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Anne and anti-Anne

Stay far from the pantsuit lady

The day before my 39th birthday, I went to the grocery store by myself. Normally when I go to Vons, I take some or all of my five children. We’re quite a sight. Rebecca and Angela, who are eight and six, respectively, perform reconnaissance. They move down the aisle ahead of me, scanning the shelves for anything sweet. “Can we get this?” Rebecca might ask, holding up a box of caramel corn.

“No,” I answer.

“Why not?”

“Because we don’t need it.”

Two-year-old Johnny and four-year-old Lucy either crouch in the cart like overgrown monkeys in a cheap circus or straggle along behind me. “Come on, guys,” I say as Johnny stops to peer at a big, blue bag of chips.

“I want chips,” Johnny says, pointing to the bag.

“Not today, Johnny.”

“I WANT CHIPS,” Johnny shouts.

“No, buddy. Let’s go.”

I half-push, half-pull the cart while almost -six-month-old Benjamin squirms in my arms. Ben is too big to sit in a carry-along infant car seat and too small to sit up in the seat on the cart by himself. So I hold his wiggling 20-pound body all the way through the store.

Last Thursday, I went to the store alone. My husband Jack got home from work at 4:30. When I heard the front door open, I was standing in the kitchen fixing a snack for Lucy. Rebecca sat at the kitchen table reading a book, eating Goldfish, and sipping apple juice. Angela and Johnny were fighting over a toy in the family room. Ben fussed where I’d set him on the family-room floor. IoKy asked, “Are you putting cream cheese on my crackers. Mommy?”

“Yes, I am, sweetie,” I answered. “Just as quickly as I can.”

When Jack rounded the corner into the kitchen, the kids ran for him. “Da-a-a-a-addy,” they cried. Johnny jumped into Jack’s arms. Everyone spoke at once.

“Mommy’s fixing me a snack,” Lucy said. “Daddy, Johnny won’t share his cars,” Angela complained.

“Daddy, Daddy, Johnny play a basketball today,” Johnny hollered in Jack’s face.

Ben fussed louder. I smiled weakly at Jack. He leaned over Johnny’s head and kissed me.

“I need to go to the store,” I said into Jack’s ear. “I forgot milk.”

“Do you want me to go get it?” Jack asked. “No. I’d really like to get out.”

A few minutes later, I slipped out the door to the garage. I listened to the radio during the five-minute drive to Vons. Nobody argued in the backseat. No one sang a kid song so loud I couldn’t hear the radio.

When I got out of the car at the grocery store, I closed the van door and stopped. For a long moment, I looked at my reflection in the driver’s side window. My hair, which I’m in the process of growing out from short layers to long and straight, hung in my eyes. I’d tried to pull the wayward strands away from my face with a kid’s hair band. The hair band wasn’t working. Wiry gray strands shot up in all directions. My eyes squinted in the late-afternoon glare. Purplish rings formed twin moats between my eyes and my cheeks. I had my mouth pulled flat in a half-frown. An elongated orange blob on my left shoulder marked where Ben had spit up strained sweet potatoes earlier in the day. Staring at myself in the glass, I tried to wipe the spitup away. The ossified orange goo refused to budge. “I look old,” I thought. “Old and sloppy and tired.”

For a minute, I thought about not going into the store. “How can you go around looking like this?” I silently asked my reflection.

A look of compassion softened the line of my mouth. “Give yourself a break,” I answered. “You’re still in the mud hen stage. This won’t last forever.” The mud hen stage is what I call the period after the birth of a child. My body still feels round and well feathered, like a nesting bird. I don’t spend a lot of time making myself stand out. I Just blend into the underbrush, stay close to home, and take care of my baby.

In the store, I took my time walking to the back and lifting a gallon jug from the milk section. As I waited to checkout, I noticed a woman standing one aisle over. She was thin and attractive and dressed in a loden green pantsuit. The jacket skimmed her tiny waist, and the slim trousers hugged her slender hips. She wore her long, blond hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail. She wore just enough makeup to make her look pulled-together and polished She chatted with three school-aged children, obviously her own.

I looked from her beautiful pantsuit to my shapeless blue denim jumper, the one with the buttons on the side so I can nurse Ben. I watched the way she joked with her kids. I heard in her voice none of the desperation I hear in my own by the end of a trip to the store with my kids. Maybe I just caught pantsuit lady on a good day. But as I looked at her, I thought, “She’s the anti-Anne Albright. Just like matter and anti-matter. If for some reason we accidentally bumped arms in the aisle, an enormous explosion would rock Vons. We’d both be vaporized.”

I paid for my milk and walked back to the van. Just in case, I stayed far away from pantsuit lady.

