Q: It’s Memorial Day Weekend…do I know where my Teen and Tween are?
A: Yup! Hanging with friends at the Unschooling Conference, Life Is Good!
Q: What books are on my ping pong table?
A: Well, I’m pondering “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” and am about to write about it…
GMOs In the dairy aisle?
“Mama! Mama! I want Corn Flakes!”
I wince. It’s a familiar refrain, after I pick the girls up from their Father’s house.
“But you love pancakes.” I reply, hoping to hide my anxiety.
My eldest rolls her eyes and I feel the muscles along my shoulders bunch with a sudden, furious tension. Why does he have to undermine me at every opportunity?
“And I bought maple syrup and strawberries…” I say, hating the pleading note I hear in my voice. Since when did I become the one seeking approval? And from an eleven year old!
“Whatever, Mom.” She says, wrapping an arm around her sister and heading for the toy aisle, whispering into the soft, golden curls of my eight year old as they amble.
I restrain myself, knuckles turning white on the red, plastic grocery cart handle. Preventing myself from taking two swift steps after them and wrenching my eldest away before she can unload another dose of poison into the mind of her baby sister. Words she hears four times a year, at her other home.
Then, with a sigh of defeat, I scan the aisle-long cereal options, grab one that might be safe, and toss it in amongst the broccoli, pasta, apples, and several items from the bulk section.
“He doesn’t understand, and he’s not alone.” I remind myself, whispering under my breath as I push onward toward the dairy section. Searching for a familiar green label. Grass-fed, organic butter. Onward I push, grabbing a glass bottle of locally raised, grass-fed, organic raw milk. The kind of milk that scares my ex.
It’s so silly. If he trusts the government when they tell us that GMO’s are safe to eat, why won’t he trust the government’s certification of a local raw dairy?
The photo of a cow, up close and personal, makes my stomach lurch again. She looks at whoever is taking the photo, her wide eyes gentle, her tan and cream coat glistening with health. Reminding me of Abigail, Dolly, Marie, and the rest of the animals on my brother’s small farm.
My husband and I divorced two years before my brother and his wife decided to sue Monsanto for what they did to his small herd of Brown Swiss. But the subject had already ruined many a family gathering, and it still irks my ex no small amount that my brother actually won.
It was the corn that did it. One day, his small herd was grazing peacefully in the north field, under the tired old branches of a century old orchard gone wild. His eldest son took out the evening grain, from a fresh shipment of a new variety they’d never tried before.
Disaster struck by morning.
I jerk my head around, as my girls pelt toward me, small boxes clutched in their hands. I guess rightly, from the bright pastel colors and glossy sheen that they have found potential new toys for the trip to their other home. My house, in France.
“Oh! Those puzzle boxes are so cute…” I say, grateful that they finally want something I am willing to buy for them.
“Mine has puppies!”
“And look at the fairies, Mama!” Says my eldest, green eyes gleaming. “This one has a green dress…with sparkles!”
I nod, momentarily back in control. My ex doesn’t complain about wooden puzzles. And neither do I. After all, they can’t kill. Bittersweetly, I recall that feeling of agreement that we’d had so often in the early days. When they were babies and toddlers, when he worked for a fat corporation with plenty of vacation days and good insurance, and I cared more about meeting my girlfriends for lattes and stroller walks to the park than what we were putting into our bodies.
Before the cows died.
“Yes, girls…we can get these, and how about you pick out one of those juices over there, as well?” I point to a soft, rainbow of clear bottles filled with pressure-pasteurized, fresh squeezed and without added sugar (duh) juice blends.
“Aw, Mama. Can’t we get a soda? Like Dad gets us…”
It’s my eldest again. My youngest has already run off, giggling about puppies, to scrutinize the fruity selection for anything that might have blueberries in it!
The tension returns, instantly. Court dates leap to mind. The fear brought on by custody battles…and the horrors of a dewy morning filled with unexpected loss, bovine agony, and eventual death.
“Honey.” I finally say, noting a newly familiar expression of petulance on her childish features. Sadness breaks through my tension; bringing with it an acceptance of sorts.
“Do you remember your Uncle Brian’s farm? In Germany?”
She nods, startled by the change in subject. “Yes. A little.”
“What do you remember?”
Her face scrunches up and she tilts her head, thinking back to what I remember as a happier time. The slow, easy years before her Father and I discovered the meaning of irreconcilable differences.
