Strange Feelings While Checking Out At Wal-Mart

I went to Wal-Mart the other day to buy Valentine’s Day cards for Vale to take to daycare, even though she has no idea what’s going on and no teeth with which to eat candy (haha! all for me, then!) I was standing at the self check-out kiosk, scanning items, and debating between the hologram dinosaur Valentine cards versus Peppa the Pig (I have no idea who the hell Peppa is). As I scanned body wash and York Peppermint Patties I also wondered whether these days it is considered negligent to give candy to classmates on Valentine’s Day, as opposed to organic, non-GMO fruit or some shit. I pushed these concerns aside with some thoughts of back in my day! and Fuck it! Candy is awesome. Be a little festive for Christ’s sake! But my fears would later be confirmed when I saw a friend’s Instagram of the tangerines she had wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow a-la-Pinterest, for her son’s classmates.

As I internally railed against non-GMO, grass-fed, gluten-free, vegan fruits, I was only vaguely aware of an infant crying in a carrier a few kiosks away. The crying baby briefly triggered my recall of a time I was excited to make it all the way through a shopping trip with a happy Vale when she started fussing right as I pulled up to the check-out line; I sympathized with the poor mother.

Right when I decided on Peppa Pig, the woman in the kiosk next to me angrily muttered, “You know, that baby has been crying for two hours.” My first thought was, as to both the mother with the crying baby and the woman currently addressing me, who spends two hours at Wal-Mart? I responded generically, “Oh, that sucks,” assuming she was complaining about the noise, and also internally questioned, Wal-Mart is pretty damn spacious. Couldn’t you have like, moved three aisles away? Who stalks someone in Wal-Mart for two hours? But then she added, “Seriously, two hours. Screaming. Don’t you think the baby might be hungry or something? Ugh!”

Much to my surprise, the word, “hungry,” evoked in me a sudden, foreign, and involuntary feeling of deep sadness for the baby, and for a few seconds I felt quite horrible. I know of women who can pinpoint the exact moment they truly felt like a mother. I wouldn’t go as far to say this was my moment, because I don’t really ever have defining moments of that sort. Perhaps my emotions are so dulled, or my tendency to ruminate is so acute, that I let such moments pass for months before realizing their significance. In any event, for me, life is a series of small incidents melting together on a spectrum of experience; there are no “aha!” moments I can identify, in which I suddenly realize something profound. But still, I felt unexpectedly unsettled, as if an unfamiliar chamber of my heart had been revealed.

Vietnamese Coffee

Even as the more vivid details of our Vietnam vacation recede into the ever more distant past, something as simple as Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk can bring it all back on occasion. This past weekend, I took just a sip and was reminded of the days at our resort in Phu Quoc, when we developed a brief ritual of taking a seat by the window in the restaurant level of our resort, and starting the day with a small cup and saucer of Vietnamese coffee.

We followed our coffee with a combination of breakfast treats, including a pho bar and bahn mi. Aside from the smorgasboard of Vietnamese delights, there was a large selection of western morning foods as well, though we avoided the boring fare, like cereal. We concluded the daily decadence with an assortment of tropical fruits, my favorite being passion fruit, though the juicy dragon fruit and mango were equally memorable. The juices from these fruits trickled down the back of my hands, dried there, and interacted with the island sun, causing a strange dark patch to appear. I discovered that what I initially thought was a sunspot (expanding at a freakish rate) was actually a temporary tropical fruit scar when I casually consulted with a physician friend via Gmail.

While on the island of Phu Quoc, every morning, we ate and drank slowly in this way, enjoying the contrast between the smoky, dark coffee, and the pellucid, bright island atmosphere, treating ourselves to the ocean view and sea breeze floating in through the gigantic windows like a quiet new dream.

A Little Perspective

I’m not big on frozen desserts, but sometimes I’ll have a couple of ounces of frozen yogurt topped with fresh blueberries, mangoes, and raspberries. My favorite ice cream is Hagen Dazs Rum Raisin, but I probably only buy the smallest sized carton of this once a year, if that. Being a frequenter of Yelp events, I’ve also had the opportunity to taste various craft ice creams and gelatos, most notably and recently sea salt caramel and Himalayan pink salt flavors that were lovely and memorable.

