I hadn't noticed her standing in line behind me at the grocery store when she said my name. I'd been too busy dreading the back-to-school shopping trip scheduled for later that afternoon. In my mind I was calculating what Expensive X 2 would cost me as my hand basket full of snacks rolled through the scanner.
I turned around to see a friend -- shopping for staples with her pre-teen sons – more tired looking but no less beautiful than she'd been mid-summer when I'd last bumped into her.
“Are you all ready for school to start?” I bumbled on, clawing for conversation as I swiped my card.
Small talk is an art I haven't perfected.
She shook her head rigorously back and forth as her sons watched, and soundlessly mouthed the word “YES!”
She is admirably adept.
“The Champ goes to kindergarten this year, right?” she asks.
I nod. “I can hardly believe it. He was just born yesterday.”
She smiles broadly, and chuckles as if I'd made an original observation.
“You know, the second one was easier for me,” she offered. “Never shed a tear.”
“I'm not sure if I will be so strong.” I say as I grab my bags to give her items room to move off the conveyor.
“She smiled. You'll be surprised.”
Truer words could not be spoken. I'm always surprised by something.
Surprised by how maddening a child's happiness can be. How mirth and song and repetitious glee can make a parent go ever-so-slightly insane.
Or surprised by how excited he is to be a big kid, for instance, even after I told him he was not allowed to get any taller.
Or how gregarious The Champ's become since graduating preschool in June. Back then he barely said peep to his classmates, now he starts conversations with strangers mid-stream as if they've been speaking in non-sequiturs forever.
“I turned five last week!”
“I'm going to kindergarten this day.”
“Hey, did you know that owls can't smell a thing? That's why they can eat skunks.”
“My mom just hit me in the eye with her pocketbook.”
“It was an accident.”
We all just laugh. Even his sister, who, at times has refused to go on shopping expeditions with him if given a choice, can't help but enjoy his company today.
He's never had to choose school supplies before and it's all so daunting.
He wants the backpack that comes with a toy keychain. I roll my eyes but she talks him out of it.
“This backpack is much cooler, and you can hang a toy from it if you want. All you need is a key ring.”
With that decided, we continue through the aisles. He doesn't care for my opinion. Only hers.
She nods at his choices of black pocket folders, yellow pencils, a ninja lunchbox and Batman Thermos. She senses a theme.
“He thinks he's Batman,” she tells a lady who leans over her to pick up a box of yellow No. 2s.
“I do not,” he corrects. “I just LIKE black is all.”
He's not angry. She doesn't take offense. They are comrades in arms.
They move on … Erasers, wide-ruled paper and fine-point ink pens for her. Crayons, glue sticks and blunt-edged scissors for him. School spirit has its price.
I can tell our cart is getting filled to over budget.
“It's only once a year,” I tell myself as the register wracks up the value-added costs of letting the kids choose their own supplies. And the joy on their faces at the prospect of summer's end is worth every penny.