I’m starting to understand and accept what it means to be a big family, and I’d like to think we’re developing some sort of grace as we go. Our rambunctious day-to-day is messy. It means juggling, it means sleepless nights…but most of all, it means arms full of love.
With three kids, going out into public is a bit of a challenge – especially on the rare occasion that I have to manage without Nate. Running errands has escalated from an afterthought to an outing to a full-fledged event. Nap disruption is a consideration. Feeding must be handled carefully with properly-timed potty breaks and LORD HELP US if one of the boys misplaces their favorite toy along the way. But that’s all within the scope of my daily activities. We get into a rhythm, a certain hum of life and it works for us. It feels natural.
But things get a little weird when this tiny traveling circus rolls into an unsuspecting road block in the form of other people. I warn my kids of stranger danger because – let’s face it – people can be downright WEIRD. It seems that my crew is constantly making someone feel awkward or misplaced or confused to the point that they have to comment on the status and size of our family. “Wow,” I invariably hear. “You’ve got your hands full!”
Usually it’s well-intended banter. Community members feel like they should say SOMETHING when scooting past our flurry of activity. But sometimes it’s glaringly obvious that our presence is annoying someone…and for awhile I wasn’t sure how to respond to hostility. I usually have an inner monologue involving expletive-laden “your face” or “yo mama” jokes, but I’m told that these retorts aren’t very ladylike and may not be setting the best example for the boys.
It was on one such occasion that a short-statured old lady came to my rescue. My kids and I were blocking the baking aisle at the grocery store, me bouncing and rocking and trying to calm the baby while simultaneously using a spare foot to corral the toddler and working to upright the stroller that the oldest one had overturned.
A less-sexy version of Ray Wise (for those not well-versed in failed TV series, he played the devil in Reaper) slumped up and assessed the situation grumpily. I muttered apologies as I tried to replace the cumin that had been knocked from the shelves in a fit of 2-year-old vengeance.
“Uh, yeah,” he said flatly. “You clearly have your hands full.” My arms hesitated and his eyes rolled over me, lingering on the spices as if they were the victim of a brutal hostage situation. Those words were thick with the tremor of unspoken accusations against big families, the ones I’ve heard over and over again: irresponsibility, overpopulation, societal burden.
That’s when the gray-haired observer squeaked over, shuffling her tennis ball-laden walker right up to the edges of the dude’s well-polished shoes. Even the boys stopped and marveled at the hanging silence as she looked him square in the eye.
Her stern face suddenly cracked out a plastery smile like sun bursting a rainbow through an unexpecting storm cloud.
“Better full than empty!” she croaked, and quickly hobbled down the aisle without a second glance.
The devil huffed.
I’ve since stolen the expression, halting judgment in its tracks. When I get the side-eye for breastfeeding in public. When people couple saccharine-covered commentary with unsolicited “advice” about babywearing. Those inevitable moments when forces conspire against us and a kid has a diaper blowout or a meltdown over the fact that their ice cream dripped onto their favorite shoe and I think my back is going to break from trying to scoop the chaos into my arms. That’s when I remind myself, and the rest of the world…
These arms. Those shoes. The tiny bodies bursting with emotion. Even that freaking gross-ass diaper that’s leaking through the crevices of the car seat.
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