Forever is composed of nows. – Emily Dickinson
Most Saturday afternoon’s Mary Beth and I have a date at the grocery store. We seldom make a shopping list, but sometimes we do remember to bring coupons. There is an established routine to this task: I drop her off at the front door; park the car; grab the reusable bags; and then meet her inside where we head to the back of the store. My wife and I start our shopping in the frozen food aisle as we work our way to the front.
We huddle by the frozen tilapia and cocktail shrimp to do our menu planning for the week. Schedules are strongly considered as each night is called out to be certain we know what the upcoming week looks like and to plan accordingly.
The moments we spend in the frozen food aisle are more than just figuring out the week’s dinner menu; they are about considering what we need and then making a plan to get it.
Mary Beth and I have come to realize the Tuesday night meatloafs and the Saturday afternoons trying to remember if there’s enough toilet paper to last the week have become some of the most special moments in our life. We have also come to realize some moments are fleeting in their specialness.
With dinner menus and a shopping list in mind, we set out, together, to get what we need for another week.
My wife and I tackle the detergent and paper goods aisle. There was once a time when laundry detergent and bleach went into the shopping cart without hesitation.
Now with just two of our four children at home, the days of doing three to four loads of laundry are over. Our life has changed and it is about to change again.
Andrew, our younger son, graduates high school in a few months and soon after it will be time to leave for college. We are down to only weeks with him. Even though Andrew will come home for holidays and summer breaks, it will not be the same. If you are parent then you understand what I mean.
His energy, optimization and passion for what he loves will be missed. It’s hard to believe the moments we have cherished most are almost over. The days of sitting at baseball fields, enjoying his radiant smile and always getting a kiss goodnight (even now) are about to end in the way we have always experienced them.
Andrew doesn’t have to do anything else for his mother and me to realize his greatest gift is his heartfelt tenderness. We have been fortunate to have lived these seemingly ordinary moments with him because we have always known that each one has actually been extraordinary.
We push past the Tide and Clorox. We have enough for this week. Maybe next time we’ll need to replenish our supply.
Our daughter doesn’t eat lunch until 12:30. With breakfast at 7:30, this is a long gap for an 11-year-old. But Emily’s fifth grade teacher does allow mid-morning snacks.
Mary Beth and I stand in the snack food aisle contemplating what our daughter would like along with which snack is the least junky-ish. Her usual request is Goldfish and cherry Nutri-Gain bars. Even though our youngest child is changing by the day, her snack preferences are not.
Sometime before the holidays, the nightly routine of tucking her into bed ended. The pull-away period is beginning as our daughter seeks her independence. Now, looking for a way to stay connected, she and I head to the gym on the weekends. Emily keeps a certain distance while we are there, but I do notice she has me in her eye line at all times.
The once dependable moments we know today disappear in the blink of an eye. When they do, it’s good to know that with a little planning, newer and just as sweet moments can take their place.
Last Saturday, Mary Beth chose cheddar cheese crackers for Emily’s snack. Change is good sometimes.
Coffee is a weekly purchase. My wife and I don’t need to ask the other if we need it; we just know to buy fresh ground Starbucks. We enjoy coffee together on our Saturday and Sunday mornings when the world seems to slow down to catch its breath, so we can, too.
Last March the promise of these special weekend moments seemed to be slipping away. Mary Beth was diagnosed with a Chari Malformation which is a rare birth defect that results in brain tissue (the cerebellum tonsils — two pegs of tissue which hang off the cerebellum at the base of the brain) extending into the spinal canal.
The result of the brain malformation creates a syringomyelia which is a cyst-like object within the spinal cord. Mary Beth had to undergo an eight-hour operation to lift the cerebellum tonsils out of her spinal canal. By doing so, the cyst would eventually dissipate.
The weeks leading up to her brain surgery were full of concern and fear. The life and the moments we shared were not guaranteed to last. If the surgeon was unsuccessful, Mary Beth was looking at rapidly degenerating health including loss of muscle control and perhaps paralysis.
That was then; this is now.
With my wife beside me, we stop in front of the coffee selections. I glance at the labels to be certain I select decaf. As we turn and walk to the next aisle, I often feel Mary Beth’s hand resting gently on my back for a brief, but exquisite moment.
Heading to the checkout lane
We breeze through the produce area and pick almost-ripened bananas, red delicious apples, and plenty of green vegetables. Before heading to the checkout lane, we pause to take one more inventory of what we need for the week ahead. Mary Beth quizzes me to convince herself that everything was considered.
Now confident that nothing was forgotten or left behind, we head to the check-out lanes. The challenge, of course, is to find one where the line is not too long. We survey the lanes and with careful deliberation attempt to choose one that promises to be the fastest moving.
We park the cart at the end of the automatic belt and hand the reusable shopping bags to the clerk. The groceries are carefully placed on the belt in logical groupings. The meat is together, followed by a cluster of diary items, etc. With the cart emptied, a divider bar is placed at the end of the belt to protect our choices from being co-mingled with those from another shopper.
The scanned items are placed in the bags which are stacked into the shopping cart. Mary Beth swipes the debit card to complete the transaction. It is with grateful hearts we appreciate the blessings of this food.
I push the cart from the store and to the parking space where I left the car an hour earlier. Once home, the bags are carried into the house and the refrigerator and cabinets are replenished again.
There’s a sense of comfort in this routine. The routine suggests there will be a Tuesday night meatloaf waiting for us as we return home to share our days; there will be a snack in Emily’s book bag next to the homework we helped her finish the night before. And along with this routine, there’s a bittersweet concern we may run out of laundry detergent after all.
Unlike searching for the fastest moving checkout lane, it’s now time to slow down and enjoy the present moment and the moments to come. However, there’s no question my family will continue to face concerns far more serious than laundry detergent because life has a way of catching us by surprise from time-to-time.
When the unexpected does occur and change happens, there’s a confidence we will get through it because my family has a plan. The ingredients of the plan are simple ones: love, support, faithfulness and being fully present for one another in all of our moments together – no matter what.
Next Saturday Mary Beth and I will return to the grocery store. Once there, we will find more than dinner in the frozen food aisle; we will find everything we need for another week.