Today I went to the store to buy five toy gliders and a jar of peanut butter. (Cub Scouts.) Normally I avoid running errands with three or more children at all costs, but this time there was no choice. It had to be done.
After fortifying Grace with two breakfasts and a dose of Sesame Street, we set out. Things went relatively well at the first store. Isaac bought himself a cheap golf set he couldn't live without. We found the gliders and managed to get out of there with only minimal cries for candy, and some irritating kicking of the cart.
We ventured next door to a grocery store to fetch the peanut butter. There were no signs of impending doom as I loaded Abram into a shopping cart. I should have known it was too quiet. Not 60 seconds into the store, Grace completely lost it. This was no simple protest, no minor bout of independence. It was full-on, no-warning, falling to the floor and screaming as shrilly as humanly possible. She would not be comforted, cajoled, coaxed, or carried. (She probably would have been successfully bribed with chocolate, but I refuse to go there.) So I threw her over my shoulder and quickened my pace, pushing the cart with one hand.
The condiment aisle seemed unbelievably far away. As luck would have it, we passed the manager three times. Each time, he eyed us with a mixture of sympathy and terror.
I hastily grabbed the peanut butter and headed for the checkout line. Someone stepped in front of me at the last minute. For ten eternal minutes, we waited as the cashier made not one but two errors with the lady's purchases, requiring a call to the manager (who had understandably retreated to his office.) By this time I had long since removed Grace from the line and placed her some distance away where she would be safe but get the message that she couldn't act like that. She took it down about 80 decibels and resorted to sniffling and pretending to be an orphan to elicit sympathy from passersby.
The irritated cashier finally rang up my lone item and I counted out $2.30 in coins (which is surprisingly difficult to do when one eye is glued to your child.) I had to borrow a quarter from Isaac. By now the cashier probably thought I was not only a completely incompetent mother, but destitute as well. I finished the transaction while Isaac entertained Grace by showing her how to push the buttons on the lottery ticket machine. No, I didn't even try to stop them.
Having left my dignity in the peanut butter aisle, I trudged out the door, head down, car seat on one arm, frowny toddler trailing. Grace was somewhat pacified, having been offered the job of carrying the grocery sack. I silently vowed NEVER to enter that store again, and possibly never to enter ANY store with ANY child under 12 for the rest of my life.
As we made our way to the van, an elderly woman with a cheerful smile stopped to admire Abram. She cooed at him and he smiled on cue. He's good that way. She made some conversational comments like, "It's a boy, right? He looks like a boy." With pride in her eyes, she declared that her second great-child would be born soon and she was so excited. Then she said the last words I expected to hear on a day like this:
"Oh, I just love seeing motherhood."
She beamed at me, and disappeared behind the automatic doors.
Talk about uncanny timing. How I needed to hear that! Because it isn't always pretty, or clean, or socially acceptable. But it is motherhood. Even - maybe especially - on the difficult days.
I wonder how often Father in heaven looks down on me in my most frustrating moments - when I'm fumbling with a screaming baby and an overloaded diaper bag, or cleaning up the third cup of spilt milk in five minutes, or explaining AGAIN that we don't hit people - and says knowingly, "I just love seeing motherhood."