My mother’s visit is supposed to be low-key. This is the third time she’s traveled across the country to help us since we adopted Zachary, and it’s the first without a nerve-wracking event on the agenda: no trip to the hospital to get the baby, no visit with the birth parents, no visit to the lactation consultant to learn how to nurse an adopted baby.
We’re just living life, taking the kids to the park, grocery shopping with Zachary while my older son, Patrick, takes a dance class. And so we’re back to being a good team and tolerating the familiar low-level tensions, letting the little things slide.
As we wait in the grocery store checkout line, my mother eyes an Outside magazine without pulling it off the rack. I unload the groceries with one hand, cup baby Zachary’s bare foot with the other, and admire our cashier–an older woman with a mane of long, gray ringlets, dramatic jewelry, and a steady patter with the customers. The cashier ohs and ahs over Zachary as she swipes cans and boxes and weighs the oranges mechanically (organic oranges are so expensive! I can almost hear my mother thinking). Then the cashier pauses and gives my mother and me an appraising stare.
“Let me guess. You’re the two grandmothers, aren’t you?”
My smile freezes.
She grins. “I just think it’s great when the grandmas get along.”
The store seems ultra bright, and everything moves in slow motion, especially my thinking. I try to grasp what she just said. I look like the other grandmother? How can that be? People usually guess that we are mother and daughter, we look so much alike. It’s obvious, they say.
The cashier concentrates on the groceries, suddenly silent. I feel pressure to say something. But what?
Should I try to put her at ease, excuse her for the mistake that I think she knows she made. Should I make light of it, make a joke? Or should I tell her straight up, slam dunk, the message that not only young women have children? Should I make a point of claiming my child as my own? Is it disloyal this way I am standing here silently, grin frozen on my face, letting it slide? And laced through it all, the stunned question: Do I really look as old as my mother?
We walk out. As the automatic doors slide silently shut behind us, my mother says, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s nothing,” I say, but we both hear a tinge of bitterness in my voice.