As she stands carefully sorting her basket full of groceries into three separate piles, impatience begins to rise in my chest.

I am tired and hungry.

I am in wretched, smelly gym clothes.

I am in the express lane with well under the 20-item limit.

I take a deep breath and begin to fiddle with my phone, distracting myself from my irritation.

I glance up out of the top of my eyes. She has a WIC check with $10 on it for the first pile. The cashier is trying to explain that cilantro is not a vegetable, but an herb, so cannot be paid for with the food stamps. She doesn’t understand; the English is too complex. She moves the cilantro into the third pile and brings two tomatillos to the first; I sense she is hoping while calculating the total.

The total is $10.05. Five cents more than her check total. She pulls out her credit card and hands it to the cashier, who stares at it, eyes wide open, slowly lifting her hand to take the card. She runs it three times, to put .05 on it.

I am now desperately trying to distract myself, not from my irritation, but from her humiliation.

The cashier begins to ring up the second pile, which has another check sitting on top of it. Each check takes ages to process.

I force myself to pay attention to what is in the pile. I make myself think about what decisions she had to make while shopping.

Yogurt or toothpaste?

Ground beef or laundry detergent?

Cilantro is a food flavoring. I think it’s a sign she cares about the dinner she is making. Something had to be sacrificed for the cilantro.

My new phone burns in my hands and I put it away in my purse. She continues her purchases, completely unaware of the 20-item limit. My hearts softens and hurts.

She glances at me apologetically.

I smile at her encouragingly.

Two mothers.


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