It was almost more than this mother’s heart could handle, watching them there in the aisle of the grocery store: my oldest son, just weeks away from his fifth birthday, and the elderly gentleman who has asked for his help.
I’m not really sure if the man saw Ephraim’s eagerness to help me put things in the cart, then decided to give the boy another opportunity, or if he really couldn’t bend and reach the item as he claimed. But he asked for Ephraim’s help, and Ephraim bounded over to him eagerly, carefully making sure that he understood which item to select and place in the cart–a bag of egg noodles on the very lowest shelf–before doing just that, then running back over to me with a huge grin on his face.
“Mama, I helped him! I love helping!”
And I beamed with pride, at his politeness, his willingness to aid others, and the clear joy he derives from being useful.
It’s a moment that is easy to catalogue in the folder of “Motherhood Mission Accomplished.” And it does represent a good amount of work–there was a time not very long ago where Ephraim was surly and rude to people in the grocery store, where I stopped the cart and required he and his brother to repeat a polite response to a person’s greeting, rather than the childish and uncivil one they had chosen initially. I saw our trips to the grocery store as an essential component of real socialization. It helped that having a cartful of children drew the attention of many other shoppers–we were never in want of people to practice on. Now that he’s older and “out of the cart”, as I think of it, he spends our grocery trips helping me load and unload the cart, engaging the other shoppers in conversation, picking out the right item from amongst its neighbors after I tell him how it’s spelled. He has learned to be conscientious of blocking or bumping into people around him, and he excuses himself when he does. He is easy to take out.
After we’re all loaded back into the car, I thank the kids for their behavior in the store. I thank Ephraim especially for his help–it is right that I should. But while I’m proud of him, in my heart I also know that this is only half the battle.