I’ve been here all morning, at this co-op grocery where I sometimes feel like I’ve spent half my life. After a week of record-setting high temperatures–six consecutive days over 100 Fahrenheit here in central NC–a huge rain came down, scooting the scattered outdoor diners into a neat line under this metal eave. An 6-foot, slanted border of protection. The mist from the exploding droplets hit the edges of my screen, and my face.
Walking into the ladies’ room, I was behind a wide, heavy woman with long graying hair, holding tight to the hand of a tiny boy. She held his arm up high, close to her body–a grip meant to constantly convey the fact of being and knowing more. Some mothers do not reach down to their children, but require their children to reach up to them. And this can be an act of love. Because the world, after a certain point, stops reaching down to a child.
He whined in a high, slow cadence, wanting something. “Come on,” she said. “We’re going to get you cleaned up.” I then saw the imprint of dampness, a solid upside-down U shape, right along the crotch of his small fawn-colored pants. He was probably three and a half, four. For a moment, in an absurd panic for him, I hoped he might have sat in a puddle. But his hanging head spoke the crucial piece of truth.
She waved me into the open stall, an offer I accepted with a stab of guilt. I really had to pee and they might take a while…the boy’s small whine plucked at the edges of my heart. They entered the next stall. “Your socks are all wet, too,” she chided. I wondered what clothes he would change into. She didn’t have a huge supermom bag hanging from her shoulder. She didn’t have a stroller with a bunch of cloth pockets. She wore jean shorts, no makeup, and spoke with an eastern rural accent. It was easy to imagine her behind the register at Hardee’s.
“I’m upset with you right now,” she said. “Because you know better.”
What tools would I use if I were raising a boy, here today, on a Hardee’s salary? Would I do less for him, so that he might learn fast to do for himself? Would I carry a change of clothes, stroller, anything we’d need in case of an emergency, if we had to ride the bus? Would I tell him that I was angry, and why?
And would this protection shield him, at all, from the world raining down?