I passed the young mother several times in the grocery store as we both weaved our way up and down the aisles. She was dressed nicely -- she must have gotten off work, grabbed the kids from daycare and had to hit the store before heading home.
She was tired -- I could tell by the way her face and shoulders drooped. As I maneuvered my basket around hers in the cereal aisle, I could hear her thoughts as she tossed flavored rice cakes into her cart: I'm eating this crap but still can't lose any weight, and no wonder when I don't have any time to exercise, working all day then grocery shopping and dealing with the kids.
A son, probably four, but big for his age, rode sideways in the basket seat. A daughter -- cute little thing with her hair bobbed like her mom's -- I guessed to be around 6 or 7. She was all smiles. Neither of the kids were whiny or bratty, from what I could tell in our brief encounters, just bubbly and full of joy, viewing this trip to the store as an adventure with their mom. They were probably happy to be with her, finally. Time goes by so quickly for adults, but for kids, a day's separation seems like forever.
I love how kids can turn everything into an adventure. I'm not sure I loved it all the time when my kids were little, though, and I don't think this mom appreciated it either. Kids seem to suck the energy right out of you. It's proportional -- they become happy and energetic while you become a crabby zombie. And your crabby-zombie-ness spreads until everyone around you is a crabby zombie.
Sure enough, she was one register over when I was checking out, and by then the little girl was in tears. Maybe I'm being too harsh on the mother -- maybe the little girl, tired from school or daycare and nearing bedtime, became a brat and kept asking for something even after her mom said no a zillion times.
At first I felt relief that it wasn't me having to deal with paying for my groceries and shooshing a tired child. But then I took another look at those kids, and in their place I saw mine so many years ago and thought of all the shopping trips we'd made together ... some not so fun, but some ... yes, some were lots of fun. And I know I didn't appreciate that time I had with my kids that age, so innocent, so bubbly, so energetic and full of joy.
I wanted to tell the mom to hang on, to keep it in perspective and take it a day at a time. Heck, a minute at a time, if necessary. I wanted to tell her to soak up her kids' joy and sense of adventure instead of letting them zap her energy -- it's possible! -- because before she knows it, those two are going to be grown and she's going to be walking the aisles selecting things she thinks they'll like to eat because they're coming home to visit for a weekend.
And she'll pass a tired mom with two little ones in tow and she'll think, if only I could go back in time. There are a few days I'd like to do over, a few days when instead of spreading my crabby zombie-ness, I'd like to try soaking up their joy and wonder at the world ... if only I had the chance to do some things a little differently ... if only ...
Barbara Shallue writes about her life at http://barbarashallue.typepad.com, shares photos and information about photography at http://barbarashalluephotography.blogspot.com and is contributing editor of http://jobs4autism.com.
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