By Sean Cruz
Anyone with a large family would know how difficult it is to have quality time alone with each of your children separately, times when it is just the two of you and the time and experience together is genuinely “quality” time for everyone.
As a divorced single parent with two boys and two girls and an order for joint custody, time with my children was always at a premium, and how to satisfy each of their differing interests, wants and needs simultaneously always a balancing act as the months and years went by.
Aaron created a way for him and me to share some regular quality time together, and he made it happen on his own initiative during the year before he and my other children disappeared into Utah.
During the school year, the joint custody order stated that the children would reside with me immediately after school on Fridays and through the weekends at varying lengths.
Every Friday, after picking up my children, we would stop at a grocery store on the way home, so each of the kids could have input into what foods we would have for meals and snacks during our time together. The kids and I would negotiate our preferences as we walked through the store so that everyone left happy about something.
This is how grocery shopping became part of our quality time together as a family, except for my mom, who was housebound from her chronic illnesses. I was my mother’s sole caregiver in those days.
Aaron hungered for something more than food, however. He hungered for more time with me, just the two of us, and he developed a plan to carve that time out every Friday. I was skeptical at first, but he worked his plan to perfection.
He found out what each of his sisters and his brother wanted from the store, and he asked them for backups if their first choices weren’t available. Aaron put a lot of effort into his interviews with his siblings, because he wanted to eliminate each of their desires to go shopping with us, this week and every week.
These could be very complex arrangements, fascinating to listen to their negotiations, how they planned their snacks, with much bartering and swapping and sharing after the grocery run.
Under his system, Aaron and I would drop the other kids at home with my mother, where Natalia and Tyler would generally make a beeline for the video games and Allie would play with my mom’s dachshund Sox, and all of the kids together would provide love and companionship for their grandmother, and he and I would make our grocery run for my family, for our family. Everyone was content at the very same time.
Our last grocery run together was Saturday, February 10, 1996. Aaron, Natalia, Tyler and Allie disappeared two days later, on their way to the home of Mormon zealots Chris and Kory Wright in a remote area in the mountains east of Ogden, Utah, I would later learn. This was the first place that my children were concealed.
I think about Aaron every time I set foot in a grocery store, ever since those days we were together as a family.
I miss his companionship and how he would explain to me in exquisite detail what item was for which child as he placed things into our shopping cart.
I could enjoy this time with Aaron free of anxiety for the other kids and for my mom, because they were home together and they were all safe. I would hold off shopping for myself until Fridays, so I could go with Aaron. I also hungered for that time.
Aaron would distribute the snacks and treats to the other kids when we got back to the house, and there was never a disappointed word.
All was good under the sun, dependably good, every Friday afternoon, without fail. I still have the grocery receipts.
When I recovered Aaron from the abduction in 2003, he was too ill to go shopping, and then he was ordered to return to Utah for deployment to Iraq, and then he became more ill there in Payson, and then came his Last Days.
To this day, I never enter a grocery store without thinking of Aaron, without feeling his absence, without remembering that last day that my family was safe, together and at home.
And then the Mormons entered the picture, and with them an abduction and a program….