For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to go to the grocery store at 7:00 at night with five kids in tow. Actually I didn’t think it was a good idea. I knew it was a very bad idea, but I knew that if I wanted my 11 year old to have lunch for school the next day, it had to be done.
So I’m walking through the store with my entourage trailing behind me. The 4 year old, 6 year old and baby are all ready for bed and done pretending to be polite members of society for today. The baby is screaming. The girls are whining and trying to grab every snack food they walk past off the shelves because they’re starving and they need it. The boys, 9 and 11, are grumbling about how they won’t have any time to play video games before bed.
I feel the eyes of about 20 random strangers watching me. I know what they’re thinking. I am that woman. The one you see in the store who maybe shouldn’t have had quite so many children because she obviously has no idea what she’s doing. All that I ask of my kids when we go to a public place is for them to not make people look at us and say, “And that’s why I won’t be having children.”
We get through checkout and start towards the door. We’re in the homestretch. Soon we’ll be back in the car and out of view of the judging parents who know how to control their children–or at least know how to leave them at home for shopping trips. Then I remember-we forgot sandwich bags. I can’t send the kid to school with a sandwich with no bag to put it in. We stop. I look at my kids, still screaming, crying, whining, pouting. I look at the sandwich bag aisle. It’s so close. Maybe 100 ft away. Actually, I’m not sure how far away it is, I’ve never been good at estimating distances, but I can clearly see the word Ziploc so I know it’s close. I look back at the kids, then Ziploc, then the onlookers who apparently are determined to continue watching our performance until we are completely out of sight. I can’t bring the kids back to that side of the registers. I’m pretty sure there would be a rebellion. If I had more money, I would be willing to pay someone to go get the sandwich bags for me, but that’s not an option. I instruct the boys to watch their siblings. Keep everyone in this spot. I’ll go get the sandwich bags and be right back. I wait through the check out line for the second time, pretending not to notice the stares of disapproval or pity, I’m not sure which.
I make it back to my impatiently waiting children and we start towards the door for the second, and hopefully last, time. There’s a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see a woman, probably in her mid-fifties. “I just want to tell you how impressed I am with your children’s behavior.” I thought she might be joking at first. “Especially your older boys, the way they handled the little ones when you had to go back, it really speaks volumes about your parenting. That will be very important when they’re older. You should be proud.”
And that was it. Such simple words of encouragement from a woman I’ll probably never see again but I know has been where I am now, letting me know I’m doing a good job.