When it comes to the well being of our children, many of us have elaborate teams in place. Doctors, therapists, teachers, friends, family, and others help make sure our children with disabilities and their siblings have everything they need.
Sometimes, though, we find love and support where we least expect it.
For me – it’s the grocery store. A place of fear and dread for many is my solace. In fact, I buck the trend of going to the supermarket solo because I want my children to understand the importance of eating healthy and the process of buying and making our own food. I try to not take all three at once; but some variation of my trio, Arlo (6 with Down syndrome), Emil (4), and Maya (2), is with me almost every visit.
It didn’t happen right away. But over the years, as our family grew, I’ve gotten to know the crews at the two groceries stores I frequent. They don’t know my name, but they know who all three of my kids are. And my kids know them.
Mr. Mustafa at Whole Foods chats up my baby Maya every time we visit. He talks about how she reminds him of his granddaughter. Maya smiles and gives him a fist bump and we carry on.
Mr. Mo, also at Whole Foods, carries a torch for my oldest Arlo. They take pictures together. He gives him a gift now and then. When Arlo was younger he’d feel Mr. Mo’s hair. They’ve graduated to high fives.
Our favorite check out clerk at Whole Foods is Roxana. She has an affinity for Emil. They play peek-a-boo behind the counter. He greets her with hugs. She’s spoils him and Maya with cookies. She’s always asking about Arlo, who is usually at school when we visit.
Kuku and Erin at the coffee counter look out for me. They make sure my latte is properly caffeinated based on how haggard I look. Sometimes Kuku will throw in an extra shot. Other days when I’m a bit strung out she’ll suggest decaf.
Even the employees who we don’t know by name welcome us with kindness. They keep their eyes out for my boys when they decide to run off and hide. They offer help when we have a meltdown. They genuinely look out for us.
The same goes for Trader Joe’s, my other weekly shop. It’s all smiles, warmth, and understanding even when my kids are off the rails.
When we get out of the car, the woman arranging the flowers makes sure my kids aren’t running into the parking lot. She’s a former schoolteacher, she tells me; she knows how to keep them in line.
When Tony is working the sample counter, we exchange drink ideas while my kids are hooked up with whatever is being served.
And then there is Ms. Shantel. She professes her love to all “her babies” that come in regularly. She spoils them with treats and hugs. She goes above and beyond. Arlo is usually in school when we visit, but was with us on a recent trip. Shantel was working the checkout. When Arlo started emptying the cart and tried to scan an item, Shantel showed him how to do it properly. She explained where the barcode was on each item until he figured it out on his own. She let him do the entire cart, $111 worth of food. All the while praising him– telling him how great he is, how he is the speediest cashier of the day, how he’s faster than the cashier next to him. He was so proud.
And I was beside myself. In our busy world where everyone is in such a huff and hurry – someone took the time to teach my son an immensely practical life skill. She gave him confidence. She was kind, patient, and caring. And since having children has turned me into a crybaby – of course I was crying tears of joy.
But this is more than a love letter to the beautiful people at the grocery stores we frequent. It’s an example of how including our children in life chores can pay off in many different ways.
Shopping with our kids is no walk in the park. Would it be easier to have the food delivered or head out early on a weekend solo? Sure. Are some of our shopping trips complete and total nightmares? Absolutely.
But the benefits far outweigh my frustration and multiplying grey hairs. My children are learning about new foods. They are figuring out how to navigate stores. They are getting to know people of all ages. They are engaging with the public. They are part of their community. They are making new friends.
We’re also helping the rest of world better understand disability. An employee at one store apologized profusely when she saw me moving store items from a disabled parking spot. She then alerted management that other items should be relocated to make more room next to those spaces.
People see Arlo and know who he is. They ask about him. They’re looking out for him. They remember him. But they also see him as a big brother in a family, a regular kid who needs some extra attention now and then.
And then there are those moments like the one with Shantel – where magic happens. When something as mundane as waiting in line at the checkout turns into a lesson we pay big bucks for therapists to drive home. Physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapy wrapped into one spontaneous, natural moment with a friend at Trader Joe’s who went above and beyond, yet thought nothing of it.