THE MIGHTY I Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
I’ll never forget that summer.
It was hot, I was 9-months pregnant with our third child and supposed to be on rest. My OB had instructed me not to lift more than 10 pounds.
The concept of rest is laughable to any mother, let alone a 9-month-pregnant one with a 19-month-old and 3-year-old, who would later be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.
I neglected to tell my doctor that I spent most days underarming my 3-year-old out of public places, with a diaper bag slung on one shoulder, my daughter’s hand in one of my own and tears in my eyes. Every public meltdown, every set of eyes on me, made me feel deflated. At that time, I felt my son’s behavior was a reflection of my parenting skills.
That summer my husband got us a pool membership. The plan was to have the kids wear themselves out in the kiddie pool and water tables. I could plunk my pregnant self in the kiddie pool with them and “rest.”
In reality, I’d manage to wrangle my toddlers and all our pool gear into the car, drive to the facility, lug everyone through the building and out back to where the pool is located only to have my oldest melt down, after which we’d get him out of there, all the way back through the facility and home.
The other moms would look away in an attempt to be polite. They would rifle through their diaper bags or start up a quiet conversation with their children, pretending not to notice us. It was impossible not to notice us.
We arrived at the pool one excruciatingly hot and humid morning. My son immediately melted down, and all the moms did their pretending-not-to-see-it thing. I tried to talk him down, but it wasn’t working. Cheeks flushed, heart pounding, I tried to calm myself down. Defeated but determined not to convey it, I set my jaw and collected our belongings. My son continued melting down. I was moving as quickly as I could for an extremely pregnant woman.
The pool moms continued to look away as I struggled to lower my 9-month-pregnant-body down to his level to pick him up. Once I had him, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and our bags.
“Excuse me!” I heard a female voice from the opposite side of the pool call out. I hesitated. I was trying not to cry. Reluctantly, I looked up and met her eyes. The woman was walking toward us with gusto, arms swinging.
“Bravo, mama! Bra-vo! No one here will say this to you,” she said, as she gestured toward my silent audience with one hand, “but you are doing the right thing. You’ve got this! Good job, Mom!” And then, she started to clap her hands. She applauded my parenting at one of my lowest parenting moments to date.
I thanked her. She had validated my parenting when I was questioning it and feeling small.
“Thank you,” I mouthed again, for my words were now gone. She nodded and turned on her heels and walked away.
When I finally made it back to my car and managed to get the kids clipped into their car seats, I put my head to the steering wheel and did the ugly pregnancy cry thing. I realized I had been feeling quite alone with this spirited, strong-willed 3-year-old. On this day, I felt supported and was extremely grateful for that woman’s words. I wanted to go back to thank her properly, but my son was still melting down in his seat and I was far too emotional to be coherent.
Do you know how often I think of that stranger and her kindness? It has been five years, but I think of her all the time.
I think of her when I’m in Target and someone’s kid is “acting up.”
I think of her when I am checking out at the grocery store and the mom with four “whiny” kids in tow is behind me; I see that look in the mom’s eyes and I know she’s struggling to hold it all together.
I think of her every single time I see a pregnant woman managing toddlers.
I think of her when the frazzled looking mom in the minivan cuts me off and then apologizes with a wave. I can see the ruckus going on in her backseat. I know how loud it must be in her car, how difficult it must be to think, let alone drive.
I think of her when I see a mom whisking her crying child out of mass on Sundays.
I think of her every time I see a child “pitching a fit” or a mother who looks exhausted.
We have all been there, haven’t we? And some of us have been there more than others.
Do you know what? I always say something now. Always. And, if I can’t say something due to distance or whatnot, I make eye contact and send that mom a genuine you’ve got this smile. I know how much a kind word can mean in a dark moment, and I know kind words are contagious. They can alter behavior.
I don’t know where the woman from the pool is today. I wish I could thank her. I wish I could let her know the words she spoke to me on that day changed me and my behavior, forever. Thanks to her, I am not fumbling with my purse, trying not to notice the elephant in the room. Now, I know better.
As kids, we were taught if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. I’d like to add an addendum to that saying for all the mamas out there:
If you are thinking kind thoughts, always share them. If you have something nice you could say, say it.
Think about how lovely this world would be if everyone poured forth all the kind thoughts and observations that they keep in the silence of their minds.