WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

Musings from the Grocery Store August 13, 2021

Photo by Hobi industri on Pexels.com

This isn’t going to end well. I tried to talk myself out of it as I pulled into the parking lot. The engine was still running so the AC would continue to work against the sweltering August heat outside, my mind not yet made up. The list I’d penned earlier was shoved into my purse between my wallet and checkbook. You don’t have the bags. Gah! I’ve gotten really good at remembering to bring them. In the beginning, I’d forget them all the time and then, in what always felt like a parsimonious choice, I’d buy new reusable ones to avoid the bag tax.* Every. Single. Time. So now I’ve got PLENTY of bags. At home. Not with me. Go home, come back when you’re better prepared.

* The bag tax is not a thread of fiction woven in for flair. It’s a real life thing. Connecticut, for a time, was charging a $0.10 tax for every disposable plastic bag used. That cost to businesses was, of course, passed on to their customers. Now, those bags are banned entirely, statewide, and instead stores are charging customers $0.10 per paper bag. Because they can. And for the record, KAREN, just in case there’s one of you reading this, I’ve been using reusable bags since before they were trendy. Certainly long before they were required. But only when I remember to bring them. Alas, debating disposable versus reusable and/or the merits of taxes is not why we’re here today.

I turned off the music and reasoned with myself. I have a list. That IS ‘prepared.’ They’re a retail establishment. Surely they’re equipped to handle customers who forgot their bags at home. I can do this. I cut the engine, donned my facemask**, shouldered my list-bearing purse, and marched toward the grocery store entrance.

** Also a real life thing. One that everyone in 2020 / 2021 knows well. But, just in case I’m rereading this in my golden years, COVID a thing in the distant past, I’ll not wonder if I was about to rob the grocery store. But I digress….

Lingering near the door for a moment, I unloaded my purse into the basket at the front of the cart meant to keep squirmy toddlers contained so they can’t lick random stuff. Shit! Without bags, I can’t take a scanner. The scanner, for anyone whose grocery store doesn’t offer such luxuries, is THE way to go. You scan your card at the machine, the machine spits out a price scanner, and you can scan-and-bag items as you shop so that when you’re done, all you have to do is hand the scanner and your payment to a cashier. Granted, while shopping, you’ve already spent so much time bagging and rebagging and shuffling items around enough times to have checked out the old fashioned way three times over. Still, it gives shoppers an illusion of efficiency and probably cuts down on payroll for the grocery store. But what good would a cart full of unbagged, scanned groceries do me? I teetered for a moment there, right on the edge of caving in and buying yet another handful of reusable ones. Then, No. I’ll just do it oldschool today. Shop for the stuff and check out with a cashier at the end. No biggie.

I wandered into the store at the produce department where my freedom from the scanner was immediately apparent to me. Sweet baby Jesus, I don’t need to print any stickers! See, you’ve got to scan everything before you bag it when using the scanner. Even the stuff that doesn’t have a barcode to be scanned. Which explains the scales throughout the produce department that spit out barcode stickers for the fruits and vegetables you’re weighing. Very handy to scan but sometimes a pain in the buns to have to look up all the produce items to print the correct barcodes. I bought produce with reckless abandon, tossing cukes into the cart without even twisty-tying the (non-banned, totally legal, yet still very plastic and disposable) produce bag. Bananas. Broccoli. A pineapple? No worries. The cashier will look them all up for me.

There was no real option other than walking aisle by aisle because my store recently remodeled. I call it “mine” because it’s the same grocery store I’ve shopped at for over two decades. But in truth, it’s never really mine, is it? Because they keep rearranging the aisles to keep me befuddled, wandering by the same endcaps repeatedly while trying to find where they moved the goddamn spices THIS time. (Pro tip: Do NOT spend any time looking for books or anything to read other than the rags offered at the checkouts. I tried last week, en route to visit someone at the hospital, and came up empty. No crosswords. No word seeks. Not even a Sudoku. The aisle is GONE, I tell you!) So by the time I’d made it to the midway part of the store, my list was midway crossed off and my cart was midway full. I’m not used to that. I’m used to seeing three or four “in-progress” bags of groceries in my cart. The random heap of items that was staring up at me almost made me uneasy. It looked too messy. Too unorganized. Don’t be silly. Groceries have been piled into shopping carts since the dawn of time, or something. It’ll be fiiiiine.

