It’s never a good idea to take all five kids to Costco with me. But sometimes I don’t have a choice.
Like a few weeks ago, when the adventure was completely unavoidable because we were out of every single thing.
Before we’d gotten out of the car, I knew I’d made a mistake. I tried to talk myself out of the items on my shopping list. Who needs toilet paper anyway? But in the end, we sucked it up and had the time of our lives.
Just kidding. It was a nightmare.
My children were completely feral. It was like I’d never taken them in public before. They spent the entire trip fighting, wrestling, running wild and crying. The baby shouted nonstop, trapped in the cart, because he couldn’t join the rest of the mayhem on the floor. By the end of the trip, we had become a cautionary tale for taking kids to the grocery store.
Also, for birth control.
Standing in the receipt line, I reached the limit of what I could handle. Finally, mom-ing them into submission by making them give each other compliments, I cringed, waiting for the people around me to start judging. Or telling me off.
Of course, even my meanest mom side only worked for so long. And to my horror, we left the store side-by-side with the woman who had been in front of us in line.
The parking lot became more of the same as far as wild and rowdy kids were concerned. My daughter was in tears because she didn’t like the compliments the other children gave her. The boys decided the road was the perfect place for tag. And the baby continued to shout. We struggled to the car where I banished them to their seat-belted seats while I loaded the groceries into the trunk and tried not to cry.
That’s when I saw her — the same woman who had been in the receipt line in front of us. The same woman who had just walked through the parking lot with us. She approached my car with a determined look on her face. I braced myself and waited for her to tell me what a terrible mother I was. She’d witnessed our worst. What else could she possibly want than to berate me for my failed parenting and ferocious children?
And yet, instead of harsh words of criticism, she handed me a bouquet of flowers.
“Here, these are for you,” she told me. “You need them more than me.”
When I just blinked at her and the pretty bouquet, unable to make sense of her kindness, she added. “I have six of them.”
It was enough to totally flip my awful evening upside down. When I was sure she couldn’t stand us and our antics, she was thinking about how I needed flowers. She wasn’t judging me; she was empathizing with me. She didn’t think I was a terrible mother; she knew I needed a break. It was a reminder that this was only one day — one bad afternoon.
Her simple act of kindness rescued my evening and whispered hope that maybe I can survive this season of chaos.
As moms, it’s so easy to judge those around us — especially when we only get snapshots of their terrible moments. But flowers from a total stranger reminded me that we’re all just struggling to do the best we can. Kids will always be kids, but we don’t have to judge other moms based on the few minutes we see them react. We can support each other. We can lift each other up.
And once in awhile, we can hand off beautiful bouquets and remind each other that things will get better.
Rachel Higginson is a married mom to five kids. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has received a Utopia Award for Best Contemporary Romance and Penned Con Award for Best Novella Series. She lives in Omaha.