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.