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.