I stood at the checkout line in Costco, my seven-months pregnant belly bumping up against the counter and my four children scattered about ‘helping’ the checker and cart-packer. We’re always a spectacle at Costco. Most people just smile uncomfortably as we pass them in the aisles, if our eyes happen to meet. Others make what I try to assume are well-meaning remarks and exclamations that don’t always come out politely. I don’t really mind. I’ve learned to worry less and less about what people think about me over the years, especially as my family has grown. Motherhood has enough worries of its own to care about what complete strangers think of the size of my family.
Behind us in line, there was a young couple with a baby snuggled up to dad in an Ergo-carrier. The baby was probably 8-9 months old. I knew they were watching us, but my attention was split between the checker and all the commotion of my kids. Preoccupied by managing little hands and feet while finishing up our transaction, I could barely register the words when the young mom sheepishly tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” she said quietly. “Do you have a secret?” she finished as she gestured around to my kids and looked at me with a pleading look. The kids had all been bustling around the register but more-or-less behaving themselves, the cart was being re-filled, and it probably did look like a relatively smooth process to an outsider.
“Ummmm…I…uh…” I stammered as I once again accounted for one, three, four children, and fumbled for my debit card in my purse as the last items passed by in front of me.
“I…I….think…it…gets….easier when they get older?” I said, almost as a question, feeling immediately lame about my answer and yet, unable to focus my attention for long enough to change it. Our transaction was through, smiled awkwardly at the woman, and herded the parade around the full cart toward the exit.
Once I was at the door, I realized how poorly I responded to this dear woman’s honest question. I could feel her thoughts unfold in my mind, ‘How can this pregnant woman with four children seem do be doing so well at Costco, or in life, when I have only one child and feel like I’m drowning in the hardships of early motherhood?’
We rounded the corner to the parking lot and I held up the parade.
“Hey kids, lets just hang out here for a minute.”
Since they had been in line right behind us, I knew they would be coming out the door soon, and I couldn’t stop myself from trying to reclaim a nearly-missed opportunity to be completely real with this young mom.
The couple emerged with their purchases, and I waved them down. The woman looked confused for a moment, but came nearer anyway, and gave me a quizzical look.
I started off a little timidly.
“I’m sorry about my lame response to your honest question. I was scattered, and I couldn’t find the words on the spot.”
She nodded and stepped in to listen more intently.
“I don’t know exactly why you asked that question, but I would guess that maybe you have bumped up against some unexpected challenges in caring for your baby and can’t picture how you would be able to survive caring for more children when you feel so overwhelmed with just one,” I said.
She nodded again and her eyes started to fill up with tears.
“The earliest years are the hardest, I think. There is so much that changes when you go from having your life all to yourself to the reality and responsibility of caring for a baby every minute of the day. Motherhood is really hard whether you have one child or four children. It’s not necessarily easier for the mom who has fewer children, or harder for the mom who has more. But every season you go through, you learn more about yourself and what your baby needs from you. You learn a new language of loving sacrificially, you find solutions to the problems you bump into and gain confidence as you have successes in parenting. Right now you may feel overwhelmed, but within time, you’ll be able to see how your baby grows and thrives because of your love and every little task you do. You learn how to be gracious with yourself, and let some of your worries go. God gives you what you need to weather each season as it comes.”
I pause because I realize I’m getting to be long-winded. She has tears streaming down her face like I’ve totally dialed her number.
She had no idea that for the previous week, I had been exhausted and irritable thanks to the demands of my fifth pregnancy, and was repeatedly short-tempered with my kids. My own plea for the week was to be patient and kind to them, and I felt like I had failed miserably at it.
She looked at me with genuine esteem in her eyes and said, “Well, I can tell that you are extremely gracious with your children, and I hope that I can be like that with mine.”
My throat tightened and tears found my eyes, and I confessed that I strive to be gracious, but I’m definitely not always successful.
We hugged like friends, and departed ways, both of us with a wind of encouragement from a brief exchange of words. My only regret was that I didn’t ask her name or for some way to connect again, but I’m thankful for the encounter we had that day, and for the reminder that sometimes it is important to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to the opportunities I have to encourage someone else, even if I feel like I’m the one who needs encouragement.
Our little miss is exactly one week old in these photos. This post is part of “Not So Small Stories” with Kirsten Oliphant. Click on the button below if you are interested in reading thoughts from other bloggers on this week’s theme: “Speech. Language. Words.”