Today was different. Today had high expectations. And very little room for error.
Baby had a two week weight check this morning, and I was planning on taking the family shopping for all of the supplies we ran out of afterwards. We left the house in a whirlwind of diapers, toothbrushes, nursing pads, and toys. We pulled up to the clinic, and the three older kids rang out in an adorable chorus of "Yay!"s. The anxiety I left the house with melted, but then came back full force as the kids yammered over each other as I was parking:
"Can I push the elevator button?"
"Can I have a sucker?"
"No, I want a sticker!"
Then crying. Then the smell hit me.
"Did sunshine throw up??"
I threw the van into a parking spot and opened Sunshine's door. Sure enough - vomit everywhere. She is cutting teeth all over, and must have gagged herself while chewing on her fingers.
"Oh... gah. No. Ugh - shit. Ok. Let's clean you up."
I grabbed a few measly wipes out of the diaper bag and began cleaning Sunshine up. She was still crying from being scared and nasty, and I was near tears wondering where the Hubster was. He was going to meet us at the clinic to help wrangle the kids. Of course this was the one time we were early. The wipes barely cut through the gross, and the smell was everywhere.
I herded the kids onto the sidewalk and made our way into the clinic - Boy Wonder and Sparkles holding hands, me holding onto Sunshine's hand and Baby's car seat. We saw the Hubster pull into the parking lot halfway into the clinic, and he half ran to meet us at the doors. I hosed Sunshine off in the bathroom and we went up to Baby's weight check.
I decided to take the kids into the stores after that. Sunshine in a damp tank-top and diaper, both of us still smelling pretty ripe. Screw it - I was raising my rebel flag for the day: I'm a mess, my kids are a mess, and I got shit to buy. I was prepared for a horrible shopping trip.
Surprisingly, we made it through the stores unscathed (this should be read in relative terms: no parent comes out of a store unscathed... but there are certain degrees of torture, and I'd say we left the first store at a moderately sane level.) We went to the second store and I was in high spirits. The older two were being helpful, Sunshine seemed to be ok (albeit still stinky), and Baby was sound asleep.
I felt good enough to get sidetracked off of my list and venture over to home goods to window shop for the kids' new bedroom. Suddenly, I saw an older man at the end of the aisle. I hadn't noticed him before, but he seemed friendly.
"Kids are fun at this age, when you can kind of let them off on their own.", he said.
"Haha - sure!", I answered. I probably would have shot him daggers had my mood been different.
"Three kids! Wow - "
"No, we have four.", Boy Wonder corrected him.
"Four!! Holy - " the man responded. "My wife had to drag four boys through the stores. Now my youngest is 52."
We chit-chatted for a little while, and he left us, smiling, with "Enjoy your day with those kids."
I smiled and thanked him. It was one of the few times I didn't mind a stranger butting into our routine.
We continued through the store, and I felt even better. It's kind of like when little things pile up and set you off, but the opposite. A lot of little things went right and we were all feeding off of it.
We passed an aisle in the food section, and saw a little boy running wild at the end. I smiled at him, and glanced at his mom. She was further back, and from what I could see, was having trouble positioning a small baby in a carrier and trying to calm another small child in the cart. I felt for her, I knew exactly what she was feeling as she was trying to handle a new baby and two smaller ones... undoubtedly with unstable hormones and a million other issues. We kept walking, and not too long later, I heard her yell at her son that was bouncing around at the end of the aisle. I saw a few people in the aisle I was in give each other looks as they silently judged her losing her grip.
I instantly felt the urge to go back and say something to her, or at least give her a smile, but I didn't. I kept on shopping, lest we lose our positive vibe before the trip was over.
We left the store not too long later, and everyone was still in a fairly good mood. It wasn't until we got home all hell broke loose yet again, and I found myself wondering what I got myself in to for the 800 billionth time since becoming a mom. But it passed.
There are so many moments in parenthood, and I feel like anyone can experience them all in a short amount of time. I went from the mom I heard in the store to the mom chatting with an insightful older man in a matter of an hour. I felt like a failure losing control and a nurturing, happy mother.
I thought of that mom a couple of times since I heard her earlier this morning. I didn't judge her. Her kids looked healthy and happy (well, 1 out of 3 was happy, and I'm sure the other 2 were happy at other times). And yet even she lost her cool when everything went spinning out of her grasp. I knew she was probably pushed to her limits by things I hadn't seen, but experienced in my own time.
There are times when your kid throws up all over herself right before you head in to a doctor's appointment. There are times when all of your kids are crying while you're in the middle of something that you can't really interrupt with ease (preparing dinner, going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, calming one of them down). There are times when all of your kids will wake up in the middle of the night in one night and you won't get any sleep. There are MANY days you'll be counting down the hours until you get some back up, only to find your back up is exhausted and isn't of much help. There will be times when you've had things demanded of you all day, only to come home and have even more demanded of you. Any combination of hell you can think of - it can happen.
But there are other moments as well. The ones where your kids are all getting along for once, and you can fold the laundry or get a meal done without any issues. Where you overhear a conversation between siblings and your heart melts over how caring, insightful, and sweet they act towards one another. Where you comfort one of your children and feel how much they love you and rely on you in the way they nestle into you as you hug them. Where you see your entire family together, laughing and enjoying a meal and you don't feel the need to rush off and get something done. These are the moments that you all but forget the time you were *thisclose* to wandering the streets barefoot and mumbling to yourself.
I hope that man passed that mom's path. Or someone similar did. Someone who was in a place to remind her that the really tough moments pass. Because we all know it. But it's so hard to get a view of that when you're pretty much done for the time being.
At any rate, I hope next time I'll be less selfish and make an attempt to do it myself. I know at this point she's probably moved onto a new mood for the day, and doesn't need the reminder. But the kindness that man showed me while I was shopping with my kids taught me that the last thing we need to do is judge other people while they're struggling. The "I'm happy with my life all the time" tactic might work for some people, but for many of us, reality hits us out of nowhere, and we need a moment to be human without the guilt trip. It doesn't take advice or dirty looks - just a smile and some kind words to give us hope that someday we'll (hopefully) be 82 years old and reminiscing over how wonderful our hectic lives once were.