Near the last few aisles, I began to come to terms with the fact that I’d soon have to endure checking out. With an actual cashier. True, I could’ve gone to a self-checkout lane. But no. I’ll zip through there quickly if I could’ve otherwise gone through the ’12 items or fewer’ cash register but not with a full cart. It would only end with me doing something wrong (like resting my purse on the scale, which the register does NOT appreciate), the machine shutting off and blinking the overhead light to alert staff that I need unsolicited assistance, and/or me feeling flustered. I eyed my FULL cart of groceries and recalled the laminated signs the store used to post in the bagging area to remind employees to “strive for five.” Five items per single use bag. The presumed intention behind the policy was so little Granny can lift the bags from her trunk and into her house without straining, I guess. But the actual consequence of the policy was WAY more disposable plastic shopping bags being used than was necessary. Come to think of it, perhaps we should blame the “strive for five” policy for single-handedly creating a need to ban single-use plastic bags. Fuck. Was my store’s “strive for five” policy nothing more than a thinly veiled, venal plan to charge for paper bags?! And how many paper bags will I need for….all this?! Maybe I SHOULD just but more reusable ones.

I lucked out in terms of no lines at the checkout area. As it turns out, shopping on a random Thursday evening immediately following a microburst that left parts of town without power isn’t a popular choice. Which worked in my favor. I unloaded my groceries onto the belt, thankful that I remembered how, and greeted my cashier, each of us smiling, I’m confident, under our facemasks. You can tell by the crinkle at the corners of the eyes. Hers were old enough to be crinkly, like mine. Anyway. My luck didn’t run out there. Not only did I find a cashier without a line…but also she had a bagger stationed at her checkout! The bagger’s eyes were not old enough to be crinkly but he was unmasked and I can report with authority that he didn’t smile once. God, am I really that old? That this kid looks like, well, a kid?

Baggers are elusive beings in our store. (It’s “ours” at this point because I’ve had the whole shopping trip to get peeved about them “striving for five” and constantly rearranging aisles. Like, it’s still my store. But also, I’m not willing to take full and complete ownership of it, either.) The bagger drought is what caused me to try the scanner method for the first time, in fact. Because I would routinely find myself trying to unload my cart onto the belt while also bagging my stuff at the other end and trying to expedite payment to avoid that long, awkward stare from the cashier when you don’t manage to finish payment before they’re done scanning your order. Because they always seem to stare awkwardly rather than bag your items for you. Because that’s your job when there’s no bagger. Even if you’ve picked a checkout with a bagger who happens to wander away before it’s your turn. All I have to do is work this debit machine? Good golly, what’ll I do with all the free time I’m going to have?!

“Will you be needing any bags today?” the cashier asked. I hesitated. She could taste the hints of a reusable bag sale, I’m sure of it. “Paper will be fine, thank you,” I replied. I couldn’t see her mouth but I imagine she snarled a bit. Hey! Cut me some slack! I’m at this store every week, sometimes more than once. I ALWAYS have my bags. She scanned items. The bagger bagged items. And I stared awkwardly for a change. I’m queen of the world! When the cashier finished scanning, she began to help the bagger with bagging. “I’m going to put the eggs in this bag. With the bread on top,” she said, making direct eye contact with me, speaking slowly. Got it. It’s been a while, but I think I remember how this bagging process works. “Do you want this in a bag?” the boy asked, lifting up a quart-sized container of drain cleaner. Of course I did. But the way he asked it led me to know that the correct answer was, “Uhm. No? I guess not.” I took it from him and set it in the basket beside my purse. “How about this?” she asked, holding up a container of spring mix. Are they serious right now? I fake-smiled, thankful for the still-crinkly eye corners and the facemask, and took the lettuce from her. I tossed it on top of the bread which, if memory serves, was on top of the eggs. And then? The bagger lifted the watermelon half, wrapped in its slightly moist, very thin layer of plastic wrap, and shrugged. Actually shrugged. We stared awkwardly at each other until finally I tossed my purse over my shoulder to clear space in the basket for the unbagged piece of fruit.

