You might not remember us. I'd like to think that you don't because children as loud and miserable as mine, mothers as sheepish and disheveled, are commonplace and not the horrific anomaly I felt like that day. But probably, you do.
We were quite a wreck when we passed through your aisle. A two year old and a seven year old, both red faced with snot and tears streaming down their faces, both audibly sobbing, tiny bodies shaking with too much emotion and zero attention. Neither wearing a jacket or hat, though the weather certainly required something more than their faded, second-hand shirts. And me, in my weekend "finery," aka bleach-stained yoga pants, gray hoodie, dirty hair in a ponytail. Fighting desperately to appear calm, concentrating on smiling and saying thank you as I interacted with the cashier, swallowing my humiliation and willing this transaction to be over faster so I could slink away, pack the kids into our crappy Sunfire, and flee the scene.
I never even looked your way.
You had no way of knowing that these meltdowns were the direct result of my letting the big sister push the little brother in the cart, letting her go too fast and turn too quickly. That I let it happen just because it was making him giggle and they were both just shutting up for five minutes. That, inevitably, the cart overturned, the toddler fell out, and the big sister was crushed under the weight of the cart and the scared little boy.
You had no way of knowing that these meltdowns were the indirect result of the fact that we were shopping for a goodbye dinner for my mother-in-law who lives overseas. That we only see her once a year, that this goodbye day is always one of the hardest for my children all year, as they soak up their final moments with their grandmother. That this visit, she appeared with a cane, couldn't make the climb upstairs to see their rooms and new toys and small, strange treasures that children have a habit of tucking away. That when you only see someone once a year, the ravaging of time is startling enough that even small eyes can see it.
You had no way of knowing that I work too much, in another city, that it's dark now when I get home at night, and that one or two hours a day with Mommy is infinitely not enough. That I compensate by letting them stay up way too late, that their bodies and their hearts are exhausted most of the time.
You had no way of knowing that money was tighter than usual for us this month, that I had to say no to a thousand little "pleases" that they don't yet understand. That I've been preoccupied with the fantastical mathematics of stretching too little to make enough happen and coming up short each time.
Though it's possible you have a child or two of your own, or that you understand dependency through caring for an ailing grandmother, or that you had to raise yourself because you had abusive, neglectful parents (who am I to assume your naivete?), you looked like you couldn't be a day over 20. And you didn't know the weight of my particular journey.
But what you did know is that kindness is so easy and always, always worth it. When you sped up behind me and offered another, slightly more urgent, "ma'am?" I turned around. And there you were, hand extended, with a crisp white sheet of wax paper and two warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from the bakery section of the store where you spend eight hours bagging groceries and helping people outside.
You smiled sheepishly, and I was awed by both your youth and your wisdom as you said, "Maybe these will help."
They did, more than you know. Thanks.