I hear it at least four times a week, I would bet, maybe more.
“Boy, you sure have your hands full!” Usually it comes out of the mouth of someone holding a door open for us, the checker at the grocery store, or perhaps the person behind us in line at the post office. I smile, chuckle halfheartedly, and respond with something ridiculous and corny like “Full of blessings” (which is better than the snarky quip that I want to unleash) and I move on as fast as I can. That is, as fast as a mom with a babe strapped on her belly and two curious kids hanging from each arm can.
I get it, really – we must be quite a sight. I’m sure that we are not quiet. I know that we take up some space. Sometimes we scatter a trail of Cheerios, just in case we need to Hansel-and-Gretal our way back from whence we came. At one point I used to think I must look too young to have these kids, but I can’t fool myself with that one anymore. Nope, I look like a mom of three little ones, creeping gray hairs and all.
But are we that much of sight? Have you never seen a mom out with her brood before? I have a hard time parsing out the sentiments behind this statement. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel that it is a backhanded way to offer some sort of critique. Hear something long enough and the words seep into the tiny cracks of uncertainty and insecurity, the places where I feel weak and inadequate. Even words that seem innocuous. Mostly, these words make me feel self-conscious. I immediately take stock: are the kids acting out? Are they being inappropriate? Is someone missing pants today? Do I have peanut butter in my hair?
No. Almost always no. Here’s the thing: my kids are good. My kids know to hold hands in a parking lot; they know how to hold a door for strangers; they say please and thank you. But they are kids. The can get loud really fast. They have selective listening. They have strong wills and big smiles. And sometimes, they just will. not. put. on. a coat. No matter how cold it is outside.
Just yesterday, at the grocery store, the Middlest crawled under the shopping cart onto the rack usually reserved for jumbo packs of toilet paper or 20 lb. bags of dog food. I was bagging up our groceries and I heard her crying down below. Her knee was stuck. With a little bit of a mommy tug and some kisses everything was better, but it sure takes us a bit longer to get through the check out line. But you know that.
This is my gang. These little ones go where I go. We are a pack, a tribe, a flock, even. The grocery store, school, the post office, Home Depot. We went to our local fire station at the beginning of the month to exercise my civic privilege and cast my vote to choose our next president. I colored in my bubbles while answering questions from the curious almost-five year old, kept the ten month old from eating the pen, and stood still long enough for the three year old to spin circles around my legs. And at the end of it all we were invited to take a look at the fire engine. (How lucky am I that my polling place is the fire station?!)
Together, we’ve all been in the lobby at gymnastic class, looking through the plexiglass window at the twisting and flipping acrobatics while we wait for class to begin for the Eldest. I served my duty to as school-wide aide with the youngest strapped on my back and the Middlest coloring next to me while I cut out stars and bells and snow flakes for class projects. Sometimes I feel like superwoman. But I know what every other mother of young ones knows: these are the blessings. This – that we gathered together, tight like a bouquet of flowers, living life in close proximity of each other. If I have to run to the post office anyway, I’d rather do it with some entertainment and company. I am never short on either.
My hands ARE full, yes. My days are full, my house is full, my car is full, my head is full. And my fridge almost never is. I know this. And I don’t need you to tell me.
Here’s what I need instead:
“Boy, you have a beautiful family!”
“You certainly are blessed”
“Hang in there, Mom, you’re doing a great job!”
“Let me get that door for you.”
Best yet: the melody of wisdom that comes from the moms who have been here, right here where I am. The moms who look at me, our eyes telling each other that we know the secret – we’re in on it together. The moms who, not wistfully, but earnestly say: “I remember those days.”
These are words that encourage. Who wouldn’t want to receive these words?! There is no room here for misinterpretation – I don’t have to read between the lines to hear what you are saying. These words might be the only adult conversation this here mom may have had all day. These words can speak compassion, offer grace and love to a mom who spends her time giving grace and love to others.
Yes, my hands are full, and so is my heart.