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“Me Too”: The Humbling Moments of Parenthood

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I took all three kids to Target the other day—alone—and I’m just going to pause here a moment for some clapping and confetti. I’m sure moms with eight kids do it all the time and whip right in and outta there, but three is tough for me. When I was a spunky young aunt, I used to beg my sister to let me take my nieces shopping. I liked the company. I liked the car seats in my car. I liked to pretend I had a different life than the one I had, which was alone, living with my dad, driving my duct-taped Ford Escort wagon to substitute teaching jobs and eating a lot of animal crackers on my breaks. Maybe I was more energetic back then (all those animal cracker vitamins). Maybe my nieces were saints. Whatever the case, trips to Target with my sisters’ girls always went well, and based on that, I threw that dream into the universe as one I’d enjoy with my own kids someday.

Here’s what I figured out.
I enjoy my three kids.
And I enjoy Target.
But I do not enjoy my three kids at Target.

I remembered that the other day, pushing my cart with one hand and reaching with the other for Nella to follow me—all the while fake-smiling one of those “I got this” looks while Dash’s shrill scream attracted the eyes and pity of every shopper (driver/mail carrier/traffic cop/mammal) within a three-mile radius. And this wasn’t the first time. Last time it happened, unbeknownst to me, my mother-in-law was shopping at the same Target at the same time. She found us. “I heard that scream across the store and knew it was Dash.”

The sad thing is, I not only used to pity those moms of screaming toddlers, but I judged them. I smiled compassionately, saying a prayer of gratitude for my girls’ good behavior, but secretly I assumed those moms let things get out of control—lacked good discipline. The fact is, Dash is a spirited child, and when life tells him no (or mom tells him to stay seated), he’s going to fight it, discipline be damned. This will serve as a gift someday, of course, propelling him to get back up when he falls down, to face rejection head-on—a persevering, purpose-driven fighter. But right now? It’s hard on me. So I tell myself “It’s not all about you” while I scramble to pull out a response in public—and believe me, I’ve tried them all. Lately, I practice breathing out frustration and calmly admonishing him while talking to the girls and continuing on my way, but I’ll admit sometimes I’m near tears. It’s hard when everyone is looking, and shrill screams have a way of penetrating even the Zennest of Zen.

Halfway down the diaper aisle this week and deep into the decibel scale of scream, another mom—young and pretty— paused and smiled at me—not condescendingly, but rather like a quick hug.

“How old is he?” she asked.

“Almost two,” I answered. “Funny and sweet and—feisty.”

“I knew it,” she added, “Mine’s the same age, same energy. Listen, I’ve so been there. Can I help you with anything? I have some marshmallows if he’d like some.”

I didn’t take the marshmallows, but I did walk away with something better. She gave me the “Me too” gift, perhaps the most valuable thing another mom can give you when you are pouring your all into motherhood and it’s not going like you planned (isn’t that what it often is?). No fancy stroller, no organic cotton swaddle, no cute headband and no marshmallow cart fit distraction can ever compare to “Hey, I see you. And you’re not alone.” It was no longer One Mom vs. The Citizens of Target. It was Us. Two Moms. Which might as well have been All the Moms of the World. She’s been here! Her kid does it too! She knows I’m one marshmallow away from snapping! One mom might crack under the pressure of a screaming baby and two kids sheepishly trailing behind the drama, but two moms? We got this. With a surge of gratitude for the sisterhood of mothers and newfound appreciation for the honor of raising an iron-willed son, I finished my shopping trip and kissed my tired boy’s forehead over and over during check-out while he exhausted the last of his vigor.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received the “me too” gift from another mom, but it definitely ranks as one of the most well-timed ones, consequently heightening my awareness of how important it is. I dropped Lainey off at school the day after the Target trip and bumped into a mom friend I’ve lost touch with. We’ve waved and smiled at each other a few times this year—and in that awkward recognition of “we don’t really talk anymore, do we?” I’m sure I’ve subconsciously retreated to mom default mode: We are good. We are happy. We are running this ship like a boss. I’m having a good hair day. This time we stopped to talk, and our conversation quickly fell where it needed to go—a shared “this is hard, isn’t it?” With babies on hips, we laughed about how tough mornings are, how frustrating fits are, how three kids is so much harder than two. We said a lot of “me too”s, and they felt like we were hugging. “I’ve missed you,” they silently spoke. Sure, we celebrate the good and high-five the times when friends are really acing it (Please, high five them! Notice them! They are few and far between, and we want to blast them to the world when they come!), but the invitation for sisterhood—whether it’s okay or not—is loudest during times of vulnerability.

