Standing with a trolley full of groceries – half of which I’d never use but felt good about having in the pantry – I grimaced apologetically at the older woman in line behind us. My two year old was biting the trolley in a rage, furious I’d made him return the KitKats he’d swiped while I wasn’t looking, while my four year old twirled in her Elsa cape, shouting ‘Ana darling, don’t forget the tampons!’
The woman looked at my spawn and smiled with the wistful grace of someone who’d been there, done that, and made it out the other side. “It’s the best time of your life, you know,” she said softly, leaning towards me.
I almost keeled over. I love my kids and all, but if this was it, I thought silently, if this was the best life was going to get, then for God’s sake just let me off here.
Is it some kind of Stockholm syndrome, I wondered? Where you come to love your captors even though they torture you with sleep deprivation and covering you in bodily fluids? How do people seemingly forget how exhausting it is to have small children?
Some days it’s hard to get past how tiring it is, how messy and monotonous, requiring the kind of stamina only seen (ironically) in a toddler on birthday cake. It’s frustrating to hear how great this life is when at 27, you look like 70-year-old Elton John on a particularly rough day.
Still, I went home and thought about it. There is something pretty raw and simple about this time in my life. Everyone knows how hard it is, and their expectations of me are gloriously low.
The rules are simple, too, just keep everyone alive and fed and you’re doing a good job. You’re allowed to stay in your PJs all day and cry into a glass of wine at 2pm some days, that’s okay: you’re doing the hard thing. The normal rules don’t apply.
As the wisdom of strangers gently reminds me, this time is fleeting. Probably I won’t always be sleep deprived and covered in bodily fluids. I’ll not always get to smell their hair as they sit in a trolley, or feel their hand in mine as I cross the road.
I’ll not always be in the company of little children everywhere I go, even to the bathroom, and one day I might even miss their little faces as they proudly hold up a boogie in the middle of a shopping mall.
Could these really be the best days of my life? I can’t picture it yet, but I’m willing to concede it’s possible. But only on days they’ve slept through the night, and only when I can shop alone. That seems only fair.
Caitlyn is a thirtyish-year-old teacher with a passion for good books and cheap wine. She has two children and an ever-patient husband, though her true love is Mexican food.