I thought I knew what I was doing having three kids. I had successfully maneuvered a large box from the post office to my car with two kids in tow — and by in tow I mean one twenty feet ahead and another trailing twenty feet behind — while eight months pregnant. Surely managing an infant would be similar.
And it is exactly like that, except the box baby needs things, which often reminds the older two that they, too, need things. They often wait for inopportune times to loudly express their demands for food and water or to use the bathroom, or demand whichever thing I offered them only moments earlier, when I wasn’t changing a dirty diaper. Some days are exhausting, others are lovely (but still exhausting).
So thank you. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for offering — even if I don’t take you up on it — I appreciate your offer, and more than that, I appreciate you.
You saw me struggling to buckle up the infant carrier. Usually an easy feat, I stretched my arms reaching for the buckle behind my neck, while balancing a tired, crying baby on my chest. Maybe it was my hair in the way, maybe it was the squirming infant, but the buckles would not meet. You asked if you could help, thank you.
You saw me bouncing and swaying with a baby nearly asleep in the carrier, keeping an eye on my other two children, running wild circles around the other picnickers while waiting for our lunch. I filled a mini cup with ketchup and prepared to balance two precarious plates overflowing with food truck goodness back to where my older two were supposed to be sitting. You asked if you could help. Thank you.
You saw me as I herded my two children towards the ice cream line up. Anticipating sugar, their little bodies vibrated with excitement, causing them to physically bounce and spin and loudly shriek which flavor they’d prefer. With a baby in one arm and my other hand full of teetering lunch time garbage, I scanned the area for a trash can. You offered to help. Thank you.
You saw me struggling to close my very obstinate stroller. No amount of jiggling, jostling, pushing, pulling, or silent cursing were collapsing the cantankerous pram. Beads of sweat dotted my brow as I stared at it with a great deal of contempt and considered abandoning it altogether, when you walked by. You offered to help. Thank you.
You saw me walking ten paces ahead of my very over tired three-year-old. I used my very best patient voice and tried to coax her the last few steps to the exit of the park. Walking by with a group of friends and seemingly well-behaved children, you suggested we mothers should fist bump each other in trying times like these. Thank you.
You’ve picked up soothers, chased after me with fallen shoes, held open doors, helped my children off of swings and shared stories in exhausted solidarity. Thank you.
When my five-year-old daughter (sneakily fueled by sugar and freshly scolded) locked me out of the house and didn’t return to the door no matter how gently or furiously I knocked, I hesitated to ask for help. Partly because I thought she would open the door, and partly because I had never experienced helplessness at this level. It is hard to be completely helpless to circumstances, to admit things are completely outside of my control, especially sugar-induced spiritedness. With my phone inside, a baby in my arms and a very sweaty, very sticky, pant-less daughter by my side, all of us shoeless, I found you on the sidewalk. You didn’t judge me as I explained our situation and I asked to use your phone. You kindly listened, and empathetically distracted me with small talk as you walked with me back to my house. You waited as I explained the situation again to my husband on your phone. You waited until my five-year-old finally opened the door, a cheeky smile on her face, my phone in her hand and her dad on the screen. Thank you.
It really does take a village, and I’m so lucky to have a fairly capable body, a great husband and a strong circle of family and friends to help along the way. And then there’s you, lovely strangers, filling in the gaps. I never realized before how much that African proverb also pertains to the parents. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise a parent. Thank you for helping to raise me. Your kindnesses do not go unnoticed.
One day, when my hands are less full, I promise to pay it forward.