Let’s be Marshmallow Moms more. Let’s find the screaming babies in Target, the moms dragging kids to school tardy the third day in a row, the straight-backed, hair-combed, keep-it-together ones whispering, “We are good, we are happy, we are running this ship like a boss” because they’re deluded into thinking that that’s what keeps you floating in the sea of womanhood. Let’s hunt them out and flood them with love. Let’s keep our eyes peeled for the tired ones, the lonely ones, the one-marshmallow-away-from-snapping ones. Let’s be quicker to say, “I’ve been there” and “me too”, knowing two moms is better than one mom and “us” can conquer the world.

As for screaming toddlers, I judge less now. Because I know that behind the stress and frustration of that public moment is a precious child with the great gift of unyielding determination, a gift his mama is trying very hard to funnel into all the beautiful things he will accomplish.

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I know that behind the screaming toddler is a tender, loving, funny kid whose family loves him very, very much.

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******************

A couple matters of business, real quick. I have three giveaway winners to announce.

Two NatureBox 6-month subscription giveaway winners:

Comment #7,”Ilikebeerandbabies.com”: “I have to try the big island pineapple rings. My kids would freak!”

….and Comment #192, “meg@ourwaytoeat.com”: Sunflower kernels, any flavor!


AND

The My Publisher $250 book credit giveaway: Comment #208 Tammy: “My youngest two (twins) are leaving the next to hike the Appalachian Trail. What an awesome way to chronicle their journey! (I’m sure going to miss them…)” 

Congrats, ladies. If you’d please e-mail kellehamptonblog@comcast.net with either “Nature Box Giveaway Winner” or “My Publisher Giveaway Winner” in the subject line, we’ll get your prize codes to you as soon as possible. 

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  1. This was an absolutely beautiful account of a hard moment we all face. I had the same moment in Petsmart the other day only my 2 year old was screaming on my hip and my 4 year old was yelling in unseen agony. I stared downed every person staring at me hoping my eyes said, I’ve got this, slow your judgy roll peeps… But the second my boys were strapped in their car seats, I broke down and bawled. I think that woman in target was a true gift in that moment. I love the idea of gifting each other with “me too”. Any who, long story short – great read and I am definitely on board with the me too movement!

  2. Thank you, Kelle. You are always a great point of reference.

    I have a little boy just a few weeks older than Dash. I’m a foster parent and so I can’t post his picture online but I’ve sent friends to your website before saying “He looks like Dash” for a visual (he does – except his little baby mullet grew faster and has since been cut :) ). He started screaming a couple months ago and it is so shrill and ear piercing. I’ve tried everything. Nothing works consistently. On the days when I am a good and patient parent I’ve been able to tease him out of it (“Uh oh! Did you forget not to scream?”) But that’s not most days. He likes to do it in stores. Especially in stores.

    If we’re out shopping with my mom and she takes the stroller so I can actually look at things (why are the aisles so SMALL? And the posts right in the middle!) I can follow the scream back to them.

    I worry constantly that his scream is the indicator of something more deeply wrong, some underlying trauma from his history… and it may be. Or it may be in part. Or it may just be that he’s two and stubborn. And then I read about Dash and it’s normalizing; it doesn’t have to be trauma. I don’t want to be ignorant to the fact that it could be but he’s also a two year old little boy who is acting like a two year old little boy.

  3. Thank you, Kelle. I SO, so, SO resonate with your beautifully written words. Yes…it is MUCH harder than I ever imagined…but our strong-“personalitied” little loves are teaching and growing us as moms much more than if we had a quiet, reserved always obedient child sitting in the shopping cart. I can’t wait until I can extend the gift of “me too” to another mom this week. Thank you for the reminder! Brought tears to my eyes.

