My son has been asking me for cha siu bao for weeks now. As far as I can remember, he hasn't been over-the-moon for any type of chinese food, but as far as dim sum goes, cha siu bao is my all-time favourite dish. And I do worry that I have denied my children any real day-to-day connection to their chinese heritage. So today, in a moment of delirious confidence after a sleep-in til 7:30 and a short run that had me feeling like Wonder Woman, I declared to my husband that I would take both kids into Mississauga to the TNT Supermarket.
I put the kids in the car. I buckled them in and we set off. I had a short list of four items folded neatly in my pant pocket, so I figured we'd have lots of time to just take in the chinese-y-ness of the experience. I told my son, "There might be some smells you're not used to at TNT." He looked at me wide-eyed, as if I was describing a foreign planet.
I took the QEW and the 403 and I got off at Mavis and then I took a left after two stop-lights and then I missed my turn, but quickly congratulated myself for finding my way back to the right intersection. I pulled into the plaza and was shocked and dismayed to find a Winners where the TNT should be.
I had only one bar left on my phone. When Mark answered, I quickly cut to the chase, "Where IS TNT, Mark?"
"By Ryan's house."
"I am right here, in the plaza and all I see is a Winner's."
Mark calmed me down and then directed me just one block south. How could they just up and move their store one parking lot over? Did that seem reasonable? (Mark gently told me later that the store had been at that location the whole time, though I remained somewhat dubious that I could be so stupid.)
Anyway, we found the store. And I held Cole's hand and took Amelia on one hip and made my way to the cart carousel, only to find that it costs a loonie to get a cart at TNT. I didn't have a loonie. I had eighty five cents, a debit card and a half pack of Dentyne. Not helpful. Okay! I told myself, No big deal. We'll just get a basket and the kids can walk.
Famous last words: The kids can walk.
We walked into the store. We saw a take-out booth selling dim sum. They had cha siu bao. I ordered three and we sat down at a little table and Cole had two bites and declared he doesn't actually like cha siu bao.
I pulled the basket down up and down aisles while my kids fought over who got to hang onto the other handle and be dragged along too. Every few minutes, Amelia would break loose and tear up the linoleum, spin around and race back, narrowly missing being run over by a supermarket employee pushing an over-burdened dolly. She and Cole would run their fingers along the bottom edge of shelves, especially ones completely covered in glass bottles of sauces.
I stared at metres upon metres of aloe vera juice, bottled green teas, bottled green teas sweetened with honey, bottled chrysanthemum teas, but could not find the oolong that my husband had requested. I wanted to flag down someone in a green vest, but my kids were glued to the ice-cream freezer, examining popsicles shaped like bananas with edible, candy peels.
By some miracle, I eventually got assistance in the chilli sauce aisle too. I was looking for gochujang - korean hot sauce. And I was looking at rows and rows of sauces and squinting at the tiny, printed labels, while swatting my kids' itchy little fingers as they reached again and again to pull breakable jars from the shelves. The little red box that the young korean kid told me was gochujang had no English label on it. I asked him twice if he was sure that was it. He said, "That's what my mom buys."
And when I was finally ready to make my way to the cash register, my daughter refused to follow me. I pretended to walk away but she called my bluff. She is the definition of too-smart-for-her-own-good. I picked her up to carry her and she bit me. Hard. On my left shoulder. Or rather that meaty spot in front of your left shoulder above your left boob.
I congratulated myself quietly for only saying a loud Ouch when what I felt like saying was much more explicit.
We finally left the store. Together. In-one-piece. A few nibbles of dumpling heavier. And my son said to me in the car, "Some of those people were speaking different languages." And I realized it was a small thing. A teensy tiny lesson in culture. A speck on my chinese mom resumé.
But it was not easily done. And so I rewarded myself with a much-needed afternoon nap.