I felt their eyes on me at the grocery store checkout line. My kids were in the cart, both screaming. Well, one was strapped into the cart. The other was in the actual buggy part, standing up like the signs say you’re not supposed to do, ripping into a box of Cheerios we hadn’t paid for yet.
The line was unbearably long, so we had plenty of time to entertain the bystanders around us. One woman in front of us kept looking back with the same concerned and annoyed look, as did a teenage boy. I would have been offended, but I was annoyed too. I get it. They’re loud and disruptive and you just came to get a bag of tangerines. You didn’t expect this very public meltdown from two very tired little kids up far past their mid-morning naptime.
I wanted to retreat into an invisible shell and rock back and forth until it was our turn in line. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. She didn’t ask my name and she didn’t ask about my children. She didn’t give me a long diatribe about her own experiences or probe into mine. Instead, she just offered me three words—three words which felt like balm to my soul in the heat of the moment.
“It gets easier.”
I smiled, thanked her and swiped my credit card.
Then, I went home and thought about what she said and how it might be true and it might not be. Yes, there won’t be as many meltdowns in the years to come but there will be heartbreak and homework. There will be mean girls and braces and everything else that’s difficult about growing up.
I also know that when another mom reaches out and says, “I’ve been there,” it makes the journey feel a little less isolating. Almost every week, I’ll have at least one stranger come up to me and tell me, “My children are in their 20s now and I miss this stage,” or “Mine are in college. Cherish it.” It’s comforting to know that as overwhelming as this whole parenting thing is, we aren’t the first ones to tread down this path.
Me? I’m still figuring this out. I go to bed almost every night wondering if I did the right things that day. Was I present enough or did I check Instagram too often? I read last week about the long-term repercussions on children that grow up with “digitally distracted” parents and I second-guess all the time whether or not I fit into that category. Truthfully, I probably do.
But I also fit into the category of Mom Who Is Really Trying Hard to Get This Right. There are glowstick bath parties, handmade Valentine’s cupcakes, warm flannel sheets sprayed with my perfume so she’ll sleep better, an overnighted stuffed Elmo to replace a lost one dropped in the parking lot and hour-long conversations with my husband about how we can do better tomorrow.
The thing is, we’ll probably never hit the pillow at night thinking that we did everything absolutely right. We’ll still get up and try the next morning anyway. We’ll fail a million times before breakfast but every time we hear a baby laugh or catch our kids playing sweetly together, it feels like a triumph worth celebrating.