“Well, I remember the grass was taller than my head!” She offers brightly. “And I think we went looking for eggs around the roses bushes, didn’t we Mama?”
My eyebrows lift in surprise, as gentle curls returns, offering me a bottle filled with blue liquid followed by a request to, “Open it now, please?”
“Yes. You got quite scratched up, I think.” I finally say, twisting the cap off and handing back the bottle.
My eldest, however, is still thinking. “And, I remember Dolly the cow and her calf. She was so pretty…but, what does Uncle Brian have to do with soda?”
Sharp, my eldest is; just like her Father. At least, he’s amazing at things like staying on-topic, company loyalty, and confirmation bias.
I look down at her, the story I’ve promised not to tell hanging there…warm and strange, sad and frightening…on the tip of my tongue.
“Don’t you go scaring my girls with your radical ideas, Dawn!”
My ex’s voice, so often stronger than my own, bites at me from the inside of my head. The amygdala part of my brain. The animal place of fear.
I give my daughter a quick half-smile, noting how her face is already clouding up. She notices my fear too quickly!
“There’s a story that I haven’t told you yet. And, it’s why I am so careful about what we buy at the grocery. At least, here in America.”
Her eyebrows furrow. “What’s wrong with American grocery stores?” She looks around, then her bright eyes are back on my face. “It looks like the store back home.”
“Yes dear, it does. Until you look here.” I lift the contraband box of cereal out of the cart, noticing how my daughter’s eyes light up with a mixture of feelings, and point to the back of a box of cereal. Together we peer at the small lettering, the numbers and percents, and the short list of ingredients.
“Do you see where it says corn?”
She nods. “Yes, Mama. And it doesn’t say GMO. So we can buy it, right?”
“I don’t know.”
“But…?” She glances back at the label, her eyes narrowed. “There is no GMO, Mama. Anywhere.”
“Yes, I know. But, here is America…they don’t have to say which it is.”
My youngest’s soft breath tickles my skin. I look down. She is listening solemnly. “You mean, it could be the same corn that kills the butterflies?”
“And Uncle Brian’s cows?” My eldest is clearly startled.
Flutters of fear grow in my stomach. My ex has been trying to force us to relocate to America for two years. And I know that, even if I tell the truth, it could easily be twisted around, and I could be made out to look like some crazy woman with radical ideas.
But, if I’m crazy, doesn’t that mean all of the countries outlawing GMOs – or strongly regulating them – are full of crazy people, too? How long will I go on living like this? Making choices based in fear of my ex or what a court might say…rather than acting on what I, and millions of others, know to be true?
I suck in a deep breath, and plunge. Unexpectedly re-discovering my bravery in a grocer’s dairy aisle!
“No honey. The corn they fed to Uncle’s cows wasn’t made for humans. But, the company that made that new type of corn had done studies that showed it could kill. And they didn’t tell.”
“That’s a bad secret, Mama.” My youngest whispers, her eyes wide, as her fingers find my hand and latch on tight.
“But! How can we know, then? Do all the people who shop here…not know what goes into their food?”
My eldest’s voice has risen, and I catch a strange glance from customers nearby.
“No honey.” I answer, lowering my voice and leaning down, until our faces are only inches away from each other. “No one in America gets to know what they are buying. And that’s why I’m so careful to only buy organic, when we visit Dad in the states.”
My girls are eyeing the grocery cart now, and I hurry to set them at ease. “But, don’t worry. In America, foods that are labeled organic can’t be GMO.”
Relief floods the expressions of the two most precious gifts this planet will ever offer to me…my children. To my relief, I see fear bounce off their resilient and hopeful selves. With a big smile, my youngest dances off toward the toy aisle again, but my eldest hasn’t yet moved. Her face reminds me of my ex, when he’s chewing on a problem and trying to find a way around it.
I wait, and am soon rewarded.
“Does that mean that the organic soda you buy us…is safe to drink?”
I smile wryly. “Yes, honey…you can have one, if you want.”
“Oh no, I’m going to get a juice, but…” She stops, her shoulders slumping for a moment, then she straightens, pulls her shoulders back, and lift her chin to look me in the eye. “I lied. About Dad getting us regular sodas, I mean. He does, when he visits us in France. But here, he only has the organic ones in the fridge.”
Before I can reply, she races after her sister, leaving me to digest this unexpected news in privacy. To realize, here in the dairy aisle of an American grocery store, that the world, and the people in it, will forever be full of surprises.
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