The checker plucked the pregnancy test out from between the English muffins and frozen broccoli and held it up in the air. Grinning, she said, "Are we hopeful?"
I stammered, surprised that she'd spoken at all. It was the first acknowledgement that we were even there at her register. I was taken aback by the comment about something as personal as a pregnancy test...would she had made a comment about a tube of KY? A package of Lotrimin? Isn't therer some sort of cas=hier rule about commenting on such purchases? As I struggled to think of something to say, our eyes met and held...me, an obviously exhausted 36-year-old mom with no make-up on and my hair in a knot at the back of my head, rounding out an already too-long day with a massive grocery shopping trip, a teenager in tow and a 9-month-old baby strapped to my chest...she, an obviously exhausted 50-something woman wearing too much too-dark make up and dyed, teased hair, giving off the "I'm single and trying desperately to look younger than I am" vibe. Her smile faltered as she realized that maybe I wasn't hopeful...maybe her question wouldn't be well-received. But it wasn't that...I just really didn't know what to say. I didn't know what I hoped. I really didn't think I was pregnant. I had no symptoms, no reason to think I was, except that Henry was 9 months old and my cycles still hadn't returned, and I was having a glass of wine the other night and thinking, "I should probably just make sure...." On one hand, I didn't really want to be pregnant...no yet, not so soon. On the other hand, if I was pregnant I would certainly get over the initial shock, and I would love and welcome another baby. But these thoughts were certainly too involved to share with a random cashier...though apparently it doesn't bother me to share it with all of you. I finally smiled and touched Henry's head and said in a light tone, "Oh, I guess it depends on when you ask me."
"Do you have others at home?" she asked, looking back at Maria who was busy unloading our second cart while I filled the first back up with sacked food. And thus began That Conversation, the one where I list my children and their ages, and yes, I do have my hands full, and no, we probably aren't done yet, God willing. And I really don't mind having those conversations. I realize we are kinda weird. As long as people aren't nasty about it, I don't mind,,,I don't mind because I've been there, I've had the one, two, three kids that absolutely tapped me out and wondered how people ever managed with more.
"Do you live in a big house?" she asked. I smiled, picturing our 2200 square foot perpetual fixer-upper. "No, not really. It felt huge when we moved in!" I said. "But we only had one child then."
"Your husband must make a lot of money, huh?" she asked. And I wasn't offended. She was just voicing what lots of people wonder, especially people who have such an intimate look at my hefty walmart bill. "Well, um,,,," I faltered...John, a nurse, probably did make a lot of money compared to what a walmart cashier makes, but still...to support all of us, we live simply and pinch every penny until it screams. It was enough, if we were careful, but it sure didn't feel like a lot...it must have shown on my face, or maybe I was visibly wincing as the grocery total climbed....
"Are you on WIC for that baby?" I shook my head, really wanting to put an end to this conversation now but unsure how. "Food stamps? Nothin'??" I just shook my head again, not wanting to go into how I felt about such programs, how I had been on them as a single mother putting myself through school and I would sooner live on beans and rice than subject myself to the humiliation of dealing with state social workers again, how I'm glad those programs exist for those who needed them, and I did need them back then, but I didn't need them now. I could make a lot more cuts to our lives before that became necessary, and to prove it to myself I mentally looked back over my purchases and tallied up how much I had spent on things we could have done without...smallish things, but it did add up. I knew how to live thriftily. My single-mom years had taught me that well.
"Well," she sighed as she gave me the total, now looking a little sorry for me,,it was steeper than usual, even for us..."come back through my line next time and let me know how it turns out! You'll be ok, either way." I smiled over Henry's head, knowing I would do no such thing, and said, "Have a good day."
Later, at home, I informed a disappointed Maria that the test was negative. I wasn't disappointed. I am still enjoying Henry and all his babyness, and still struggling too much with five children to really feel ready to handle nine months of pregnancy. But the cashier was right...I would have been ok. Either way. Because we are hopeful. I'm hopeful that we will continue to have the means to provide for more children in God's time, and if we find that we are losing that struggle, I'm hopeful that using Natural Family Planning will help us get through the rest of my fertile years. I'm hopeful that gas prices don't climb as high as they say they will, that I will find the energy to get me through two days of being snowed and iced in with a very wound-up Kain over his birthday tomorrow. I'm hopeful that I can keep a smile on my face and irritation out of my voice, hopeful that my children know that they are all wanted and all meant to be here, no matter how expensive groceries get and even if we do end up having to eat more beans and rice somewhere down the road. I'm hopeful that someday, after my children are raised, John and I will look back on our days of struggling to pay the bills and not regret the sacrifices to bring one more soul into the world. I'm hopeful we will remember the joy of these days filled with laundry piles and coffee filter snowflakes and grammar lessons over grilled cheese sandwiches.