To The Stranger in the store who passes me and my three children, gives a consoling look and says, “You have your hands full”. My response: I have learned to give a slight nod or a forced smile and move on. What am I really thinking? “Why yes………Thank you…… as if I hadn’t noticed”.
It happens… All. Of. The. Time………
All three of my kids are now in school. My youngest started kindergarten this year, so you would think that IT would happen less. I even thought IT would stop, but IT hasn’t. IT even happened the other day in the drive thru, which was as a first. Everyone was sitting down, strapped into their seats, and might I add……..CALM. My oldest is turning into a man-child and can now sit in the front seat, so you would think we might be passed the point of IT happening. Nevertheless, the worker in the drive thru looked at me and my three kids, and as he gave me my change he said “Wow! You have your hands full”. I smiled a not so authentic smile, as I have learned to do, and drove on. This time the stranger who made the comment said it in a nice way, and with a smile on his face. That has not always been the case.
I had three children in four years. Having multiple children close in age is busy, demanding, and chaotic, but if I had to do it all over again I would NOT change a thing. It is MUCH easier now that we are out of the toddler and pre-school years.
With that being said, I am going to paint a familiar picture.
Set the scene: Three stair steps in tow at the grocery store, Target, or running errands. I would have at least one, if not two children, in the shopping cart seats. If I had a baby (or babies), one might be smothering the other, looking for a dropped pacifier, or aggravating a sibling, a skill which my son has successfully mastered. There would be one child, sometimes two, hanging off the side of the cart. I might be offering a warning or consequence to a child who may have wondered off into the next isle. Sometimes there was crying, whining, a dirty diaper, a quick and urgent bath room break, and everything else not mentioned that comes with kiddie land territory. Yes, just like every other mom I tried to keep my sanity along with my memory it tact, because I was juggling my very own three ring circus all while trying to remember my shopping list, reinforcing good behavior, and teaching lessons all at the same time.
Was it a lot to manage? YES! Did I sometimes feel like I had permanently lost my mind? Why, YES…..yes I did.
Regardless of how smooth or rough the ride, each time we all went out together IT never failed. I heard IT on days where our little world was spinning peacefully on its axis and everyone was (and is) on their best behavior. I heard it on days where everyone derailed and the word tranquility was no longer found in my vocabulary.
It would happen almost EVERY time we went out. Without fail, a stranger would look at me in a consoling way and say “My, You have your hands full”.
This comment can mean many things, and be interpreted in different ways. My response: I have learned to give a slight nod, or a forced smile and move on. What am I really thinking? “Why yes………Thank you…… as if I hadn’t noticed”.
Newsflash to The Stranger: This is does NOT come across as a compliment, or necessary remark. It certainly does NOT help the situation when I FEEL like I am on the verge of losing my patience. It is easy to take this remark and assume that The Stranger is trying to find a polite way to tell me I am not doing a good job handling my children, or trying to make a point about their behavior.
I have come up with quick and pointed responses. I could use a sharp tone and quick wit to ensure The Stranger never makes that remark to anyone ever again. That might feel liberating…. for a moment. But I haven’t ever delivered those well rehearsed lines, or gone down that road. I am not sure how I managed restraint, but there have been times I have given The Stranger an annoyed look, or ignored him or her all together as if he or she did not exist. I am sure The Stranger has gotten my point. However, as I have gained a little experience in life and motherhood, I continue to learn others do not interpret comments and situations the same way. Even though I view this comment to be condescending, I know The Stranger may not mean it that way. The more I have heard the phrase “You have your hands full”, the more I realize it is said to mean different things. Several times I heard The Stranger say IT out of admiration, respect, and in a way to offer praise, because it was more than he or she could ever handle. It became clearer to me one day when a seasoned woman offered this particular point of view in the checkout line. It is all in perspective. I am the oldest of four girls, so having three kids is not that big of a deal to me. I have friends with four or five kids, so for me three is not alarming. Coming from a larger family has conditioned me to tolerate a little more chaos. Does that make it easy? Of course not, parenting is not easy no matter how many kids you have. BUT…not everyone comes from the same place, or means things in the way we perceive them to be.
So I have learned to take IT with a grain of salt. I normally still give a slight nod, a forced smile, and move on. On a good day, I have learned to look at The Stranger and say, “Yes, they are so much fun!”, or “Yes, they are such a blessing”! Even if corralling my children is not FUN in that moment, they are still watching. All eyes are on me. How will my response affect them? Will I give into my human desire to offer a biting word, or will I show grace to The Stranger, and lift up my children as the blessing? Will I build their confidence, or give a negative response that could potentially reinforce hurt feelings? Do I show them how to put someone in their place in a situation that really doesn’t matter, or do I demonstrate the ability to spin a potentially negative comment into a positive one? Yes, I have had a lot of time to think about this, because I have heard IT a lot. I have had a lot of practice.
The real focus is not on The Stranger, but on me. My response will teach my children, so I must decide what I want them to learn.
So thank you to The Stranger. Thank you for teaching me a few things. Thank you for teaching me that I will never make that comment to any mother….EVER. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn to rise to the challenge to praise my children in front of you regardless of your intention. Thank you for allowing me to experience different perspectives. Thank you for telling me I can handle a lot….because even on the toughest days, and in my most frustrating moments, they are mine to handle.