I sometimes feel, where preschool is concerned, that we are paying more for an idea than a reality. Because between the holidays, illnesses, and trips out of town, we seem to be never there. Except on my workdays. Which, because the school is a Co-op, I can only miss if I’m in traction. Or dead.
So when I got to drop MJ off at school this morning and leave I was psyched. I was giddy. At last! Three hours of liberty!
Or such was the plan.
The idea was to grocery shop, then relax. Or that’s the simple version. Technically I needed to shop, walk the dog, put a meal on, then relax. But this was totally doable. I had it all worked out. I planned to make a crockpot chicken dish for a friend who is sick. Last week I was a lame-ass schmuck and brought him frozen IKEA meatballs and mashed potatoes. With two packs of gravy mix. Still, I know. Pathetic. It might not have been so bad if I had actually heated the stuff up for him, but, as he wasn’t hungry when I arrived, I left it all in the freezer for his roommate to prepare when he got back. Even the gravy packs. I mean, who wins jerk-of-the-month? One guess.
But I meant to make up for it this week by preparing my friend a spectacular feast. For it I had chosen a braised chicken and vegetable recipe I found online. (May I just add that, among all of the recipes I got after Googling “chicken crock pot,” slow cooked raccoon was the most unexpected? I felt–in the spirit of sharing pain with friends–that this was worth mentioning. I’ll get out of my fetal position now.)
Back to the crock pot. I would’ve made the dish last night, but was missing one ingredient: chicken broth. Which is weird, because I try to always have that around. I try, in fact, to have everything around; a missing ingredient is one of my biggest pet peeves. I buy in doubles, multiples, army troops. There are, for example, four jars of pickles in the cabinets. Three bags of Trader Joe’s salt and pepper chips. Five boxes of lasagna noodles. But no chicken broth. Not even a half-opened container in the fridge, long-ago expired and scary to ingest. I did find several cans of chicken noodle soup, which I considered trying, but in the end rejected them. I couldn’t risk another screw-up after last week’s debacle. My friend is in hospice, for God’s sake.
Well, then, thought I, I’ll do it tomorrow. When MJ is in school. I’ll get the right ingredients and make it right. Then I’ll kick back and read my book.
Cut to: today. I drop MJ at school. She is sad. She weeps.”I want to spend the whole day with you!”
“I know,” I tell her. “And I with you. But Mama really needs to grocery shop.”
“I can do it with you,” she sobs.
Visions of us at the Fresh and Easy swim to my mind: MJ, insisting on scanning every item herself. Screaming if denied. Hours passing as we check ourselves out. People on line behind us raising their eyebrows, muttering under their breath, shaking their heads…
“I think I’ll do it myself today,” I say brightly. I kiss her tear-streaked cheeks. “You’re gonna be OK.”
At Fresh and Easy I am alone, blissfully; the aisles are wide and empty. I have as much time as I need. I have three attractive straw shopping bags. I have a $10 off of $50 coupon.
I shop liberally, grabbing more of everything than I need. A ten-gallon container of unscented eco-laundry detergent? Why, yes! Buttermilk? Sure! Tomatoes? Those are good to have. Canned tomatoes! Diced tomatoes! Crushed tomatoes! Tomato paste! Red tomatoes from Chile. Yellow tomatoes from Mexico. A box of the latter drops accidentally on the floor; small golden orbs roll everywhere. I pick them up–I am a decent person–and put them back in their plastic case. Then I put them in my cart. Why not? The world is my plastic clamshell! Anyway, they can be washed.
And so it went. I shopped. And shopped. And shopped. When I finally rang up my purchases I had crossed the $240 line. Gah! Outrageous! But everything I’d purchased, I knew, would get eaten. Or most of it, anyway. For I have sworn off of waste. And I am learning how to cook. If it meant preparing a Cajun raccoon for twelve guests and their housepets, I would use all of those damn tomatoes.
I drove home, ten bags of groceries rattling in my trunk. At the house I lugged them , two at a time, from my car into the kitchen. “I am a good shopper,” I muttered to myself, as I put away gorgonzola crackers, Triscuits, organic bunny bites, and a bag of multicolored tortilla chips. “I buy a good variety. I buy lots of fruit. I buy–”
It was at this moment that I realized. My eyes widened in horror. “No!”
But yes. I had forgotten the chicken broth.
Muttering angrily, I finished putting my groceries away. I walked Mina quickly (“go to the bathroom! Go to the bathroom!”) and put her back in her crate. Then, taking only one shopping bag, I headed back to the store.
Once there, I bought every container of chicken broth they had. This would never happen to me again. While I was at it, I got MJ a couple of packages of roasted seaweed snacks. Because God forbid she should ever lack for a crunchy treat between meals. God forbid, for that matter, that any kid in L.A. should be without multiple sheets of dulse to cram messily into their mouths, shedding little flakes everywhere, making their parents feel that, finally, they have given them something “healthy” to eat when, in fact, it was nothing more than green air and salt. But I digress.
Throwing my bag irritatedly into the passenger seat, I dropped into the car and drove quickly up the hill again. Because now it was getting late. Once home, I raced to prepare the slow-cooker recipe–which only called for a quarter of a cup of the damn broth–then dashed back to school to get MJ.
When I arrived, out of breath, she was in a dog costume, drawing happily with her teacher .
“Hi, Mama,” she said, upon spotting me. “I got something from Lydia.” She showed me a small, plastic glow-in-the-dark hand that a classmate had given her.
“That’s great, sweetie. I’m glad.” I paused. “And I got…some groceries.”
“Oh.” Myra-Jean considered me for a moment. Then she swiveled her head and looked out the window. “I want to go on the swings.”
And so we did. Dog ears flapping in the breeze. While, at home, the grandest feast in the world cooked slowly away in its pot.