Wednesdays have turned into a ritual for Riona and I, as the older two get a ride home from the carpool and she has joined in with her expertise at helping me go grocery shopping (if expertise means begging me for Cheez-its, Naked juice, and blueberries…).
On this Wednesday, five days into Trumpocracy, the weight of it all is heavier than ever before. The two stores, the lines of people at guest services while I wait to buy bus passes, the shuffling of semi-broken carts, the weaving in and out of crammed-too-full aisles filled with Valentine’s candy and magazines and gift cards and everything, it seems, except the food I need to feed my family.
The knowledge that I carry with me now, of stripped healthcare, border wall building, claims of voter fraud, Muslim refugee bans, women’s healthcare denials, mortgage fees reinstated… It makes even the mundane tasks of finding the right brand of almond milk, of selecting a new variety of potatoes, of giving in to the Cheez-it bid, seem heavy and dark and worrisome.
How long will this variety of foods be here? I begin to wonder. How long will this variety of people be here? My darker self asks, as I hear a series of languages and see every skin tone meander through this shared space, this shared ritual of finding food.
At the second store, after I’ve sent Riona off on her own to fulfill half the list while I buy the bus passes, we count our items in the small cart to see if we can shimmy into the “About 15 Items” line behind four other groups. We stand behind them like a crooked tail as carts shuffle past, and slowly move forward to the monotonous beep of the register. As we pile our goods atop the belt, I’m proud of her ability to stick to the list. “Good, you got just the almond milk I like,” I smile down at her, and she grins back, “Of course, Mama. I’m not Daddy.”
A tall blond woman rings us up in a slow, methodical fashion. Riona, who has just finished checking off the last item on the iPhone grocery list, proudly clicks the phone shut and begs to put my credit card into the chip reader. “How does it work, exactly?” she asks excitedly, wholly unaware that my usual no has slipped into a dull yes because my mind is on all my Muslim students from all those countries on his list who will likely never see their extended families again (and not on who’s putting my card in the chip reader).
“Awww,” the cashier coos, “I wish I could be a kid again… although, I had a terrible childhood.”
I look up at her, the pale blue eyes, the straight blond hair, and the hint of an accent. She knows she has my attention now, though of course a line of people still waits impatiently in this express lane, wanting to check out, to go home, to pop open a beer and drink this day away.
“Have you ever heard of the Bosnian genocide?” she asks, and my mind flashes back to my first year of teaching when I had a student whose letter of introduction to me was, when I asked about his childhood, “Only an American would ask about that. Because my childhood was shit. My childhood was war.”
“Yes… I have had students who were from Bosnia,” I reply to the cashier.
“Oh, where do you teach?” she asks excitedly.
“South High School.”
“My sister went there!”
I’m reminded again of how connected our humanity is. She hands me my receipt, I tell her what a great school it is, and I grab the hand of my ten-year-old, whose childhood still lights up by the sushi we always share (unbeknownst to her sisters) before we drive home. Whose childhood is road trips and living in Europe for a year and grandparents who are right down the road and two loving, living parents.
We make our way across the parking lot, and she rams the cart into the speed bump. The eggs tumble to the ground and she frantically looks up at me, ready for the annoyance that would normally be present on my lips.
But I am crying because I don’t care about the damn eggs. I care about the millions of refugees, just like that girl in the grocery store, who won’t be coming here. About the thousands who have come. And the thousands who have been left behind. About the impotence I feel, the numbness that creeps into the corners of my days, as I face this new regime.
“What is it, Mama?” she asks, taking my hand again. I tell her what the girl said about the Bosnian genocide. About the papers Trump is ready to sign. About my first-year-of-teaching student.
We open our crunchy California roll and I put all the wasabi on one piece. She smiles, holding up the bottle of water for me, wanting me to douse it out. “Not this time,” I say, “I want to feel all that fire in my mouth.”
I want to feel something. To feel like I can go to the grocery store without crying. To feel like we live in a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is loved, and everyone is free. Where everyone has the chance to have a happy childhood.
Halfway home, she asks, “Can I have the last piece?”
She pops it into her mouth and squirms in her seat. “Don’t worry, Mama, I’ll throw the package away before the sisters find out.” She hops out of the car and dances across the lawn towards the outside trash can. “It’ll be OUR secret.”
As usual, she is as happy as a clam. She doesn’t carry the weight of the media, the weight of the presidential pen, the weight of a genocide, as she goes through her days.
She has the gift of a happy childhood. And for now, that is the only weight I want her carry.
“We’ll never tell,” I smile back, the spicy wasabi still sticking to my tastebuds. I can feel the fire in my mouth. And for this moment, at least, I am only thinking about how happy she is.
About how glad I am to have my girls, my home, my school that is a safe haven for all the refugees, for the grocery store filled with a microcosm of the world where a refugee now works, and all the food our family will need.
Because it is something. It is enough. Enough for today.