“Your children are beautiful,” she states pleasantly as I attempt to maneuver the dingy plastic shopping cart past her and rush out the door of the grocery store. The elderly woman hobbles closer, hunched over with age and nearsightedness, to peek adoringly at my blond-haired, blue-eyed cherub of a daughter in the front of the cart. I slow due to ingrained politeness and muster a grimace of a smile.
My oldest daughter had just thrown up in aisle two and now sat miserably inside the back of the shopping cart. The middle one was trying to escape the constraints of the seat, and the baby was currently strapped to my chest in a carrier, expressing his disdain for not being fed right that very second. The groceries that I couldn’t live without had been hastily paid for and stacked around the sick child. We were on our way out of the store and I was trying to hold back the tears of my disgrace. Who brings a sick child to the store? Why couldn’t I have planned ahead of time for once? Why do I even try?
Her wrinkled, knobby hand slowly reaches into her worn leather purse and pulls out a quarter. She hands it to the child in the front seat and tells her to buy herself a piece of candy. I murmur a quick “thank you” and resume my frantic pace to the car. As soon as I’m out of sight, I apologize to my daughter and snatch the quarter before she can shove it completely into her mouth. We load up the car and head to the familiar confines of home.
Sometimes I’m so mentally and emotionally exhausted from keeping these three little souls alive that I just want to crawl under the covers and disappear. The crying and screaming and touching and begging is not what I pictured in my fantasy of mom life. It can be so hard to keep giving and giving and not be able to rest or replenish. I often grieve my life before children, when I could take a nap on a whim or sit and read a book in one sitting.
I can hardly imagine that anymore.
But you asked for this. The voice in my head likes to say. You can’t complain when you have what so many wish for. You’re not allowed to feel guilty or unhappy.
But I am. I respond to myself.
And it’s OK.
I know they tell you to treasure these moments; that time goes by so quickly. Those wizened moms of old, with longing in their eyes and hearts that remember. I know they miss the times when their children were little and would give sloppy kisses and extra-long hugs. They remember when the children never wanted to be put down and idolized everything Mommy did.
I won’t miss this. I tell myself. I can’t wait for this part to be over.
Right now, in the present, it is hard. It’s sacrificial and patience-testing and sleeplessness and vomit and mess and toys and tears. It’s lack of adult interaction and repeating instructions five-hundred times only to turn around and find the walls covered in permanent marker and a text from your husband saying he won’t be home on time after all. It’s wondering if your education was wasted because you made the choice to be home for the children instead of using your degree to earn an income. It’s stressful and frustrating and trying and it’s OK that I don’t like this moment.
Did you hear me? It’s OK.
Someday I’ll be the elderly woman in the grocery store, watching the struggling mom as she corrals her children. I’ll remember how hard it was, how utterly exhausting and depleting that season was. Maybe I’ll remember how embarrassed I was for the mess we made, or how I just wanted to have some peace and quiet. A quarter might be all I have to give, to show her how much I really do remember how hard it was to make it through.
When I’m on the other side, I’ll see past all the insecurities and failures that she notices and I’ll see a mom trying her best and giving her all. Someone who loves her children and her family more than herself, who’s willing to keep going even though it might be so, so hard. I’ll see a mom who is strong and brave. Someone her children look up to and trust. Someone who is shaping the future by pouring herself into her little ones, hoping and praying they grow up to make a difference.
Despite the vomit and the chaos and the stress, they are beautiful.
About the Author
Beth Robinson was a public school teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom. When she is not chasing after her three children, she can be found sleeping, reading, gardening, or consuming copious amounts of chocolate. She has written for BabyCenter, Parent.co, and spontaneously blogs at My Pregnancy and Beyond.