So I had that day, and I was that woman.
Our eldest child, a girl, was 2, and our son was less than a month old. It was Christmastime in Arizona, and I hadn’t left the house, aside from going to church (I’m not trying to sound like holy Hannah here, we had only one car and Max, my husband, was gone most days with it) since our boy was born. But this was the day: I was going to Target. I was going to walk amongst the Clean People — I was going to smell popcorn in the air and be seen by other humans and get to enjoy all the Target-y holiday things we couldn’t afford, and it was going to restore some sad part of me that had been withering away in the shade of our blackout curtains at home.
But then of course: that day, our extroverted, sunshiny, beautiful little girl decided to have herself a grande mal fit. She started screaming as we entered the store – like the minute we walked past the unnecessary and only vaguely-decorative large red balls outside – and she did. Not. Stop. Not for the aforementioned bag of popcorn, not as I frantically tried to point out all the shiny-flashy-furry-red-and-green things. Glory was all the way done before our only Adventure Out even began.
I begged her, I begged God in my foggy nursing-days head, and after fifteen or so minutes, I gave up. We were at the back of the store by then, so I tearfully began turning our cart around past the displays of everything that in theory would remind me of a pretty world out there that one day we would enjoy but now just reminded me that we were broke and 1,300 miles away from our families. My spirit was cast down there amongst the Starbucks napkins and tinsel sheddings, and I knew I was absolutely ruining the shopping experience for everyone else in that store. They hated me. They hated my daughter. They could tell, based on that daughter, that I had had no business whatsoever reproducing again, and were judging my choices, as well as my inability to shed a single ounce of the baby weight.
All of this was happening and the tears were falling, and then an apparition in a red apron appeared in front of me: “Here you go, and this is for your little girl- thank you for shopping at Target!”
I stood there, stunned: a twenty-something employee was walking through the store, handing out five dollar Target gift cards and little stuffed dogs from a basket, and the poor deluded thing had given one to me. Didn’t she realize that this was only going to encourage me to come back into the store? Me, the utter-Mom-failure in old sweatpants with the Cart Of A Thousand Banshees?
I shoved the gift card into the gaping black hole of my diaper bag and continued out of the store — but I started to notice something. As we wailed our way past, woman after woman went out of her way to make eye contact with me. They gave the close-mouthed smile that only a veteran of those trenches can give; they were silently saying, I see you. You got this. This isn’t all you are, this is one moment. Keep on keeping on.
By the time we got to our car I was a wreck. Yes, the sleepless nights, sore body, and failed foray into the real world made me sad; but the real heart wrenching, soul-impacting moment was that when I wanted to feel shame, when I wanted the world to agree that I was a failure, an unexpectedly loving community of random women strangers went out of their way to show me something else: Support. Acceptance. Those mute strangers tried to tell me that I was seen, I was not alone, I was not to be ashamed.
That day I learned that a failure, even just a minor one, can be the most valuable thing in the world, because it humbled and encouraged me – and gave me a greater scope of mission field for the future.
Yesterday, I was in Target with my now-five-year-old daughter, and I saw a Mom, newborn strapped to her chest, quietly and patiently trying to extricate a LOUDLY crying toddler from the shelf beneath her cart, where he had self-wedged. I slowed our cart waaaaaay down to make sure we had a moment of eye contact; I smiled and nodded and thanked God for the chance to really see and support another mother in a moment of vulnerability. And mostly I have thanked Him countless times for letting me see that we’re all that woman, having that day, at some point. When it’s my turn up to bat – when my toddler son gets naked in the nursery, or our one-year-old daughter bites me just as I’m telling a new Mom what a joy it is when they get to this age – it’s now a whole lot easier to believe that this, too, shall pass… and will make me the better for it.