Today I'm taking a minute to Pour my Heart Out about a lesson I learned last week at the grocery store. I'll warn you up front, it wasn't pretty.
I was just back from a two-week vacation. By 8 a.m., I'd colored my hair, taken a shower, and done my makeup. The baby was happy (so far) and Little Man was dropped off at preschool. A grocery run seemed do-able.
I swept through the commissary, hoping to get all the items on my list before Little Mama had a meltdown.
I expected her to get tired. She hadn't slept much the day before because we were traveling. She didn't nap on the plane or in the line for immigration and customs. She didn't nap on the car ride home. As my mom would say, she was pooped. At least for the moment, she was happy to be steering the kid-friendly cart, one hand on each little steering wheel. We flew through produce, meats and dairy.
And then, she was pooped. Yes, the other kind. Stinky, goopy, no-diaper-in-the-world-could-contain-this-mess pooped. Right there in the frozen food section.
So I shopped faster. I jettisoned items from the list that could wait until later. I flew toward the check out, eager to escape with my poopy baby and a shred of mommy dignity in tact.
As I approached the check out, the pimply faced teenage checker asked me loudly, "Will you be paying with WIC today?"
I thought, "Do I look like I'll be paying with WIC today?"
I'm sure I looked like a bridesmaid who just discovered her dress was tucked into her panty hose as she walked down the aisle. I was caught completely off guard. I was self-conscious and embarrassed. I didn't know what to say.
And then my brain caught up with my ego and I thought, "There is no 'look' that describes recipients of WIC." Poverty isn't so obvious.
I asked the checker why he thought I might pay with WIC. He responded, "Sometimes moms with babies who come in early in the morning pay with WIC."
Hmm. I nodded. "I see," I said. And then I paid cash for my groceries.
As I left the store and pulled Little Mama out of the shopping cart, poop oozed up her back and slathered my forearm. I was mortified.
And I felt a wave of compassion for moms who depend on assistance to feed their families.
I don't know who they are. Appearances are deceiving.
What I do know is those moms are gutting it out day-by-day doing the best they can for their kids. They're wiping noses and changing diapers and trying to get through the grocery store before the baby has a meltdown, just like I am. And the last thing they need is to be called out for paying with WIC.
I regret that I didn't stop and share my thoughts with the checker. I'm sure he hadn't considered how his customer would feel when he asks way too loudly whether she'll be paying with WIC today.
Empathy isn't automatic. Apparently mine needed a tune-up.