I recently went on a jungle excursion I like to refer to as “grocery shopping with small children.” It was there, in Super One, that I discovered how truly significant of an impact a simple smile has on a stranger. I was that stranger. When we first entered the store, my toddler threw her usual fit over getting to ride in one of those obnoxiously big, hard-to-steer car carts they so willingly display. I agreed because I was also lugging my infant who is still in the car seat. I needed the space to, you know, fit actual groceries. My “mom bun” was in full force. I was ready to tackle this session of cardio. I was determined and focused to get out quickly, racing through an aisle while my toddler was reaching through the car window playing with the display of glass bottles known as the pasta sauce aisle.
My infant is currently a big, drool-filled, teething hot mess. I was juggling trying to avoid having to purchase an entire aisle of shattered Ragu with consoling my baby, and I rammed head-on into a quiet couple trying to purchase their groceries in peace. In other words, they did not have children along with them. Great, now I was labeled as the mom who crashed her children into strangers. Let the judgment commence.
The man gave me a passive aggressive attempt at a polite nod and the woman did not even try to mask her glare. I felt a wave of despair wash over me. I felt myself sink into a place of loneliness where I’m sure every mother who has experienced managing small children while shopping knows all too familiar. Why else would shopping alone feel like a vacation?
Moving forward throughout the store I had a new mission. Forget the groceries; we have enough Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese and frozen vegetables to last us the rest of the week. We can salvage our bodies with that. It is now about survival and survival only. Only the strong and successful mothers are successful because they’ve survived and persevered through the struggles, despite being tempted to give up. I decided to move forward.
A few aisles later, when my toddler is putting up an epic fight for the box of princess fruit snacks, a fellow mom noticed my struggle and smiled. I felt my tensed up body start to go loose. My anger and frustration now subsided. My pessimistic thoughts started to escape me. It hit me as all of the negativity washed away and out of my body. Why don’t we do onto ourselves as we do onto other mothers? Why do we not let our friends degrade themselves through motherhood but we degrade ourselves? We need to grant ourselves the grace we effortlessly grant our friends. The grace to stumble; the grace to be unfiltered. We need to start sharing the light within ourselves onto our village and onto our friends. Especially in a time of visible struggle like I was experiencing, it’s important to say, “I’m here, and you are not alone.” Whether you are merely showing a small gesture or reaching out, always share your light.
I’ve learned on my “excursions” to Target or other stores that it’s always best to say something encouraging or humorous, and to simply smile to other moms in distress. Not to offer advice, but to just acknowledge. It’s the acknowledgment or smile of “I’ve been there tired mama. I see you.” You aren’t alone, and this too shall pass.
Reminders of our kids don’t always reflect the energy we cast onto them. You are not as lonely as you feel some days. Reminders of these days are hard and the nights can be so brutally long, but the years are SO undeniably short. I needed to be reminded to breathe and keep myself in the present because I won’t always be sporting graham cracker crumbs and spit-up as my hottest accessory. These designer bags I wear will not always be located under my eyes. I won’t get to look in the rear view mirror to see my babies safely smiling at each other from across their car seats forever. My body won’t always be reliant on nourishing my infant, and although that is demanding, one day I will miss it.
So the next time you are at a store, her kids are acting up a circus and she looks like she wants to crawl under a rock, remember what a smile or comforting signal can do for that deserving mama. It can heal her and get her through. It can give her the strength to finish doing what needs to get done, which can seem impossible in the present. When she is questioning if she’s been doing it right with her kids this whole time, it can lift her up from that deep and exhausted place we all know too well. It can make her day.