Sunday, November 22, 2009

Appreciation

It's been weeks since I wrote. Half out of my control...half internal "take a breath." But then...crap happens.


I was standing in line at the grocery store. It was the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day...one of those crisp days, like apple pie and golden leaves. I had filled my cart with roots to roast--turnips and parsnips and sweet potatoes. Fresh rosemary, a loaf of garlic bread, brie to wrap in pastry and bake...and I arrived at check-out. Three lines open, two carts in each--throw the dice, right? I park. Now, I might add to this mental picture that the attached liquor store was having a "tasting" which meant I had three choices of merlot to sample as I waited...yum. (chuckle) However, it was very shortly apparent that things were amiss.

The cashier was in his early 20's. Kinda scruffy, rugged around the edges, well mannered, but needed a good meal. (smile) He was polite, nice...tired. And the two carts in front of me....wow. Soon after my first sip of a dark californian blend I noticed--she was swearing at him. She was the same age as he. There was a baby in the cart...and she had a pack of WIC checks in one hand and a cell phone in the other. She ridiculed him. It was so obvious he was new, nervous...she was that "pretty" that had faded...paled. Highlights a little too white, black eyeliner a little too thick, cherry lips that pulled back over viciously sharp teeth--ready to bite. She asked if he was stupid. She joked about his blush with the girl behind her who also had a stack of checks and an "access" card.

His pain was palpable. It radiated from his reddened cheeks as he struggled to put the numbers in the system, calculate the credit...scan the specific food. He cringed as he told her the juice she had chosen wasn't covered, and physically cowered as she raged at him. When it was all done and he had fed her checks into the register....she asked for four packs of cigarettes and pulled out a wad of 20's to pay for them.

I gripped the bar of my cart so hard I knew I would have bruises later.

She sneered. She laughed with the girl behind her--this one also in her twenties, with two kids hanging on the sides of her cart and her belly stretched tight with a third....she swore. Language that made me gasp--actually out loud--so that they both looked at me. She tossed her cheese and milk carelessly on the belt, "What, you got a problem with that??"

As the previous director and executive director of numerous early childhood centers and preschools-- I was speechless. Dumbfounded. Outraged. I fumbled....me, with what I've done--the places I've been, I fumbled. I stepped back. At this point it had been 40 minutes. I'd watched four other people get in line behind me...observe....check out the other lines....then smile almost apologetically, and move over. I watched them leave. There was some part of my mind that was screaming for me to just SWITCH LINES! What on earth was the big deal?? Just "move along".....

But there was a day. One day. Warm, indian summer that year...when a single mom....with worn out sneakers, a cranky toddler and a hungry two yr old...she stumbled into the welfare waiting office 4 minutes before her appointment. She wiped the tears from her cheeks. She was horrified. Three months ago she was a stay-at-home mom. A wife.

That caseworker told me I was what she lived for....that I was someone who had worked since I was 17 and had paid into this system and that is was a pleasure to help me when I really needed it. She was amazing. She took one of the most humbling....awful moments in my life....and filled it with kindness. I have never been so grateful. So thankful. With that green plastic card came the ability to feed my boys meat. Doctor appointments and immunizations. I gave up selling plasma.

I have stood in many lines wic checks in hand, cheese and milk and juice....and never fathomed ridiculing the person who's very taxes was paying for my meals. I stood humbled...appreciating every mouthful of food, every gulp of milk.

Four months and my life was different. I signed a lease, a contract....I sold a painting, opened a center. I smiled as I hugged my caseworker and told her goodbye. I was done. Years have gone by.....for every frightened mother that I have held, connected, and cheered on as they landed on their feet.... For every proud and hungry parent I have urged in the direction of help...even when it hurt. For every moment that I have understood people who are struggling....I have been grateful for that time. There is no replacement for walking in a pair of shoes.



But what have we become?



How is it that there is a wave of people....that ridicule those of us that work forty, fifity hours a week--god awful black cold early mornings....late nights comforting your son because you missed his Christmas play to handle an employee emergency? How did that happen? I have LIVED the life of a "family supported." I have been there. Not for a moment....a single instant did I not know that the food on my child's plate came from the table, the paycheck, the taxes of someone who got up and went to work.

