I’m a mom. I need a lot of people to get this job done.

I need my husband, who is way better than me at important things like making cardboard medieval shields and earning the genuine respect of our children. Who can sub in when I need a moment to regain my composure or check Instagram in the bathroom.

I need our extended family. Grandparents who love us, support us and show our children a level of unconditional patience and compassion we aren’t always able to muster. Aunts and uncles who are equal parts comic relief, human jungle gyms and bestowers of delightfully impractical gifts.

I know I need friends who listen, coworkers who empathize and teachers and caregivers who guide our children toward a higher purpose when all we can do is give them cereal for dinner and put them to bed in yesterday’s clothes.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize a hidden network of support that exists around me and Matt and every parent: strangers. Or, to put it less ominously, the people we don’t know who still know…you know?

The veteran moms who have helped me through the security line at the airport, patiently folding my stroller while I wrangle a suitcase and a toddler.

The peers at the playground ready and willing to commiserate when they see my child filch a bucket or swallow a handful of sand.

The grandpa who responds to my daughter’s public tantrum with a wink and a knowing nod.

The new parents in the checkout line, who laugh at my kids’ antics, let me stare at their newborn and eagerly discuss the blessed chaos that awaits them.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of this invisible, universal framework built on empathy and understanding.

I’m grateful for every, “Don’t worry,” “I get it,” “I’ve got it” and “I’ve been there.” For sudden and surprising acts of kindness. For all the times I’ve looked up from a particularly trying moment — a teary 6-year-old or a toddler prostrate on a grocery store floor — and been met with a smile from a stranger.

Those smiles are everything.

Those small gestures mean the world to me. Just knowing someone understands somehow makes it all seem less difficult.

(Conversely, the few times I’ve looked up and been met with a frown are the absolute worst. Don’t frown at a parent who’s trying. You’ll go on with your gray-hearted day, and they’ll continue to question what they’re doing wrong.)

All of this is to say thank you to the strangers. Thank you to the people passing by who have, in ways big and little, shown me the beautiful ubiquity of this journey.

Thank you for nodding, smiling, helping, sharing and understanding. I need that. I need you. And I promise I’ll do what I can to return the favor.

***

Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 6, Grace, 3 and Phoebe, 1. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.

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