It happened again today, this time in the dairy section. An older couple casually strolling the kind of leisurely pace only grocery shoppers sans kids can afford caught sight of me. Or more accurately, I think they noticed the kids: one hanging off the end of the cart, one swatting at shredded cheese from the buckled-in prison of the onboard child seat, one a few feet away braiding tiny sections of hair, and one staring up at me from a car seat occupying 90 percent of the cart’s usable space. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full,” the man said with a wink and a chuckle to his smirking wife.
I grit my teeth and forced a wan smile as I angled my cart towards the yogurt, their laughter piercing my tired back like tiny stinging toothpicks.
I don’t know if you added it up, but I have four kids. Children. Four of them. Is it really so shocking?
Every time I go out in public with my kids in tow—every time!—someone clucks these kinds of comments about my goodness, couldn’t I use a little more help, or how busy I must be, or how brave I am to take all those kids out, blah blah blah.
People, for the love of all things good and holy—stop.
Yes, I’m busy. I’m aware there are four of them. And guess what? I wouldn’t change a thing.
Let me tell you why.
I birthed each one of those newborns after what felt like thousands of hours of contractions and Pitocin and self-doubt.
I cooed and swaddled and nursed the fussy baby at 2 a.m. when I was about to fall over dead from exhaustion.
I contorted my body to lay a finally asleep bundle carefully, slowly, no sudden movements! into the crib.
I asked strangers in online mom groups for opinions on the baby’s concerning rash.
I bandaged the knees and fingers and nose attached to an unsteady early walker.
I pleaded with a combative two-year-old to please just eat three bites of the offensive green things on her plate that were definitely NOT made of cheese.
I clapped like a delirious drunken seal when the stubborn toddler pooped on the potty for the first time (and may have texted a picture to Daddy).
I had my shower interrupted by the chatterbox who needed to tell me rightthisverysecond that the sky is blue and did I know airplanes FLY and how come giraffes don’t have thumbs?
I happily wore macaroni and yarn necklaces fashioned by clumsy, intensely proud preschool fingers.
I sounded out C-A-T and B-A-L-L with the furrowed-brow kindergartener who was sure he’d never get it.
I searched high and low for that one toy an absentminded girl was sure she’d left under the bed or maybe in a drawer or could it be outside? (And, yeah, I found it.)
I cut crusts off a thousand PB&Js for the picky eater who couldn’t possibly stomach hot lunch at school.
I cursed under my breath at the ridiculous argument over whose turn it was to pick the next youTube video.
I tiptoed into bedrooms every night to check all of those peaceful, sleeping faces and stole kisses every time.
Having a handful of kids makes life noisy and busy and often exasperating. It means I drive a standard-issue minivan littered with granola bar wrappers, crushed goldfish crackers, and at least a half dozen sippy cups of rancid juice. It means I don’t ever feel rested, and I can’t remember the last time I wore something other than a nursing tank or did something as luxurious as buying myself new underwear.
But having all these kids makes life fun and challenging and full. We turn up the boy band music and dance in our seats on the way to school. We giggle over cutthroat games of Uno at the kitchen table on rainy afternoons. We have popcorn and chocolate shakes for dinner on a picnic blanket sometimes, just because.
Our house hums with life because it’s filled with life, and I love it.
I wish I could help that couple in the grocery store see the simplicity of it: we’re just a family, not a number. If they could look beyond the frazzled mom with dried spit-up on her shoulder and the entourage of lively kids in her wake, I think they’d see the love that binds us together.
And if only they’d buffer their comments with genuine smiles, I guarantee they’d get at least four of them right back.