Milk, Eggs, Butter, and Life Lessons

To-do list book.
Image by koalazymonkey via Flickr

It’s been two days and I’m still hanging on to the guilt. Guilt manifested from a trip to the grocery store. Guilt that no one is inflicting on me but myself. Guilt is one of the few things that I follow through with consistently.

Monday was a particularly busy day, although it didn’t really need to be. My lack of time management over the weekend resulted in the chaos of Monday. My husband divulging in football viewing on Saturday seemed like permission to take a two-hour nap on Saturday. Come Monday morning my eyes stared blankly into the darkness, waiting anxiously for the alarm to sound. Already my brain was categorizing my to-do list and everyone’s schedule. It was definitely going to be a day of treading water, scrambling to stay afloat, waiting for someone to throw me a life-preserver. Breath. Just breath.

The alarm shrieked at 5:30am. Instead of pressing snooze a dozen times, I scrambled out of bed to get started. Lunches, backpacks, children, busses and rides. I surveyed the kitchen while taking a last peak at my grocery list. At noon that day I was hosting a luncheon for about 10-12 ladies to celebrate a couple of birthdays. My culinary contribution was two soups and a green salad. For the most part, the downstairs was company clean, while the upstairs looked and smelled like the inside of a boys locker room. I had three hours to purchase and prepare food, sweep floors one last time and set up the serving areas.

The grocery store was already buzzing with retirees and moms trying to pack in as much as possible before preschool hours and half-day kindergarten finished. My list was limited to my immediate needs. It was definitely going to be a leftover soup and grilled cheese night for everyone. I wasn’t planning on cooking twice. Of course, without fail, each aisle reminded me of something else I needed. Before I knew it, an hour had almost passed and my cart was a minimum of a $100 full. Racing to the check-out lanes I became edgy realizing that once again only one lane was open. It is as frustrating as having a drawer full of mismatched socks that the grocery stores are all pushing for more self-check out lanes. Bagging $100 or more of groceries at a small merry-go-round contraption makes for a very long and exasperating grocery trip. I would understand the reasoning if prices of groceries would actually go down, which is what management continually tries to spoon feed us.

Usually I would suck it up and check-out myself, but I realized quickly that the last person in the “manned” line was almost finished and it would help me get back to the house more quickly to be bagged by someone else while I unloaded. I started hauling armfuls of groceries on to the belt when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a grandmotherly woman behind me. She had one of those tiny two-tiered carts. There were approximately 5 items in her top shelf. I turned and smiled. She glared, straightened each item in her cart in a single line, making sure I was aware of how few items she was purchasing. The gentlemen in front of me was in the process of paying and I still had roughly half a basket full.

Normally I am the one that parks farthest away from the door to be sure those that really need close parking spaces can find a spot, I am the one handing a stranger change at the coffee shop so they don’t have to break a large bill, I take other people’s grocery carts inside for them and I usually let people with smaller orders go ahead of me. But not Monday. Not when there were several self-checkout lanes available and this woman only had 5 items. Not when I was in a hurry.

We exchanged glances a couple more times. Each acknowledgement resulted in her moving her cart closer to me, a reorganization of those same 5 items and a few loud sighs. I just kept unloading until I heard, “Good morning. Did you find everything alright today?” The stand-off was over. I was now being bagged. After a few moments the impatient woman finally left the lane and headed over to the self-check out. As she was leaving she made sure I saw her scowling at me, bumping her cart into the magazine stand as she circled around.

I understand and appreciate that everyone deserves an opportunity to contribute to society as well as earn a living. But as I stood there watching my groceries get bagged, I couldn’t help but notice how haphazardly they were being thrown together. I purposely bring in my own bags, half of which are insulated for cold or frozen items. I separate the bags to be sure they get used for the right items and I try my best to group like items on the belt as I unload. In fact, the cashier was doing the same, sorting, to make the Bagger’s job easier. Yet she seemed completely oblivious. She was in her late 20’s, definitely a little challenged, but certainly not handicapped or overtly mentally challenged.

When I got home, my hope was to just put away the cold items, but that was  a near impossible task as I pulled paper products out of the insulated bags and frozen corn out of the others. Nothing was in order – grapes were under potatoes, bread squished  between canned goods.

“Why?! Why do I bother!” I shouted out loud to Luna. She cocked her head in confusion.

“You’re right,” I stated, “I should call and complain.”

