We pushed the shopping cart through the crowded Trader Joe’s, one of our favorite food stores. Actually, I’m pushing the cart, and she is filling it with staples for apartment-dwelling life. She does the choosing now. She’s got her own list and her own meals to cook. She is so very responsible and I wonder where all that came from. But I know. Every now and again we older mothers get opportunities to admire the fruit of our labors. Tomorrow she will begin her final semester as a senior at college, and we will part company shortly after I drop her back at school.

We lug the groceries into the car, and finally up to her place. Actually, she defers to me and does most of the lugging. She reminds me, this is the last “move in” back to college… I know that but I don’t say. I am having one of those how time flies moments, as all seems right with her world.

In a blink, I am transported back to another cold blustery January day when I am doing the lugging… lifting her into her booster car seat in the mini-van that carried us everywhere. Her baby brother is already strapped in, as we were food shopping while the eldest was still at school. That day was memorable for what went wrong!

As I turned to get the children in to the van, beyond my gaze, a wind gust mysteriously eased the filled-beyond-capacity shopping cart away from the rear bumper of the van. And the cart, heavy and heaving on the twisty front wheels, managed to slip a few feet away from its berth near the rear hatch. And the wind kicked up.

There you go darlin’, all buckled in while Mommy unloads the groceries out of the... What the? Where’d it go?

And there it was going… my grocery cart picking up speed about 12 cars away already… So, as the kids were safe and secure in the car, I bolted after the cart. Gee, I never noticed the pitch of this parking lot… look at that thing go! 

Uh oh.

There’s a sudden sideways lurching of the wriggling wheels and ohnoitsgonnacrash into that red Ford Escort. BONK!

Oh, man! There is a dent -- a long vertical dent, the size and shape of the corner of my errant cart. This isn’t a kiss-it-up-to-God moment, kids. No, this ain’t no innocent door ding. This is a bona fide crunch to the front quarter-panel over the wheel well.

Did anybody else see this happen? Nobody. Save me and the kids. And God. My heart sank. I know how I would feel if my car was sporting a dent that large.

I bring the cart back to van and unload it, keeping one eye on the little red car, hoping to meet the owner to explain what happened. I finish and the kids want to know when we are going to go home. I’m waiting a few more minutes to see if the owner of the car emerges from one of the stores. No luck. So I write a note of apology with my name and number and pin it under the windshield. Yes, that’s the responsible thing to do. The honest thing would later cost me $240 to have Mrs. Living-On-a-Fixed-Income’s Escort unwrinkled.

Back in the kitchen of my daughter’s apartment, we unload the groceries. She is making me a sandwich and pouring me a coffee -- just the way I like it. She gives me the exact mug that I would have chosen myself -- the one with the picture of one of my favorite beaches on it. When did she get so perceptive?

In a heartbeat I’m back twenty years at another kitchen table pulling my own peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich alongside the Fisher-Price high chair. I’m staring at the little towhead cutie ready for lunch, and I hand her favorite sippy cup without her having to ask. When you love someone, you get to know their preferences, and you offer those options whenever you can.

Now it’s nearing the time for me to leave. We talk about the campus organizations she leads and the transitions for new officers now that she’s almost done. She still has new books to buy for her classes, and a new boss to check in with at her new part-time job. I have a full day of work to finish after my drive home too.

And I realize that after a lifetime of having my daughter observe my actions, now I’m watching her. I am no longer surprised by shifts like these, or by time picking up speed.

She walks with me to the car. A hug and I love yous… For perhaps the last time I whisper, Study hard.

She smiles, and mimics an eye-roll, I always do.

I know you do, honey. It shows.

Copyright 2012 Patricia W. Gohn