During the week, 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. turns into a blur of a news meeting, wrapping up some editing, being out of the office no later than a certain time, picking up the kids by a certain time, grocery store, supper, some kind of diversionary activity with the kids until bedtime, bedtime. It's really kind of a drag. Sometimes I'm Super Mom and have made supper the night before, or sometimes Matt is off at supper time so we go out to eat, but really, once 4 p.m. hits, I don't stop until dusk.
Today was no different. A small traveling circus was in town tonight, so the routine was going to be a little speedier than usual. Fortunately, Matt picked up the kids, so I was on my own at the grocery store with a little time to spare.
I walked down the cereal aisle to pick up some Cheerios. As I was walking down the aisle, I saw a girl, about 7, and her mother across at the end of the aisle. They were looking at me and smiling. The girl waved.
I didn't recognize them, but smiled back, in that polite way you do when you think maybe someone's waving at someone behind you. They grinned, pleased: I was the person they thought I was. The girl was so excited that I opened my mouth in this sort of Muppet face I get to express — or mirror someone else's — agitation (those of you who know me are familiar with this face, although I didn't do it to the extreme in the way I sometimes do). The girl jumped up and down and said, "Can I say hi to her, Mom? Can I?"
The mom granted permission and called at me down the aisle, "She must really miss you!"
"Heh, heh!" I said, and it actually did sound like I was saying that. "I guess so!"
The girl ran to me, arms outstretched, her long yellow hair pushed back with a headband and her t-shirt dirty, as if from playing outside all day. Her face was all lit up and I said, "Hello!" in this laughing happy voice as if I hadn't seen her for months. Which, of course, I hadn't; I'd never seen her in my life, as far as I knew. She hugged me around my waist, and I gave her a half-hug back: I had a basket of groceries over one elbow, and after all, you don't just full-on embrace a stranger's child in a grocery store.
"I think she's happy to see you!" her mother said, as she started walking toward another aisle.
"Who are you?" I said to the girl, in the same tone of voice I would have used if the first word had been "how". She looked up at me, laughing, and said, "Lily!" and ran back to her mother. The two of them walked down a different aisle, and I checked to make sure I had the box of Cheerios I had been aiming at, and then my shopping trip went back to normal. The circus was cancelled, probably because of the weather, and the rest of my evening has been uneventful.