiety.

When gratitude becomes the frame through which you view the days of your life, when you can wake up every morning, thrilled to greet another day in whatever condition you find it, then you open yourself up to experiencing joy in it’s purest form. Your sense of well-being is no longer dependent upon external things which are little more than vapor.

What I hope and pray for anyone who has read thus far is that you can learn to do this without a prodding circumstance.

Gratitude’s partner is contentment, and together they combine to give you this sense of fullness and completeness that we call joy.

There are two nasty habits that kill contentment.  One is not living in the present and the other is comparing yourself to others.

Contentment is found only in the present, in this very moment on this very day. If you are spending time regretting that you didn’t have the perfect childhood or thinking about how good life will be when your kids can finally walk/talk/get out of diapers, you are robbing yourself of contentment.

The other contentment killer is comparison. You can always look out your window and see someone who has it better.  Comparing yourself to others encourages you to focus less on what you have and more on what you have not.  Comparison allows discontent to take root, choking out gratitude and joy.  Nothing good comes of comparison.

And here’s the thing about gratitude and contentment – the only person who can rob you of these things is you.  No one but you.

So then, gratitude leads to contentment, contentment leads to joy and joy leads back to gratitude. And at the center of this cycle is peace.

The wise King Solomon wrote, “He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”

Joy is being occupied with gladness of heart.  Joy is living in the moment with gratitude and contentment.

Joy In Hard Places

I’m off to do car stuff and school stuff and other stuff today.  This is an excerpt from a speech I gave a while back.

* * *

There is a verse in the book of James that says, “Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds.”

Are you kidding me James? Pure joy? In trials? Seriously?

I have always struggled with this verse because I can’t imagine that I’m supposed to feel joyful when the world is trying to whack me upside the head, as it seems to like to do.

If I were to pick nits,  it says “consider” it pure joy. It does not say “feel” pure joy.  So if you are not feeling pure joy in the midst of your struggle, you are off the hook. Not required.

The joy is not in the trial itself, but rather it is the bi-product of the struggle, of working through the difficulty.

There is joy in the opportunity to grow spiritually in the midst of turmoil, joy in the eventual victory over the difficulty, and I think most especially, joy in the deepening of support relationships as you make your way through the hardship.  The people who come to your aid and stand beside you and gather you up are comfort and joy embodied.

And I submit to you, from my own experience, that the joy that comes from difficulty, when it comes, is life altering.  It is terribly sweet and lasting and becomes a part of who you are and how you view the experience of life here, and hereafter.

Is there joy in losing a spouse or a child or a loved one, the worst kind of trial?  No. Absolutely not.  But there is joy in the memory of the beloved that remains. The person may die, but the joy remains. Having said that, I know first hand that grief can numb you to that joy for a long time.

Joy in difficult places is like childbirth — after tremendous pain comes a tremendous and life changing joy.


So then, Sean’s homework assignment for today included, you guessed it, tally marks.

Today his mission was to count the knives, forks and spoons in the silverware drawer and tally them up.  Since most of our everyday silverware was either in the sink or the dishwasher, we went to the formal dining room and pulled open the top draw of the china hutch, where we keep the good stuff.

I pulled back the flannel cloth, grabbed all the forks and then laid them in a jumble on a placemat for him to sort.  He carefully laid four forks side by side like soldiers, laid the fifth one across the four and then put the rest in another group.

I was relieved to see that he had conceded to the universe and decided to go along with the five-mark tally system, not because it will make his life easier, but because my new goal in life is to never give another persuasive speech on the merits of the five-mark tally system.

After he recorded his findings on his little clipboard, he tucked his pencil behind his ear and then rolled up all the forks in the placemat.  As he handed the roll of forks to me to put back into the drawer, he exclaimed, “May the forks be with you!”

“Get it?” he said, “May the FORKS be with you? FORKS?!”

And then he threw his head back and laughed hysterically at his own joke.

My heart was flooded with joy, at the way he makes me laugh, at the way his eyes make the shape of a rainbow when he laughs, at how I  couldn’t think of one thing that could make my life one drop sweeter.

Time Out Or Time In?

I keep this list of things that I want to write about.  Right now this list is about three pages long and four years old.  Like a good stew, I just keep adding new stuff to the top.

This morning, I was looking at that list and decided to scroll to the very bottom to see what was on my mind four years ago and what I saw was this:  “Time Out or Time In?”

If someone were to find this list after my death, it would lead to the only logical conclusion. She was nuts.

I remember the day I typed that sentence. It was at the end of a long day with a very busy and very curious toddler.  He was at that stage where he was into everything and trying to dismantle my house and my life bit by bit.

He was not quite two, but on that particular day he was being very two. I had a playpen set up in my breakfast room which functioned mainly as a toy bin or a temporary holding cell for the boy should something arise which desperately needed my attention.

At some point in the day, it all became too much for me and I plopped his little butt down in the playpen.  And then I sat at the breakfast table with my head in my hands. I would have probably cried but that would have required more energy than I had.







When I looked up, he was systematically dropping plastic toys over the edge of the playpen onto the tile floor one at a time. And having a fantastic time.

I realized at that moment that he was in Time In. I was in Time Out.

He clutched the sides of the playpen and bounced up and down with glee.  He looked at me with that goofy drooly smile and squealed the squeal of pure delight.

“Mahmahmahmahmah” he cooed to me in baby baritone.

He reached for me with his fat little hand. My heart melted.

I leaned towards him with my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands and marveled at this exasperating, perplexing, intoxicating angel/devil child.  I breathed long and deep and I smiled back at him and tried not to cry.

And then he threw a block at my head.