The real comedy in the two ladies insulting me right after I walked past is that minutes before our paths converged, I’d crouched in the back of the van and told my kids, “Let’s go show everyone in the restaurant that children are a blessing.”
This is a standard part of the pre-game pep talk. My own version of clear eyes, full hearts, no tantrums, can’t lose. By it I mean, let’s use our words, not our volume. Don’t panic, just ask for help. Have a heart that says thank you thank you, not more more more. Have fun! Enjoy your food!
Basically all the stuff I am still working on at 33.
Pep-talk complete, we exited the vehicle, roughly a three-minute process. I took the big backpack, Ridley grabbed the little backpack and Kajsa had my hand. The crook of my arm had the Caleb-laden car seat. We walked hungry and happy across the parking lot.
So it was genuine smiles offered to the women who strode by us on their way out. I wasn’t faking it. Kajsa meant every cordial syllable of her Huh-whoa. I thought they smiled back.
My dad told me what they said after he arrived.
“Why would they say that about me?” I meant us. Why would they say that about us. I looked at my children. I meant them.
He sensed my growing anger. His face, his hands, it all communicated they hadn’t meant anything by it. “A kid on each hand, plus the car seat. They just meant you have your hands full.”
Beware sweet breakfast joint on a Tuesday, dragon eyes are nigh. This pissed me off. It did. Their passing comment got to me.
Exactly how much it got to me was made clear when it came to mind, seemingly dead and buried, at my baby’s well check appointment weeks later. Me and the three again, we were merrily making our way through the medical building, past the orthopedic shoe insert rack at the walk-up pharmacy, past the renal specialist and the internal medicine clinic and signs asking if my legs are ready for summer and not waiting for my answer but offering me a spring special on spider vein removal.
I said yes when the kids asked to look through the tall glass windows at the koi pond in the atrium. The TV in the urgent care waiting lounge was up too loud and my head turned when it asked its ill and wounded audience if their birth control is right for them. My kids watched the fish and I watched the girl in the add buy peonies at the farmers market then get coffee with her friends then walk hand in hand with a handsome man on a lamplit street then go for a jog then talk to a dog in front of a picket fence. Her birth control is right for her. I think everything is right for her.
That’s when I remembered what those ladies called me: Poor girl.
Now I get it. Now I really get it. Poor girl: you could be living like this chic woman from the birth control ad playing in the urgent care lounge. Your lips could be glossy, your hair could be glossy, your life could be glossy. Instead you’re just … sticky. It's almost like they knew I’d recently scraped pureed carrots off of my cabinets with the nail of my thumb thus ruining a navy blue manicure that had been a simple though short lived source of delight. Poor hands.
Is that what they saw? My chipped nail on the hand gripping my daughter’s? I wanted them to see me, remarkable creature that I am, smiling as I, with great ease (bears repeating because I am proud), as I with great ease, led my sweet children into the restaurant, not even breaking a sweat under the weight of that medieval contraption known as the modern infant car seat.
Poor girl? You must have me confused with someone who isn’t crushing it right before your very eyes.
I thought I looked like someone amazing. How about, what a girl! Or, atta girl! I want the accolades without the pity. I want to step on the podium and get my medal without any side looks. Hold your sorrow; send all the applause.
It is hard. I am hungry. I am frustrated. You might catch me burnt-out, worn-out, talked-out. Some days my voice is raw from yelling. Not from speaking softly. Not from reading Newberry Award winning children's books. I am full on hollering at these fools. Get down here. Put on your shoes. Put that down. Get away from your brother. How many times do I have to tell you?
How many meals do I have to skip? How many showers? How much of myself do I have to give away before people recognize how profoundly awesome I am? Hand me a medal and a rose bouquet already.
I am blessed, can’t you tell?
I don’t know the last time I bought flowers at a farmer’s market, but I do know the last time I got coffee at one. It jostled in the weak stroller cup holder and splashed all over my shirt.