However, we were hanging out at South Street Seaport in New York over the weekend and stopped for refreshments in the heat. I was drinking a juice, and Kyle had a pretty decent IPA. My brother came back to the table with French fries and vanilla soft serve from McDonald’s. I never go to McDonald’s, but if I did, these would be the exact two items I would order. He offered me some of the ice cream cone, which was quickly becoming softer and drippier in the summer heat.

I took a few licks and handed it back to him. Maybe the heat and hours of walking made the soft serve that much more enjoyable. Maybe the section in my Mindful Birthing book about practicing “mindful eating” and paying deliberate, intentioned, attention to texture and flavors during the eating experience had made its way into my subconscious. I suddenly had a realization about how simple, cheap, forgotten, and underrated MacDonald’s soft serve was.

He had a few bites then offered me the rest. As I finished the familiar, melty, sweet, cone, I considered that this fast food classic could easily compete with hipster caramel and exotic pink salt.

Books for Children: Reviewing the Moral Lessons of the Giving Tree

I’m going to a baby shower tomorrow, and I actually remember what I bought off the registry. Typically, when I browse a baby registry to decide what to buy, my head starts swimming at the unfamiliar, and admittedly boring, products: bottle warmers, bottle brushes, diapers, nipple cream, butt cream, baby shampoo, drying racks, other products I could not even begin to explain if I tried, etc. This has not changed since I became pregnant. I can feel my eyes glaze over as I scroll through these items, and I vaguely dread the day I will have to make a list of my own. How do you know what you really need? This shit is hard!

Except, for the baby shower I’m attending tomorrow, there were some items that got me excited: Books. There were many fantastic ones listed, and I ended up getting The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Where the Wild Things Are. Aside from these books, I also bought one other thing. A mat or seat or tray or something that might go in a car possibly. I have forgotten already. But that is of less importance.

Seeing children’s books had me contemplating what messages these books actually convey. While I love both The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, the contents of these books differ drastically. Where The Sidewalk Ends is a collection of short, fun poems that serve as a lovely introduction to poetry for children. My own father, who writes poetry, bought me this book when I was 7 years old.

The Giving Tree is where things get a bit more complicated. It’s wonderful in terms of illustration and story telling, but I do have reservations about the message it imparts at times. I remember being 15 years old and loitering at a bookstore with my best friend (one of our favorite pastimes), when I came across this book after not having thought about it in years. She told me she loved it and that it always made her sob. “Really?” I asked incredulously, because I literally had never cried from reading a book, much less a children’s story. She must have thought me equally strange, because she looked at me like I was the weird one for being skeptical of anyone crying at this book.

“I don’t believe you,” I insisted, and I opened the book and started reading aloud to her in the middle of the bookstore. Sure enough, to my genuine surprise, by the end, she was in tears and her face was red and puffy.

“Dude, fuuuuuck you,” she said. I looked around the bookstore awkwardly and felt pretty bad.

The Giving Tree is compelling because it is a tale of unconditional love and giving on the part of a tree, over the lifetime of a boy who eventually becomes a man. The boy/man takes everything the tree has to offer, until the tree has been stripped of her fruit, her branches, and her trunk, and she has nothing else left to give. Her love is apparently unrequited, because he never gives her anything in return. Seriously, he is sort of an asshole. I don’t think the book so much as depicts him watering her or providing fertilizer or anything.

When he is old and decrepit, she is nevertheless happy to see him, but laments she no longer has anything left to give. He states he does not need much at this point, and simply wants a place to sit and rest, to which she cheerily offers the only part of her left – the stump of her trunk that remains.

The ostensible moral of this tale is one of giving love without keeping tabs, which no one can deny is a positive way to go about life. Yet, something about the story never sits quite right with me, perhaps because the cynical part of me thinks this story glorifies suffering, martyrdom, and maybe even victimhood.

We are moved to tears until our hearts ache when we read stories or watch movies about unrequited, unconditional love, whether on the part of a lover or a parent, but the way it plays out in the real world is sometimes painful and ugly. Healthy relationships cannot endure an insistence on rigidly or constantly keeping score, but I would never want my child to be on the giving end of such a one-sided relationship. It’s not a recipe for a happy or healthy relationship of any sort. Letting someone constantly take without reciprocation at some point becomes a form of emotional abuse, doesn’t it?

Of course, this does not remotely mean I won’t buy this book for my child. In fact, I probably will, because it is stories like this that make life a bit more colorful. But as far as moral lessons go, it does leave one something to think about…