Sheila Raghavendran

Checkout lane assumptions


One coupon for a free bag of carrots, one coupon for a free bag of frozen vegetables and a 20-dollar bill.

I was sent to Kroger on a typical-grocery errand. In the checkout line standing in front of me, a man and two kids unloaded their cart onto the conveyor belt. They moved forward to pay and I moved forward to put my peas and carrots down. A woman in her mid-60s stood behind me. Let’s call her Ann.

“Wonder what kind of blackmail that dad’s wife gave him to be stuck taking his kids to the grocery store!” Ann said.

I laughed in a friendly, conversational way.

“Unless she left him to raise the kids,” Ann said, eyes widening, “a lot of people do that nowadays.” She gave me a look of I-wouldn’t-be-surprised, they’re-probably-some-of-those-people.

I shrugged at her and turned away. Peas and carrots, I thought. Peas and carrots.

Ann put her groceries on the belt.

“Or maybe she’s dead,” she said.

“I’d hate to see those kids’ teeth.”

And a few seconds later, “Or maybe she is at work and he is kind of the ‘Mr. Mom’.”


Society has come far. Women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights. There are still so many Anns in this world, though. So many people willing to judge by a first glance. She delved into this family’s personal life without any clue of the truth.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Ann could have said about me to the person behind her. A 16-year-old Indian girl with an American accent, a handful of vegetables and a too-small purse.

People like Ann upset me. I could have said something, but I wasn’t about to put myself in the position of making assumptions about this man’s family, like Ann had. Even positive assumptions are assumptions, and I was avoiding them.

Family is no longer defined by a male breadwinner, a housewife and mother who spends her days cooking, cleaning, running errands and caring for the children, a daughter who fancies horseback riding and teenage boys, or a son who excels in school and follows his father’s footsteps.

I am so lucky to be maturing in a generation where what would be peculiar 100 years ago is so perfectly normal.

Ann, take a look around.

Author: sheilaraghavendran

I agree with Ellen, let's be kind to one another.

2 thoughts on “Checkout lane assumptions

  1. Don’t be so quick to assume just because we’ve made strides in tolerance that judgemental people are a thing of the past. Most of the people who don’t like Walmart and want to stop the company from opening new stores hate the company not for what it does or doesn’t do (that’s a distraction), they dislike the people who shop there. The poorer Americans who shop there because of low prices.

    Our culture still has a long ways to go in respecting differences.

    • I agree, thanks for your input! I think that society has come a long way, but there is still much to improve on. Though I think the family dynamic has grown broader and people are okay with it. “Family” doesn’t mean the same thing it did when my great-grandparents were growing up. It’s interesting to me that in a diverse society, some still have the impulse to criticize what looks like — from the outside — an atypical family. Atypical families are typical because of how common they’ve become. It’s curious that something that is much more widely accepted was deemed intolerable by this woman.

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