When I'm out grocery shopping with my four boys (and having four boys requires a lot of grocery shopping!), I get a lot of looks. People mentally count my kids. People watch me go by with my train of ducklings. I sometimes feel like I'm leading an invasion whenever we all go somewhere. My kids are noticeable, with two redheads, a taller-than-average 7-year-old, the 5-year-old's big brown eyes, the 2-year-old's contagious grin. They are not quiet kids, and they are not shy kids.
I admit that I'm "that" mom sometimes. My middle two, for some reason, go nuts in stores. They run up and down the aisles shrieking like banshees. They grab each other, knock each other over, get in other shoppers' way. They touch every single price tag. I can't get the toddler to sit in the cart if he doesn't want to. I can't get the 5-year-old to walk sedately beside the cart no matter how many different ways I frame it.
On the bright side, they don't knock things off shelves or break things, so I've got that going for me.
Thankfully, I live in an area full of very friendly and forgiving people. I get indulgent smiles from grandmotherly ladies. I get wondering comments like, "Wow, four boys?! You've got your hands full!" I get commiseration. I'm grateful for all of it, because we parents of young children often feel that everyone is judging our parenting all the time, and it's nice to know that most of the time, the people watching understand that sometimes little boys just want to run around. (And who could blame them for not wanting to go grocery shopping?)
I hope that I remember those amused glances, those understanding comments, the occasional compliment when my kids are grown. I hope that one day I'm that lovely grandmotherly lady who sees a young mom come in with her brood and tells her she's doing a good job, tries to make her baby smile, and commiserates about the nonstop energy of little boys. I imagine that 30 years from now, I'll be the friendly woman in the grocery store who tells that young mom, "Oh, yes, I had four boys. They're all grown up and married now, and they treat me like a queen."
I want to remember this feeling of overwhelmed-ness, of frustration, of burnout, because one day I want to offer the comforting smile, the gentle joke, and the compliment to that young mom in the store with her four boys (or girls). I want to remember how much a kind word can lift a weary soul. I want to be the one to make the toddler's tears turn to smiles, to joke with the 5-year-old, to make silly faces at the baby, so that sagging mother can finish her shopping. I want to be the one who steps aside with my one loaf of bread and carton of eggs so the mom with the full cart and melting-down 2-year-old can just get finished and get home already.
So thank you to the understanding mothers of grown children who have smiled at me and said hello. Thank you to the kind store employees who are patient with me and my crazy kids. Thank you to the other mothers of small kids who join me in a resigned sigh as we cross paths from aisle to aisle. And thank you to the sweet grandfathers who joke with my little ones and tell me about their grandchildren. You brighten my day so that I, in turn, can one day brighten someone else's.
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