By Brie Gowen
My face got kinda hot, and I kept my head down on the task at hand. Scan the cereal. Scan the cereal. Even though my vision remained on the box of honey nut goodness I could still see the strangers’ gazes. They were staring at me. Me, the bad mom. The bad mom with three adorable, cherub-faced children all six and under. I was the Big Bad Wolf surrounded by darling Red Riding Hoods’. Or maybe they were more aptly in line with Goldilocks, but whatever. I kept scanning my groceries in the convenient evil that is Self Check-out, and I dared not look up. I had just run into someone I knew. Oh God, I hope she didn’t see my miniature meltdown.
My 6-year-old had been “helping” me scan the groceries. We were trying our hand at checking out ourselves since every other line extended to Siberia, and this was our second grocery store we had entered this day in my quest to save money on the food bill. Sigh. The 4-year-old kept trying to scan groceries left behind by the people before us, and my 6-year-old stood on the opposite side precariously holding a carton of eggs.
“Let me scan it! Let me scan it!”
She’d repeat herself for infinity until acknowledged.
The baby spit chewed-up crackers into my purse, and the store employee standing ready to assist watched the chaotic circus we had going across the conveyor belt.
She’s gonna think I’m trying to steal something!
I just want to go home.
You see, it was two degrees outside, and I had on six layers which weren’t feeling real great right about then. And though I’d lived in Chicago, among other Northern cities, I had never had to maneuver through winter chill with three small children in tow.
Seriously, how can you buckle those snaps when you can’t feel your fingers?!
Suddenly, out of the blue, the electronic voice chirped, “There is an unexpected item in the baggage area.”
The computer lady seemed to get louder.
“There is an unexpected item in the baggage area! Please remove the item from the baggage area!!”
In my periphery I glimpsed the store associate who was there to help. She watched me, and I only assumed she wanted to give me a chance to figure it out on my own so I could be a better self-checker in the future.
The auto-voice screamed, “Please wait for assistance!”
And that’s when I saw the toy my child had placed in the baggage area. And that’s when she chose to question me, “What’s the problem, mom?” And that’s when I answered her with a volume saved for outdoor sporting events when your team is losing. Or perhaps when you’re alerting a stranger to an oncoming car headed to their person.
“The problem is you put your toy in the baggage area!! That’s the problem!!” I yelled.
Her simple question in no way deserved the response I gave, and half the field of curious eyes stretching across the aisles of Walmart would have agreed had they been able to figure out why the wild-eyed woman wailed. I could have blamed it on the fact that the 4-year-old had just choked in McDonalds right before that. Like for real, seriously had to do the Heimlich to open her airway choked. And maybe my raw emotions had a part to play. But in all honesty, I lost my temper on most days, whether I had seen my kid’s bulging eyes and blue lips or not. In my mind’s eye, as I stood there finishing up our grocery trip, I felt like the worst mom in the whole world. I was always messing up in one way or another, and no matter how hard I prayed and tried, I always seemed to fall short.
I trekked to the van with a basket of food, but not before putting three little coats on wiggly, chirping bodies. The baby stood up in the shopping buggy, threatening to leap to her demise, and a man to my right gasped with fear. I gathered my chicks for the cold, treacherous walk across the parking lot, and then fumbled clumsily with buckles amidst frost-bitten fingers. As we drove away my 6-year-began to speak hurriedly in run-on sentences fueled by her zeal for life. This is her norm, but she surprised me when she said happily, “Thanks for today, Mom! This has been the best day ever!”
The best day ever? She wasn’t glum about my outburst moments before? She wasn’t scarred for life by my utter failure to ever consistently remain calm, cool, collected and/or otherwise Mary Poppinsish? Wasn’t she disappointed in me like I was disappointed in me?
Later as I put together dinner I prayed about the situation, and I felt like God chuckled at me. He spoke to my spirit, “Do you think I just see the bad stuff, Brie, when I look at you? Your daughter sees the good because she loves you. And I love you too.”
I suppose it’s easy for me to only see my faults, but those who love me, be it my children, spouse or even my creator, they see my heart eager to do well. They see past my shortcomings to my desires to serve them out of adoration and deep affection. If only all the world could see with such eyes. Perhaps if we saw ourselves and others with eyes of love we might also veil them with grace. We’d be quick to forgive, quick to give some slack and certainly more relaxed. And it definitely wouldn’t be such a surprise when someone felt like the worst of you made for the best day ever.