You never know what the people you’re seeing in the world have going on behind the scenes.
I’d be a liar if I tried to deny there have been times that I have witnessed another mom at the grocery store or school saying or doing some things that made me cringe.
I judged that mom. HARD. I had no business to, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves from thinking we would do such a better job in their situation just because our day, week or month has given us a false sense of security in this parenting thing.
In those periods where everything seems to come together seamlessly for us, we seem to forget that we have had our own days, weeks or months where everything seemed to line up in the exact OPPOSITE way they were supposed to and, we were THAT mom.
Nobody is perfect. No child is well-behaved all the time.
Every family has its struggles and no relationship is a fairy tale without serious hitches along the way, and yet, when we look at others we are immediately compelled to compare ourselves, for better or worse, to the situation we are bearing witness to and wonder how much better (or worse) off we have it than them.
It’s human nature to see how you match up.
Today, I was like any other mom on a routine shopping trip with her kids.
Except I was walking up and down the aisles with uncontrollable tears falling.
Droplet after droplet rolling disobediently down my cheek as I frantically tried to wipe away the evidence before some unsuspecting stranger caught a glimpse of my red, swollen, tired eyes and gave me that “look.”
The one that confirms every negative thought I have playing on loop in my head about my parenting ability. The one that says, “you’re failing.”
When someone gives me that “look,” I know what they see is an utter disaster. They don’t know that I’m parenting solo.
I’m a true hot mess mom in all of her glory finally at the end of her rope, unable to control her kids or her own emotional outpouring because, hard as she may try, it’s taken over with brute force and with each warm, salty bead streaming down her face comes a bittersweet sting.
One that she’s ashamed of and determined to put an end to, but also paralyzed by because she knows she’s been packing these feelings away for far too long.
When someone sees me at the store with my kids and they think they’re witnessing a frenzied mom who can’t get her shit together, what they don’t see is the culmination of events that transformed me into portraying the frantic, frustrated, overwhelmed and over-anxious, emotional wreck they were scrutinizing with their eyes.
They don’t know that I look tired and frazzled because I AM tired.
And not just “I have 3 kids, kids are exhausting” tired. It’s that, too, but mostly because I haven’t slept more than 3 hours a night in months.
I spend my nights analyzing these exact moments the chastising eyes of a stranger observed. I study what caused our day to derail so quickly.
When I am finally able to quiet my perpetual thoughts and attempt to fall asleep, my brain has other plans. Terrors take over and anxiety sets in. Most nights, staying awake seems less excruciating than trying to sleep at all.
You don’t see me in the hours before the moment in the store.
While you’re passing judgment on me as I urgently storm past you with a fierce determination — one hand firmly planted on my child’s arm steering him in the direction of the eggs, the other guiding the cart my preschool incessantly pleads to push even though she can’t see over the handle — what you didn’t see was the hour before this moment.
The immense energy I expended trying to calm my explosive child after another unsettling outburst that thwarted my plans for this night. His third this week.
You didn’t see me wrestle with myself about postponing this shopping trip altogether because his sometimes unpredictable and vehement behavior can turn even the most mundane errands into a catastrophe in a matter of seconds.
Just minutes before you laid eyes on me, I was doling out outlandish rewards and threats of lost privileges through gritted teeth.
Begging the forces that control my child’s impulsive tantrums to PLEASE just let him behave long enough to get me through this store without a scene.
I’ve been a bundle of nerves, desperately and rapidly hauling the items on my list into the cart so I can walk out of this store with at least the basic staples to tide my family over. Because I don’t want to be forced to leave empty-handed (again).
This is my second trip to the store this week for this exact list. But you didn’t see that. Because there is no one else to make a trip to the store for me.
What you don’t see when you hear me getting frustrated or snapping orders at my kids to, “hurry up!” is that it’s likely close to bedtime, a bedtime with a routine that requires hours of preparation to even begin and one that is critical to me making it into my own bed hopefully before midnight.
When we get home, it will undoubtedly take me an hour to unload and restock everything from all our grocery haul, reorganizing the items strewn on the shelves by my kids’ “help” while I was retrieving bags from the car.
After, I’ll need to check homework, give them baths, make lunches and ensure everyone’s teeth are brushed.
And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s in store for me once they fall asleep. The many things I must do AFTER we leave this store are running through my head in this moment your eyes have landed on me.
When you see me and my kids, the epitome of pandemonium, in the store, what you don’t see is my anxiety. My guilt.
My shame for even being here while one kid is melting down or the other is declaring starvation because I know it looks bad.
But you also don’t see that I don’t have a choice. I’m a single mom.
And not in the sense that every other weekend I drop my kids off with their dad and spend my time missing them.
No. I mean single as in, I am parenting solo all day, every day.
I am the sole person responsible for every appointment, every sport, every school drop-off and pickup and volunteer day, every memorized sight word and field trip form signed, every hair washed and tooth brushed, each breakfast, lunch, and dinner made, every middle of the night accident, each matched sock and missing shoe, and every single sibling dispute.
Every bully and friend and love and magical entity that shows up with presents or money or hidden eggs throughout the year are me. It’s. all. me. Every decision.
Every financial responsibility. Every tear. Every worry. All of it. And you can probably tell just by the way you’re looking at me, but it’s clearly starting to wear me down.
When we leave that store and go our separate ways, I’ll go home and scramble to finish the dishes so I can make it into my kids’ room before they fall asleep.
Which they inevitably will. And you won’t see or hear my heartache when I walk into their finally quiet bedroom to find them each snoozing away with a book under their tiny, fragile arm that was patiently waiting to be read … by me.
You won’t see me well up with tears all over again because another week of their childhood silently slipped right past me because, dishes. Because, bills.
Because, work and laundry and phone calls and garbage day and …. the list is endless.
I’ll be crushed when I think of tonight’s shopping trip and every other moment this week that I spent consumed with getting them home so I could have THIS moment, the one where they are asleep, and the house is finally quiet.
The one that I now wish wouldn’t have come quite so fast.
So, when you see me (or any mom) at the store with my kids and you think I look stressed, frustrated, impatient or frazzled and I look like a hot mess, just know, I AM all of those things.
But it’s everything you haven’t seen that’s making me that mom at the store right now, and honestly, I could really use some kind eyes today.