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To the Old Man in the Produce Section

Old Man

You saw me with my son in tow, trudging through the grocery store, in search of produce. It was in fact the third time we had visited the produce section during this particular trip to the grocery store, because my attention was not directed toward my unorganized grocery list. I was exhausted and frustrated. And you could see it all over my face as you smiled sweetly up at me from your electric scooter for the third time.

"How old is your little rascal?" you kindly asked. No doubt you had seen him hanging from the produce scale 10 minutes ago. Or trying to stack all the oranges and watching them fall to the ground and roll to the organic vegetable area. I'm positive you heard me bark orders at my son to stop what he was doing and keep his hands on the buggy while I tried to pick out apples before he could run in front of unsuspecting shoppers and ruin their shopping trips as well.

"Grady, this man wants to know how old you are. How old are you?"

A loud grunt and folded arms were his response. And you smiled.

"A bit of an attitude problem, huh?" That was probably the most polite way a person could have described it, but I agreed.

"He just turned four on Friday. And yes, he has a pretty rotten attitude. We've had a rough day." I tried not to sound too pathetic.

"I remember those days. My rotten attitude is 48 years old now."

Here we go. The typical old person offering unsolicited advice. And you could see it on my face, I'm sure, when I thought I knew what was coming. "I'm not going to tell you to cherish these moments. They aren't fun. There's nothing about today that you should cherish, I'm sure. There might be nothing to cherish about tomorrow, either. His attitude stinks, and it probably will for a while. But I have a story for you." Ok, you've got my attention.

"My son was much like your son, both in attitude and appearance. He gave my wife heck when he was that age, that's for sure. I think she made more grocery trips than I can count looking much more frazzled and worn down than you look. When he got older, into his teenage years, things were still hard. He was not an easy one to parent, that's for sure. People always told us to 'cherish these moments,' and 'don't take his personality for granted,' but they didn't get it. It was a struggle with him every day. Even after he entered adulthood, it was still a struggle for our family to get along.

"That spoiled, mean kid called me yesterday on the telephone. His mother passed a few years back, and we don't talk as much as maybe we should. He lives out in Chattanooga and has his own family now. But he called me out of the blue yesterday. And you know what he said? He said he was sorry. He was sorry for all the garbage he put us through when he was a kid. Just like that. For no reason at all.

"There's going to come a day when that rotten kid of yours finally gets it. It might not be for another 40 years, but it will happen, and he will apologize. Even if he doesn't call you to tell you directly, he will apologize. Maybe with his actions. Maybe by taking care of you when you're old and frail like me. But he will apologize, and he will thank you. Because you didn't give up on him, and you let him live to see adulthood. Believe it or not, that little jerk will be very grateful. Someday."

And then after a quick smile, you asked if he got his bad attitude from his daddy.

"I like to believe he did," was my response.

"He's a good lookin' kiddo, though."

"And I like to think he got that from me." My response made you chuckle as you drove your scooter away. And I smiled.

What you didn't know is that today was a pretty bad low for me. We just moved to Memphis less than a month ago, and I don't know a soul here other than the women who write for Memphis Moms Blog, and I've only met all of them face-to-face once. The past five days, the homesickness has hit me very hard. Everything and everyone I've ever known is 700 miles away.

What you didn't know is that I stopped working full-time outside of the home in order to work from home and spend more time with my son. I go days and days without having a single conversation with anyone other than my tyrannical 4-year-old and my fiance. Days like today, when my son argues with me about every single thing, make me doubt my abilities as a mother. Am I making him this way? There's no way this sort of defiant jerk attitude is "normal."

What you didn't know is that I woke up this morning and dreaded having to be with my son all day again. And then I felt guilty for it. You didn't know that while feeling sorry for myself and my little jerk, I cried through nap time.

And then I met you at the grocery store, in the produce section, and you read it all on my face. You made me smile, and I know you saw how close I was to crying when we finished our conversation.

Thank you. What you didn't know was that in that lowest of low moments, when I was full of self-doubt, you put a smile on this tired face of mine. What you'll never know is how important that smile was, and how much it meant for me to meet you today in the produce section.


That Little Jerk's Mom


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