“My, you’ve got your hands full!” I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve been sideswiped by this comment while out with my kids. Every time, it feels like that too, like a collision I didn’t see coming and I don’t have enough time to respond to it. I walk away thinking, “Did that just happen? What could I have said that would have made sense?” I’m just not witty, and I am not a jerk, so coming up with a response that makes sense has been challenging for me.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one over the last few years. I go shopping with 4 kids 5 and under regularly, and when we were doing foster care, I’ve had up to 3 additional kids with me. I don’t go out and not hear this phrase at least once. You’d think I would be used to it by now. But, to be perfectly honest, I’m not. For awhile I was offended, then I got over it and decided to just ignore people, and then I realized I was being a jerk in a snobby kind of way. So I asked my friends with large families; most of them don’t get comments anymore because they don’t go out with all their kids at once, or people just don’t say anything to them because their family is so big that they fall into the “well, you’re just crazy” camp. Apparently, I’m just at the right point in my life where people consider it their duty to point out that I have more kids than most people do in this era in America, with the subtext being that I shouldn’t.
The reason it catches me off guard is this: it’s usually at a moment where I could actually use some help, but instead of offering assistance, people just stare. Then, I think they realize they’re just staring and they say the first thing that comes to their mind: “You have your hands full”. Yes, I do. I usually do and that’s my life. My hands are rarely idle. In fact, both my hands and arms are usually filled to the brim with something. I’m okay with that and I really love my life. I hate strangers judging me when I’m already stressed out though. Either help, or just walk on. My kids don’t need you pointing out to them that you think they’re a burden to me. Because I don’t see it that way. If I must be honest, it’s really none of your business. You’re not being helpful. Move along.
I would never say these things though. I smile. I tell my kids I love them and when they ask why people say that, I tell them that not everyone values kids the way their daddy and I do. I remind them that God values them and they are special. I try to remind myself that none of the looks or words matter. I remind myself to offer help to mamas with their “hands full”.
That was a big lead up to the matter at hand: today. I’m running on about 9 hours of sleep in the last two nights, and four-ish hours a night for the last two months because we’ve got a newborn at home. Running my life half-zombified is just how it is. We headed to Costco for shopping today. I always get lost driving; every time, even with GPS. It’s super lame but it’s part of who I am. My brain just doesn’t “get” city driving. It still stresses me out. The kids can never figure out why I can’t get places faster and they whine and fuss over being in the car. I monitor toy time so they will share nicely, and we sing worship songs, but I still get a little frazzled most days.
Costco is a zoo alone. The carts are super sized, and you can barely fit two side by side in the aisles when it’s busy. Add three kids just the right height to get mauled by oncoming traffic and one baby carrier just the right height to block my vision to the entire left side of me. It’s the perfect storm for a meltdown in the middle of Costco, and I’m not just talking about my kids. By the time we reached the back of the store, I felt like screaming. Costco causes this sometimes. Or maybe it’s the raging headache I get around noon when I’m tired. Either way, I start noticing all the stares. Sometimes they’re half sweet, “Aww, look at that poor mom.” Other times, they’re people irritated that I would dare bring such small people into a store, of all places, where they can walk right into their path while they are trying to buy 10 pounds of nacho cheese in a can.
My infant starts screaming and my two year old almost gets hit by a cart coming around the corner, and my four year old has to be put into the cart to control his behavior because he’s bored and he won’t quit messing around. If I didn’t actually need the items in my cart, I’d put everyone in line and march out the door, abandoning ship. I assess what I need to do. If I move my diaper bag out of the cart, I will have enough room to fit my little princess in. I put my four year old next to my screaming baby. I pick up baby Butter and he settles but he’s hungry. I lift my two year old into the cart but I have nowhere to cram the diaper bag. I’m contemplating whether I can carry the diaper bag with my sore shoulder, nurse the baby and push the cart so we can leave this wretched place.
I close my eyes and pray. “God, help me get through the rest of this trip. We need to get out of this store.”
I try to stuff the diaper bag under the cart in a semi-available place with my one hand and one foot. It’s packed to the brim and I wonder how much pressure I can apply before sippy cups and diapers go spilling out into the middle of the aisle and then I have to figure out how to bend down and clean them up before they trip someone on the way to buy a mega pack of diapers. I give up. I’m nursing my baby boy and I resign to wait until I can put him back in his seat. We may be here for awhile. I will just have to suck it up.
Then I feel a hand on my shoulder, “Let me help you with that.” says a lady with a sweet smile on her face. She picks up my bag and shoves it under the cart. “I don’t know if it will fit down there.” I say lamely
“It’s not possible to do with one hand and one foot.” she says and I feel a rush of relief when my bag doesn’t spill it’s contents all over the floor. “Thank you.” I say. I feel like crying. Thank you for not saying how my hands are full. Thank you for helping. Thank you, God, for sending a saint my way in a store full of people who just want to stare. I needed that today.
I did push that cart all the way to the front while I fed my baby even though it felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. When I got home, I realized that the one item I spent the most on, I grabbed the wrong version of. So, we will be going back. But sitting here, two hours later, that’s not what matters to me; I’m not even upset over that. What matters is that one woman who took two minutes of her day to help me when she saw that I needed help. I had my hands full and she noticed but she didn’t just stare. Maybe we’d all be a little less bitter at one another if we each took two minutes to do the same for a person who needs it. Keep your eyes open. Turn your judgement down. You have the ability to change someone’s whole day; maybe even their whole life with a moment of kindness. That’s worth everything. I do have my hands full, but sometimes that’s only because I need a little help. I’ll bet sometimes you do too; maybe we can help each other.
Note: this post was originally published in July of 2013 when Butter was an adorable 2 month old ball of cuteness.