When Tables Turn

unknown-2

I am four years old. My mother has taken me grocery shopping, one of my favorite outings. As we roam the aisles, I traipse behind her, watching her read labels, check prices, and place items in the cart. I ask for cookies and treats, but she says no. I am distracted and don’t notice her rounding the corner. When I look up, she’s gone.
My heart stops, or at least that’s what it feels like. I stand still, paralyzed, and in a tiny voice I say, “Mommy?”
I listen, hoping she will call my name, but I hear nothing. Shoppers wander by me, unaware of my rising panic. I blink back tears and walk around to the next aisle, holding my breath and praying she will be there. It’s crowded, and I search for her green sweater. Or was she wearing a blue one? I can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter, because I see neither. A tear drops onto my cheek, and I can feel a sob catch in my throat.
“There you are.”
I turn and see my mother standing beside her cart. Relief overwhelms me. I run to her, wrap my skinny arms around her body, and bury my face in her stomach.
“I couldn’t find you,” I say over and over, wiping my tears and snotty nose on her shirt.
“It’s okay,” my mother says. “I’m right here.” She pats my back and soothes me and makes me feel safe.

Fifty years go by. My mother no longer drives. I am visiting for the afternoon and offer to take her grocery shopping. She has trouble walking these days, so I let her out of the car in front of the store. We agree to meet in the produce section.
I park my car and then go inside. She is not amongst the fruits and vegetables. I linger beside a bin of red apples. I wait. I become impatient. Where on earth could my mother be? She did go into the store, didn’t she? I try to remember if I actually saw her enter, or did I drive off before she went in. Silently, I berate myself for not watching more closely.
I walk quickly through the aisles, worried she might have tripped or dropped a jar of pickles. I try to remember what was on her list, thinking I should search those aisles first. I grow increasingly anxious, I know it’s silly, but I can’t help it. I walk by an employee giving away samples of sausages. She can see that I’m looking for something and offers assistance.
“I can’t find my mother,” I say. I laugh at the absurdity of it. She laughs, too. I move along, and, after circling the entire market, I return to the produce section. Still not there. I wonder if she has her cell phone in her purse. I could call her. Or I could have her paged. That would be mortifying for both of us. I begin another loop around the store. When I get to the deli department, I spot the back of her head. She is sitting in one of those electric carts, tapping on the glass, and pointing to the sandwich meats. I hear her order. “Half a pound roasted turkey. Not too thin; not too thick.”
“Mom,” I say.
She looks over her shoulder at me with a slight frown. “What took you so long?” she asks.
“We were supposed to meet in produce.” I am relieved to have found her but mildly annoyed that she made me worry.
“I stopped here first. It was on the way.”
“Well, you should have stuck with the plan. I couldn’t find you.”
“For goodness sakes, I’m right here,” she says. Her tone isn’t comforting like it was when I was little. But that’s okay. I’m glad she’s still feisty.
“Just don’t disappear again,” I tell her.
She ignores me and takes off in her electric cart, heading toward the produce. I follow behind her shaking my head. Fifty years. More than half a lifetime. And the tables have turned.
I am four years old. My mother has taken me grocery shopping, one of my favorite outings. As we roam the aisles, I traipse behind her as she checks prices and places items in the cart. I ask for cookies and treats, but she says no. I am distracted and don’t notice her rounding the corner. When I look up, she’s gone. My heart stops, or at least that’s what it feels like. I stand still, paralyzed, and in a tiny voice I say, “Mommy?”
I listen, hoping she will call my name, but I hear nothing. Shoppers wander by, unaware of my rising panic. I blink back tears and walk around to the next aisle, holding my breath. It’s crowded, and I search for her green sweater. Or was she wearing a blue one? I can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter; I see neither. A tear drops onto my cheek, and a sob catches in my throat.
“There you are.”
I turn and see my mother standing beside her cart. Relief overwhelms me. I run to her, wrap my skinny arms around her body, and bury my face in her stomach.
“I couldn’t find you,” I say over and over, wiping my tears and snotty nose on her shirt.
“I’m right here.” She pats my back and soothes me and makes me feel safe.
******
Fifty years go by. My mother no longer drives. I am visiting for the afternoon and offer to take her grocery shopping. She has trouble walking these days, so I let her out of the car in front of the store. We agree to meet in the produce section.
I park quickly and go inside. She is not amongst the fruits and vegetables. I linger beside a bin of red apples. I wait. Where on earth could my mother be? She did go into the store, didn’t she? I try to remember if I actually saw her enter, or did I drive off before she went in. Silently, I berate myself for not watching more closely.
I jog through the aisles, worried she might have tripped or dropped a jar of pickles. I try to remember what was on her list; I should search those aisles first. I walk by an employee giving away samples of sausages. She sees my distress and offers assistance.
“I can’t find my mother,” I say. I laugh at the absurdity of it. She laughs, too. I move along, and, after circling the entire market, return to produce. Still not there. I wonder if she has her cell phone in her purse. I could call her. Or I could have her paged. That would be mortifying for both of us.
I begin another loop around the store. When I get to the deli department, I spot the back of her head. She is sitting in one of those electric carts, tapping on the glass, and pointing to a turkey breast. I hear her order. “Half a pound. Not too thin; not too thick.”
“Mom,” I say.
She looks over her shoulder at me with a slight frown. “What took you so long?”
“We were supposed to meet in produce.” I am relieved to have found her but annoyed that she made me worry.
“I stopped here first. It was on the way.”
“Well, you should have stuck with the plan. I couldn’t find you.”
“For goodness sakes, I’m right here.” Her tone isn’t comforting like it was when I was little. But that’s okay. I’m glad she’s still feisty.
“Just don’t disappear again,” I tell her.
She ignores me and takes off in her electric cart, heading toward produce. I follow behind her shaking my head.
At least I didn’t cry this time.