He wants to ride the carousel again. No. He wants to ride Brownie the Ostrich again, so nobody else will ride him. His round little face is red with anger and he pulls me with all his 3-year-old might back toward the only thing in the world he cares about in this moment.
I drag him along, quietly reasoning to him, while his baby sister nurses jerkily in my carrier. I’m not fast enough. We both see it at the same time. A little pig-tailed girl is lifted onto Brownie.
He falls on the ground and begins weeping. As I try soothing him and thinking about what I’m willing to promise to get us out of here, his sister unlatches and starts to fuss.
No. No. No.
Within a span of seconds, I have two humans screaming at me. I stand defeated and super sweaty. I can’t carry them both. For some reason I hated the idea of lugging the stroller around, and see clearly now what a mistake it was. I’m on the verge of tears when a woman taps me on the shoulder.
“It gets better,” she says.
I turn and look at her. She is smiling and gesturing to her two perfectly dressed school-aged kids who are looking at the spectacle in front of them with a kind of smugness I didn’t know kids could have.
“Thanks,” I say.
I’m not sure she heard me over the screams.
She looks down at my breast, which I now realize is hanging completely out of my shirt, and then gives me one last look of pity before walking away.
I watch her go, she is holding hands with her sweet little offspring, and I swear I hear them softly singing kumbaya.
“Fuck her,” I say to myself.
I sit down on the carpeted floor, take the baby out of the carrier and begin nursing her, right in the walkway. My boy continues to wail and thrash around on the ground crying and yelling about his beloved Brownie.
Many, many people walk by shaking their heads or sighing loudly. All avoid eye contact and not one person offers to help.
I do my best to pretend they are not killing me with their sideways glares.
But each one hurts.
I am doing my best here people. I’m tired. I’m hot. I just wanted to get out of the house for a few hours. I just wanted to feel like a real adult again.
Eventually the baby is satisfied and the 3-year-old has screamed himself out. He comes in for a hug and I tell him we should go home and paint. He agrees and we walk out holding hands.
I’m certain we sang kumbaya.
My kids are now 11 and 9.
Gone are the days of tantrums in the store, exploding diapers, car seat refusals and constant nursing. I generally run my errands alone now.
To those of you struggling, this might sound blissful, and sometimes it is. But when I see you in the store with your little ones, I miss it.
All of it.
I see you chasing your toddler through Target because he refused to sit in the cart and now thinks it hilarious to dart in and out of the clothing racks while you slowly lose your patience.
I remember and it is funny.
I see you in tears as your sweet newborn begins to wail right as you make it to the checkout line and you just need to pay.
I can almost feel my milk drop.
I see you struggling to keep up as your toddler darts down the aisle with his own little Trader Joe’s cart filling it with everything he can.
I hate those carts for you, but your kid looks adorable with his cart full of cookies and his huge proud smile.
I know none of this is consolation when you are in it and I’m sorry. But I do see you and I want to tell you something.
I wish I could help you, but I can’t. There is nothing I can do but smile at you in solidarity.
I smile because I was you. I smile because your kids are really cute. And I smile because I miss it.
I promise you, I am not judging you.
I actually wish I could find the words to tell you all the things I think as I watch you.
I want to tell you how much I miss every single moment of my kids being small.
How even the hard times, when I thought we just might not make it, the sweetness of their breath and the weight of their bodies in my arms would bring me back.
I look back at the pictures and I remember all the singing in the car, the snails on the back door, the naked running through the house, the screaming in the bathtub, the tiny clothes and dirty hands.
I miss it all.
I don’t want to diminish the struggle, because I’m sweaty just thinking about it. Nor do I want to repeat the pompous attitude of the woman who told me it will all get better.
Because I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t.
It will be easier when they sleep through the night.
It will be easier when they are potty trained.
It will be easier when they are weaned.
It will be easier when they stop throwing fits for no reason.
Some things get easier.
But some get harder.
Yes they will sleep through the night, but they will have bad dreams you can’t protect them from.
Yes they will be potty trained, but some asshole will tell your daughter she has thick thighs and you will hold her as she cries.
Yes they will be weaned, but then you will worry they are eating the right foods and fight them to eat their damn vegetables.
Yes they will stop throwing fits for no reason, but they will throw fits for good reasons and you have to teach them how to be a decent person in a world full of bad, awful, no-good people.
Nothing ever “gets better.”
The struggle is always there, as it is in everything we do as humans, it just changes in complexity and your ability to actually help.
We are trying to raise our kids to understand complex things like empathy, perseverance, patience and fear.
Of course it is hard.
Some days you are all reading books in the same room, sipping hot drinks, and it is calm and beautiful and perfect.
Some days you all say mean things you later regret, you cry and get impatient and doors are slammed and everything is stupidly horrible.
It is always just different.
So I will say this.
I see you.
I know it is hard.
I know you are doing your best.
Remember, sometimes they give you kisses and hug you so tight you can’t breathe.
Remember, sometimes all they need is your arms to feel the world is safe and they can be themselves and you will always love them and protect them.
Remember, they are only tiny humans doing the best they can to figure out a world filled with ugliness and beauty. And you are only the parent doing your best in the moment with what you got.
So if you see me staring at you, it isn’t out of judgment or pity. It isn’t because I want to see how you are going to handle yourself.
I’m just looking back fondly at the struggles behind me and missing when my tiny humans would lose it in the store.
But I am glad it isn’t my boob hanging out this time.