I raise my boys now. I watch them....watching me. How do I teach them this? How do we teach appreciation?

I've been told that appreciation is the child of "without."

Doing without....is this the seed? For every day you go without the jeans that everyone else had in 7th grade--is this what makes them magical? Every day you eat hamburger helper....isn't that what makes lobster heavenly? Every lonely night...makes the arms of a loved one priceless.

Every day you sell plasma and give your kids mac and cheese for breakfast.....

Is there a waiting period? How do you take a significant portion of our society and make them understand what it is to do without....when they never do.

I'm truly lost here. I stood in that line. For an hour. When I started unloading the lukewarm milk and brie from my cart, the chashier said to me, "If you're wic, get out of my line." I smiled. I told him he was doing an excellent job. His shoulders unknotted....he turned, watching their carts as they left. I wanted to tell him they weren't normal. They weren't...what we were working for. He and I...standing together on a warm fall afternoon....wondering what the world was coming to.

11 comments:

Maven said...

That was powerful. And timely. I was having a similar conversation earlier about gratitude and people who don't accept help, they expect it.

Glad you're back - I'll take quality over quantity any day.

Blondewithbrains said...

All I can say is wow...I just came over from Mavens blog and this is so meaningful to me from both sides of that checkout...Being one of those cashiers for 13 years and also having to use the system for a short period but thankful of it when I did...

The idea now a days of the "right" people think they have, and take no responsibility for their part in all of it just expect to be handed money and they can just slide along on other peoples hard earned money...just makes me sick to my stomach...

I have 2 children who have been taught to take responsibility for their life, dont try to pass off their problems, just deal with them and move on...and not to feel that the world owes them something because they really havent been in this world long enough to have any rights to anything yet...they havent paid their dues...

Kudos to you for addressing this, maybe it will make someone actually open their eyes...

Chantel said...

Maven & Bw/B-(chuckle--love that name)...

I struggle daily with wanting to give my children everything--and yet knowing that is the very way to curse their lives. People who only seek to have happy children--who lose sight that their goal should be to raise happy ADULTS--childhood is only 15 years. Adulthood is 70. I know so many unhappy adults that simply have no appreciation, no self-control, no joy--because they never went "without."

I'm so glad to know I'm not alone in this journey. :)

Judi said...

Maven sent me over via Facebook.

This is a touching story. You tell it so well.

If it were me I would have had to tell those girl the definition of gratitude.

Chantel said...

Thank you Judi, I think in the back of my mind I knew that if I opened my mouth--it would have been a flood...

Wonderful to meet you! :)

Somebody's Nana said...

I am speechless. You spoke my heart.

Chantel said...

Dear Nana, thank you...finding kindred souls gives me strength.

Dina said...

Thank you, Dear one. Yes I am almost a month late in reading this post, but Thank you. For posting what I have been wanting to say. We have lived a VERY similar life right there, our backgrounds a paralell path. I shudder when I see the people that happily take advantage of the system, and feel no gratitude for the help they are given. It physically is a blow to my own heart. Thank you for staying in that line. For being there for the young man.

Chantel said...

Dear Dina...

Amazing how in this...translucent world of words, you can meet someone that you click with. I've grown to really relish and appreciate blogging--for the empowerment, the strength...the will to take a breath. To know I'm not alone; to believe in beauty and honesty and love and truth.

Tgoette said...

Great post, Chantel! I too have suffered behind those in line that feel a heightened sense of entitlement and lack of appreciation for the gifts the working taxpaying public afford them. It's repugnant that there are people out there that not only profit off of their lack of personal responsibility but insist on rubbing our noses in the fact that we have to work while they don't have to.

Chantel said...

Tom--I love the word repugnant...it nearly makes your skin crawl. (chuckle) And that day, I was so...angry and frustrated and ashamed...just to be the same species as that. Giving help, receiving help...amazing how it changes the soul. But sometimes not. *sigh*