This morning the air is moist and cool enough for me to pretend I am living near the sea. Only three blocks north and I will trip into a warm Iowa ocean. On this warm, Iowa ocean of a Friday morning, and on any old Friday morning this summer, I try to get to two grocery stores between 7:20 and 8:20. The husband and I have worked this out by prearrangement. I leave as soon as he’s out of the shower and get back before he needs to catch the bus to work. This is better for us than me taking all three girls to the store in the middle of the day, tripping up and down aisles and repeating myself ad nauseum about only purchasing what is on the list.When I walk into our local food coop this morning, I am enveloped in a sense of comfort, of familiarity. The employees are unpacking boxes and stocking the meat counter this early in the morning. The produce guy, with those big round earrings set into the center of his lobes, watches me and smiles when I look his way. I know him, from these Friday mornings. But surely, he doesn’t know me amongst the hundreds of customers who come in here each week. Then again, maybe he does, the way I know all these vegetables before me, have memories of treating them well—raw or with heat, garlic, olive oil—and sometimes dismally, allowing them to wilt in the crisper, their natural sugars fermenting beyond what any palate could tolerate. I survey all the organic produce that is close to 2 dollars per pound. I pick local kale, organic sweet potatoes, zucchini, oranges (from far away), apples, and local red-leaf lettuce, thinking I will make green smoothies this week, thinking I will copy that sage-and-sweet-potato recipe I saw on cable programming yesterday, thinking I better do something with all this produce because I pay fifty bucks when I get to the counter for the veg and some some meat and plain yogurt and one fancy schmancy drink I bought for the husband because he likes it when I come home bearing tokens of I-was-thinking-of-you.
When I arrive home, I don’t see Tiny at first. She is sitting on the floor, ensconced from my view by the bulk of her highchair. Husband, Middle and Oldest are draped against the landscape of the kitchen: Middle sorting through the remnants of a bag of corn chips; Oldest standing between fridge and table, passing ingredients for nachos from one to the other; Husband drying a bowl near the stove. Tiny sits in front of the dishwasher, entranced by bobby pins and hair bows. Someone has brought the basket of hair accessories from the hall closet for her to play with, and play she does. It’s rare for Tiny to be content these days unless you are holding her hands, helping her to walk. But hair pins and bows do the trick. So do centipedes, grass, and compost.This Friday morning, the big girls have two ginormous laundry baskets full of laundry to fold and put away. They will drape dishtowels on Tiny’s head instead and will only fold when I remind them, when I warn them, stop putting things on your sister’s head. They will take half an hour, but in fits and starts they will finish all this laundry, begging for the swimming pool when they are done. I will promise to check the weather, promise to check the hours of the local pools before this Friday morning turns into Friday afternoon and then Friday evening, which contains an entirely different set of concerns: when is bedtime? who will pick what show to watch when the babysitter is here? how many snacks before bedtime do they get? How many hours of TV? will the husband and I stay out too late? How tired will we be when faced with the needs—of all three Littles, of the long grass in the yard, of the vocational work that has come home with us—when we wake up on tomorrow’s morning? I won’t run to the grocery store, but I’ll take Middle to gymnastics, then the colorful and bustling Farmer’s Market. The girls will still rummage in the kitchen, foraging for breakfast. And maybe the atmosphere will—or maybe it won’t—suggest an Iowa-near-the-ocean, fog rolling in from an invisible sea.