  4. Thank you Kelle! My two year old son has recently begun to assert his independence, loudly! It’s been so frustrating for me because he was such a happy, easy baby. It helps to know that other moms are experiencing the same thing and aren’t judging my parenting skills when he’s screaming in public!

  5. I loved this post :) Going from two to three has been surprisingly hard! My two boys were relatively easy to manage in public, but with two hands already full with the 3 and 5 year old boys, it is really hard to corral my independent, spunky 19 month old daughter! It is so embarrassing to chase her down the aisles of the store and think of the moms I judged for doing the same exact thing!

  6. My almost two year old and Dash must have been separated at birth. Is there something about the year?! :) The last time I walked out of the grocery store with a bottle of wine and flowers because it was that or cry! I feel for ya, mama! Thanks for making me feel not so alone.

  7. OMG I saw Tammy as a winner for my publisher book and for a second was super excited until I read the comment! Not my comment but I do have to say this Mom will and should have some amazing pictures to put in her books for her twin!!!! Thanks Kelly for your giveaways!

  8. Your blog often touches me on days that I need it to the most and todays was no exception! I have been there – he was my first child and broke me into motherhood very quickly. I remember those visits to Target and Walmart where I was so red in the face with embarrassment that I practically ran to the car every time we left. And now, he is 14 about to be done with middle school and move onto the elusive high school. He grew out of the screams and temper tantrums, a while ago, but his determination and his constant exploring have not stopped. Nor would I want them to. He is an amazing son and makes me laugh all the freaking time! And although those times were tough when he was little and I think back to them with tears of frustration and stress, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. He taught me much more about life and patience and love then anyone else ever has or will. He taught me how to be that mom in Target now, the ones who hands chocolates and coffee to moms with little ones because we are a village raising children! We have to be in this motherhood thing together!! Thank you for writing and continuing to blog about being a human/mom/wife/daughter, your readers all adore you!!

  9. This is so my life right now. I used to judge too. (I also have two older girls and a spirited, non-behaving 2 year-old only a few months older than Dash.) No more.
    Everyone always thinks the leap from 1 kid to 2 kids is the hardest. I think the leap from 2 to 3 is much, much worse. We’re outnumbered now. We’re tired. I can’t break up a fight over plastic play food one more time today…

    I love this post. It’s a glimpse into real life. That I’m not the only one that would rather cut my arm off than take all 3 kids shopping by myself. Rock on, Marshmallow Moms! We NEED you. And I need to work on being you more often.

  10. Humph! Mom of 7 here…..clapping for you! (just because I have 7 doesn’t mean I like to go out in public with them!)
    Way to go. Yey you!
    Now imagonnago back to reading the rest of your post! 😉

  11. hi kelle,
    I too had a spirited boy, who is now 6 (nearly 7. but when he was younger.. by goodness it was tough, I lived in a town with my boy who was two and a newbornbaby girl , I didn’t know a lot of people and my husband would work away for a week at a time. I used to have to pep myself up to grocery shopping each week, saying a little prayer before I went… actually I did that anywhere I went, because I knew it was going to be rough. Thankfully during one of my sons worst outbursts, that left me in the middle of a shopping centre with a crying newborn and me clamping my son between my legs on the ground because I just could not stop him from screaming and running away, two beautiful old ladies came and stood with me, almost surrounding me from everyones watching eyes, and just held my newborn, so I could pick up my son, and spoke words of encouragement to me, and then helped me get down to my car. I will never forget that kindness. and it still makes me get teary thinking of what they did for a utterly exhausted mum that day.

  12. What a beautiful post. Yes, we all need to be Marshmallow Moms more. It would make going to the store so much easier for all of us. 😉 (HUGS)

  13. I LOVE this post, and feel the same way! I know people are always pimping their stuff to you, but you have to read this because I invented a “me too” symbol for parents to use to support each other. All we need is for it to catch on! http://twofunmoms.com/2014/07/encouragement-for-parents-everywhere-the-solidarity-pound-it/

  14. Great post Kelle! You’re a great mama!

  15. Oh, ME TOO! I had a Target screamer this week, too. Another mom met my eyes, and we both laughed and I swear her face said to mine, “Been there, sister, what can ya do?” So nice to get that look and not a judgy stare.

