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The Old Man and the Letter C

The other day at Tom Thumb I spent 10 minutes helping a little old man find the prune juice. I did this even though my husband is the Eagle Scout, not me. I grocery shop at the headquarters for all Fort Worth geriatric shoppers, the Tom Thumb at Hulen and Bellaire, and I love shopping there because I love REALLY old people as a general rule. My husband Gordon thinks my obsession with cute little old men in particular — and the inevitable day he will become one — is a bit inordinate.

The man was thin and stooped and was cussing up a storm on aisle 7 just as I rounded the corner with Drew and pregnant belly in tow. I would record our conversation here, but would need to censor it beyond recognition. We looked all over tarnation for it (the prune juice, that is); but like most elusive things in the grocery store, it was right there in front of us...on the bottom row. Although I knew why prune juice might be important to someone of that age, my new friend’s persistence was nearly unnerving.

We parted ways, and then I started noticing the other old folks in the store with a keener eye, and they all seemed to have one thing in common: they all loved Drew. Every one I passed bent down and made a comment about “what a big boy you have” and “my, look at those EYES.” I realized that’s why I like shopping there. It’s like a cheering gallery for my genetic display. Except, of course, when Drew is whining or pulling things off shelves. But even then, if memory serves, I still at least get pleasant looks from the very old.

I started wondering why this is, and why people my age don’t seem to put themselves out making grand overtures about each other’s offspring. I think because we are so busy comparing ourselves to each other that it’s hard to appreciate another mother and child objectively. But when you’ve passed through a number of years and stages that set you far beyond the phases of childbearing and rearing, you feel free to express magnanimity freely, and to all. (Except, I’m sure, other people who are old, like you.) This is probably why I squeeze Gordon’s arm with delight in the church parking lot when I see an ancient man wobbling slowly with the help of his wife. We are not in their stage of life; therefore we can appreciate them for what they are without bias or our own insecurity to muddy the waters. But I’m sure when Gordon is wobbling on my arm in the year 2065, I will not think him nearly so cute — or other little old men as cute — as I do now. I’m sure then I will be distracted comparing our wheelchairs to the WheelRocket 5000 that old so-and-so just bought; or noticing with satisfaction that my husband has retained more hair than that old what’s-his-name; or that my memory is still better than…than…whatever her name is.

Don’t get me wrong. We mommies give each other all sorts of sympathetic looks in public. I’m not saying we ignore each other or glare with icy stares. I’m just saying we don’t stop people in grocery store aisles to tell them how beautiful their child is, or to talk to the children directly as if we had heard lore of this mystical creature called a CHILD and consider ourselves privileged to have encountered one today at the Tom Thumb. If you did stop me and coo and go out of your way to talk directly to my child — but you looked about my age — I would assume you were an aunt or caretaker or a lover of children in general and not an actual mother yourself. Mothers give other mothers knowing looks. Non-mothers (particularly those who are old) give just a little bit more.

I’m not saying anything is wrong with this; this is just the way things are. But I think it would be an interesting experiment sometime when you are in the grocery store to pretend you are about 87 years old and see the world for just a little while through those eyes. Notice the children. The moms in their 30’s. Their harried looks to get out of the store before the toddler throws a fit; their stealthy negotiation between a healthy and sugar-laden cereal, bartered over the forthcoming snack at home; their running shoes they wear because they haven't worn stilettos since the year 2006. Notice the beauty in the strangers' children; how they sit in carts; how their hair curls around their temples; how they squeeze the cart handle and dangle their dimpled feet.

If we can stop sizing each other up for just a millisecond, we too might be overcome with awe and delight for one another…and for ourselves.

(This article brought to you by the letter "C", which stands for "Comparison" and "Can we please Cease?")