Here’s the scene.
Ben, Nico and I are leaving the park and going to stroll home. As usual, Nico does NOT want to sit in the stroller. I say to him calmly, “Okay Nico. If I let you walk, you have to stay with mama and B on the sidewalk.”
“Yeah!” he shouts enthusiastically. And off we go.
Walking down the street with Nico is, shall we say, trying. Stressful at best, infuriating at worst. I distract him into the stroller as often as I can because it is SO much easier to get home, but he won’t have it this day. I decide to stay open, to be one of those mamas that says yes! that doesn’t shove her baby in a stroller, but lets them go free. Free range baby! And then I take a deep breath.
Calm and assertive
I have a mantra for these moments– when Nico won’t hold my hand while crossing the street, when he darts off the sidewalk and I have to sprint after him, when he runs full bore in the opposite direction we are headed. When he hurls his entire body onto the cement in protest when I try to corral him to go our way.
I chant to myself, Calm and assertive. Calm and assertive. I’m not sure why, but this helps me stay grounded and not lose my cool, even though I can feel that rage building inside of me, that part of me that wants to yell and scream and bend him to my will. That part of me that feels out of control, that’s afraid I can’t keep him safe.
Except this day the mantra is not working. And I am tired and they are tired and I am terrified Nico is going to get hurt. So I grab him and scold him, “That’s a no-no! You have to stay with mama and B!” And he is screaming, trying to wriggle out of my grasp and bucks his head back toward mine. Hard. He clocks me under the chin and I bite down on my tongue so hard I feel dizzy with pain and blood.
Without a word, I set him down. Then I close my eyes, put my head in my hands, and quietly sob.
I cry for the pain first, but that just opens the floodgates. I am crying for all of it now. For the exhaustion, for the stress going on in our family, for my flaws as a parent, for the way I am trying to hold it together each day. I hear Ben say politely, “Mama? Is there anything I can do?” But I can’t even answer. I feel far away.
Then I hear a little girl’s voice. “Are you okay?”
Two little girls’ faces are peering out from the fence just a few feet away. Apparently, only inches away from the stroller on the other side of the fence (overgrown with vines) are two little girls having afternoon tea. The mom comes out as well and ushers me inside. “You have two kids?” she asks. “I totally get it,” and waves us in. “Would you like some cookies?” I nod yes and suddenly register where we have landed.
In front of me is a gorgeous magical garden and two 8 year old girls in nightgowns and bonnets seated at a tiny white table having tea. The table is underneath an asian pear tree, dripping with fruit. Straight out of a fairy tale people! Within seconds, Ben and Nico are double-fisting chocolate covered graham crackers and two adorable girls are fawning over them.
And then the clincher.
“Do you guys want to see the newborn kittens?”
Seriously. They said this. I’m not even joking.
We visited the kittens in the back of the closet, swung from the pear tree and bribed Nico back into the stroller with the help of the cookies. I thanked them and told the girls that they made my day. They were so genuinely excited, they hugged me.
I relayed this story to Matt when I got home and cried even harder in telling it. They were so sweet… I sobbed. And he gave me that look, like he was nodding in affirmation, but also wondering if maybe I was on my period or something.
We think we move through the world unseen
But this is what moved me: We think we move through the world unseen. But sometimes (just inches away even) is someone who can hold the hard stuff with you. Our vulnerability creates a space for connection. A tender place where others are allowed to step in and offer what they naturally want to give — their comfort, their kindness, their presence.
I was moved that other moms know the look. That beaten down, exhausted, I-can’t-handle-this-anymore look, and being seen with compassion in these spaces can feel healing and connecting.
Kindness can transform the hardest of moments.
Our most powerful gift
I was walking down the street a few years ago and saw a woman crying in the distance. I imagined walking up to her, offering to simply sit with her or listen if she wanted to talk. I felt like I could help, but I talked myself out of it, told myself it was intrusive and that I should give her space. She was a stranger after all.
I’ve always regretted it.
Like those little girls, I think we naturally move toward others in their vulnerability. Offering our presence is the one thing we always have to give, and the most powerful gift we can offer.
I was trained at a young age to give people their space, to not pry, not to ask questions, to not get into anyone else’s business. If I had a problem myself, it was not to be dumped on anyone else. But I can see now that this advice was from people who were terrified of their own vulnerability.
The truth is this
We need each other. And we need our friends (family, neighbors, anybody) to know the real truth about how we are doing. We need to remember that we all struggle, and if it ever looks perfect from the outside? well, it is far from that. We need strangers to comfort us too, to remind us that help can come from anywhere, even from the most unexpected places. We need to remember that (mostly) the world is safe and good and sometimes even a little bit magic.