I’ll be the first to admit that pre-baby Heather was fully devoted to the judging of parents whose children threw fits. Evil eyes on the airplane, angry scowl at the grocery store, annoyed sighing in any waiting room where children ran wild. I let everyone around me know that I was super frustrated short of actually saying something to the flustered parent.
As I’ve come to find out these things come back to bite you in the rear. There’s nothing more humbling than seeing your precious 3-year-old babe throw a massive screaming fit in the middle of a Target checkout line.
Thankfully I’m writing this as a memory from the fairly distant past, seeing as how that precious boy is now 4 and has a little more self-control. I’ve also become a more attuned parent, knowing more about my child and the things that irk him. The age of 3 is a crapshoot, though, and you just never know what you’re going to get from minute to minute.
Last summer I was looking for something –anything – to get myself and my two boys out of the house. The pool didn’t open til noon, the parks were all wet from a heavy rain the night before, and the zoo was out of the question that day. I did what I’m sure many moms do and settled on wandering the aisles of Target, hoping for a nap and enough change of scenery to keep the older child busy. I found a notebook and a package of markers in the $1 section, so after lapping the store several times we headed toward the checkout lanes.
My (then) newborn baby was starting to stir in his carseat, and lunchtime hanger was starting to settle in for myself and my (then) 3-year-old.
“Mommy, I want M&Ms. Mommy, I need dis. Mommy, hold me. MOMMY I WANT TO EAT. MOMMY!!!”
He started to clamber up side of the shopping cart, about to wake his little brother. I picked him up and put him down.
He started to try and climb up the candy display. I picked him up and put him down.
He tried to run to the display down the aisle from us. I grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back.
He erupted into a volcano of emotion, at which point baby brother awakened to shrieking of his own.
I’ll go ahead and say here that we should have left, but I was bound and determined to give Target another $2.50 of our money for a notebook and markers. Plus we were almost there – all of that waiting would have been for nought if we left, right?
I was sweating, just short of bursting into tears, and likely the same color as our cashier’s Target-red shirt.
And then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Turning around there was a woman, maybe 5 years older than me, smiling. She told me my children (who were both currently whimpering for food) were beautiful and asked their ages. She told me she had two at home too, each a year older than mine, who were spending an hour with grandma while she ran errands. She told me they loved blank notebooks and markers too, and that they beg for candy every time she takes them at the store. She offered to help me out to the car, although I said no since I could just stick our purchases in my purse. Right before we left she said one thing to me:
“Keep up the good work, Momma.”
How humbling and beautiful is that? During a decidedly embarrassing and potentially explosive moment she chose kindness and care and grace over the grumbling and sideways glances I was getting from other customers. She picked me out – Lord knows I wasn’t about to make contact with anyone while my kids were losing their junk in public – and purposefully made me see that I’m not alone and I’m not unseen. She offered simple help, knowing that I would likely turn it down. And then she used our final few moments together to speak 6 encouraging words to my emotion-ridden heart.
There are plenty of articles and blog posts and social media accounts that tell us to kick the mommy wars (what does that even mean?!) to the curb and to lift one another up instead. That is good advice and something we all need to embrace. But I’ll take it a step further and say this: let’s not even notice the differences that create these “wars” in the first place. Let’s see that you are a mom, I am a mom, and we need one another. Others may judge and feel like they could do it better, but us moms? We know the difficulty and the burdens and the joys that encompass the blessing of being a parent. We know the fears and the failures and the victories, the staying up all night for any reason under the sun, the excitement of every first, and the way it feels when that baby? That you love so dearly? Finally says they love you too.
Ever since that day in the Target checkout line I’ve tried to purposefully seek out the moms of the fit-throwers. I’ve heard the babies crying, the throwing of things, the shrieks a few aisles over – and I run toward it. Not to judge, not to gawk, not to offer advice, not to make a hard situation even more difficult. I go to do one thing – to say 6 encouraging words to a mom who needs to know she’s seen and that she’s not alone:
“Keep up the good work, Momma.”