That was the last of it, thankfully. I pushed my cart out of the store, took off my mask, and grumbled to myself about how much I hate that store. (It’s not even “ours” anymore. You can HAVE it!) As I loaded my four overfull paper bags (and six or seven random unbagged items) into my trunk, I reminisced about simpler times when a shopper could stop and shop at a stored called, aptly enough, Stop & Shop without a care in the world. And I dreamed for a brighter future in which I remember my damn bags, can take a scanner, and limit the peopling required of me.

 

Pieces of Me August 8, 2021

Photo by Ismael Sanchez on Pexels.com

Something I’ve begun to learn fairly recently is that opening up, showing vulnerability, admitting my limitations, being authentically me….it helps. It helps to talk about the not-so-shiny feelings I struggle with. But it helps even more when friends, acquaintances, even strangers reach out to me in response to some of the topics I’ve shared about here and elsewhere on social media. Raw stuff. Stuff that I had previously swept under the rug and tried to ignore or deny. But the more I share, the more I realize that I’m not alone. My insecurities, my fears, my anxieties; they’re not unique to me.

About a week ago, I was scrolling Facebook and came across a post from a new podcaster. I’m not familiar with the creator or the podcast so this isn’t a plug, necessarily. But the post I saw resonated with me so I shared it. If you’ve got a minute (literally, one minute) and you’d like to check it out, it’s available here. But if you don’t, here’s a recap: The video shows a man speaking directly to the camera about his experience in therapy. He recounts telling his therapist that he feels he needs help to be great; he’s only good on his own. A good employee, a good father, a good husband, a good friend. His therapist says, “Employee is someone you are for your job. Husband is someone you are for your wife. Father is someone you are for your son. Friend is someone you are for your friends. Who are you for yourself? Who are you outside of those roles?” He then admits to the camera, “I’m not sure there’s much of a person at the end of all that.”

BAM! Mic drop. That one minute anecdote succinctly sums up what I’ve been trying to find the words to say for damn near four years now.

Within the past year, my husband and I concluded a conversation we’d mooted since our daughter was first born. The big “should we have another child?” conversation. We’ve opened the dialog periodically over the years, in good times when parenting feels like a breeze and in bad times when I’m certain we’re failing. The end result has always been a decision to table it for the future. I’ve found various excuses. “When she’s out of diapers. Once she’s out of daycare. When we’re in a bigger house. After I’m settled into a new career.” There’s always been a reason why the time wasn’t right. Until sometime mid-pandemic when I tearfully and honestly admitted to my husband, “I don’t want any more children. I’ve lost too much of myself in motherhood and can’t emotionally do it, starting over from scratch with a new baby.”

I felt like a terrible mom for having even thought it, let alone breathed life into it and actually said it. I felt that it implied my daughter has somehow taken something from me or that I don’t love her or appreciate the family my husband and I have created together. Let me be clear: Motherhood has been the most terrifying endeavor of my life but also my most rewarding. Watching her grow into the 8-year old she is today—from learning the basics like talking and walking to developing her own personality and opinions—I’m incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat for all of it. The prospect of ushering her into adolescence and eventually adulthood looms ahead of me, an insurmountable task. But I have faith that it’ll become slightly more tractable with time and experience.

