“Excuse me,” said the man beside the dairy case, politely, “But can you help me?”

I’d watched his son zooming around on rollerball sneakers earlier, swooshing in circles around my cart until his father brought him to heel. The son, about 7, had grinned at me sheepishly, “Sorry,” and hurried back to where his father stood, frowning at a list scrawled on the back of an envelope. I’d smiled and moved on to the tuna pouches.

Milk was the last thing on my list and I’d found the man and his son again, staring earnestly through the glass, checking his list, scrutinizing the cartons. My selection was in that case, so I waited patiently for them to make their choice and move on.

A young girl, about 11 or so, also waited. She watched her dad warily, her face a battleground of love and skepticism, arms folded high and tight on her chest. “Don’t you cook, Dad?” she asked.

“Usually I go out, honey,” he said. He saw me and asked for help. Sure, I agreed, and he asked for the light cream.

“I see half and half, I see heavy whipping cream, I see milk. Where’s the light cream, please?”

I looked, no light cream. Did grocery stores even carry it anymore? “Sometimes you can substitute half-and-half. It has a bit less fat, though,” I said helpfully, “What are you making?”

“This potato thing,” he replied, “My recipe says you slice up the potatoes, mix the light cream into some grated cheese and onions and things, and pour it into the potatoes. Then you bake it. In the oven.”

I assured him that half-and-half would work for potatoes au gratin. “Oh, that’s great! Then my daughter can use the half and half in her coffee in the morning.”

I glanced back at his daughter–a 11-year old drinking coffee?–and she shot me a warning glance and shook her head frantically. So I smiled and said, “good luck,” picked up my carton and moved on.

On the way to the checkout I noticed several other men with young children in tow, checking lists, asking the kids what they liked to eat, and just generally giving off deer-in-the-headlights signals.

What is it about Memorial Day? Do divorced mommies figure this is a great weekend to give daddy the kids? I mean, Christmas and Halloween and Thanksgiving and July 4th, those all have sentimental family connections.

I watched that sad little parade of weekend daddies at the checkout counters, and wondered.