This stage of life is hard.
You’ve heard that before.
2 under 2
3 under 5
Whatever your number, your combination.
You will run ragged cutting the crusts off of sandwiches and wiping noses. All after waking up 7 times the night before. Each time a different child. A different need. A bottle. A reassuring back rub. A hand in the bathroom.
But you’ve heard that before.
I thought I’d beat the crowds to Costco today. Thought I’d get there while everyone else was still lounging around the house this gorgeous Sunday morning. Maybe the crowds would be at church. Or on the soccer field.
At 8 am I set my imaginary goal to leave by 9:30. An hour and a half to get ready and out the door. Just 1 adult and 3, kids since my husband has been away for work. Or should I say 3 on 1. Because that’s what it feels like most of the time when he’s gone.
I poured the wrong cereal, stepped on 4 toys and had wiped 2 butts by the time the oven clock showed 8:36. I had to remind myself to breathe. Because at this point my fuse isn’t even short. I think it’s gone.
I run upstairs to get the kids dressed. Hand the baby a toy to keep him entertained and wrangle the 3 year old into a shirt and shorts. I already hear whining from my daughter’s room. This dress???? Why THIS dress????
Socks. Where are the socks? Crap! I didn’t take the laundry out of the dryer. Back downstairs. Throw the laundry on my bed and fold a few items until I come across a matching pair of socks.
I heard my voice bellow up the stairs “letssss gooooooo” and then I wait. Did they pick up their toys? I have no idea. So, I yell again “clean up!!!!!” There, that should keep them busy for a minute.
I look down at the baby who is just staring at me. “Sorry for screaming” I mumble and I take him into my room to get dressed. I brush my teeth and take a quick look at my face. Yep, totally forgot to take my makeup off last night. Much less do that new 5 step skin care routine I promised myself I would start. Oh well. Throw some water on my face and search for my hat. What day is today? Do I have to wash my hair?
I glance at the oven clock. It’s 9:11.
I yell once again for them to come down. They stand there sheepishly in bare feet just waiting for me to ask if they picked up their rooms.
I know the answer.
I toss socks at them, grab the hair detangler and resume last night’s fight with my daughter. You see, she needed a trim and I thought how hard could it be? Harder than I thought actually and I spent the rest of the night trying to convince her that no one gets their hair cut in a straight line anymore.
Definitely a pony tail for her.
I wipe faces and tie laces. Load up the baby and grab an arsenal of snacks and toys.
Oven clock reads 9:41.
Not horrible. We were off.
Apparently so was everyone else because the store was wall to wall people. Bulk shopping is apparently a big deal on Sunday mornings. Who knew?
It took almost an hour but we managed to grab the things we needed and make our way to the checkout. At this point the baby is whining and the kids are sick of sitting so close to one another and of course I brought my expired Costco card.
My kids then spot the food court and start singing for hot dogs. It’s 11am. I said I’d grab one and we could take it home. But I quickly lost that argument because I didn’t have any fight left in me. So there we sat. Right by the line to leave. Hot dogs for them. Deluxe slice of pizza for me.
Another failed attempt at a diet I guess.
I’m watching the people leave, walking towards the exit of the store.
Combed hair. High heels. Dresses.
Where do these moms come from?!
I literally felt myself sinking lower onto the red plastic bench. Their kids are older. Look, her husband is here to help her. She only has one child. I reasoned with myself. I was suddenly suffocating in my yoga pants. I became very aware of my hat and yesterday’s eye makeup.
I felt ashamed.
Why couldn’t I get it together? I should have woken up earlier. How can they do it and I can’t?
The baby let out a shriek snapping me out of my self loathing trance. Out of the corner of my eye I watch my son tip his water over.
I have to remind myself, as I stuff the last bite of crust into my mouth. From the slice I pizza I wasn’t even hungry for.
And then I see her.
2 kids in tow. And another in the cart. Scolding one and holding hands with the other. Her arm sleeve has leftover Crayola paint on it and it’s obvious that she didn’t brush her hair. I hear the tone of her voice as she asks them what they want to eat. She’s barely there. Hanging on by a thread. I know she just wants to scream “hot dog or pizza damnit!!!!” But she doesn’t. Because she’s a good mom. But I watch her grind her teeth while her toddler chooses.
And then she sees me.
Mopping up spilled water and trying to console the baby. Yelling at my 3 year old not to walk away from me and begging my 6 year old to help get the trash together. Time stops for a second.
And she nods in my direction.
Seeing me. Really, truly seeing me.
And then as quickly as it stops, life resumes. We turn our heads and get back to the tasks at hand.
Silently calculating the hours until bedtime.
But you’re not alone.
It’s easy to feel “less than” when comparing yourself to others. They are not all in the same stage of life as you. They are not all in the same place as you. This stage of life is hard. Find your people. The ones in your boat. And hang on to them. For dear life if you have to. Cry to them. Complain to them. Eat rows of cookies with them.
The time will pass.
And one day you will be at Costco when it opens with your perfectly scrubbed children and their straight haircuts. And you will have washed your hair and put mascara on. You won’t have baby oatmeal stuck to your shirt.
And when you see another mom in that “oh so hard” stage of life, will you nod at her? Give her recognition and hope. Show her that you see her. Your nod will keep her going. Remind her that you have been there. To slow down. To breathe. That these years will go too fast. That she might actually miss them. She can’t see any of that right now. As she reminds a child to use table manners and wipes up spilled ketchup. She just needs your nod to remind her that she is not alone on this journey.
Because we all know it’s hard.
But it doesn’t have to be lonely.