Yesterday at Target I stood in line behind a Mom with two screaming kids. One clung to her leg while the other, a brand new baby, wailed from her arms.
I am not used to being the one who is not the parent of the screaming child. This was uncharted territory.
I identified with her painfully and I wanted desperately to affirm her. I wasn’t sure what to do except smile and look as nonjudgmental as possible. I tried to think of what I could say, like, should I shout above the screaming, “YOU’RE AMAZING!!” Or should I go in for a fist bump, “You got this!!”?
Before I could process what my awesome, pro-mom, non-judgey response was going to be, the mom turned to me with desperate eyes, “I’m sorry, um, can you hold her?” She held out her crying infant towards me.
“YES!” I said eagerly. As I took her precious one in my arms, the little girl made eye contact and then wailed. I bounced her gently and put her pacifier back in her mouth, feeling such an intense solidarity with this mama.
“I have four,” I offered, hoping to reassure her that she hadn’t chosen a psychopath.
“Me too,” she smiled.
“Target with kids is hard,” I said. “How old is she?”
“Four weeks,” she smiled with postpartum exhaustion in her eyes. “Thank you so much.” She took back her baby and I watched her walk away.
No…thank you. I thought.
I have been the woman in the checkout line more times than I can count. I’ve stood sweating in this woman’s exact position, barely commanding the tears to wait until I got to my car. I’ve felt my face grow red and hot as my toddler screamed and kicked, waking up my baby who was angry and ready to nurse. I’ve felt so alone and so out of control.
I’ve thought I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS. I AM DOING SOMETHING WRONG AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IT IS EXCEPT FOR ME.
I’ve pretended to be calm and cool while inside I felt like I was suffocating. I’ve felt embarrassed and emotionally naked in front of an audience of spectators. In my mind people were waiting and expecting me to GET IT TOGETHER.
But as I rocked this baby I thought, in those moments, there were probably people just like me who were longing to lighten my load and whisper: hey, I get it, I’ve been here too – you’re doing a great job.
This mama was brave. She let her guard down and because of that, gave me a gift. She redeemed a thousand of my own frantic check-out moments by letting me be a part of hers. She let me join her village and reminded me that I’m not alone.
I am not the first one to walk this road and I will not be the last. There are grandmas, great grandmas and great great grandmas that have gone before me. There are mamas whose kids are older than mine and who are navigating junior high and high school. There are those who are right where I am and those who have brand new babies.
Whatever stage I find myself in, I will not find myself alone. This is a weathered road we travel.
I’m not the only parent whose kids have thrown tantrums in Target, I’m not the only one to have her kids tell a lie, I’m not the only Mom to lose her temper. I’m not the only one to have a son who struggles with reading, or the only one to have a child scream I HATE YOU. I am not the first and I will not be the last.
We really are a part of a village, a part of something much bigger than just ourselves and there are women all around us who simply get it.
Chance brought me one of my people, a sister I just hadn’t met yet. She is one of the ones in the ring with me, doing messy, but beautiful work. We are both knee deep in motherhood and for a moment our stories crossed and I am grateful.
To me she was beautiful and valiant, a mother holding everything together by a thread. I don’t know how she felt. I don’t know if she felt small, or if she felt tired. I don’t know if she felt undone or defeated…but I hope she felt supported.
I hope that in that moment she did not feel alone.
I hope she felt like I was WITH her.
We are not the first moms and we will not be the last to have a “moment.”
It is messy, it is hard, we will fail often…
but we do none of it alone, and we are never, ever the “only one.”