I see them everywhere I go. 

They’re at the grocery store planning dinner in their heads, while idly standing in front of the meat case and feeding an infant veggie puffs.

They’re at storytime at the library, wrangling wandering toddlers who appear to be totally disinterested in Dr. Seuss.

They’re roaming aimlessly down the throw pillow aisle at Target, gently swaying back and forth to help soothe both the baby they’re carrying in their belly, and the squirming one they’re carrying in their arms. 

They’re heaving 35-pound infant carriers out of minivans, clicking them into double strollers, and marching into the dry cleaners, the doctor’s office, or wherever they need to be. And all the while they’re thinking what a grand ordeal a simple errand has now become. 

They all have that same look about them: tired, overwhelmed, haggard, and weary. You can tell they haven’t had a shower that day, and I can bet they were likely only able to spend about 90 seconds that morning to get themselves into a somewhat presentable state. 

I see them everywhere I go. 

They are mothers of young ones. 

But not only do I see them, they also see me. 

They see me looking at them, their babies, their strollers, and their diaper bags. 

They see me looking at their messy hair buns, their well-worn yoga pants, and their oversized t-shirts covering swollen pregnant bellies, or non-pregnant swollen bellies that they appear to be ashamed of still having.

They see me looking at the mismatched outfit their three-year-old chose to wear that morning, and they see me tilting my head slightly, so I can better hear the conversational exchange between toddler and mama. 

I see them everywhere I go. 

They see my eyes flick up, down, and over them and their children, and I know exactly what they’re thinking. 

They think I’m judging them.

They think this older mom who has the pleasure and luxury of shopping alone, is looking at them and judging them. 

They see me looking with my curious eyes and furrowed brow, and they immediately think thoughts like . . . 

“Do I look that bad?”

“Does she notice how much I don’t have it all together?” 

“Why is she staring at me and my kids?”

“I bet she doesn’t even have kids.”

“I’m doing the best I can.”

“She has no idea how hard my day has been already, and I really wish she would please stop looking at me.”

“I can’t believe I am standing her being judged by her.”

But I’m not thinking any of those things when I look at these mothers, and I am most certainly not judging them.

Actually, it’s quite the contrary.

I see them everywhere I go.

They are mothers of young ones.

And I’m not judging them, I’m praying for them.

You see, when I see them I immediately think thoughts like . . . 

“I bet she is so tired. I wish I could help her get a nap today.”

“How did I ever do that? Did I actually do all that with all that gear, those heavy car seats, and clunky strollers?”

“She is so patient with those kids. I was never that patient.”

“I know she hasn’t slept in a year. I wish I could tell her it gets better, but I know she won’t believe me.”

“She’s in the most physically draining years of motherhood, I hope she has help at home.”

And then after that, I say a prayer for them. 

I pray that the cranky baby in her arms will take a three hour nap later.

I pray that her husband makes dinner tonight, runs her a bath, and handles the bedtime stories.

I pray that she will begin to see the body she is currently so dissatisfied with as the miraculous vessel of life it truly is, and not just a chubby midsection that will no longer fit into skinny jeans. 

I pray that her toddler will be a good older sister or brother, and that the worries she has about bringing another baby into this crazy world are calmed and extinguished sooner rather than later.

I pray that she uses her “me time” smartly, and never entertains any notion of guilt for taking care of, or putting herself first.

I pray that instinct and wisdom consistently walk beside her, and remove any misgivings she may have about the “right” way to mother her children. 

And I pray that as hard, and as long, and as soul sucking the days can be sometimes, that she will now and forever realize her value as a mother—both in the eyes of her God and her children—is of an immeasurable and infinite amount. It cannot be quantified by anyone. Ever.

I see them everywhere.

Mothers of young ones. 

And I hope when the day comes they finally get to shop alone, that when they see me wandering alone down the throw pillow aisle, that they pray that I am handling my empty nest with grace and faith. 

Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer, adjunct librarian, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Awareness Ambassador. She writes at http://www.4boysmother.com/. Her writing can be found all over the internet, but her work is mostly on the dinner table.