One needs only go to the grocery store on any given day to see a range of behaviors and experiences in the mothering world – and many mothers I can only imagine are struggling or have known the struggle at some point in their lives.
I saw a young mother in the checkout line.
“Madeline, I told you repeatedly to stay by me. Stand over here,” she said to her toddler, while she adjusted her infant’s car seat carrier on the carriage. I caught her eye and smiled. She just looked, in the midst of her exasperation.
An older woman, in her late sixties, early seventies stopped to comment on my baby’s smile. Then she saw her older sister playing peek-a-boo behind her.
“Oh, how happy we all are,” she said.
Then she leaned in to tell me conspiratorially that that’s what she used to call “happy asses”. I said I’d take that any day. She asked how close in age they were: 1, 3, and 5 at the time. She said she had seven by the time one was eight. I tried not to show too much shock, but I’m sure the look on my face said something like ‘Holy Moses’.
“’Been there, done that,’ as they say, right?”
I thought, for sure, this woman knows the frustration and struggle I’m going through. For sure, she’s wiped her brow on more than one occasion when she realized again that it was behind her.
Then she continued, “Goes by fast.”
I was surprised at the poignancy and nostalgia in her voice. My reaction was one of disbelief or horror when she said how quickly she’d had her kids and how many. And here she was seeming like she missed it.
“Perspective is everything” is also something they say. To this woman, well past the chaos and tumult of life with young children so close in age, she can remember fondly the closeness, the value of being needed, the grimy little hands to hold and sticky cheeks to kiss. Smack dab in the middle of it, I had a totally different perspective. I wondered how I would make it through each day. The end never was in sight. I felt like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up to the top each day, only to start at the bottom again the next.
But, for whatever reason on this particular day, I was fine. The grocery gods had shined on me and I made it through the store with nary an episode. In fact, I tried to be the mentoring mother, looking at Madeline’s mother trying to make her feel better, give her a sense that this too shall pass. She was too overwhelmed to see it, maybe wondering why I was looking at her, or worried about the judgment that strangers like me would pass on a mother who couldn’t control her children in the store – which I wasn’t doing at all, but had wondered countless times myself when I knew I had crossed the threshold of manageability.
And then when I got home, I crossed that threshold again. I had a near nervous breakdown when the kids nagged, nagged, nagged for a snack as I tried to put away the groceries. Here I was, thinking I’d accomplished something, ascended some plateau of sanity, normalcy, competency. And just like that, I was plunged back into the chaos. Just like that, I snapped. The proverbial straw was yet again some insignificant stressor that shouldn’t have been that stressing at all.
It was then that I realized that postpartum depression is not something to “get over”. Motherhood is a constant struggle. The beauty is balanced by moments of biting your lip so hard it nearly bleeds. Or like today when the words flew out before I could “zip the lips” as I tell my oldest. “Been there, done that,” doesn’t make you an expert. You cannot surmount the odds one day and never be at the foot of the mountain again. You can be that low minutes after dizzying heights.
In reality, it does go by fast, as the elderly woman in the grocery store said. This too shall pass, as I signaled via my smile to the young mother. One moment at a time, surmounting each struggle as it comes. And one day I’ll be shopping without the kids in tow, notice how serenely yet surreally quiet it is, and I’m sure I’ll be chatting up some one year-old. Until then, I hope I can continue to fill my shopping cart with blessings and have the mindfulness to see the wealth and not the cost.