I will admit it. I was never very much of a compassionate person. That job fell to my perfect sister, while I judged and shook my head and carried on with my life as others fell and made mistakes around me. Compassion did not come naturally to me.
But compassion does grow, slowly. When I had my miscarriage, I remember another teacher in the staff lunch room complaining about being up at night with her baby. I would have given anything to be exhausted from nurturing my own child that day. Compassion grew a tiny bit. I am still learning to watch my words and think of others.
Compassion grew again when I had surgery and when I was fostering the two little boys. I dropped the ball again and again. Yes, I wrote previously about how that brought humility, but it also brings compassion. Give others a break. Soften your heart, it told me.
Today God gave me another chance to let my compassion grow: trying to use my WIC checks. (All foster kids can receive funds for food and drink in the form of several monthly checks.) These checks are very specific. One gallon of whole milk. There is a whole paragraph about which milks you can buy and which you can’t. The formula that Midge used to drink was easy, but now we’re into the big leagues of WIC’ing. I’m standing in the aisle of the store clutching my three checks and the detailed handbook, trying to figure out which juice to buy. I need to find two juices, 64 ounces each, which say 100% juice “on the front label.” But if it’s anything other than orange or apple juice, it must also say 120% daily Vitamin C “on the front label.” And it must include only the juices listed in the pamphlet, or be a combination of those listed juices. I am sorry to say that Tyler and I stood there for probably ten minutes before this treasure hunt ended and we put the prize in our carts.
The cereal aisle is a bit easier because there are WIC labels next to the prices of the qualifying products. However, when the check calls for you to buy a 36 oz box of cereal and only smaller boxes are sold, do you just get one smaller box, or do you find two that add up to the larger number? The introductory video I watched at the WIC office did not cover this, nor did it show confused mothers agonizing over juices with two little ones in tow. And then there are the eggs, which must be large white eggs, not brown, and not organic. All of which I can only find out by standing and reading my booklet in front of the egg case.
I was lucky to be doing this in an upscale suburban grocery store with wide aisles and nice lighting at 8:30 in the morning when the store was quiet and my kids were well rested. I am a confident woman who is not in a hurry, and I don’t have to shop during the evening rush. I think of my little foster boys’ mom who is not so fortunate. Would that meek woman have the nerve to take both cereal boxes to the register and ask the checker my cereal question? Even I, a college graduate, felt confused and small, winding my way around the grocery store on this goose chase that took forever. Honestly, I felt lucky that the other shoppers had probably never seen a WIC check before so they wouldn’t be wondering what my circumstances were and why I needed assistance with my food budget as I flashed the WIC booklet all over the store.
But the worst part of all was the checkstand. As I came to the front of the store, I looked for a checkstand with an older woman as a checker, figuring that she would be familiar with the WIC procedures. No luck. Only one stand open, manned by a guy in his early 20’s. I stroll up and unload each of my four purchases, separating them as instructed in my WIC introduction video. Of course, this guy doesn’t know what to do with the checks. He doesn’t know the answer to my cereal question. And, of course, two people come up in line behind me right when I’ve put all my groceries down and there is no chance to let them ahead of me. So those poor customers have to wait as I apologize for the delay while the checker finds someone to help him. They don’t seem to sympathize. It takes an eternity. I am usually the one in line, rolling my eyes at that person holding up the line with their complicated purchases. Imagine how those customers would look if this were 6 p.m. in a crowded store with everyone trying to rush home for dinner. Not a pretty picture, and even more embarrassing for the WIC purchaser as she makes the line wait on her.
Compassion grows slowly. But surely.