It started with a throwaway joke. “Look at us, driving a minivan to Costco. We’re livin’ the dream,” I said to my wife on Sunday. Then it all came crashing down, the words reverberating in my skull. I sat there in the parking lot for a moment, wondering how I’d become this caricature. Life often proceeds with the same gentle accretion that creates stalactites–you don’t see it happening but something weird is going on. You’ll see yourself reflected in a moment, a joke, and are confused when you don’t recognize yourself. How did I become a suburban dad in a minivan going shopping on Sunday?
Normally there is something about shopping at Costco that elicits in me competing feelings of self-loathing and desperation, like a gazelle that has spotted a lion’s tail swishing in the tall grass and suddenly realizes it is too fat to run and escape. My feelings were amplified when I noticed I hadn’t changed out of my Crocs, used strictly for home use and gardening. Now I was a suburban dad wearing Crocs to Costco and trying to keep the kids from crying by giving them free brownie samples. My wife couldn’t understand why I kept urging that we get going, why I went on frantic raids to retrieve every item on the list, returning to the shopping cart like a bee depositing pollen. What is it about maneuvering a battleship-sized shopping cart through oblivious people bumping around the aisles like untethered blimps that makes me want to fall to my knees and wail?
There is a bigger issue of identity, though, that I had to grapple with once we escaped the no-rules madhouse that is the Costco parking lot. Seriously, it’s like Thunderdome out there. My issue was not with a loss of “cool”, since I’ve known my whole life that as an introvert I don’t stand a chance of being cool. No, it was the shocking juxtaposition of my youthful mind, which maintains a 20-ish image of myself, with my graying-beard dad self, which was in a mad dash to get the kids home and fed before everyone experienced thermonuclear meltdown. Does a stalactite ever blink, look around and wonder, “How did this happen to me? I was just a water droplet a few minutes ago!”
But there is a happy ending to this tale. I spent time with Child Harbat, who’d bought a bunny ears at a garage sale and decided to become Bunnicula by adding a cape. She snuggled next to me, wriggled her nose, and told me a story about her bunny ways, and I forgot that the gentle forces of accretion, deposit, and growth, are still overwhelmed by the greatest: love.