It all started with a need for something-anything- pumpkin.
A simple request from my girl, far away in her dorm room, sent me rushing through Trader Joe’s, dodging the UCD freshmen scavenging for their Friday night snacks. Jammed up in the produce section, I can see the hunger in their eyes – already the cafeteria has tapped their taste buds out. They’re dreaming about real food, the kind mom used to make. I see their longing for the day when they can go back to their own apartments, bags of groceries ready to indulge their home-cooked fantasies.
“What are you hungry for?” I heard them ask each other. Must be freshmen. Their voices had a hollow ring to them, as if they weren’t sure a) what their new roommates would think acceptable, and b) how they would cook it like mom used to. They had the wide-eyed look that only 18-year-olds who are used to having mom do their grocery shopping get. They are the ones who linger just a bit too long in the produce section, intimidated by the choice of pre-washed bagged mixed greens or an entire head of organic red leaf. I often hesitate there myself, just in case they want some ‘mom’ advice. Sometimes they ask – usually they don’t.
I feel it in their body language, the bravado of a puffed out chest behind their shopping cart, attempting to believe that yes, they can do this. Methodically, they place their items in the bright red carts. There’s no rhythm there – that comes with years of experience navigating the aisles.
And I wonder, is my girl this girl who walks away? Does she pause over the frozen ravioli section and then casually toss two bags in her cart, only to be shut down over the myriad of red sauce choices? Does my girl scan the produce section with laser focus, or does she hope for help in the shape of a forty-something woman holding a latte and shopping list?
On a care-package mission, I turned the aisle and there it was: the pumpkin display. No one in my house craves pumpkin now that she’s gone. I toss the yellow box of pumpkin bar mix in the cart. Why not pumpkin bread, too? In it goes, without hesitation. Tears crack the corners of my eyes. Somehow, I will fit it all in the care package. I have to.
I watch the students with a wistful smile, knowing their parents might be just like me, wondering and wishing they could get a glimpse into the ordinary moments in their life as an 18-year-old away from home for the first time. The look so young. Have they ever been grocery shopping before? Did their mothers teach them to compare prices, or how to pick a ripe melon? My inner mama is surging. I feel her panic. Did I teach her before she left? Is she making her smoothies and eating enough protein?
Standing in the frozen foods section, I feel an obligation rise up in me – a sense of duty to all those moms out there. Somehow I must let them know their kid is OK, that they’re choosing the produce over the sweets and six-packs. How can I make known that they have a jacket on, and remembered their reusable grocery bags? I want to somehow tap these kids on the shoulder and beg them to just send one text, simply snap one photo of this ordinary moment – something – anything – to let their parents know they’re smiling and happy and making friends. To give them a glimpse of the extraordinariness of their life…their growing up.
But I don’t say anything – that would be creepy, I hear my daughter’s voice in my head. Instead, I squeeze my eyes together, willing back the tears, and hope that 600 miles away, some mom in a grocery store feels my call, looks into my girl’s eyes, and smiles.
I’m ready now. I can do this. The pumpkin will arrive safely, like a hug from home.
p.s. – if you’d like to make your own pumpkin bread, click here for our favorite recipe!