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.
I know that behind the screaming toddler is a tender, loving, funny kid whose family loves him very, very much.
A couple matters of business, real quick. I have three giveaway winners to announce.
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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…)”
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