I am at the grocery store for my weekly battle with the cookie aisle when I see her. She is shorter than me, blonde, and wearing shiny athletic shorts. There are two boys with her, around four and six years old. One is crying and pulling at his groin and the other is skipping ahead, knocking over cereal boxes and wielding a plastic wand. Despite her organized grocery list, she looks like she needs a drink.
As she moves on from what I call zone one (produce), I linger. Austin is working from home (if watching the Olympics is called working) which means I am baby free, entitling me to at least 15 minutes of browsing Twitter and Facebook in the luxury of air conditioning and quiet. It’s kind of like vacation.
When I finally get to the check out line, she pulls in behind me with a full cart. I notice it’s mostly health food until I spy one carton of dark chocolate ice cream. I want to give her a fist bump.
I turn to place my things on the belt, but there is a problem with the customer in front of me, something about expired coupons, and so I stand and pretend to flip through a magazine I’ve already read while observing the noise behind me. Mom is too busy to notice me watching her though, both boys are jumping up and down and asking for a quarter. She repeats settle down, please settle down right now 100 times in the same monotone voice until their voices escalate. GIVE US A QUARTER PLEASE MAY WE HAVE A QUARTER MOM WE WILL BE GOOD PLEASE I WON’T RUN IN THE PARKING LOT MOM PLEASE.
I am horrified.
Not because of their behavior, that’s normal, but because I fear toddlers and misbehaving boys worse than post birth hemorrhoids. I want to ask her how she’s doing it, but I’m afraid she won’t be able to hear me.
Eventually the man in front of me threatens to take everything back unless he gets his discount. I hear mom sigh behind me and start bargaining. She says, “If you two promise to behave, you may have a quarter. But you must be quiet and you must share!” They are promising and nodding and jumping up and down in their matching rain boots. YES MOM PLEASE THANK YOU MOM I LOVE YOU MOM! The younger one looks like he might have an asthma attack. I try not to stare.
When they run away, we exchange smiles and I ask quietly, “Is it hard, with two?” She just laughs and says she takes it one day at a time, it’s the best she can do.
I nod and say “You’re doing a great job.”
Almost immediately her eyes fill with tears and I look away, embarrassed. She doesn’t know I’m just paying it forward.
Earlier today I was having a really rotten day. The baby was whining and screaming, throwing food on the floor and ripping pages out of my favorite books. When I finally got him to bed, tear stained and head soaked with a teething-induced fever, I collapsed on the couch wondering how I was going to make it until bedtime.
That’s when friend called to catch up. I ignored the call, quickly texting to assure her that I’d love to talk when I get my wits about me.
A few minutes passed and then she wrote back saying she’d be praying for me, that she hopes my day gets better soon, and that I’m a great mom. My heart swelled.
That’s all it takes, doesn’t it? When the days get long, when your heart gets weary, when you step on one too many refrigerator magnets and have to hold in the swear of all swears. One simple line: You’re doing a great job.
And so I’m here to tell you, no matter what kind of day you’re having–you’re doing a great job too. Pay it forward.