For That Disheveled Young Mom at Target

I am at Target today after dropping my littles at school, and I pass a young woman looking entirely ‘too young’ to be the mother of the four tiny toe-heads clinging to her. Her crew includes a newborn just weeks old, sleeping in her carrier, two toddlers fighting in the cart in crusty t-shirts with sticky hair, and one tiny little lady in a ripped Cinderella dress-up costume walking alongside the cart semi-shouting, “Mama! Mama!”

Oh, sweet Mama…she’s so beautiful, but she looks like she’s barely hanging on. Her hair is disheveled, she’s sporting spit up on her top, and those bags under her eyes…damn…she was not intending to come to Target this morning. From the looks of the box the toddlers are fighting over, she must’ve ran out of diapers.

I soak those babies in as I pass her in the aisle. I can feel their boundless energy and neediness. I can feel her patience and fortitude…and her grip slipping, for the 10th time today. It’s 9am. She’s in love, but she’s so so tired. I have to actively resist an impulse to stop and hug her, but know that would only slow her down and girlfriend is on a mission. I remember being on that same mission like it was yesterday. I leisurely continue with my shopping and flash back a very brief 8 years to me as a brand new mom of four…my cart contained a one month old, a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and a 7 year old clinging to me as I walked through Target with spit up in my hair, running on caffeine and the chronic feeling that I may have forgotten something…and love.

Those were the straight-up trenches. I was so knee deep in it, I didn’t know how, or even if, I would ever surface. Life was a dizzying parade of bottles and leaky boobs and cooking and laundry and life-guarding and surprise Target runs that took 40 minutes instead of five and “I can’t take my eyes off of a single child for single minute…but maybe I’ll just shut them, just for a second, just while she nurses.” Eight short years ago.

Today I have 16, 13, 10, and 8 year olds. Straight up big kids. Young ladies who are all kinds of independent. Smart, funny, snarky, kind, cool ass kids whom are still young enough to need me, but whom can also function independently. They go to school and do their own homework and shower independently (for the most part) and hang out with friends. Eight years from now I will have one with a graduate degree, one finishing up her undergrad, one just starting hers, and a 16 year old. Eight years after that, my kids will all be grown up humans. Eight years goes by so damn fast.

I remember being that disheveled mom as if it were yesterday…being knee deep in ankle-biters and watching that older woman in Target pass me in the aisle, blissfully alone, sipping her coffee, and just knowing she had no idea how tough it was. There’s no way she could understand what my life was like, as I fought back the tears and mentally checked the countdown until bedtime. Except that she did. She had been exactly where I was just eight years before…I can see it now, remembering her knowing smile and the way she soaked my babies into her heart with her eyes. She wanted so badly to hug me…but she knew I was on a mission didn’t want to slow me down.

Mama, writer, lover, fighter — I wear my heart on my sleeve because my pants pockets are too small. www.ajkaywriter.com

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