If you are a young mom, I am certain this has happened to you. You’re walking through the grocery store with your toddler in the shopping cart and your newborn strapped to your chest in a baby carrier. You’re sweating profusely because you’re always sweating profusely, and you’re just trying to get everything on your grocery list without anyone having a meltdown.
An elderly woman stops you in the chip aisle, and asks how old your children are. You smile politely and answer her.
“He’s two and a half; this one’s three months.”
She smiles back and sighs.
“Enjoy this time, dear. It goes by so quickly.”
The words turn over in your head, like hot dogs spinning in a broiler.
My second baby was born three months ago, and this scene has unfolded no less than a dozen times while I’ve been out with my boys—almost always at the grocery store, sometimes at the post office, once at the mall. I’ve had a dozen sweet old ladies sighing in my face, often flippantly but occasionally wistfully offering the same advice.
Enjoy this time, dear.
Enjoy this time, dear.
Enjoy this time, dear.
Over and over again I hear the same words as I bop up and down shushing my crying infant, swaying back and forth desperately trying to make him fall asleep while simultaneously trying to keep my toddler from opening items we have not paid for.
I cannot help but feel defensive in those moments.
Do I look like I’m not enjoying this time? Are you telling me it’s all downhill from here? Are you saying these are the best days of my life? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?
I have to believe there is much more of motherhood to enjoy on the other side. You know the side I’m talking about—the one where your children can dress themselves and feed themselves and wipe their own butts. I can see that side on the horizon, and there are a lot of days when I feel like running towards it. On the days when I’m cleaning diarrhea out of a car seat and rocking a baby in the middle of the night and wiping spit-up out of my bra for the seventh time in one hour, I want to run—no, sprint—to the side where I am not needed every single second of every single day and can pee alone and eat lunch before 2:00pm.
I am still years away from that side (years!), but I know I will be there in the blink of an eye, even though the days right now feel so very long.
But on this side, I desperately want that sweet old lady in the grocery store to understand something.
I am enjoying this time as much as I possibly, humanly can.
Behind closed doors I’m tracing the eyebrows on my baby while I breastfeed. I’m reading Elmo books on the couch and pretending to be a dinosaur. I’m building things out of Legos and kissing tummies and saying, “I love you” so many times I’ve lost count. Every day there are several moments when I am wholeheartedly enjoying my kids and the responsibility that comes with them. I know this is good, sacred, soul-enriching, patience-growing work.
But let's be clear—caring for two tiny children day in and day out is work. And sometimes these days are excruciatingly, mind-numbingly hard.
I often wonder if those ladies in the grocery store are simply trying to connect with me. I wonder if they’re trying to say, “Hey! I’m a mom, too! I’ve been there, I’ve done that!” Maybe they’re trying to extend an olive branch in the holy name of motherhood: the tie that can bind two strangers who otherwise have little in common.
I think we all can agree there is much wisdom to glean from those who have walked before us. There is great potential for a bond between the woman who has walked motherhood for fifty years and the woman who has walked motherhood for two. There is insight to share, advice to pass down, encouragement to impart.
And I think we might be able to bridge that gap more often if we could all agree on two things: motherhood is the greatest and hardest thing we’ve ever done. But one admission without the other feels.....incomplete. Motherhood isn’t all hard, and it isn’t all great—it is both. All day, every day, it is both.
I can’t speak for every momma in the grocery store, but I have to believe that we are all enjoying this as best we can. We’re all just trying to buy milk in peace and get home without anyone screaming in the car. And when I’m down on my hands and knees in a public restroom, stripping poop-filled underwear off my toddler with an infant strapped to my body, beads of sweat dripping down my temple, I need the sweet old ladies in the grocery store to meet me where I’m at.
I need them to offer something more than, “Enjoy this time!” – a well-meaning sentiment that might as well be, “Enjoy your trip to Paris!”
I need them to acknowledge what just went down in that public restroom. I need them to throw me a bone.
I have no clue what it’s like to be a mother for fifty years. I don’t know what kind of Big Picture Perspective I will have at the end of my life. I don’t know what I’ll remember when I’m 70 if I'm blessed to live that long. I don’t know what I’ll forget. I don’t know what I’ll wish I had done differently.
I can only hope that I will remember mostly good parts and some of the hard ones. I can only hope that young mothers, my future daughters-in-law included, will feel safe around me to admit areas where they are struggling.
I can only hope that I will not remember the baby days as being the best days of my life, but that the entirety of my motherhood story—the one I will have weaved over decades and decades of love and hard work—will collectively be the best days of my life. I can only hope that I will “enjoy this time” in every season of my life as a mom—that I will enjoy the time when my kids are babies and when they're in little league and when they're learning to drive and when they're getting married and when they're pursuing their dreams as grown adults. I want to enjoy all of it, as best as I humanly can, while also being content in knowing that not every single moment needs to be enjoyed in order for me to love my kids well.
I hope that when I am 70, there will still be something left for me to enjoy—retirement and writing and grandbabies, perhaps.
And someday, when I myself am a sweet old lady in the grocery store, I hope I’ll be able to look at the frazzled momma in the chip aisle, sweating profusely with her two kids in tow, and I’ll remember to say,
“Enjoy this time as best you can, dear. I barely remember how hard that was."
Written by Ashlee Gadd.