I could hear the baby wailing from across the department store. My first reaction was to breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t one of my kids. I was enjoying a quiet shopping trip all alone, a scenario that rarely happens, especially on a Friday afternoon.
My husband had the day off and had graciously offered me a chance to sneak away so I could buy some much-needed items for myself. We both knew what a nightmare it could be to try to corral our kiddos in a dressing room while we frantically tried on clothes. I was definitely relishing in this unexpected moment of retail solitude.
Unfortunately, my tranquil shopping experience was being disrupted by that baby’s incessant cries. The noise reverberated throughout the store. As much as I tried to ignore it, curiosity finally got the better of me. Like a moth drawn to a flame, my mommy instincts seemed to pull me towards the commotion unfolding at one of the store’s busy check-out counters.
There, standing in a long line of Memorial Day sale shoppers was a young mom trying her best to contain three small children. She had the crying infant strapped into a baby-carrier on her back, and was pushing her young daughter in a stroller. Her 2-year-old son was beside her and having a terrible time standing still.
Every few moments the energetic toddler would bolt towards the large glass doors leading to the parking lot outside. The frazzled mom would then sternly call him back to her side. When he returned, she would scold him briefly, and the whole process would repeat itself.
Some of the guests in line around her looked annoyed at the spectacle, but I couldn’t help but feel compassion for her. I knew exactly how it felt. Alas, I am very familiar with the embarrassment and frustration that can come when shopping with little kids.
That’s why I usually avoid running errands with all three of my children at once. Not because I don’t enjoy their company. I love my little munchkins very much, but I also appreciate my sanity!
As I watched the young mom struggling, I felt compelled to help her. But I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I mean, I didn’t want to be the weird stalker girl popping out from behind a clothing rack. So instead, I awkwardly hovered near the registers, pretending to shop. In reality, I was trying to figure out a way to uplift a complete stranger.
About that time, the little boy made one last dash for the glass doors and the mom completely lost her cool. “Oh my God! I’m going to lose my s#*t!” she cried loudly enough for everyone within ear shot to hear.
AND….that was my cue. I suddenly didn’t care if she thought I was a weirdo. I may have never verbalized it in those exact words, but I completely understood the desperation and exasperation that she was feeling. This poor woman was beyond stressed, and if I could do anything to help, I was going to try.
I tentatively approached her and offered a timid word of encouragement. “Hang in there, mama. It gets easier.”
Our eyes met, and she gave me a weak smile. “I hope so.”
“It does!” I assured her. “I have three kids, too.”
Her eyes brightened a bit and she seemed to momentarily relax. “Then you KNOW what it’s like…” she said.
“Yeah I do! It’s crazy sometimes, isn’t it?!”
“It’s always like this! And I just became a single mom this week,” she confessed.
Wowza! That was not what I expected to hear. I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the kind of pressure and emotional angst this woman was currently experiencing.
“I’m so sorry,” I stammered, trying to keep my composure.
What on earth do I do or even say in response to this unexpected announcement?!
She was at the register now, checking out. I briefly turned my attention to the kids who had settled down a bit. The little girl proudly told me her name and age. Meanwhile, her brother stuck out his lip and refused to look me in the eyes!
As the young woman finished checking out, I decided to put myself out there one last time.
“I am so sorry about everything going on in your life right now. I hope this isn’t awkward, and I don’t know if you would even be interested, but I help coordinate a local MOPs group…”
Before I could finish my sentence, she interrupted me. “Mothers of Preschoolers?”
“Yes,” I said. “Have you heard of it?”
“Yeah…” she paused. “I could probably really use a group of moms who understand…” she trailed off.
I hastily found a scrap of paper in my mess of a purse and jotted down my contact information. She said a heartfelt thank you, gathered her stuff, and guided her kids out the door.
In an instant, she was gone, and I was left to reflect on what had just happened.
I’m so glad that I didn’t ignore those baby cries or allow fear to keep me from reaching out to a stranger in need. I honestly don’t know if this young woman will ever get in touch with me. I hope that she does. But if nothing else, I have to believe that she left the store knowing that someone cared enough to notice her. And I pray that she left knowing that as hard as things seem right now, she is NOT ALONE!
This experience reminded me of the importance of community. Whether you are young or old, married or single, a parent or without children, each of us longs for camaraderie. Relationships with other kindred spirits who will love and support us in the ups and downs of life, is a necessity. We all benefit from being involved in some kind of intentional and committed fellowship with people who will encourage us. Because while life can be so good, it can also be SO HARD!
The department store encounter also reminded me of the power of a small act. Meaning, I have the ability to positively impact the people that I come into contact with each and every single day. This includes the people closest to me, and the strangers I have yet to meet.
It’s amazing how something as simple as offering a warm smile or a word of encouragement in passing can completely change a person’s day. These small actions reveal a larger truth. You matter, you are worth acknowledging, you are important, and you are not alone.
So to all my lovely readers, I want you to know today that YOU MATTER. YOU ARE WORTH ACKNOWLEDGING. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
I hope you have some kind of community where you are doing life with other like-minded people. And I pray that you will look for ways, big and small, to bring hope and encouragement to the people in your life.