But as soon as I heard the manager’s voice on the other line my voice began to quiver. Really? I was really going to complain about the way my groceries were bagged by a person who probably couldn’t get any other job? A person who probably lived in a group home for all I knew and hadn’t matured passed the age of my own children. However, I found myself sheepishly telling the manager about the state of my groceries and ridiculous use of my insulated bags. I also made sure to praise the cashier who tried his best to sort things to be bagged to help this woman. When I finished I held my breath waiting for the scolding, or excuses, or both.

“Ma’m, I am truly sorry and your complaint is valid. You are right, if people are going to bag groceries then they need to do it correctly. We have been trying to get this woman a case worker to help her understand better how to do her job. Hopefully now they will finally send someone in to shadow her to get this resolved. Thank you for taking the time to call me. I appreciate your honesty.”

And the impatient woman? Well, as I was leaving I couldn’t help but notice that a customer service person was walking her through how to use the self-checkout. I’m going to assume she had never used it before. So one woman learned something new that day while the other was hopefully going to get the training or help she needed to do her job well. Then why do I feel so guilty? Because my motives disappoint me. I wasn’t trying to help anyone out. I was looking out for myself. Although it worked  to everyone’s benefit, it still leaves me with an unanswered question of :

“Is it okay to help others when it is convenient and look out for yourself when it isn’t?”

No – I don’t think so. I think it is far more telling of a person’s character when helping someone else sacrifices their own agenda. It is no big deal to return a cart when you are already heading inside or letting someone go ahead of you when you have nowhere to be anyway. Yes it is a challenge to put aside your own needs for the needs of others, but it is the right thing to do most of the time. I remember siting in a Bible Study class once. We were doing a lesson on parenting and our mentor mom said, “When faced with two choices (in regards to discipline) the harder of the two is usually the right choice.” A universal life lesson.

I forgot for a moment.


10 thoughts on “Milk, Eggs, Butter, and Life Lessons

  1. Yes we are called to serve others, put their needs before our own, but if you continue to do that at the grocery store you may end up being like that character Tom Hanks played in The Terminal, you will never get out of there. At some point you have to take your turn so you can take care of your life. That is not being selfish it’s just how things work. Chin up, no guilt!

  2. I agree with the previous comments. It is not selfish to take your turn in line. It is, however, selfish , impolite and manipulative to rearrange your stuff in your cart ten times and sigh deeply while waiting your turn in line; causing the person in front of you to have guilt pangs. That lady in line behind you was old enough to no better! You do not feel you have to make excuses for taking your turn in line.

    1. Thank you so much! I don’t know why I tend to take on the “blame” or the “guilt” and assume everything must be my fault…I see moms do it all the time and want to scream, “HEY! It’s not you!” and yet I can’t heed my own advice.

  3. I think everyone “forgets for a moment” when it comes to things like this. What *I* make note of is that you REMEMBERED again without anyone having to point it out to you. THAT to me is the really tricky part. Remembering to keep the presence of mind to be aware of what you’re doing, and evaluating why. Besides, if you got it right every time… would that seem any more credible??

    Average Girl said it perfectly. Seeing others come in short, or shine unexpectedly – regardless of which end we’re on ourselves at that moment – allows us a glimpse of what we are capable of. Good and not so good. If we cannot find compassion and forgiveness or be inspired by in that… then what?

    Don’t be so hard on yourself!!

    How did the luncheon go? Did you get it all done in time!? 😉

  4. You are the most caring and giving person I know, so once in awhile, I think it’s perfectly fine to put yourself first. Besides, if that woman was elderly, she probably had the time to wait (coming from a retired person who doesn’t mind waiting anymore), and you definitely didn’t have any time to spare.

  5. truly, nothing beats real life experiences. we learn something even from the most mundane experience– like in your case, doing the grocery 🙂
    i’m all for being nice and courteous and giving (specially to elders), but then you have your own rights, too… the right to go first, the right to complain, the right to receive good service. i believe more than anything, we also have to be fair to ourselves.
    you’re entitled to get the service or the treatment that you deserve. so don’t be too hard on yourself 🙂
    nice post!
    Supergoddess Me

  6. Yes, definitely a universal lesson, but well, just like you quote, it’s so hard sometimes! And, I know where you’re coming from. I had a melt-down of sorts last week because of bruised fruit at the grocery store (among other things) ;). Sometimes, our deficiences allow others the opportunity to put *their* best face forward for the day.

    1. Ha – so are you saying that when we screw up it gives others an opportunity to shine? Perhaps it is all a “divine plan” (if you believe that sort of thing). Bruised fruit is not fun either. If we are going to pay so much for our groceries, shouldn’t the store be accountable to make sure it gets home safely?

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