One child, white-knuckled, gripping the edge
of the metal shopping cart.
One child, standing up, fingers outstretched
to read the granola bars
that are just outside your grasp.
I hand you the box.
You threw it on the floor.
You leap on top of the jar of pickles,
the oatmeal and trail mix-
until you hear a satisfying pop. you look at me- blue eyes
Organic blue corn chips
cascade to the floor.
We had not even made it past
the sugar cubes they pass as cereal
the ice cream
the chocolate syrup.
All the things that you have learned
not to even ask for.
Because for the limited time that
I have you
you will not develop
urinary problems from food dye
pre-conditions for alzheimer’s
or ADD or diabetes or obesity.
Middle-aged women steer
ungainly baskets around me
While I- on hands and knees-
scoop up bruised-colored chips
into a ripped plastic bag.
Fluorescent lights expose the crumbs
I have to leave behind.
They say as they navigate their wide berth-
“They grow up, it gets better”
“They’ll be gone before you know it.”
They are right, I know. It’s empathy we need
As my two- year-old unmercifully
screams in the grocery store,
howling for his independence
as the strobe lights from his shoes
flash on the crushed cardboard
beneath his feet.
A boy- not more than 20- shows up, a chin full
of proud stubble, broom and dustpan in hand.
I apologize, profusely-
Mustering the bit of pride i still have
after I had to sell my wedding rings
to afford the lawyers I had to hire
to keep you.
What I want, for this screaming child, whose tears
have overflowed down his perfect face
is to sit under this basket,
amidst the shrapnel of his fury
is to hold him
and rock him in my arms
and sing his favorite song.
Jeanne Ferran is a teacher and writer and single mother of two boys and a lab mix. She lives in a cabin in the mountains of Western North Carolina.