816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: Context can make a good day better

Zoom out and see the bigger picture, and context has the power to change a stupid statement into a profound one; a simple day into a delightful memory.

My 11-year-old Noah and I were shopping at a big department store. The red one. Maybe the blue one. Does it matter? Not really, but these three things do: Summertime. Shopping. Mom and kid.

But that day our list was unusually short and, for a change, didn’t begin with me yelling over my shoulder, “You push the cart and I’ll throw stuff in! Keep up, kid, and do NOT run over my ankles.”

Nope. That day we had shopped so slowly that I saw every impulse buy he slipped surreptitiously into the cart; we shopped in such great humor that I allowed most of them.

After accepting defeat in a quest for plastic, two-pocket folders with brads, we tried and failed to fiscally justify a new tablet, and — like we had done for weeks — walked with our phones in our hands trying to catch ’em all.

We had joked into the store, joked around the store and didn’t stop just because there was an audience at the check-out lane. What we said as our purchases were being rung up wasn’t as important as how we said it. Why we said it.

“I’m going to go get some baseball cards as payment,” Noah told me.

“Payment? For what?!”

“For helping.”

“When do I get paid for raising you?” I put my hand on my forehead. “I feed you, clothe you, listen to all your whining for baseball cards and stuff…”

“Baseball cards aren’t stuff,” he insisted, “They’re a LIFESTYLE!”

The cashier dinged our purchases across the flashy register-light and put them in bags.

“Noah, help and put those in the cart, please.”

“Yes, M’am!” he saluted.

When a bag handle slipped and he dropped paper towels, he feigned being over-apologetic while scooping them up. “SO, so sorry! Rookie mistake! Forgive me! I’ll do better!”

And then it happened — one of those moments that change a day.

The clerk looked at me with a smile, “He your grandson?”

Since the day that parenthood is obvious to the casual observer, parents have had to hear stupid stuff in check-out lanes.

“Are you still pregnant?”

“You sure have your hands full.”

“She’s going to hate that curly hair when she’s 13.”

Having said (more than) my fair share of stupid things, I always took these comments as they were intended: Silence Fillers. Small talk. Chit chat.

But this? This was … whoa. Ouch.

Without missing a beat, I looked at Noah, “Son? Do me a solid and run over to beauty products and grab me a box of hair dye.”

Noah was laughing harder than he had all day, “Wait until I tell Dad about this!”

I turned to the cashier, “He’s my son,” and finished with a smile that I hoped said, “Don’t be embarrassed.”

Truth was that I had him late; I am (technically) old enough to be his grandmother. I’ve long braced myself for this comment, so hearing it wasn’t unexpected, but her reaction sure was.

She didn’t look embarrassed. She didn’t have that backpedally face that someone who said something that came off as a little rude would have (I know this face; I make it a lot). She looked … happy.

“The reason I wondered,” she said, “was that you two are having such a good time. I was never this playful with my own kids, only with my grandkids.”

We shopped and a chit chatty comment changed my day.

And context fills in how.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com .