For Torrie, full of kindness
I was at the grocery store, and I was aggravated. “If one more little old lady tells me that these are the best years of my life, I’m going to spit,” I groused to myself.
There are two remarks that I heard nearly every time I took the children out in public. The first was, “Are they ALL yours?” (“No, I just enjoy borrowing extra toddlers for shopping trips.”) The other was, “Enjoy this time, dearie. These are the best years of your life.” I always wanted to reply, “Are you telling me that this is as good as it gets? It’s all downhill from here?”
On this particular day I was in the produce section as my 7-year- old walked alongside the cart. The 6-year-old danced twirlicues in the aisle until she smacked into a neatly arranged grapefruit pyramid. The ultra-chatty 3-year-old, perched happily in the seat of the cart, asked a record 83 questions in the course of one shopping excursion. The baby was strapped to my back and gurgled contentedly as she yanked my hair.
That’s when an older woman with a faraway look in her eyes stopped to tell me that these were the best years of my life. That was easy for her to say; she wasn’t awakened at night by a hungry baby or a thirsty toddler or a frantic child who couldn’t find the ears on her teddy bear at 2 in the morning. (Yes, this really happened.)
The thing is, I love babies. I love small children. Never were children more wanted than ours. It’s just that I was so exhausted all the time. For seven years I’d been working 100 hours per week to feed, bathe, corral, instruct, cuddle, dress, read to and referee four small children. We had no family nearby.
Sometimes, I grumbled to my mother and mother-in-law. Both were supportive and kind; it’s just that they remembered the joys while largely forgetting the hardships of childrearing. One noteworthy day, I spoke with my mother on the phone. For almost a year, the baby had been crying every waking moment that she was not being held, and I was at my wit’s end. Sure enough, the baby wailed in the background as Mom and I talked. “I see what you mean about how loud she is,” Mom sympathized, hearing her granddaughter’s screams through the phone.
“You’re not going to believe this, Mom, but the baby is three rooms away. I am worn out.”
That’s when my mother gave me one of the sweetest gifts she’s ever given: She empathized with me. “You know, Regina,” she began, “when you girls were small, sometimes I was so tired that I’d sit at the kitchen table and cry. When I traveled on business with your father, all I did was sleep. I was always exhausted.
“But you know, small children do bring a special beauty to life. I hope you can appreciate this beauty despite the terrible fatigue.”
I cried at her kindness. I just needed my mother to understand, and she did.
Years later, we entered a decade of teenagers – a stage I thoroughly enjoyed because I was not too tired to savor it. I loved the college years, and now I’m enjoying the young adult years.
Shouldn’t every stage be the best years of my life?
It brings to mind an incident from about 10 years ago. I had been assailed by a debilitating auto-immune form of arthritis that interrupted my sleep with searing pain. Each night, I dragged myself out of bed and paced across the house for nearly an hour until the spasms subsided. Night after night, month after month, I walked alone in the darkness, crying out in pain. One night, my teenage daughter happened to be awake, and she quietly trudged alongside me. Living room, dining room, kitchen, living room, dining room, kitchen. Her presence served no practical purpose but I will never forget her kindness, shoring me up in the dark of night so I was not alone.
Nowadays, when I see a struggling young mom at the grocery store, I smile conspiratorially and offer a few words of encouragement. I tell her I’ve been there, and that it gets easier. I cannot assuage her fatigue, but for a brief moment, I can be a companion on the road.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.