I barely even know her. She usually keeps to herself, breezing in at drop off and pickup, scooping her cutie up in snuggles and whisking her out before I can catch her eye for more than a quick smile. That’s how a working mom of three has to do it, I surmise. Pleasant efficiency.
I, on the other hand, am one of the chattier moms at preschool. But yesterday I sat silently on the hallway bench fighting back tears as I watched Charlie fasten and unfasten the Velcro straps on his shoe. As with many things, he is particular about how the Velcro is arranged and, when I reached over to help him with the process, he gritted his teeth and growled. For minutes after, he sat, looking on, with one stocking foot and one shoe on. Diddle diddle dumpling.
He’d bucked and writhed with face contorted as I pulled him off the crying neighbor baby’s scooter earlier that morning, and then shrieked at me with wild eyes for suggesting he wear a different outfit than the day before. All day, he had not ceased whining, crying, demanding snacks—not THOSE snacks but a different snack. A good one. Like a treat snack. Now, Mommy! Please get me a snack right NOW!”—and by 11 a.m., I was done. There’s only so much patience in my well.
I almost kept him home from school. As he stood on his bed crying about something that had to do with his coat, Kip said, “Tired… Nap?” and I had to dig deep to figure out how to make it out the door for the 20-minute drive to school. “Come downstairs, guys. Let’s get boots and coats on.” They didn’t follow me. “Now! Come downstairs. We’re gonna be late.” They came downstairs. “Put on your boots, guys. Please?” I whined. “Put on your fucking boots!” I’m sure of a few things: vessels were popping in my face, my fists were clenched, a conscientious passer by would’ve called the cops on me and my eyes were looking scary.
“No, Mommy! Stop!” Kip admonished as my emotions ratcheted up. Charlie erupted.
“I just want you to be Nice Mommy,” he sobbed. “Please, Mommy. Please! Be Nice Mommy!”
I started crying. “Oh, buddies, I’m so sorry. That’s no way to speak to you. Mommy is just so frustrated right now.” Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Jesus, help me. God, do your thing. Guru, come to me. Om guru, om guru, om guru, om…
I knelt and hugged the boys together, fixed Charlie’s coat, got their boots and apologized. “Now let’s go, ok? And we need to hurry a little bit.” I hoped Kip wouldn’t fall asleep on the drive. Gripping the steering wheel, I noticed I hadn’t really looked Charlie in the eyes all morning—fuck, what the hell kind of shitty mom doesn’t make eye contact with her kids?—and I slumped further down.
Bring yourself back, Emily. Find your loving place. You can do it. Love. Access it. Come on. Love. You can do it.
And then I noticed a healthy muffin top rolling over my pants. Hadn’t made it to the gym since Monday because I just couldn’t get out the door in time with the boys. There began my fast crumble. When I feel “fat,” it’s as though my value in the world plummets just because my body isn’t bikini-perfect. And, of course, when I’m mean to myself and mad at myself, I become outwardly cruel as well. I lose the ability to be the channel of love and light my kids need me to be, the world needs me (everyone) to be.
When my mind is honed in on the disappointment that my vessel for this material world is not a perfect hourglass—I’m two mid-section inches short of glory—my attunement is blocked. It’s like my ego puts up a massive ROAD CLOSED sign so that love cannot pass through, to or from me.
So, we get to school. Charlie’s teacher asks how I am today and I can barely answer her. She squeezes my arm. I’m spinning deeper into a negatively charged vacuum I can actually feel in my amped-up nervous system. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s the mom I barely know, the always well-dressed, pleasantly efficient working mom of three. She turns around to face me in the hand-washing line and her eyes are steady. “What’s up? Are you doing ok?”
I’m shocked. “Oh, it’s just been a really hard couple days,” I say. She nods and turns around to help her daughter. My eyes flood and a couple drips sneak down my cheek. I hang up Charlie’s coat and backpack, holding Kip in my arms, and I watch Charlie skip to the playdough table. He looks really happy. I hear him laughing and his little buddy saying, “Oh, Charlie Q…” in a fit of giggles. He’s amazing. How could I have missed that all day long?
The mom appears out of nowhere, and she’s right in my face. “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard day,” she says. “We all have those days.”
“Yeah, I know,” I agree, looking up to stop the tears. Truth is, though, she hasn’t had MY day. “Just to give you an idea, Charlie’s probably going to ask to put on his ‘fucking boots’ when it’s time to leave today.”
She laughs. “My girls have heard much worse. They all have,” she says with a smirk. And then proceeds to tell me about her own swearing fit on the one evening she was actually able to be home with her kids, and not at work, all week. Unlike so many “I’ve been there” stories, this one was relatable. And specific. And on a parallel plane of losing-your-shit-ness, a plane on which I was feeling shamefully alone. I know better. Lots better. What’s wrong with me? “In those moments I feel like the worst mom. I think, ‘You poor sweet kids, I’m not giving you what you need at all.’ ”
She pauses. “It’s hard. There are times I’m like, ‘What have I done to my life?’ ”
I laugh. “It’s almost unrecognizable sometimes, isn’t it?”
“Totally.” And, boom, I feel better. I’m no longer alone in my horrid lapse of motherly virtue. What’s more, I’m completely inspired by this woman’s rush to my rescue. Raw emotion in friends, let alone acquaintances, can be unsettling. People aren’t very comfortable with a crying person. Awkward shoulder pats, patchy eye contact and declarations that “It’s ok; don’t cry,” accompany a general desire to get the whole interaction over with. But here was this superhero darting right into the flames of my fear, pain, self-loathing and emotional instability, throwing me over her shoulder and whisking me off to safety.
We’re often so afraid to get into peoples’ business, yet what we all crave is that kind of deep human connection on the heart and soul level. Looking back on my humorously rich history of public displays of emotion, I don’t think anyone has shown such courage in rescuing me from my ledge-of-the-moment. I wish I could salute this woman, award her some sort of Medal of Honor for emotional health and bravery. However, what I will do is pull a page from her playbook the next time I see someone suffering, and reach out to them with confidence and the same open, strong gaze she shared with me. That was some real beauty.