March 1998

How am I doing with my oldest daughter, Sarah, away at college? “Great” is my usual reply. Sarah is adjusting, taking ownership of her campus, making wise decisions while earning good grades.

The first six weeks of school were hard. Sarah phoned and e-mailed daily. She drove home each weekend. I felt like the mama bird who had pushed her baby out of the nest, but the little bird wanted to crawl back in. I had to be strong and make her use her wings.

Lately I’ve felt so confident and strong about my own adjustment. No big deal until a recent Saturday.

We had driven to visit Sarah at college and attend her symphonic band concert. A portion of each visit we go to the grocery store to restock her cabinets with food. We walked the aisles of the store chatting away and comparing prices.

Out of nowhere, a little girl bolted past us with her toy Fisher-Price® shopping cart. She was carrying a box of Quaker® Oatmeal in her little cart. A switch flipped as I instantly saw that little girl as preschool age Sarah in my mind and heart.

I remembered Sarah shopping with her little Fisher-Price grocery cart at the local grocery almost 15 years before. She always carried pickles, mayonnaise, and tuna in her cart. It seemed like yesterday.

My heart swelled with emotion as I fought the tears from filling my eyes. Once more I peered at this little child who was pushing her own toy cart. The memories of our little Sarah engulfed me.

I longed for her to be that little girl, crashing into people’s legs, and fighting with her invisible friend, C.C., listening to her endless conversations with JoeJoe and Anna. I looked up and watched this elegant young woman and her best friend, whom she calls “dad,” walk the ice cream aisle. In silence I waited for them at the checkout counter.

And then with uncanny timing, as if they’d been secretly summoned, four kids with toy shopping carts closed in around me. It seemed like I was a covered wagon encircled by a band of wild bandits! Around and around they went.

All I could do was surrender to the memories of fleeting preschool days of Sarah Marie, her purple hat and pillowed jacket.

“Oh Lord, just one more time, just one more time shopping with my little girl for pickles, tuna, and mayo from a Fisher-Price shopping cart!”

The tears took over. I gulped, afraid to breathe for fear of openly sobbing in a strange grocery store in a far off town. No longer the strong mama bird, I turned to Sarah and garbled, “I’ll meet you outside.”

As the automatic door opened, I shielded my face with my hands and wailed. I was grieving for the past and my own little bandit in a purple coat running into people’s legs behind a shopping cart.

My heart ached as I once again realized the short years we have our children in our homes. As my eyes met Sarah’s in the parking lot, I whimpered, and then we both laughed. She had the depth of understanding to know what had happened.

Sometimes you just have to cry. Especially when memories sweep over you like gangbusters. I love my kids. You love yours. I will never be able to look at a Fisher-Price grocery cart without thinking of Sarah.

So here’s to grocery stores, little bandits, and toy shopping carts. May I ask a favor? If you see me in the grocery and there’s a little bandit nearby with a cart…get me outta there!

Copyright © 2004 by Barbara Rosberg. All rights reserved.