I leave the bread on the grocery store counter knowing that I have another loaf in my stuffed freezer at home and plenty of room in my budget to buy as much bread as I want. But also knowing that if I were in another situation, my baby would have no bread this week.
This is a post I’ve been putting off writing.
But it’s important.
It’s something I need to share.
Here’s the background:
I am a single mama. Even with two dependents, though, I don’t come vaguely close to falling below any official poverty line.
I am a college-educated, white-collar professional. And yes, I’m gonna go there.
I’m also white.
In other words, I’m not used to anybody scrutinizing my every move.
Here’s the rest of the background:
All kids in foster care qualify for certain government benefits automatically.
No matter the socio-economic class of their foster families, they are still technically in the state’s custody.
And so they get free meals at school. Free medical care. Stuff like that.
Until they are five (and in school to get those free meals), they get a certain amount of food per month through a government subsidy program.
When Little One was going through ridiculous amounts of formula, this benefit actually saved me a good deal of cash. Now that we get “big people” food, the actual monetary savings is not that much.
More than once, I’ve thought about forgetting the whole thing.
But Little One deserves that food as much as anybody. Right?
And so I try to contain my mortification as I go in search of the exact items specified on the paper check (seriously, who uses paper checks anymore? Is this a purposeful othering, or is it just my paranoia?)
I’ve scouted out the stores that indicate approved food on their shelves because locating the exact items allowed requires more mental energy than my masters-educated brain can muster with a toddler in tow.
I find myself avoiding eye contact with strangers as I locate the specified items. I never shop at the grocery store near my work. Or the one where I do my “normal” weekly shopping.
Only once have I run into someone that I know on one of these trips. Do you want to know the truth? I tried to scoot into another aisle to avoid any interaction with her while holding the folder with the subsidy information.
Do you want to know the rest of the truth? She is a very nice person and I am quite certain (in retrospect) that she would not think badly of me at all. And she might even drop off a bag of groceries anonymously at my door if she thought I needed them.
Which I don’t. But still…
Then there is the dreadful checkout process.
All items must be sorted by what is indicated on each check. This means that if I buy diapers or something else that is not covered, one trip can require four separate transactions.
What makes my face flush as customer after customer behind me chooses a different line because we are taking so long?
The withering glares are not just in my head, right? I’m pretty sure they are not.
One fellow customer even comes up to me in the parking lot afterwards, telling me all of the reasons that she was in a hurry and had to switch lines. What do you even do with that?
I’ve done these shopping trips at lots of different stores. And I’ve finally decided that I will only go back to one of them.
Because the truth is I’ve had unpleasant interactions with store staff at all of the other ones.
Today the cashier tells me that the bread I’ve chosen is not the right brand.
Oh, I smile. It’s Saturday and Little One is well rested and none of us are hungry, so I am feeling less annoyed with the whole process than usual.
I let her know that I double checked the item against the tag that indicated that it was allowed. I kindly suggest that she have someone take down the tag so that others don’t have this same problem.
I am really, truly trying to be kind.
She says nothing. She will not even make eye contact.
No worries, I say, still trying to muster cordiality. Little ears are listening. Always.
I leave the bread on the grocery store counter.
I go home and feed my babies plenty.
I take a loaf of bread out of the freezer to thaw for tomorrow’s breakfast.
I go online and give my (strongly worded) opinion which my receipt indicates that this company values.
I write a blog post about the unfairness of it all.
All of this gives me pause.
It reminds me that if I had been born into a different situation, if I had made different choices, my life could have turned out so much differently.
My babies could be hungry tonight.
There is no neat way to wrap this post up.
There is no tidy resolution.
Just maybe the resolve to be a little kinder, a little more willing to see the good in other people, a little slower to judge.
So friends, if you can, do me a favor. Don’t rush by. Just make eye contact. And smile. And wait the extra two minutes in line.