I occasionally catch a glimpse of myself, reflected in a storefront window on Main Street or as I pass by a mirrored case in the grocery store, and I realize what I must look like to the general public.
This is what I think: I look like a child-ridden catastrophe.
It is, perhaps, impossible to look like you have your s**t together when you have two small children, and have taken them outside of the toy- and baby wipe-strewn vortex that is your home. Firstly, small children require more crap than is imaginable. To simply take my children to the store to purchase bananas and a loaf of bread, this is what I end up bringing with me:
- Diaper bag. Seems straightforward enough, right? A bag, with diapers in it. But in addition to diapers, there is a package of baby wipes, an extra onesie, antibacterial hand spray, a pacifier, a ring of brightly colored oversized plastic discs that are supposed to look like keys, a plastic bag half-full of decimated Cheerios, a pair of baby socks, a pair of Dora the Explorer panties, a tube of chapstick that has been half-eaten by a 2-year-old, and a leaky sippy cup. Couldn’t I just wing it, you ask, for a quick trip to the store? The lesson mothers learn early on, however, is that as soon as you don’t bring something with you, you will need it. Call it Murphy’s Law. The baby kicks a sock into an ashtray, which the toddler tries to fish out while you’re not looking, because you’re trying to get the baby to stop crying without something like a pacifier or giant ring of plastic keys to stick into her mouth; meanwhile, toddler needs antibacterial spray for ash-tray fingers. After scolding toddler, she becomes whiny and needs something to eat (Cheerios, she requests, but a tube of cherry chapstick would tide her over). Baby stops crying, thankfully, but you realize all the crying was on account of some tummy rumblings that have now materialized as damp spots on her onesie. And then you think: Why the hell didn’t I bring the diaper bag?
- Miscellaneous assorted sundry kid items, including: a receiving blanket, a baby sling, a baby sunhat, a kid’s pair of sunglasses, and a pink puppy dog backpack filled with plastic animal figurines (sometimes, it is just easier to say yes to the pink puppy dog backpack than to argue about leaving it in the car.)
- My stuff. Somewhere, in the great yawning cavern that is my beach bag-cum-grocery bag-cum-motherpurse, a cellphone is ringing. There is a wallet and a pair of car keys in there somewhere, too.
- My children. One is wandering aimlessly towards a package of Twizzlers, the other is unhappily strapped into a giant bucket of a carseat that hangs off my elbow, cutting off circulation to my hand.
Mothers don’t have enough arms. One of mine is asleep under the weight of the aforementioned car seat carrier, while the other attempts to rope in an aimlessly wandering toddler while also attempting to locate and answer an obnoxiously ringing cellphone.
I realize this kind of scene is disturbing to people without children. I know this because I get asked this question all the time: “Can I help you?”
It is a question that is asked with sincere concern and genuine desire to help alleviate the whirling mass of chaos that seems to accompany me wherever I go. I suppose it’s nice to know that if I were at risk of dropping the baby or losing the toddler down a grocery store aisle brimming with bags of Twizzlers, I could hand my ringing bag to a complete stranger who could locate my cellphone and answer it.
But despite what I may look like, an overstuffed bag hung over each shoulder, balancing a baby in a car seat in the crook of one arm while hunting for the grasp of my toddler with the other while I also cling to a receiving blanket, pink puppy dog backpack, and pair of kids’ sunglasses, I actually do have things under control – or as under control as they ever are, at least, which I realize doesn’t seem very under control to that blissfully unencumbered fellow grocery store shopper. But trust me: I’m OK. I’m just a mom with two young kids and all their crap, and despite how it may appear, there actually is some order to this chaos.
I do appreciate your concern. And if I am about to drop the baby or lose the toddler, I’ll ask for help. But I’m probably not going to do either of those things. I might, however, just let the obnoxious cellphone continue ringing. I hope you don’t mind.