We settled into the booth and I slid the baby into the high chair.
Silently I felt eyes on me; the mom with three young kids.
The eyes were not disapproving, just watching.
The table of carefully manicured ladies behind me,
and the elderly couple to our left, quietly enjoying delectable looking pastries from the bakery.
It had been a harried morning; I don’t enjoy shopping with children.
Actually, I don’t really enjoy shopping period.
And I only make it to town for a formal shopping trip about once a month.
Otherwise, my amazing husband picks up what I need. But it had been a while, and this time, I came armed with and three beautiful kids, and a list of nine stops.
It had been a bribe, this date at Panera. Or perhaps an “incentive.”
The lure of a fun meal to inspire them to expedite the shopping process. I hadn’t had the brain cells to pack a lunch, and if I do it right, we can get a really good “snack” at Panera for the price of cheap fast food.
And of course, I try to steer clear of that stuff if possible.
My kids are not bad. They are really, really sweet kids. Exceptional, in fact, this biased mom thinks. 🙂
But being stuck in, or close to, a shopping cart as it dives past all the tempting goodies we don’t normally buy is enough to stretch any four year old’s attitude. And honestly, what sane mom would even attempt nine stops in a morning prior to nap time?
I mean, seriously.
She squalled, this baby of mine, and arched her back, rebelling to the highchair. Refusing to meet the eyes of the quiet couple to my left, I pulled her out and sat her in my lap. The highchair sat there, sticking out into the aisle like the noise from my table into everyone else’s space.
And then it happened. The server brought us our plate.
One plate. Yep, it’s what I ordered. She set it down and left.
And we stared.
It was the kind of soup I’d asked for, but in a regular bowl, not the bread bowl like we normally split.
Weston’s eyes grew wide, “Mom!”
I fished out my receipt. There it was. I had ordered it wrong.
Now we had about half the food we’d anticipated.
His blue eyes stared into mine as if the world had ended.
We aren’t impoverished. We aren’t poor. We have several vehicles, a warm house we are making payments on, and a full pantry. We have a happy, vibrant family. But we watch our pennies, and try to be wise, and pay off the house as quickly as possible. It affects the way we spend even the little money. But here, I’d made a dumb mistake in my rushed moments at the register, holding a grouchy baby begging for a nap.
“It’s ok,” I told him.
So we dug in, I split the wedge of bread between the 3 kids and took turns spooning in the warm yummy soup. The baby squalled again, and I bounced and fed her, still not making eye contact with those around me.
It’s easier, sometimes, to be alone in a crowd.
They stood up, their pastry carefully eaten, and picked up their tray.
He paused, and smiled. “Don’t worry, it won’t last forever.”
Then they were gone.
Yes, it had been MY morning.
We all see moms have them, the kids loudly wailing in the store, the mom quickly giving them whatever will quiet them. We see the haggard look on the face, the hair telling the story of a rushed morning.
We see the crusty nosed kid, and think, “Poor child, his mother doesn’t notice.”
When really she has been noticing.
She noticed he needed some extra cuddle time this morning, and held him close. She made his cereal just the way he likes it. She lost sleep last night because his cold kept him from sleeping. And she wiped his nose just before they came into the store. But crusty noses happen in minutes, and mommies darting down store aisles to grab what they need can lose sight of snotty noses for those few desperate moments. And mommies sitting in Panera Bread, with three hungry children once the meal is gone and the baby fusses… They feel tired.
I almost cried as he walked away.
Embarrassed that today it was me. I was the mom everyone saw that didn’t have it together.
But I was honored. Honored that he took the time, and the risk, to reach across the ocean of my exhaustion, and offer a hand.
To throw me a lifeline.
To remind me that this crazy and exhausting season IS short.
To do it well.
We cleared our table.
Three precious children were put in their carseats and buckled in.
And we did run through a drive through and grab dollar burgers to fill that growing six year old boy’s stomach. And I think I scratched my last stop off the list.
It is too short, this season of childhood. Let’s do it well.
Do it too. Offer grace to that tired mother when you don’t know her story.
Just know she is real, and she needs a kind smile, a word of understanding.
He gave me hope when I needed it. You can give it too.
Photo credits to Gretta Coates