off to the market

The Prairie Market was a precursor to today’s Trader Joe’s, only more raw, more down home. It had the same cement floors and wide aisles, though was completely void of mothers wearing Lycra yoga pants, tank tops and hoodies. When my mother shopped there I rode dangling my feet over the edge of a low, flat metal cart, its large casters spinning and squealing around wide turns between rows of gallon milk, family sized toilet paper and endless boxes of cereal. I helped her load the cart full of Hamburger Helper, Tang, Instant Breakfast, Cheerios, Wheaties, non-fat dried milk, Potato Buds, meats, cheeses, eggs, ice cream, flour, sugar and various other items she’d add to a garden full of vegetables and fruits that my dad tended.

In sharp contrast, I almost never bring Calvin to the grocery store anymore. He’s gotten too big (too long, really) to ride in the shopping cart without snagging his shoes on the seat making it impossible to get him in or out. Besides, he has never really tolerated the grocer very well, giving in to flailing and screaming most of the time and once or twice having a seizure right then and there.

Yesterday, though, we took an outing to the health food store to pick up his latest treatment—magnesium citrate. I pulled up to the curb in front of the shop, helped him tumble out of his car seat, stand and turn to push the door shut, watching him smile at the satisfying clunk of the heavy car door. Holding one hand, my other on his harness, we walked to the shop door and pulled it open. Inside, the two women sitting at the counter greeted us. Calvin insisted, as he had all day long, on stubbornly dropping to the floor. One kind woman fetched what I was looking for and rang me up as I sat Calvin facing me on the counter. He writhed and squealed and laughed hysterically and yanked my hair and scratched my neck. As I struggled to retrieve my wallet from my backpack I explained, “Calvin has epilepsy and I think he’s due for a seizure.” I added that it wasn’t imminent—as in immediately—but that it might be on its way in the next day or so. In exchange for the receipt I handed them two of my business cards, the front sporting a photo of me and Calvin, the back of which has the blog address and my mission to promote epilepsy awareness. With Calvin’s arms wrapped tightly around my neck I quickly rattled off a few facts about epilepsy, “Epilepsy kills more people than breast cancer, yet no one knows,” then added, “and there's little advocacy since few want to admit that they have epilepsy or that their kids have it for fear of discrimination.” The women looked at me with deep concern and compassion. “Please share it with the world,” I said, and somehow I knew that they would. As Calvin and I left the shop I felt their eyes heavily upon us, even as I loaded my boy into the car and drove off.

Before heading home we had to return something at another health food store. As soon as we entered the small shop Calvin let out a piercing shriek, turned to me and “asked” to be picked up. I obliged, and simultaneously met eyes with the young woman behind the counter who looked mortified and, despite my smile, remained stunned, her narrow shoulders cinched up around her neck. My buddy Phil stepped in and finished the transaction having helped me frequently in the past and knowing, to a certain degree, Calvin’s struggles. I calmed Calvin, hugged and kissed him and reassured him we’d be leaving soon, then lifted him to the ground, held his hand and harness and helped him push the door exiting to the sidewalk. We slowly passed by a couple sitting on a bench with their infant-toddler, his chubby legs dangling over the side. Gingerly, Calvin stepped down off the curb to the car and with my hand over his we opened the door. I hefted him up and buckled him into his seat and as I got into the driver’s side I looked at the couple on the bench. They’d been watching us with big smiles on their faces. The man, tanned with a handsomely rugged stubble, looked to be forty-ish, the woman fair and blond, several years younger. The man gave me a huge thumbs-up as if to say good job. There was no pity in their eyes, only fondness, admiration and compassion. I wanted to know them, to hug them, to tell them all about Calvin. But I had already started backing out and as I drove off we waved and smiled at each other again just as tears began rolling down my face. And peeking into the rear view mirror there was Calvin, a big toothy grin on his face, biting his shoe, squealing and flapping his arms to his all-time favorite Joni Mitchell song.

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Give to cure epilepsy: http://www.calvinscure.com

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. I feel such kinship with you -- the way you see the world, the way you interact with your son and the world, the way you write about it.

  2. i imagine we have a lot in common. contemporaries. xo