Sutton, my beautiful boy, fell headfirst today into the Terrible Twos. He's been teetering on the edge for a while now--testing the waters, dipping in one toe at a time. A tantrum here, some backtalk there, but he has always pulled back when I put on my stern Mommy face or used the stern Mommy tone of voice. He says he's sorry, he puts his chubby little hand on my arm or leg or shoulder, and he looks up at me with those huge blue eyes and the cutest face I've ever seen. It will melt your heart. Today, though, was a different story.
The kids and I had gone to Kohl's. We were not at Kohl's with the intention of being at Kohl's, we had actually gone to the pharmacy about a block away to pick up a prescription. It was miserably hot, the kids were bored, and fighting like crazy. So instead of taking them straight home, I figured we'd wonder around Kohl's for a few minutes. They have toys, they have books, it was something different for a little while. And all was fine. That is, until Sutton decided he wanted me to carry him.
Now, Sutton is a little guy. He's always been beneath the measureable size on the pediatric growth charts. Both Blaker and I are small in stature, it's to be expected that our children will not be large people. Perhaps not even average sized people. But even though Sutt is small, since I'm not very big either it makes carrying him get old QUICKLY. At 2 years and 8 months, he's active enough that usually he's fine running around on his own. But when he does want to be carried, and I'm the one playing pack mule, I am not able to last very long.
Today is a miserably hot, humid, sticky day--the kind where you can't stand the weight of your own clothes on your skin, much less the weight of a toddler and his clothes on top of your clothes on your skin. So when he demanded that I carry him, I said, "no." I expected him to fuss a little or argue. I did not expect him to plop down in the middle of the aisle and commence screaming, "You carry me!" at the top of his sweet little baby lungs. Full volume, on a loop. Lucky me.
I'm no stranger to kid tantrums in public places. Bellamy threw some doozies when she was a toddler, one specifically in Target that actually caused several Target Team Members to approach me and ask if I needed assistance as I sobbed and shook my head. I am the Queen of smiling apologetically, gathering my wailing, kicking, flailing child and heading for the nearest exit. I'm used to the mix of sympathetic looks from other Moms and the appalled sneers of the "others" (those who have clearly never had to wrangle a child anywhere, especially a child between the ages of 1-5) who either can't or won't understand. Every time is the same, every time we slip out, every time we are a noisy anonymous. This time, though, was different.
As I was gathering my child into my arms, whispering and bargaining, threatening and soothing, a woman stopped beside me. She was older than me, probably an entire generation ahead, with graying hair and a serene face. As she stood next to me, I looked up at her, and she layed her hand on my shoulder and smiled. Not with pity, not even with empathy, just with....peace. As she smiled, she looked me straight in the eyes, steady and unbroken, and said, "You are OKAY. You are doing a GREAT job. It WILL get better and you WILL be fine. Don't give up." Then she walked away.
What she did not know, could not have known, is that I needed that, more than I've needed anything in a long time. This point that I'm at in my life is filled with so many wonderful things--a husband I adore, two healthy and beautiful children, a nice home, blessings galore--but it's often so busy, so complicated, that I can't absorb it. I can't wallow in the joy I'm wrapped in. I'm so tired, so harried, so mired in the day to day care of two little people who need me for everything that I don't always know that I'm going to be okay. I don't know if I'm doing a good job. I don't know that everything will be fine.
I will most likely never see that woman again in my life, but I think I will always remember her. One could argue that the words of a stranger should carry less clout that those of someone near to my heart, or at least near to my life. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, the words of a stranger are so much clearer, so much easier to listen to, than those from the lips of one your love. Clear enough to be heard over the screaming.