"Can I help you with that?" asked a friendly older gentlemen. I normally say "no" when strangers ask to help me, as I like to carry on the pretense that I've got it all together! However, on this ridiculously windy day, I wasn't going to say "no".
I thought it would be more fun for my very young toddler if she "drove the car" in the grocery store. She had done it the week before with her sister, an older toddler, and she thought it was marvelous. It turns out that she doesn't like it nearly as much when she's the only driver! I gave up after a few aisles of getting-louder crying, and when sympathetic glances towards my daughter turned into, "how could you?" looks towards me! So, that left me holding the child while trying to steer a full, very hard to navigate, over-sized kiddie cart with one hand. Fabulous!
As I was ungracefully loading the groceries into my minivan (and praying that the shopping cart car wouldn't take off in the wind!), the man ran across the parking lot to offer assistance. He started loading the bags into the trunk when I got the baby into her car seat. I thanked him over and over, and he said, "Oh, of course! You reminded me of my wife many years ago."
He went on to tell me that they have seven children. I said, "Oh wow! We have six." The next part of the conversation was so lovely. I believe that God put this man ever-so-briefly in my life.
"Aren't they a blessing?" he asked. The scene of my 8-year-old pouting and stomping her feet while refusing to go to school that morning flashed before my eyes. "Yes," I said enthusiastically. My baby started to fuss...er, "Absolutely!"
The man continued, "You know, you see people doing all these other things, but my children have always brought me the greatest joy." I wished him a Happy Thanksgiving as he wheeled the silly shopping cart back to the store for me.
As I drove away, all I could think about were the "other things" that people were doing. What a coincidence (or not?) that he had said this, as I've really been struggling with this lately. Most of my closest friends, all of them mothers to young children themselves, are moving on. Last year, they were always available for last minute play dates (with lots of coffee!). If I woke up without plans, I would simply send out an e-mail or two, and my day (or week) would be planned. It was a full and happy life. It was utterly chaotic and ridiculously unpredictable, but I loved being a stay-at-home mom.
This year is quite different, and I'll admit that it's hitting me kind of hard. The change came because most of my friends' "babies" are in preschool at least three or four mornings (we used to do afternoon play dates too, but homework and sports killed that!) a week. And, this frees them up for "other things." Granted, they are not the most exciting other things...there's a lot of volunteering in older children's classrooms, PTO projects, going to the gym, very part-time jobs, and enjoying child-free shopping. But, for me, it means that my once go-to friends have moved on.
There are two mornings a week that I actually have five children in school! But, that still leaves my precious, very attached 13-month-old who loves to explore her world. This excludes me from just about...everything (besides play dates and toddler classes)! I know that I could go out and meet new friends, but this seems like too much effort on most days.
I am feeling so ready to move on to "other things" too. After two years of infertility, my husband and I welcomed each and every blessing...even the surprises...with total joy and trust in the good Lord's plan for our family. Even though this is counter-cultural, we know that God's plan will lead to our joy and (hopefully) salvation. Furthermore, I would not trade being a stay-at-home mom for anything in the world. I realize that I am lucky and that many women would love this opportunity to be with their children.
But, recognizing and appreciating your blessings doesn't mean that you don't sometimes feel a little sad...or a little left behind, in my case. It helps to remember how Jesus must have felt when his friends weren't there for him. Not that my friends have deserted me...rather, they are just on to the next stage of motherhood! God willing, I'll get there...and much sooner than seems possible in these years of long (read: long) days and short years!
In the mean time, I'm grateful for the parking lot reminder that other things aren't always what they're cracked up to be. And, all of the joy came rushing back as I backed up my minivan and caught the smile of one of my greatest blessings! There will be always be other things, but there won't always be the blessings of this day.