This is not theoretical. I’ve been practicing it myself for weeks now, and it’s a challenge.
I like to pretend that I am not a controlling, rigid person. Never mind that, watching a couple of my beloved grandkids put my good colored pencils back in the container with careless disregard for the precise way they—the pencils, not the children—were sorted by color, I had to sit on my hands and bite my tongue to keep from intervening. (Yes, that is the last time any grandchild has been allowed to use those particular pencils. Why would you ask?)
A few lovable little quirks like this aside, I really do consider myself to be flexible and accepting. Then along came COVID-19 and self-quarantining. I’ve accepted the need to be responsible and careful. I’m staying at home, washing my hands, and maintaining sensible social distancing. I haven’t had my hair cut. I’m not getting together with friends. I’m doing meetings online. I’m staying out of stores.
Getting groceries these days, then, goes like this: I make my list, being as specific as possible but resisting the temptation to include notes like “if they look good,” “large ones,” or “only if ripe.” I text it to my daughter. She puts in an online order for her family’s groceries and mine. Some busy person at the store, with banana-choosing or avocado-assessing standards completely unknown to me, fills the order. Some things are available. Some are not. Some things are replaced by close-but-not-exactly-as-ordered substitutes.
My son-in-law picks up the groceries. He takes them home and sorts them into “theirs” and “mine.” Which I guess from his perspective would be “ours” and “hers.” Then he either delivers mine or I go to their house and get them. Either way, I end up with several bags filled with stuff I have never seen until I unload it on my kitchen counter.
And here’s the thing. Pulling stuff out of those bags feels a little bit like opening birthday presents. A few of them are so-so, the equivalent of knickknacks that don’t suit your taste or socks you would never wear. “That isn’t the kind of noodles I buy.” “Is that the best snap peas they had?”
Most items, though, are just what I ordered, or at least close enough. And some of them are delightful surprises. “These bananas are perfect!” “Oh, I forgot I even ordered that.” “Look at the size of those avocados!” “Yum—strawberries and raspberries!”
Yes, I do look forward to the day when I can once again choose my own bananas, pick out my own peas, and grab miscellaneous items that I didn’t remember I needed until I saw them on the shelf. Not to mention treat myself in comfortable anonymity to the kind of chocolate one conceals from visiting grandchildren.
In the meantime, putting the groceries away has become an occasion for appreciation. For the technology and people who make it possible to order food online. For the cheerful help of my daughter and son-in-law. For those unknown employees at the store who are brave enough to pick out produce for strangers. And for the fact that I remembered to order chocolate chip cookies.