A while back a blogger I’ve been reading did a post about a decision made by a child’s parents. She raised the question of how to deal with not agreeing with a judgement call by parents. I appreciated knowing that someone else wondered about these things, I feel fairly confident that on some level we all go through life seeing things and drawing internal conclusions, though they don’t always make it to the surface, or just aren’t weighty enough to occupy more than a passing thought.
Today Sean and I were at the grocery store and I came face-to-face with what is arguably the hardest thing for me to see. Before today it had not caused me such startling despair, I think I had one of those moments that can absolutely change the course of a person’s life. We were next in line at our check out, our basket filled with lunch fixings. The people in front of us, a man and a very overweight woman, were loading items onto the conveyor belt, while their daughters, 7 and 9, played in the cart.
I scanned the magazine headlines until movement caught my eye. The dad was lifting the girls out of the cart. “Kind of odd that they rode in the cart,” I thought. Then the younger girl turned her face toward me, her eyes were the same blue as Briar’s. I watched her run her fingers along the moving expanse of black rubber, her fingers bobbing on the zippered edges. The checker and bagger had stopped working and were talking to the mom, something to do with the 4 economy sized packages of Klondike bars. The young girl’s hair was loose around her shoulders, a haphazard half ponytail hung in back, sandy bumps rippled across the top of her head as she shook her bangs out of her eyes.
I looked at the sisters, the older girl looked a lot like her younger sister, she was probably 40 pounds overweight, while her sister was maybe 20 pounds too heavy. I looked at the items waiting to be scanned on the belt – frozen pizzas, cheese puffs, chicken fingers, 2 liters of pop and a towering stack of other frozen foods. Nothing that wasn’t in a box. No milk. No produce. I turned my attention back to the 7 year old, her face reminding me so much of Briar. She was hopping up and down and talking with her dad. All of a sudden I felt as if I were suffocating. I imagined this girl at home, no hope of making a good choice with regard to her diet. The either/or available to her both ending in the same place – the nutritional gutter.
I suppose it’s possible that they did their produce, dairy and beverage shop another time, but I doubt it. I warned Sean that I was going to cry and it came upon me like a tsunami. My shoulders were wracked with sobs. Sean tried to cheer me, redirecting my to a salacious Dr. Phil headline, but I could not be calmed.
I watched the mom’s meaty hands fondling the Klondike bars as she put them reverently into bags. I was consumed by the juvenile diabetes statistics I’ve heard, the reports on the super-sizing of car seat to accommodate overly-large children, flash after flash of overweight children being led by their parents to snack bars and ice cream aisles assaulted me. I thought of what life will be like for those girls ten years from now, as they navigate the cruel corridors of high school heavy with the choices of their parents. I pictured their faces being consumed by the futility of their situation, the conditioning of their palates to salty, processed, fatty foods, their literacy of what is available and what is “good” being dwarfed by the self-indulgent choices of parents unconcerned with the future. No matter how I try to not be critical, I scan every cart at the store, I peek to see what parents are giving their kids, I listen to conversations in aisles. The cart ahead of us was simply breaking my heart.
Sean sent me out to the car, embarrassed, distressed and feeling powerless to help me. He has told me before I can only do the best that I can for our girls, but it doesn’t seem like that can be right. It isn’t fair, but neither is making a scene. I was angry and sad. I knew that there was nothing I could, nothing I could say to the parents, or to the girls. I walked to the car, the tears coming harder and faster. The sun shining down on me seemed to be one more beacon of what these girls are not going to have. Wide open skies of blue, the privilege of running unencumbered by the inactivity of tv and junk food stolen from them. I turned the air conditioning on to try and chase the tears away.
Again, something caught my eye, it was the seven year old scampering up to the door of the red truck parked immediately to my left. I turned and our eyes locked. She was confused by my tears and looked anxious to help. I gave her a quick smile and turned away as she tried to lift herself into the truck. I tried to understand why this happened, how was it possible that in the huge parking lot with easily 150 cars, that they would be parked right next to me? Am I supposed to think she’s fine? Not worry?
I wish that I could judge less in this area, but I feel as strongly about a child’s right to healthy food and the exposure to options as I do about their right to breathe smoke free air and live in a drug free environment. I am heading up to bed now where I’ll check on our girls. I am sure those parents are checking on their daughters too, but I fear that there are ways in which they are not loving those girls and one day it will be the little girls who will have to pay.