  16. Girl, I also wrote about one of my many Target trips with my kids and I AM RIGHT THERE WITH YOU.

    https://talkstwomuch.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/might-i-propose-a-target-daycare/

  17. Kelle,
    I am a long-time reader, and don’t comment very frequently, but I wanted you to know that this is one of your best posts. We have all been in your Target situation, and I will think about it differently next time and offer to help more.
    Thank you for sharing!

  18. When my feisty boy was three and he was throwing a tantrum in Target I just stepped over his ‘thrown on the floor’ little body and kept walking down the aisle. Come to think of it, I think I’ve done that a couple more times. I certainly stopped being embarrassed or even caring what other people thought very early. ALL mothers have been through this. We ALL get it.

  19. Oh I needed a “marshmallow mom” today. It was a toughie. It was ugly. Rough morning getting to school – got PULLED OVER on the main street of our very small town bc my tail light was out (who knew?) while everyone else driving their kids to school passed me.

    On these rough days, I find myself seeking recognition in other Moms’ eyes and I rarely find it there. Maybe I need to look harder. Moms need to be more real with the tough times!! Not every single minute is to be loved. Yes, it will all be treasured in the future when child is bigger, but for now, some moments are hard.

    Thanks for listening. Im carrying marshmallows in my bag from now on. :)

  20. Wow, I could have written this post! I have two daughters (6 and 4) and my youngest is a boy who will be 2 in April. And wow, can he scream. At home he sets off our glass break detector in the security system several times a week. In public it seems even louder. Any trip to Target longer than 5 minutes (and aren’t they all) end up exactly like yours did. I know how you feel and I think you are doing a great job.

  21. I’m not a mom yet but I have made a point to shoot the mom with the screaming kid in the grocery store a smile that (hopefully) says: “You’re doing great. Your kids is adorable.” Maybe next time I’ll say it with words as well. I guess I’m trying to pay it forward because I know that will be me someday! :)

  22. This too shall pass Kelle and you shall miss it. I have walked down the aisles with one hanging on each let and God blessed me with two boys. I wouldn’t trade them for the world but they certainly kept me on my toes and I earned every grey hair on my head. They are young adults now and I hear myself in my head saying, He knows better, I taught him better. But you know you have to let them fly and crash so they can learn. And by the way, I often tell young moms to breathe and relax because they are going to miss that shrill scream some day. Not right now, but someday. And when they have all left home you will look back and think it wasn’t so bad. Then it will be your turn to pass out the marshmallows. Here’s one for you. Tomorrow is a better day.

  23. Oh my goodness, you make me laugh! I can remember 2 times I actually parked my cart in the middle of a random isle, grabbed my baby and toddler and bee lined it for the door. Sometimes you just need to surrender…:) But the other 213 times, I stuck it out, but man was it hard. know you’ve got millions of mamas out there who have been one marshmallow away…

  24. this was hilarious, but it totally true, and its ok we dot realize how hard are thing some times for the others until you are in the same situation

    Maca

  25. My girl would only scream in Target. I could take her anywhere but within three minutes of being in Target she was a puddle of tears and near hysteria. My spirited child could not handle the sensory overload that Target brings. All the Red. The Smells. The product. The loud speaker. Too much. I shopped alone for years until she was capable of handling that much sensory input.

  26. I enjoyed this; TRULY,it takes a village and we need to bring that back.

  27. I SO know what you mean. Once, we made it to the library in the pouring down rain (and I have 3 kids too) when my oldest announced he got into the van without shoes. And I was NOT driving back home without new books, darn it!

    So I parked and walked to the nearest house with kids toys out front. I humbly knocked on the door, explained the situation, and asked for a loan of shoes. Laughing, the mom dug out a perfectly-fitting pair. I offered some cash as collateral, but she just shooed me out the door with a “We’ve all been there.”