But it’s true. I’ve lost a piece of myself when I became her mom. Just as I lost a piece of myself when I became his wife. And their friend. We—because I’m confident I’m not alone in the way I was brought up—are taught from a young age that you’re supposed to hop on this sort of life escalator as soon as possible. Finish school. Find a job. Nail down a spouse. Buy a house with a picket fence. Pop out 2.5 children. Work until you die. Anything outside of that isn’t normal. It isn’t right. You’re doing it wrong unless you do it this way. And I’ve bought into every last bit of it, happily cleaving off parts of Sierra and bestowing them upon others.

I’ve recognized for a while now that my identity is too wrapped up in others. That I’m long overdue to disentangle myself, to a degree, from the roles I fill for others. To reclaim some pieces of me, patch them back together and mod podge them into place if I have to. Part of me proffers that these weird existential ramblings going on in my brain are related to the pandemic; surely COVID has caused many of us to take a step back and examine what’s important in life and what we’d like to improve upon. Another part of me wonders if it’s my age; maybe all 30-somethings go through this, no matter what’s going on in the world at large.

Regardless of why I’m feeling the things I’m feeling, I’m feeling them. And I’ve taken some steps towards reclaiming myself. But I realized this weekend that my work is far from over. I was at a party at my cousin’s house, celebrating a couple of birthdays. “You two have met, right?” my cousin asked simultaneously of me and a woman across the campfire from me. We both replied at the same time, but gave different answers. Mine was, “I’m sure we have. I know I’ve seen her at parties here before.” Hers was, “No, I don’t think so.” After a brief explanation from my cousin, the woman remembered me. Turns out, she hadn’t recognized me because I’d walked into the party with two kids (my daughter and my nephew), neither of whom were seated with me at the time, and no partner; hubby wasn’t feeling well so he had opted to stay home. Without being flanked by my daughter and my husband, I was unrecognizable as an individual. Which proves my point.

So. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers, this is a topic I’d love to hear from you about. How have you maintained (or reclaimed) your individual identity while still fulfilling the roles you’ve taken on in life? I’m humbly asking for guidance.

 

The Lowlight July 26, 2021

Sunrise at Wildwood, NJ

Mondays can be tough. This Monday, though, is made tougher by the fact that it’s my first full day back home after a week at the beach. My brain is still in a vacation fog fueled by funnel cake, lack of sleep, and a harrowing drive home that spanned over 5 hours and included a GPS-guided detour off the highway and through New York City for reasons still unknown to me. But I digress.

While away, I did what we all do on vacation. I enjoyed my time with family and tried my best to capture a few images each day that represented the memories we’d made. I’m often bad at that. Remembering to take pictures, that is. I’m even worse at remembering to be IN some of the pictures, too, but that’s a story for another day. This time, I did okay at both. The end result was a nightly post to social media sharing the handful of images from that day. If we’re connected there, you probably saw my posts. Maybe even ‘liked’ or commented on a picture or two. The pictures show happiness. Family. Laughter. Relaxation. Fun. All the highlights of a memorable vacation.

But let’s drop the pretense for a minute here and level with each other. Vacation isn’t all just highlights, is it? There are the moments when no one can pick what they want for dinner or the kids are crying for no good reason. Maybe you’re sunburned. Chafed. Overtired. Perhaps the shoes you packed weren’t the best for walking, after all. Maybe the excursion you wanted was booked or you just ran out of time to do it all. Certainly, there are lowlights of vacation, too, but we never really talk about them. Until right now.

My favorite picture from vacation wasn’t taken by me. It was taken by my husband. Here it is:

Fireworks at the beach

My daughter and I were watching a fireworks display on the beach. It was the end of a long day of fun that included a morning bike ride for her and sleeping in for me. We’d gone on a speedboat dolphin tour with a group of family and friends, spent some time poolside, done some souvenir shopping on the boardwalk, and were about to head back to our hotel with a variety of fried sweets to share before bed. When I look at this picture, I take the overly critical stance that I always do. I see that my hair is messy and windblown. I see the flab at the back of my arm and my hunched posture. I wish I looked more motherly, maybe angled toward my daughter rather than away from her. Maybe with an arm around her. But you know what else I see here? Strength.

