I can look back on my time as a mother (it’s been a whopping 13 years), and I can see times that I’ve done well and times that I could have done better and times that I have all out failed. I remember what it felt like at those times. I remember what I was wearing sometimes and what my girls were wearing and what their hair looked like on those days.
On that particular day, for example, in the wintertime, when I loaded them into the car and buckled them into their car seats and loaded the overstuffed diaper bag into the front seat of the car, Livy had two tiny pigtails in on the top of her head. She would call them fountains. Sophie was barely able to walk and wearing a coat that was fuzzy and white like a lamb, her hair curly and white like an angel. I threw my chocolate brown and crème plaid purse on top of the overstuffed diaper bag and slid my cell phone into the side pocket along with the keys, jammed a tumbler of coffee with too much cream and Reddi-wip in the cup holder, threw two bags of fruit snacks in for Livy, and one bag of Cheez-Its for me into the growing pile in the front seat (whatever), and realized I forgot the one thing I was leaving the house to do: the bag of returns.
I peeked into the back of the car. They were happy and cute and smiling and kicking. I had used the remote start minutes before and the car was warm. I shut the door and ran back inside to grab what I needed. When I came back the car was off and the doors… were… locked.
My phone was in the car, no extra set of keys. It turns out it is standard for me to hoard all of my sets in the diaper bag over time. It turns out that’s a feature of remote start on my car — shutting off and locking after a certain amount of time.
Super…. I was helpless.
After 20 minutes of miming to my 2 1/2-year-old to unbuckle her car seat and unlock the car door and of her in turn giggling hysterically as my hysteria grew, I eventually turned to our desktop computer where I sent an SOS to my family to call the police to come help me unlock my car. Embarrassed, defeated, and likely to be the worst mother ever… but the kids were okay, the policeman reminded me through my tears. This happens more than you think, he said, but I barely heard his kind words. “Do I go to jail now?” I asked. He said no and patted my back and he was on his way and the snow crunched under his tires and I hugged my babies and they were nervous at my over-showing of affection because we were just going to the mall, right?
I remember myself that day: as a mom, as a woman, as a person. Young, afraid, tired, and overwhelmed. I saw her at the mall the other day. Chick-fil-A, trying to push a double stroller and the four-year-old was climbing out and yelling, spilling his juice, and the baby was crying, bags were falling out the back, and she was balancing a tray full of food on the handle of the stroller and telling him to sit please, sit PLEASE, NOW! STOP!
And people were staring, not helping.
Watching and waiting for what came next. But I was there alone. Because wouldn’t you know that just a few short years later all of my kids aren’t in tow anymore? Wouldn’t you know that just a few short years later I make trips to the mall without a single person by my side? No car seats, no overstuffed diaper bags, no bags of fruit snacks, no bottles or strollers. Just me. Until the bell rings and the bus arrives again. It’s just me.
“I can carry that.” I whispered as I walked by. She stopped, startled.
“What? You can? I mean. You will? That’d be great. They’re tired,” she explained, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment.
“Oh, I have one,” I said as we walked to an empty table, “that when I posted a picture of him posing with the Target dog at Target, people’s responses on Facebook were not, ‘What a cute kid,’ but they were, ‘YOU LET HIM OUT OF THE CART?!'”
We laughed. She settled her kids in at the table. I walked away.
Times change. Babies grow up. But the kindness of strangers never changes. The policeman was kind to me. He didn’t have to be, but he was. Maybe he remembered having toddlers. I was able to help the mom at the mall. I’m not that far removed from her.
The spirit of parenthood never dulls. It’s why old ladies comment on your babies in the grocery store. They remember. It’s why we get unwanted advice from people we don’t really know. They remember, too, and reminisce.
Being a parent is the hardest job out there, but the best one I know. When you fail, because you will, don’t forget to love yourself a little. And when you see your neighbor out in the battlefield in the same boat, love her, too. We are all in the same boat.
I have always heard the familiar verse, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It rolls off the tongue without much thought. But recently the last part began to mean more to me than the first. Did you realize that this commandment also requires that you love yourself, too? “As you love yourself,” it says… meaning, give yourself a break, love who you are, chill out a little on yourself? I like that. It’s harder to do than you think. As mothers, we tear ourselves apart with guilt and regret.
But we need to give ourselves grace and kindness and love.
When you do that, you can do that for others, too. In such a critical, scrupulous world, I think that’s just what we all need.