She looked like she was just one temper tantrum short of having one herself. She looked like she could nap while the kids watched tv, drinking chocolate milk and eating cookies. She looked like she did the bedtime countdown in her head and realized lunch wasn’t even served. She looked like she could use some time off, a hug, and some chocolate and a stiff drink. She looked done.
And she never looked like that. Sure, she was always in a rush. She always had her hands full of a boy. She always seemed to be juggling something, on her way to something. Her voice sometimes had a pleading edge to it, but it worked, so who am I to judge? She never looked perfectly put together, just perfectly managing mom. She looked overwhelmed but dealing with it. And I wanted to be her friend because I got her. Just by looking at her.
But today. She looked like she was going through hell, and we all can get that.
Our eyes met as she handed me the pencil to sign out Sean.
She: I’ve been here the whole time because of the price of gas.
I’m not sure what happened, but I knew they were down to one car for a few weeks. It was so tight that her middle son couldn’t come to school because he didn’t have a ride. I only knew this because I accidentally ease-dropped. I also knew she just started driving this beast of a van that saw better days two decades ago. I got that. It reminded me of my childhood as my parents stretched a dollar into two. And of my last few years.
Me: Oh, that sucks. Well, now you can go home. And put the little guy to bed.
I nodded my head in the directions of her third son who was in a staring contest with Aidan. She had boys the same ages of my boys. Her boys loved Star Wars. It’s amazing we haven’t gotten them together before now.
She: He’s been good. But I’m so done. So done. I-
Her boy: MOMMY! SEAN SAID I COULD GO TO HIS HOUSE TODAY!
Sean: MOMMY! CAN HER BOY COME TO OUR HOUSE TODAY!
She: Her Boy, she will call us. We will set a date. It’ll happen.
Me: Not today, Sean. During Spring Break.
She: We need to go. No. We need to go now. Her Boy. NOW. Get off the trike. Get off the trike. Get your brother. No, don’t fight over the trike. No one is riding the trike. No one. Stop it. Boys!
Me: Sean, why don’t we walk Her Boy to the car?
Sean: OK! HER BOY CAN I SEE YOUR NEW VAN?!
Her Boys: YEAH! COME ON!
All four boys ran towards the parking lot.
She: Not the street!
Me: Give it a moment. HOLD UP, BOYS!
The boys all stopped. Even the toddlers. I smiled at her. She smiled back. Weakly.
We walked the boys across the parking lot as she tried to maintain a grip on her toddler, trying to keep the trike out of his reach. And then when she opened up the van, the toddler threw a massive temper tantrum. She looked frazzled and embarrassed.
Me: Toddlers! This is what they do.
She smiled. Weakly. She strapped the shrieking toddler in his car seat. She looked at me. I touched her arm.
Me: It’s ok. Some days are just a count down to bedtime. And right now, it’s nap time. You’re a good mother, and today was just an annoying day. Soldier on, warrior.
She: Thanks. I just need to get home, and then I’ll feel better.
Me: I know. Besides that’s where the duct tape is.