Since this isn’t social media and I don’t have to stick to just the highlights of my vacation, I’ll admit that had this picture been taken from the front, you’d see that I had a tear-stained face. Because when you’re like me and struggle with bouts of anxiety, you try hard to leave it at home but it finds its way into your suitcase every time. And mine followed me onto the boardwalk that night.

About 90 minutes before this picture was taken, I was browsing shops for trinkets to bring home to loved ones. The three of us—my husband, my daughter, and me—were happily walking together, chatting about what we hoped to buy. We were excited about the fireworks display that would be happening soon and were plotting what we’d grab for a sweet treat before heading back to our hotel for the night. As we shopped, the crowds thickened in proportion to my patience thinning. I grew uncomfortable. Cranky. Anxious. I told my husband that I was going to walk along the shore to have some quiet time and that I’d meet up with them for fireworks a little later. I encouraged him to continue on shopping with our girl and skipped down the wooden steps to the sand.

About 60 minutes before this picture was taken, I slipped off my flip flops and marched, barefoot, across the beach to the water. The sun was already down. It was a full moon, hovering large and pink on the horizon. I walked toward it until I felt the water at my toes. And then, I began walking along the shore, feet sinking slightly into the packed sand, waves lapping up the footprints in my wake. I breathed, deeply. I listened to the water. I watched in semi-darkness as birds alighted at the very edge of the water to drink before flying off. I cried.

About 45 minutes before this picture was taken, I paused my walk to face the ocean and the moon. I sat in silence for a few minutes and let the tears flow. I thought about life and love, childhood and aging, hopes and insecurities. I thought about my relationships. I thought about the work I’ve put into myself, my mental health, over the past year and a half. I talked to my mom, needing so badly to feel her spirit just then.

About 30 minutes before this picture was taken, I had made my way from the shore back to the boardwalk and found a bench overlooking the beach. I texted my husband to let him know where he could find me. I struggled with negative thoughts; I had let my anxiety win by pulling me away and ruining family time. I cried some more. I texted a couple of friends who I turn to in moments like these. I breathed and trained my eyes on that moon, trying to rein in my emotions. Trying to fight the urge to escape to the safety of my hotel room waiting just one block away.

About 15 minutes before this picture was taken, my husband and daughter hopped off the tram car beside me. He kissed the top of my head and whispered, “We’ll always have your back.” I didn’t try to hide my tears from my daughter, who stood between my knees and asked me why I was crying. Instead, I answered as honestly as I could. I told her I wasn’t sure. I asked her for a hug so she wrapped her arms around my neck and let me rock her. “You know that nervous feeling you sometimes get in your belly?” I asked, knowing that she understands anxiety. She nodded. “I’m feeling that. And it’s making me feel really sad for some reason. I’m just really glad you’re here.” She rubbed my back and held me and eventually sat down behind me.

Moments before this picture was taken, the fireworks display began. The fireworks display that I almost missed out on. She and I sat there, with Chris beside us, and oohed and ahhed as colors exploded in the air. I felt her back against mine. I heard the care and concern in her voice. I felt the safety in having my husband there.

I’m so thankful that my husband thought to snap a picture just then. Had he asked, I’d have declined. I’d have waved him off because I was crying and looked a hot mess. But he didn’t ask. He saw a moment he wanted to remember and he acted. I’d like to pause here to urge you: Take the picture. Even if you’re not looking or feeling your best. Take the picture, too, of your partner. Especially if your kids are with them. Even if it’s not social media worthy and no one ever sees the picture but you and them. Honest moments like these should be celebrated just as much as the posed, happy ones.

The greatest souvenir I could’ve ever taken home from my vacation? A reminder that it’s okay to not be okay.

The moon looked so much bigger and more vibrant in person