He rides in the grocery cart, his sprawling three year old frame almost too big for the seat. Up high, his face is closer to mine. We carry on a conversation as we turn, aisle by aisle, through the store.
He pulls off his purple hat, handing it to me. I stuff it in by back pocket and ruffle his hair.
We stop to watch the lobsters. We ponder five different kinds of tomato sauce. We debate whether he’d actually eat the dried pea snacks if I put them in his lunchbox. Did he eat them last time? His face sparkles with his internal sunshine even here in the harsh fluorescents.
Around the bakery aisle he says “are we going swimming today?” and I respond back “we’ll talk with Mama about that when we get home.” Reflexively, my eyes dart around the baked goods, scanning to see who heard that comment.
The subconscious fear-monger in my brain worries someone will hear me talking to him, acknowledging that he has a “Mama” and that “Mama” is not me. If I am not “Mama,” who am I?
I think of my wife walking with him in public, having the same conversation. He’d be busily calling her Mama and she’d say “we’ll talk with Baba about that when we get home.” People wouldn’t know who “Baba” is, but clearly here is this Mama with her lovely three year old. They could smile warmly and coax a wave out of him, secure in their assumptions about his family structure.
I say “we’ll talk with Mama about that later,” and what do they think? Why is this middle-aged woman, too old to be a babysitter, pushing a three year old around a grocery store? Clearly she’s not his parent if she’s not his Mama. What right does she have to be with him? Will they call Child Protective Services, claiming the child is being abducted?
I wonder if he catches that flash of expression on my face. I wonder if he feels my muscles twitch when I refer to Mama in public when she’s not there.
I scan the bakery section reminding my subconscious that a) people might assume I’m an aunt or a family friend or someone else legit and b) that no one will notice or care. G and I aren’t on stage in the grocery store.
The reminder to myself calms the fear-monger. G and I choose the bread.