A simple request from my girl, far away in her dorm room, sends me rushing through Trader Joe’s, dodging freshmen from the local college who are scavenging for their Friday night snacks. Jammed up in the produce section, I can see the hunger in their eyes–already the cafeteria has tapped their taste buds out. They’re dreaming about real food, the kind mom used to make. I see their longing for the day when they can go back to their own apartments, bags of groceries ready to indulge their home-cooked fantasies.
“What are you hungry for?” I hear them ask each other. Must be freshmen. Their voices have a hollow ring to them, as if they aren’t sure a) what their new roommates would think acceptable; and b) how they would cook it like mom used to.
They have the wide-eyed look that only 18-year-olds who are used to having mom do their grocery shopping get. They are the ones who linger just a bit too long in the produce section, intimidated by the choice of pre-washed bagged mixed greens or an entire head of organic red leaf. I often hesitate there myself, just in case they want some ‘mom’ advice. Sometimes they ask–usually they don’t.
I feel it in their body language, the bravado of a puffed out chest behind their shopping cart, attempting to believe that yes, they can do this. Methodically, they place their items in the bright red carts. There’s no rhythm there–that comes with years of experience navigating the aisles. And I wonder, is my girl like this girl who walks away? Does she pause over the frozen ravioli section and then casually toss two bags in her cart, only to be shut down over the myriad of red sauce choices? Does my girl scan the produce section with laser focus, or does she hope for help in the shape of a forty-something woman holding a latte and shopping list?
Back to my care-package mission, I turn the aisle and there it is: the pumpkin display. No one in my house craves pumpkin now that she’s gone. I toss the yellow box of pumpkin bar mix in the cart. Why not pumpkin bread, too? In it goes, without hesitation. Tears crack the corners of my eyes. Somehow, I will fit it all in the care package. I have to.
I watch the students with a wistful smile, knowing their parents might be just like me, wondering and wishing they could get a glimpse into the ordinary moments in their life as an 18-year-old away from home for the first time. They look so young. Have they ever been grocery shopping before? Did their mothers teach them to compare prices or how to pick a ripe melon? My inner mama is surging. I feel her panic. Did I teach her before she left? Is she making her smoothies and eating enough protein?
Standing in the frozen foods section, I feel an obligation rise up in me–a sense of duty to all those moms out there. Somehow I must let them know their kids are OK, that they’re choosing the produce over the sweets and six-packs. How can I make it known that they have on warm jackets and remembered their reusable grocery bags? I want to somehow tap these kids on the shoulder and beg them to just send one text, simply snap one photo of this ordinary moment–something–anything–to let their parents know they’re smiling and happy and making friends. To give them a glimpse of the extraordinariness of their life…their growing up.
But I don’t say anything. That would be creepy, I hear my daughter’s voice in my head. Instead, I squeeze my eyes together, willing back the tears, and hope that 600 miles away, some mom in a grocery store feels my call, looks into my girl’s eyes, and smiles.
I’m ready now. I can do this. The pumpkin will arrive safely, like a hug from home.
QUESTION: Is this the first year away from home for one of your children? How is the transition going?
CHALLENGE: When you encounter young adults in public, remember they have mothers at home who are probably worried about them.
Edited by Alisha Gale and Sarah Monson.
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos/sritangphoto with graphics by Julie Finlayson.