After Anna was born, Tom took about two weeks off to help me at home. On his very first full day back to work, my first day alone with four kids, he had a meeting in Raleigh, which meant he had an unusually long day.
I also had a long day. It was my first time getting the kids to school on my own, Anna had a doctor’s appointment, and David had his first basketball practice, all while nursing Anna every few minutes or so. Oh, and also I was TWO WEEKS postpartum.
The whole day, from start to finish, was really challenging, but I was DOING IT. Breakfast? Check. Backpacks? Check. Bus stop? Check. Preschool? Check. Pediatrician? Check.
After all that, I had about 45 minutes before I had to pick up Mary Virginia, so I decided to stop at the grocery store. I wore Anna in the Moby and pushed Thomas in the cart. Before I was even inside someone stopped me.
“How old is your baby?” she asked. I told her Anna was just two weeks old. She immediately started a lecture. We shouldn’t be out. I was exposing the baby, I was putting myself at risk. “I’M SERIOUS!” she said. “You MUST take care of yourself!”
“Thank you,” I said. And then I walked away.
In the produce section, someone else stopped me.
“Is that a baby in there?” she asked. “Yes!” I responded, and rubbed my infant’s back as she slept, warm and safe against my chest.
The woman looked horrified, “She’s not…suffering…is she?”
“No! She’s not suffering,” I answered. But I wanted to say, “Did you just casually accuse me of hurting my baby? My infant?”
I don’t think the comments were malicious in intent, but they stung. The first woman was making me feel bad for something I couldn’t control. Of course I would rather be home, curled in bed, recovering. But I have other children and ANNA had a doctor’s appointment that I couldn’t keep from my bed. And the second woman? I guess she was looking out for Anna, but in doing so she was questioning me and my judgement. I do that all day, I don’t need a stranger confirming my own doubts.
These comments weren’t horrible, but they weren’t what I needed in the moment. I was having a hard day. I needed a fist bump, a high-five, or just to be left alone. If you see a mom with a very new infant, you don’t know her circumstances but you can pretty safely assume she’s exhausted, emotional, hormonal, and not exactly sure how she’s going to survive the next hour. You can assume she could use a smile and a kind word.
When I checked out, the cashier handed Thomas a sticker and asked me, “How old is your baby?”
“Just two weeks!” I responded.
She smiled, “What’s her name?”
“Anna,” I answered.
She finished the transaction, handed me my bags, and before I walked away she said, “You are so blessed.”
That, ladies and gentleman, is how to talk to people.
Buoyed by that kind, simple interaction, I walked to my van with tears in my eyes. I wrestled Thomas into his carseat, gave him some sort of unhealthy, processed snack to keep him occupied while I nursed Anna in the parking lot, then left to pick up Mary Virginia.
Grocery shopping with David the day before Mary Virginia was born.
Grocery stores are minefields if you have young kids. Not only do you have to worry about your kids’ behavior, you have to manage meddling strangers. Once I was wearing Mary Virginia in a carrier, and David was screaming that he wanted to get out of the cart, and a stranger PICKED HIM UP AND TOOK HIM OUT OF THE CART.
I’ve had incredible experiences with strangers, too. Once a stranger changed David’s diaper because she saw me struggling with an infant Mary Virginia. Once a stranger saw me taking pictures of my kids, and offered to take one with me in it. Strangers have unloaded my groceries, and helped me steer my cart. They’ve said hello and smiled on a day that I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and alone. It is incredible how impactful a word of kindness can be.
If you don’t know what to say to moms with young kids, just smile, say hello, and move on. If you have some advice at the tip of your tongue but aren’t sure how it’ll be construed, keep quiet. You’re dealing with the tired and the emotional. If it can be construed, it will be construed poorly.
Next time you see someone wrestling a bunch of kids in Target, or chasing a toddler through a parking lot, or wearing an impossibly tiny baby in Kroger, just say something encouraging. They might need it.