Sometimes I call myself a poor girl. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I am upstairs on the second or third or fourth attempt to get the baby down for his nap and the two children I left in total comfort downstairs—nay, luxury—start a screaming match because one called the other Prince Poop. Sometimes I sit there pretending the screaming isn’t waking the baby and I say under my breath you have got to be kidding me. Sometimes I say you have got to be freaking kidding me. Sometimes I don’t say freaking. And on those days I place the wailing baby in his crib with a sorry buddy be right back and I march downstairs fuming and I say in a voice too loud, too harsh, one chosen to … to what? To show I meant it? I don’t want to scare them but sometimes I am angry and I say, “YOU GUYS! SERIOUSLY! ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS SIT HERE WITH YOUR SNACKS AND WATCH TROLLS AND BE QUIET! IF I WERE YOU I WOULD BE QUIET!”
My five-year-old looks at me unfazed and says, “You’re a yelling mom.”
Sometimes I am.
I look at him, at her, defeated.
And all the way back up the stairs I ask myself, I do this terrible calendar math: if I never ever yell again after today, have I made it under the cutoff of their memory?
Yelling Mom is a brand burned on my forehead and it is likely too late, but I would like to have it removed before summer. Is anyone having a special?
My husband and I have made no secret of our desire to have a large family. I once told a waitress who made her own strange, poor girl like comment about our family, “Oh no, we’re not done. Actually, we plan to go full on Duggar.”
I live for shock.
However, it wasn’t entirely off base. A few things have been known to us since roughly 11th grade. We wanted to get married. We wanted to adopt. We wanted to have a large family. Five plus. We’ll see.
And even the most obtuse comments haven’t deterred me.
I have deterred me. I am deterring me. One kid or one hundred kids, I am the problem.
G.K. Chesterton, in a response to a newspaper inquiry of famous authors asking the question what’s wrong with the world, famously responded with eight words:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.
Same, bro. Same.
I gather my children around me and hold their tiny hands, no scars, and tell them let’s show the world children are a blessing. And inside I think it. They are incomparable blessings. And inside I also think I bet you scoundrels won’t even let me get more than three solitary bites of warm food. (And inside I think we don’t let our children use devices at the table, let me know if you need the updated address for the award thanks.)
Motherhood has been a reckoning that way. It continues to force the truth of my heart to the forefront.
Poor girl, full of pride, lacking in patience. Selfish. A yelling mom. An inconsistent mom. A has-made-up-arguments-in-her-head-with-your-father mom. Slow to forgive. Quick to grow weary.
What those two ladies should have whispered about me was, “sinful woman,” but perhaps that would have been too Scarlet Letter.
It would have been on the nose.
And after two or three months of thinking about the comments, all of them, and my shortcomings, the whole wretched lot of them, I happened to arrive at the final chapter of Proverbs.
I threw my head back and laughed. Ha! Of all places to land, here when I am really feeling bad about myself (ah, poor girl), I come to the mother of all accolades, the Proverbs 31 woman. Across the board she is dominating life, but what brought me up short was verse 28. “Her children rise up and call her blessed …”
If every stranger I ever walk past for all the rest of my days throws words of pity at me, it won’t matter at all if my children call me blessed. If they believe me to believe that about myself, because of them.
I read that verse and cried as quietly as possible because I was nursing the baby down and the kids weren’t calling each other Prince Poop that day and we had a shot at a decent nap.
I believe I am blessed. I can’t always be depended on to act like it.
My daughter has taken to asking people, “Are you happy?” I wish I could tell you where this originated. At first it was cute, and then she asked sixty-five more times in a ten-minute span and then she did that every day and cute is no longer how I would describe it. “Yes, Kajsa. Yes, Kajsa. I already told you, yes I’m happy.” Then she’d ask again.
I changed my answer.
Are you happy?
Yes, I say, I’m with you.
Two days later she changes her question, “You’re happy because you’re with us?”
Yes, I say, you’re my blessings.
Her daughter rises and calls her happy.
Strangers stare and call her you’ve got your hands full.
She calls herself a sinner.
God calls her a new thing, a work He promises to complete.
By grace her children will call her blessed.
Photo by N'tima Preusser.