Monday April 17, 1995: I went shopping at Walmart. I know the date only because it was the week that Haley was born, and I always went to Walmart on Mondays after work. What did I buy? Probably refried beans, spaghetti, bananas, pears, and chocolate chips. Probably just one more of those packages of tiny diapers, and maybe another package of wipes, and perhaps a few binkis or a container of baby lotion (Johnson & Johnson's, of course), or whatever other baby thing I couldn't resist. I know what I had on, even: my favorite blue denim dress, which was not a maternity dress, but I was tiny enough with that pregnancy to get away with it. I still remember what another Walmart shopper said to me, an older woman with grey hair and a wobbly head: "My goodness, dear! You are enormous! Are you having twins?" because her comment made me cry when I got back to the car. (The car! It was my favorite car we ever owned, a Honda Accord the color of "rosewood"; I loved that car!)
But here is what I remembered the most from that evening, this morning after I went running and then to Walmart: walking through the parking lot, pushing a cart despite my awkward belly, and realizing: the next time I go grocery shopping, I'll have this baby with me! I remembered that moment today because it was the last time I'd grocery shop without a small one with me for some time—until, in fact, this morning. It hit me, all of a sudden as I walked across the Walmart parking lot, how much is passed in my life. I won't ever have my own little one to take to the store with me again. That part is gone.
I watched all the young moms there in the store. One had a sobbing daughter who didn't like the color of chapstick she'd picked out and really, really wanted to get a different one. Another with a cartful of three little boys and barely any room for groceries. One with a new baby wailing in its carseat. I have been all of those women, and when I was I noticed the women not like me, the ones shopping all by themselves. How nice that must be! I thought of them, to shop without kids. Yes: I've made it to this point in my life, where if I want I can always grocery shop by myself. But I'm not sure if "nice" is really the word for it.
Sure, there's the trade-off. There's a speed and a lack of frustration that comes with shopping all on your own. No one pestering me to buy a toy or a package of cupcakes. No one grabbing a tomato from the pyramid and starting a tomato avalanche. No one running away or getting lost; no one crying in the cart. No one begging for one of these and some of those and a bunch of that. I was in and out of the store in twenty minutes and I spent half of what I usually do.
But the other side of the trade off is this: there was no one. No one to make me laugh, no soft little head to ruffle, no one to help me remember just how desperately much we neeeeeeed some of that yogurt with Oreos you mix in. The trade off for speed and less frustration is less happiness and light.
When I got back to my van after shopping, I sat there and cried, just like I did that Monday evening 16+ years ago. I couldn't help think of the contrast. That person I used to be (sobbing in the car and feeling enormous) still had everything in the future to imagine and look forward to, years of carting babies and toddlers and preschoolers around with her. Years, yes, of wishing desperately for just a little bit of solitude, but all those tiny, individual moments of holding a child's sticky hand. What I have now is only looking backward: remembering the sticky hands and the soft, fluffy heads and the sweet voices. Remembering, and grateful to have the memories, grateful for all I got to do. But still wishing I had more looking forward to do, and less looking back.