This morning I had to go to the post office to mail a baby gift. The post office is my least favorite of all the awful places I take my kids, gynocologist included. It’s quiet, and everyone is standing in line with nothing better to do than judge me when my kids act up. There are a million things lying around that pull their fingers in like a magnetic force field. Boxes, envelopes, pens. There’s a ledge underneath a squeaky mail slot and they love nothing more than to run over, hoist themselves upon the ledge and open and close that door. Over and over and over. I do my best to rein it in but there are three of them and one of me and… well I’m still working on growing four more arms.
This morning was no different. I told them they could sit on the ledge as long as they SAT there, no jumping off. My four-year-old responded by looking me square in the face and jumping off with a “whatcha gonna do in front of all these people” sparkle in her eye. What I did was grab her hand and told her she had to stand next to me in line. Which she liked about as much as me dumping a bucket of spiders over her head.
The fit began immediately, and escalated with each passing second. Which there were many of as I waited for the four people in front of me to mail livestock to Timbuktu. People continued to file in behind me. The typical people you would expect to be in a post office at 9:30 on a Monday morning. Mostly 50 and 60-something-year-old women and one 70-something-year-old man who were all reflecting on what a better job they did raising their kids than I was doing right now. My face burned and I was terrified one of them was going to say something to me. Clearly I should know what to do. If I were a better parent she wouldn’t be acting this way. She was screaming now, on the floor, and I wanted to die.
From behind me I heard a voice.
“Man I remember those days!” Immediately a chorus of laughter and resounding “Yeah!”s rose up to the ceiling like a hymn. Another woman laughed and said, “Wow, the way she’s throwing herself on the floor is Oscar worthy! And I should know – my daughter is twenty two and STILL does that.” Laughter. Then another, “My daughter is FORTY and still does that!” More laughter.
“We’ve all been there honey,” another said. I swiped my debit card and turned around. Everyone was smiling.
“Hang in there!” The man said.
My normal ability to ham it up as the center of attention was gone; I was without words as my eyes welled up and I bit my tongue to stifle the tears of relief.
“Thank you for saying that,” I said to the woman who dared break the silence and start it all as I walked out past her. “It makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one in the world whose kids throw tantrums. You don’t know how much it meant.” My eyes sheepishly scanned the room.
Almost in unison, every person laughed knowingly and began talking at once. “Oh no! You’re not the only one!” “We’ve all been there!” “You’re doing a great job!”
All I could do was nod at them and smile as I grabbed my other two girls off the ledge and walked out to my car with a huge lump in my throat.
And then I realized how little it takes to break someone down or pull someone up. To make someone’s day takes so little, yet it so rarely occurs to us. So here’s your reminder. Tell someone they’re doing a good job today. The Starbucks drive through girl. Your librarian. Your kids. Your spouse. It’s the best gift you can give without a trip to the post office.