Trading Places

Trading Places

Adrienne BoettingerWednesday,18 February 2015

When this crazy, effed up world makes you feel super cynical, I highly recommend taking my mother to Whole Foods. It’s like taking a toddler to meet Mickey Mouse or a land-locked person to see the ocean for the first time. In the proper mood, everything strikes my mom as fantastic and wondrous. And when you start feeling like life is too syrupy sweet, have her take you to Wal-Mart, an experience I would liken to dental work without Novocain. Doing both these things in one day will either give you whiplash or be the perfect blend of experiences to restore your faith in humanity — or at least American consumerism.

For some context: my mother rarely leaves the house. She views a walk to the mailbox at the end of the driveway as an outing. As my father’s Alzheimer’s disease has progressed, it’s become difficult to get him out of the house or to convince my mother she can leave him the care of someone else to get out. Fortunately, she does let a home care aide help out twice a week. The aide came on President’s Day and since I was off I got to take Mom out for some errands.

Further context: my mother is barely 4’11”. She is bionic – made up of replacement knees, plated hip, and has been through a fair amount of medical emergencies, albeit sometimes self-inflicted. As it was colder than a polar bear’s ass, she was bundled up from head to toe complete with a kerchief on her head. She looked like an adorable, knitted munchkin.

Just the action of getting her into the passenger seat and driving down the snowy streets was an adventure. Everything she saw was interesting and worth remarking on; she was blown away by the amount of people out and about. We survived the first errand with only minor hysteria and having to ask Google when Rosemary Clooney died. (Mom is enthralled by smartphones; she kinda believes a tiny man lives in them who can answer all life’s questions, most of which center on how old someone is or when he or she died.)

Whole Foods was like another world to her. And because she didn’t have her glasses and I had to read everything out loud, it became like another world to me. I had never been awed at the amount of olives or that there were so many different types of cheeses in the world until I went shopping with Mom. We wandered up and down the aisles as she literally oohed and aahed at wonders like fig-infused balsamic vinegar and beautiful, pricey cupcakes. She thought everyone was extremely nice and fascinating whereas on previous trips, I’ve had to stop myself from actively trying to run people over with my cart.

As we wafted through the checkout lane and to the car, I didn’t think how annoying the other shoppers were or how badly they drove through the parking lot. I absorbed some of her appreciation for just getting out of the house and seeing and speaking with other people. Then we went to Wal-Mart.

I’ve written before about my abhorrence of the house the Walton family built but to my mother, it is a miraculous place where everything one needs or wants can be purchased at bargain prices. I tried to take some of her attitude on but shopping in a Wal-Mart before a predicted snowstorm is like visiting all the levels of hell at once. The only thing that kept me from losing it was the sight of my very tiny mother pushing that shopping cart like she was born for it. All sign of fake knees and arthritis gone, she deftly maneuvered the aisles avoiding the larger, crazier patrons, smiling patiently at the elderly and those with small children, and determinedly grabbing exactly what she had coupons for and nothing more.

As our errands ended, we were exhausted and exhilarated. I took her and her packages back home and returned to my abode. She kept saying thanks but in the end I was the one who was grateful; for having some laughs with her and getting to see the world through her eyes.

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