I saw you at the grocery store today, struggling with your three boys, as one had a meltdown, one was yelling “mommy! mommy! mommy!” over and over, trying to get your attention, and the other was trying to pull you away from the cart.
I saw the frustration in your eyes. I saw “the look”. The one every child has experienced as they knew their mom was about to hit their breaking point. I saw you trying desperately to keep it together.
I came up behind you, and you were in that weird place where I didn’t know if you were in line or not, and to be honest, you didn’t really know either. I get it. You were running the cost-benefit analysis of abandoning your cart right there and carrying your kids out of the store. I’ve been there.
I asked you if you were in line and you said, “I was, but I’m not sure now, and you can go ahead of me.” But I insisted that you go first. I told you I had all the time in the world. I watched as the frustration spilt out from you, and you looked me up and down, before saying, “Well, I only have until the next meltdown” and pushing your cart to get into the line in front of me.
You saw me, in my “perfect” outfit; my booties, tights, skirt, and hat. My makeup was done, and my well-behaved toddler sat quietly in the cart, watching the scene unfold with your boys. And it angered you. You were in workout clothes, practically sweating, with greasy hair, trying to manage everything; no make-up on your face. I get it. I’ve been there.
You saw all of that, thinking I looked down on you; thinking our lives were so different…Thinking I was privileged to not understand your position. I get it. I’ve been there.
But if only you knew, this was the first time I had put makeup on in over a week. This was the first time I got dressed in real clothes and got out of bed. I was having one of those rare days where I actually felt good. The first time I felt that in weeks. My toddler was abnormally well-behaved that day, which never happens. All the stars lined up for me. And I rewarded myself by going grocery shopping to get some treats. My toddler sat, acting like a perfect angel in that cart; something he never did. And I was so grateful.
And if only you knew, how much empathy I had for you in that moment, as you compared your worst to my best. Something I find myself doing daily. I never thought I could see this from the other side. It isn’t as pretty as it looks.
I tried to tell you that you’re amazing, but it came out weaker than I intended. You were busy, shoving groceries onto the conveyer belt, your youngest still in full meltdown; your other two in a tizzy, and you were pushing back tears. I don’t think you heard me. I get it. I’ve been there. More than I would like to admit.
But if only you knew how much I admired you in that moment. To see you, openly struggling, yet persevering with a strength I wish I had. It’s easy to have strength when you have no burdens to hold on to. That was me today.
And while I was thankful for the relief, I was much more thankful to experience what true motherhood is through you: the selfless, thankless, around the clock job where we continually give our all for those who don’t have the ability to adequately express their gratitude back. It’s a cruel, but beautiful job that has no boundaries and constantly redefines your definition of love. Just when you think you can’t give enough, you’re asked for more. I get it. I’ve been there. You may think we see weakness, but we only see strength.
But Mama, if only you knew.