Her face was tight. Stern creases edged between her eyebrows. Lines etched across her forehead, promising to deepen over time. Sylvia! I told you to stay here. Why can’t you fricking listen? If you can’t listen you can’t come with me anymore. She grabbedSylvia’s hand, reefing on her arm in anger. She readjusted the baby on her hip. Sighing. Gasping for collective parental patience and air. She was being swallowed alive by life in the middle of Meijer.
I recognized her. I recognized the sideways glances she took once she exploded on her daughter. The did-anyone-see-me-i-am-not-always-like-this look. The one that begs people to not judge, to understand, to be patient with her in ways she wasn’t patient with her child.
My instinct to say, It’s okay, momma. She won’t want to go with you very much longer. was squashed by her sharp edges. She didn’t want my help. She didn’t want solidarity or patience. She wanted the hell out of there, yesterday. She wanted to be at home with her kids asleep. She wanted to remember the girl she was before her babies took up so much space. She wouldn’t trade them for anything, mind you. She would just beam herself out of Meijer and home and in bed if she could.
I thought about her as I buzzed around Meijer, unencumbered by little feet dawdling and little hands grabbing and little mouths talking. I easily grabbed what I needed, put it in my basket, had time to stop and look at Christmas decorations and chat with a friend I saw. I felt a guilt and then protest at my easy shopping trip. Yes, grocery shopping is easier now than it was when I had to drag them all to the store. But mind you I am constantly checking my phone, avoiding the urge to make sure they are studying for finals and that they are where they are supposed to be and aren’t doing something stupid. Same circus, older monkeys. Sylvia and her momma stayed with me. I ached for momma. I ached for Sylvia. I ached for my lonely self as I walked around Meijer … alone.
Hindsight is 20/20 and we always want what we can’t have. The grass is always greener on the other side and you can’t always get what you want. I could fill a grocery cart with phrases that give Sylvia’s momma perspective. And they would all be true. But the fact of the matter is the heart feels what it feels. I could empathize with Sylvia’s momma because I have been Sylvia’s momma. I have been tied up in knots trying to just survive, just get home, just get them to bed. And I am still just trying to survive, just get home, just get them to bed only now, I do it with regret for the times when they were little that I wished they were big – which actually for me, wasn’t that often. I recognized Sylvia’s momma because I have also been the mom begging for patience and guidance instead of judgment.
We had gone swimming at the Y. Dead of winter. We had been couped up inside for days. The boys were maybe 6, 4 and 1? Young. It was just me and the three of them, after we swam (read: splashed, screamed, ran, jumped, surfed, nearly drowned) for nearly an hour I collected all their little bodies and herded them into a private family changing room. Stripping them all down I tried to get them cleaned up in the shower. It’s hard to describe the melee adequately. At some time all three were naked, giggling hysterically as they ALL peed on each other. ALL. PEED. ON. EACH. OTHER. Aiden was just a baby and wasn’t potty trained, when his brothers saw him peeing on the towel as he stood and waited his turn the giggling began, then the peeing and then the crying. Mine. I shrieked at them and threatened some stupid thing like I am never taking you swimming again! (about as effective as Sylvia’s mom’s threat – seriously if you had somewhere else for her to go, she wouldn’t be with you now. No matter how she acts, she’ll be with you next week at Meijer, too). I was so embarrassed I could hardly get myself to walk out into the hallway from the room. When I did, it was clear that everyone had heard me telling them Stop peeing on each other! I, just like Sylvia’s momma, was embarrassed. I was exhausted. I was … too weary at the time to see if for what it was. Hilarious. I could – and did – tell the story later and found it funny. I am hopeful someday I will look back on the shit they pull as teenagers and if not find it hilarious, at least smile that we all survived. I still am Sylvia’s momma. You just can’t hear me or see me, teenage struggles become private struggles. Which become lonely struggles.
The next time you see Sylvia’s mom in meijer, or at the park, or at the orthodontist office, look at her face, see if you recognize her, too. Raising humans is hard ass work. No matter what their age. And despite what we may fantasize If I can just get them to sleep through the night. If I can just get them to eat solid food. If I can just get them potty trained. If I can just get them into school. If I can just leave them alone for awhile. If I can just get through high school. If I can just get them to 21. If I can just …. it doesn’t get easier. And while I can’t speak for parents of adult children — I am pretty sure being my momma now and being the grandma to my kids isn’t a whole lot easier now than it was when I was 16 or 6.