    One of my favorite mom memories.

  28. It’s so nice to know I’m not alone! Oftentimes I’ve felt like such a wimp, sitting in my car crying my eyes out after even just one errand with all the kiddos in tow. I have to psyche myself beforehand and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over.

  29. I remember one time I took my four kids to target by myself, all under six years old, one with a trach and feeding tube. A woman stopped me and told me she was a nurse and would I like a prescription for Valium. I laughed thinking she was joking but she said she was serious. I wanted to cry right them and there. I thought I was “pulling it off” but obviously I wasn’t. Ever since I’ve vowed to be the “been there” mom, solidarity is more helpful than assumptions and judgement.

  30. Dear Kelle
    I have two boys and the youngest, 3.5yrs old now, is just like Dash…iron willed. And he spent the first 3 years of his life screeeeeaming. It was very very hard for me and it literally brought me to my knees. I can completely empathise with you.

    He has settled a bit now that he is 3.5 years old.

    Best wishes
    Antonia

  31. Hang in there! My first son is spirited, “full of joy” is what we try to tell him, “crazy” is what others call him at times- but he is So Smart and So thoughtful and at 4 he has begun to push back less, to grasp reasoning a little more and we welcome and answer his why questions honestly. He has pushed me harder than anyone on earth, and I am better because of him and all of his spirit – but some days all I could do was cry…and get 10 more books from the library to try to understand this person so different than I.

  32. This was music to my ears. My 3 year old little girl has been extremely challenging lately. I only have her and sometimes wonder how in the world I will mother 2 or 3 even. I have experienced some mom shaming lately with looks saying things like “I cannot believe your child is behaving that way.” The thing is she has an extremely strong will. Or a steel will as you put it. It’s really hard on me right now but I know at some point in her life it will serve her well. Ain’t nobody gonna tell this girl how to think or feel. It’s something I look forward to but also try to not squash that will out of her at times when she’s testing every single limit. This post really made my heart flutter. “She feels it too.” “Her little boy has the same strong will.” Also a little fluttery because even though its hard some days we can still rock it out. Thanks.

  33. Just fyi I dont have any kids and moms with loud kids are always apologetic and say things like “this lady is trying to shop” but honestly, I have more patience BECAUSE I dont have kiddos. You need this Target trip more than me. Dont worry about it. If I didnt want to deal with kids I wouldnt go out in public 😉

  34. When my twins were that age, I went through the screaming toddler shopping trip and came home quite upset. My husband came to my rescue. He told me that I was not to go shopping with the kids again, until he was home. Then he shared his plan. 1) Tell them they were not allowed to scream in stores. 2) Go to the store save any shopping for perishables until last. 3) At the first scream, calmly push the cart out of the way, lift the kiddoes out of the cart and without a word, load them up in the car. 4) On the drive home, tell them I am sorry but since you screamed in the store, you don’t get to shop with me. 5)While the offending child threw a fit, I drove home, reiterating, “Nope, only children that don’t scream and cry get to go shopping.” 6) Dropped them off to the waiting daddy. 7) Hopped back into the car and grabbed my waiting cart and finished the shopping. 8) Next time, I reminded them what behavior was expected. Daddy was waiting at home, just in case. I am happy to report that young as they were, they understood and it never ever happened again.
    Such a smart husband!
    p.s. You’re a great mom! And yes the strong willed ones are the hardest, but can be your dream child later when they apply that stubbornness to reaching their goals. My stubborn one gave me many a tear with her iron will as a little one and she is now a pre-med student!

  35. Kelle, thank you so much for sharing this. Your writing is beautiful… but even better than that is you “getting” and sharing that “two moms = the world of moms”… so true! You are not alone, I am not alone! Something worth celebrating!

    Kerrie @ http://www.snowfive.com

  36. I’m not a mom. I am legally blind and have a guide dog. I used to judge parents of the two year old in stores expressing themselves fully but as I’m now old enough to know better. Now, I use my dog as a distraction. It’s my little way of saying, not me too – because I couldn’t possibly know, but I completely understand.