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The day before my 39th birthday, I went to the grocery store by myself. Normally when I go to Vons, I take some or all of my five children. We’re quite a sight. Rebecca and Angela, who are eight and six, respectively, perform reconnaissance. They move down the aisle ahead of me, scanning the shelves for anything sweet. “Can we get this?” Rebecca might ask, holding up a box of caramel corn.

“No,” I answer.

“Why not?”

“Because we don’t need it.”

Two-year-old Johnny and four-year-old Lucy either crouch in the cart like overgrown monkeys in a cheap circus or straggle along behind me. “Come on, guys,” I say as Johnny stops to peer at a big, blue bag of chips.

“I want chips,” Johnny says, pointing to the bag.

“Not today, Johnny.”

“I WANT CHIPS,” Johnny shouts.

“No, buddy. Let’s go.”

I half-push, half-pull the cart while almost -six-month-old Benjamin squirms in my arms. Ben is too big to sit in a carry-along infant car seat and too small to sit up in the seat on the cart by himself. So I hold his wiggling 20-pound body all the way through the store.

Last Thursday, I went to the store alone. My husband Jack got home from work at 4:30. When I heard the front door open, I was standing in the kitchen fixing a snack for Lucy. Rebecca sat at the kitchen table reading a book, eating Goldfish, and sipping apple juice. Angela and Johnny were fighting over a toy in the family room. Ben fussed where I’d set him on the family-room floor. IoKy asked, “Are you putting cream cheese on my crackers. Mommy?”

“Yes, I am, sweetie,” I answered. “Just as quickly as I can.”

When Jack rounded the corner into the kitchen, the kids ran for him. “Da-a-a-a-addy,” they cried. Johnny jumped into Jack’s arms. Everyone spoke at once.

“Mommy’s fixing me a snack,” Lucy said. “Daddy, Johnny won’t share his cars,” Angela complained.

“Daddy, Daddy, Johnny play a basketball today,” Johnny hollered in Jack’s face.

Ben fussed louder. I smiled weakly at Jack. He leaned over Johnny’s head and kissed me.

“I need to go to the store,” I said into Jack’s ear. “I forgot milk.”

“Do you want me to go get it?” Jack asked. “No. I’d really like to get out.”

A few minutes later, I slipped out the door to the garage. I listened to the radio during the five-minute drive to Vons. Nobody argued in the backseat. No one sang a kid song so loud I couldn’t hear the radio.

When I got out of the car at the grocery store, I closed the van door and stopped. For a long moment, I looked at my reflection in the driver’s side window. My hair, which I’m in the process of growing out from short layers to long and straight, hung in my eyes. I’d tried to pull the wayward strands away from my face with a kid’s hair band. The hair band wasn’t working. Wiry gray strands shot up in all directions. My eyes squinted in the late-afternoon glare. Purplish rings formed twin moats between my eyes and my cheeks. I had my mouth pulled flat in a half-frown. An elongated orange blob on my left shoulder marked where Ben had spit up strained sweet potatoes earlier in the day. Staring at myself in the glass, I tried to wipe the spitup away. The ossified orange goo refused to budge. “I look old,” I thought. “Old and sloppy and tired.”

For a minute, I thought about not going into the store. “How can you go around looking like this?” I silently asked my reflection.

A look of compassion softened the line of my mouth. “Give yourself a break,” I answered. “You’re still in the mud hen stage. This won’t last forever.” The mud hen stage is what I call the period after the birth of a child. My body still feels round and well feathered, like a nesting bird. I don’t spend a lot of time making myself stand out. I Just blend into the underbrush, stay close to home, and take care of my baby.

In the store, I took my time walking to the back and lifting a gallon jug from the milk section. As I waited to checkout, I noticed a woman standing one aisle over. She was thin and attractive and dressed in a loden green pantsuit. The jacket skimmed her tiny waist, and the slim trousers hugged her slender hips. She wore her long, blond hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail. She wore just enough makeup to make her look pulled-together and polished She chatted with three school-aged children, obviously her own.

I looked from her beautiful pantsuit to my shapeless blue denim jumper, the one with the buttons on the side so I can nurse Ben. I watched the way she joked with her kids. I heard in her voice none of the desperation I hear in my own by the end of a trip to the store with my kids. Maybe I just caught pantsuit lady on a good day. But as I looked at her, I thought, “She’s the anti-Anne Albright. Just like matter and anti-matter. If for some reason we accidentally bumped arms in the aisle, an enormous explosion would rock Vons. We’d both be vaporized.”

I paid for my milk and walked back to the van. Just in case, I stayed far away from pantsuit lady.

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