As I pushed a grocery cart through a main aisle of Sunflower Market yesterday, I passed a table with food samples. I slowed down and saw chocolate pieces piled in pastel cupcake liners. An employee with wiry silver hair and a creased brown face stood nearby.
“Are you a happy mother?” she asked.
I stopped, not to ponder whether I was happy, but to ponder the oddity of a stranger assuming I’m a mother. I wasn’t quite sure what caused her to arrive at this conclusion. My lack of makeup, suggesting I had been too busy running after kids to apply it? My eclectic après yoga outfit and flyaway hair? The fact that I was there early on a Saturday afternoon? My age? There were no children around me, nor was there a wedding band on my hand, not that marriage implies motherhood (or vice versa).
“I’m not a mother,” I crooned in my post-yoga calm even though I found her question inappropriate. What if I had been a mother but, in that moment, absolutely miserable or, worse, had lost a child? What if I had attempted to become pregnant and failed? I appraised the chocolate and pointed at them. “Are those for people to try?”
“Well, they are for mothers,” she said.
I stood and wondered whose idea this was. As early as grade school, we are taught to bring candy or cake for everyone, not just a select group of friends. And since moms might not buy chocolate for themselves for Mother’s Day, why not offer it to all customers, who might be encouraged to buy some for the mothers and others in their lives, including themselves? I’m not sure what expression registered on my face at that moment, but the employee relented. Did she feel sorry for me because I was not a mother? Was she embarrassed by her question and wanted to make up for it? Or did she see the take-no-prisoners chocoholic gleam in my eye?
“Would you prefer dark or milk?” she asked.
She handed me a yellow wrapper filled with chocolate covered cherries and mints and a piece of chocolate bark, a generous amount. Had they halved the portions, they could have offered samples to twice as many people, regardless of gender, age or reproductive status. It would have been friendlier to everyone and their bottom line: it’s no secret that people who snack in grocery stores stick around and spend more money.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Today they’re just $3.99/lb.,” she said. “Over in the bulk section. Just don’t tell anyone I gave them to you. It’s supposed to be just for mothers.”
“Don’t worry.” I popped a chocolate cherry in my mouth. It was a perfect pick me up but was otherwise unremarkable, not even tempting at the lower price. “I won’t tell a soul.”
As I rolled my cart away another customer, who also appeared to be in her 40s, approached the table.
“It’s only for mothers,” the employee said.
The customer backed off.
I always get the obligatory Mother’s Day greetings when I venture out on this day each year. It’s a strangely off-putting assumption to make about a woman just because she happens to fall within the age range of potential motherhood. Similarly, at this year’s Cherry Creek Sneak there was a table filled with sunscreen samples. When I went to take one, a woman said, “Do you have children? These are for people with children?” I just stared at her and backed away, sunscreen in hand. In that moment, I must have looked childless. Nonetheless, there was nothing that designated that the sunscreen be used only on people under a certain age and the table was located right next to the beer tent. I’m with you, bring enough for everyone or stay home. I will report that there were no chocolate samples at my Sunflower Market yesterday. The inequality is appalling.
Sheesh! It’s just mind-bogglingly bad business juju to offer freebies selectively. Glad you took the sunscreen. I hope it also blocks rays of stupidity.
Great post. Mother’s Day, Fathers’s Day, Valentine’s Day — the calendar is littered with holidays that are oh so wonderful as a time to honor a special relationship, the love and connection, but these days can be a source of pain when, for whatever reason, that relationship isn’t present and is missed. Unfortunately a lot of people forget this in their exuberance.
Thanks for commenting…I think of you as the Mother of Union Square!
I find this so disturbing and disheartening. Meeting qualifications for free samples? Was one required to show stretch-marks as proof? What about women who gave children up for adoption? Would they meet the requirements? Yeesh!
Thanks for another thought-provoking post– and for your much-needed humor in writing about something so unsettling.
I think it was one of those, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” type of things. Someone did not understand that singling out mothers means alienating other women, who also spend money! At Whole Foods, they had a big sign at the entrance that said, “Mothers, stop by our Mother’s Day Table”, which seemed a better way to handle it.
HI – please let me know which store you visited, I would like to take this up with them directly. We really try to preach good customer service and it saddens me that this happened. I’m the Director of Marketing for Sunflower Farmers Market, and I really want to discuss this with the staff at that particular store. Thank you so much. Whitney Rock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your comment; I’ll send you a private e-mail.