  37. This is my favorite post of yours EVER. I just wrote to a friend earlier today that my spirited son keeps me thinking and on my toes every day and makes me question everything I thought in the past about what “good” parenting is and how “good” kids are made. It took me until he was six, at my wits end, and driven to talk with a professional counselor to be able to see the upside to his iron will and independence. I’m happy for you and Dash and your whole family that you have been able to recognize the positives traits associated with having “lots of spirit” even at his tender age of not-yet-two!

  38. It’s like you’re describing my child exactly. One of my favorite posts I’ve read of yours! When my son was just a few months old (he’s 18 months now), we went on an emergency Target run and he just lost it. Not the same as a tantrum at that age, I know, but just as mortifying and terrifying, especially to a new mom. As I left the store in tears, I felt like everyone there was staring at me in disgust but one woman on the way out touched my shoulder and said, “Honey, we’ve all been there. He’s fine and you will be, too.” It meant the world to me and I swore I would do the same for someone one day.

  39. My boy just turned three and I call him our threeanger;)it’s so hard. Im so emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the day. I can’t get over how much I can love some one who makes me so angry!;) the biggest thing of all though is the loneliness. When I am so tired and vulnerable and i feel so alone in the batlle. It’s not right. So, I love knowing im not! I look forward to seeing my sons picture next to dash in times magazines top CEOs of 2040;) these boys will change the world, this I believe!

  40. My 3 year old is also spirited. I embrace it. As you said all of those qualities that make a spirited child will be viewed as a positive one day. Persistence, assertiveness,independence, exuberance. It’s definitely not easy on us though! But I’m so thankful to be his mom. To be the one who “gets” him.

    Hang in there, things get much easier once they’re able to communicate and be reasoned with. I know people complain about age 3, but I think it’s my favorite. They’re learning so much and can be so funny and sweet. I’m also excited about him starting preschool soon. Having his world opened up (and having a place for him to burn off some energy!) will be so good for him.

  41. Loved this post, Kelle! And I’m glad *I’m* not the only one with a strong-willed son, just trying to enjoy a trip to Target! :) My son is three now (he’ll be 4 in April), and we’re almost to the point of being able to enjoy a trip to Target. As long as I go with the expectation of accomplishing nothing in there. lol Absolutely nothing, but looking at the dollar section and the toy department. :) It’s great, I love it! My son drives me crazy sometimes, but other times he truly amazes me and I’m so proud of him and couldn’t love him more. He’s so different than his older sister, but I’m so grateful I have one of each. :)

  42. Thanks
    for being real
    again in your post.
    This whole mom thing
    really is a journey.

    http://shilohsstory.blogspot.com/2015/02/gratitude.html

  43. I’ve wanted to cry out of frustration in Target more than once. My 20 month old son has given me a run for my money. He’s not any easier when my husband and I tag team. He’s just going through a really difficult stage right now and I know he if fiercely strong willed like both of his parents. I pray it serves him well one day. Thanks for this post.

  44. Oh my goodness, this was me on Sunday at Target. I took all 3 of mine (although my bonus daughter is 16). If I take 1 or 2 it’s fine. But holy heck, my almost 3 year old would not stop crying & screaming. My 4 year old likes to tell him what to do & is pisses the living daylights out of him. Ugh, I could not get out of there fast enough & I did not dare look people in the eyes for fear of their judgement.

  45. I am definitely a “marshmallow mom”! This was so awesome, Kelle!! Thank you. And I can totally relate to kids being tardy to school for the third day in a row!!!

  46. I feel like I am ALWAYS the “Me too” mom now-a-days. When, I too, used to judge the moms and kids in these situations. I remember a time I was at the mall with Hazel, she was about 6 months old(ish). I found myself in the huge hallway, on my hands and knees, fumbling through the diaper bag to find and change her diaper(right there – not in the bathroom where one is supposed to change the diapers). Hazel is screaming, I am sweating, for some reason water bottles were flying…anyway you get the idea – YIKES! It was that moment I made a quiet pact to myself, for the love of Jesus, to always be the “me too” mom.

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