The box of orange Tic Tacs landed at my feet with a splat.
As I bent down to pick them up, I met eyes that were the same color as the sky on a perfect summer beach day. I smiled and cheerily said, “Here you go,” and attempted to deliver the candy to a chubby little hand.
“No!” she screamed, wrapping her arm around her chest and turning her face away from me. “No, no, no!”
I quickly took a few steps back, returning to my place behind my red shopping cart as to not upset this little girl any further. Hell hath no fury like a ticked-off two year-old.
“I’m so sorry,” the young woman standing in front of me in line said. She grabbed the little girl by the arm while simultaneously trying to keep the pacifier in the mouth of a very tiny baby in its infant carrier. As the toddler continued to scream “no” in a variety of octaves, the wallet the woman was holding underneath her arm turned upside down, scattering credit cards and receipts across the floor like chicken feed.
“Abigail, please stop screaming,” she begged as she dropped to her knees just as the infant started wailing.
We locked eyes as I handed her an American Express and Starbucks gift card that landed underneath the candy display. “Really, it’s okay. We’ve all been there,” I relished the opportunity to act as the senior statesman, an upperclassman of Parenting University.
She sighed and offered me a half-smile. As she handed over her credit card to the teenager at the register, she hurriedly explained: “I’m not used to two yet. My daughter is waking up from her nap when she hears the baby cry, and then our whole day is messed up. She normally isn’t like this.”
“No judgment here,” I quickly responded. “Just the fact that you are out and about is impressive. It will get easier.” I wanted to offer encouragement and support, which I knew she needed in that difficult moment. Despite the screaming, her children were beautiful, and the little girl reminded me of my own daughter at that age—a mix of sweet and sour poured into an angel’s body.
“I hope so,” she replied, sounding close to tears as both children continued to squawk. “It just doesn’t feel like it will. I think I’m just exhausted.”
And that’s when I blew it. I broke a cardinal rule of the sisterhood of moms. I said the unthinkable to a new mother going through the worst of it.
Without even thinking, I blurted out: “One day you will miss all this.”
That’s when she looked at me, tired and exasperated, and with a pursed-lip obligatory smile yanked on her little girl’s hand and walked away.
“Wait,” I wanted to yell. “There’s more that I need to tell you!”
But she was gone. I was left holding a box of Tic Tacs, with a side of guilt the size of the Grand Canyon.
I think about that mom all the time. What could I have said to her in that moment? How could I have better explained the emotions that were surging through my head?
I wanted to tell her that even though she is feeling exhausted and alone, I am so jealous of her.
I am jealous of how each night she looks deep into her infant’s eyes and knows that she is the center of his universe. I would do anything to feel my baby’s little hand wrapped around my index finger just one more time, holding so tightly that you feel it in your heart. I am jealous she gets to experience those exquisite moments of the toddler years, where each day comes with a new first. I am green with envy that she gets to snap photos of her daughter wearing her father’s work boots while buck naked. I'm jealous she gets to be the recipient of pretend tea from of a pink piece of plastic, that she gets to feel a tiny hand on her shoulder in an attempt to make mommy feel better.
I want the last thing I smell to be the head of a freshly bathed baby, the most magnificent scent in all the world. I want to go back to the days where one kiss from me could make any boo-boo feel better. I want to see their faces the first time they eat cake, or meet Santa, or take those first few wobbly steps like a giraffe coming out of its mother’s womb.
I wish I could still carry my kids upstairs after falling asleep in my arms. I wish I could still buy frilly tutus and tiaras and magic wands that make dinosaurs dance. I wish I could read Goodnight Moon every evening and watch Baby Einstein every morning. I wish dirty little hands would tug on my sheets at dawn with little voices asking if they could get in bed with Mommy, all of us knowing that sleep was not an option.
I’m sorry, young mom. I blew it. I am just so jealous of what you are about to experience that I forgot how hard it was, too. What you saw were your two children disturbing the peace. What I saw were beautiful memories hanging on to a red shopping cart.
When I see you again, and I know I will, I won’t make it all about me.
I’ll say: “I remember days like these, but I would do it all over again for just one touch, just one smell, just one moment of what you have. No one tells you that these little creatures grow up into big people. People that grow taller than you, read the same books, and steal your shoes. They learn to take care of themselves, and sometimes even take care of you. They smell, and not always in a good way, and getting a hug is sometimes only the result of a compromise for returning their iPhone.
And one day, when you least expect it, you will be standing in line behind a very tired mom, and you’ll say something dumb, even though you know better. You’ll say something dumb because you realize that the sun has set on that part of your life, the part when your kids are little and needy and exhausting. You will be just a little bit jealous of that mom because you'll see your past self in her, and you'll realize there is no turning back.”
I won’t say you’ll miss these times one day.
But the truth is, you will.