“Okay, I just need to get a few things. After we’re done, we’ll get lunch and go home, okay?” I said as I peered into the backseat of the car.
I glanced down at my list before throwing it in my purse: diapers, wipes, new socks for Rhett. Get in, get out. You can do this.
After unbuckling both kids from their car seats, with Allie on my hip and Rhett’s hand clasped in mine, we walked into Target. We went straight for the cart rack and I grabbed the behemoth cart, wondering how many racks I would accidentally ram it into before we left the store.
Rhett immediately started climbing into the bottom rack of the cart.
“No, Rhett. You need to sit IN the seat. Not underneath.”
I braced the cart with both arms and began pushing us down the aisle. Every time I take one of these carts, I feel like I need a special driver’s license to operate it. After I managed to get the cart going in a straight line, we headed for the baby section. I parked the cart in the center of the aisle, hoping neither one of them could reach out and grab something from their side of the cart.
Diapers. Wipes. Check. Check.
As I pushed the kids through the rest of the aisles, I felt like an ant underneath a microscope, my parenting on display, magnified for everyone to see. Allie began pulling shoes off the shelves and putting them into the cart, while Rhett begged for a snack. I looked around before lowering my voice to its stern, “I mean business” tone. “We are almost done. If you don’t stop pulling things off the shelves, you won’t get a snack. Do you understand?”
When my kids misbehave in the store, do people think it’s because I’m a bad mom—that I can’t control my kids? Do they think I have bad kids—kids who don’t listen? Are they annoyed with us, silently judging their loudness? Or maybe they aren’t even thinking of us at all.
I tried to squash any outbursts before they became too big—too big for me to handle in the home goods aisle at least. I glanced at my list to see if all the items were checked off, then made a quick decision for an item not on the list: fruit snacks. I wondered as I opened the box and handed them each one package if I was doing the right thing by giving them a sugary snack as a way to get through the checkout line.
An older woman was checking out behind me, and I noticed her observing the bribery. Had she watched me from a distance the whole time I was shopping? Or had she only seen us at the checkout line when each kid had a package of fruit snacks in hand?
As I tried to wrangle the big cart through the automatic doors, the kids’ hands now holding empty wrappers, she looked at me and said, “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”
Her words stopped me. I looked over at her and smiled, fighting back tears. “Thank you,” I said, my shoulders relaxing. With the encouragement I didn’t know I needed, I put both hands back on the cart handle and kept walking out the door.
As I strapped my kids into their car seats, I kept replaying her words over and over.
I’d spent most of the time in the store rushing. Ramming the cart into the ends of the aisles in a race with myself to get out of the store. I wanted to cross all the items off my list and be back in the safety of the car as soon as possible—my jaw noticeably clenched, my face tight, my voice growling. Did I even smile once at my kids? Did I even acknowledge Rhett when he helped his sister get into the cart? Did I relish the kids pointing to books they recognized from our own bookshelf at home?
What gave her the impression I was a great mom?
Driving out of the parking lot, I wondered, What if us moms told each other that more often?
“You’re a great mom.”
What if we told ourselves that?
I left the store that day feeling a little bit better about myself. A little better about my parenting. I don’t know what she saw. Maybe when I wiped the tears from Allie’s face when she pinched her finger. Or me standing in the diaper aisle, scrutinizing each brand, making sure to pick the good ones, yet not the ones that cut into their college fund. Maybe she didn’t see any of that. Whatever she did or didn’t see, I appreciated that she saw my struggle.
Most days my village looks like meeting a friend for lunch, where we admit how lonely we have been, and how hard this season is. Other times it looks like my mom coming to stay at our house after each new baby, and again when I had knee surgery—staying until I could walk again.
Other times it looks like a stranger encouraging me when she didn’t have to.
So if no one has told you lately:
“You’re a great mom. Take your time.”
Featured image by Holly Shafer Photography
Stacy Bronec lives with her husband and two young kids in Central Montana, where she found herself living in the middle of nowhere after unexpectedly marrying a farmer. A high school counselor turned stay-at-home-mom, she spends her days surrounded by fields and cows, without a person in sight. Every once and awhile she writes on her blog (usually from her hiding spot in the laundry room) but doesn’t make any promises. You can also find her on Instagram.