The morning is young, and the promise of the day awaits. In some miraculous orchestration of the universe, my toddler and I are both breakfasted and dressed, leaving the perfect window before nap time to run a few quick errands. I will sail into the weekend riding the high of a day of productivity, I think to myself.
We roll out of the driveway just before 10:00, armed with everything we need to make this trip as quick and efficient as possible. I am organized. I am ready.
We arrive at our first destination: Target. I carry my toddler into the store on my hip and naively decide that I can swing this with no stroller or cart or anything to contain my almost-20-month-old (or our purchases). We take our place in line at the guest services register, and my little guy begins to point out familiar things on the gift cards displayed at the checkout while the two ladies in front of me complete their returns.
A minute or two later, it’s our turn, and I smile and hand over my online pickup information with my ID. Of course, no longer the sole focus of mommy’s attention, my son decides that he is ready to get down from my arms. The appeal of the wide, open aisles and endless opportunity for exploration is too strong for his curiosity to resist.
My wriggling toddler strains against my grasp, so I decide to put him down. The next thing I know he’s lying on the floor between my legs, I’m holding his torso between my ankles while he tries to escape, and I am hyper aware of the gaze of every Target team member in the immediate vicinity as I try to maintain my composure, attempt to keep my toddler from bolting across the front of the store, shove my pickup slip and ID back into my purse, and check my order to make sure all items are present and accounted for. Plus, you know, try not cause too much of a scene.
After what feels like an eternity, we have completed our pickup order. I decide that since we’re already here and I know exactly where they are, I’m going to snag two new bath puffs since the one currently dangling from the hook in the shower has long outlived its reasonable life expectancy. With a firm grip on his little hand, my son and I walk down the main speedway, stopping frequently as he excitedly points out things he recognizes.
We arrive at the correct aisle. I quickly make my selections, and ask my son if he wants to be a helper and carry one for me. As soon as I hand it to him, he grabs the tag and starts spinning around in circles, shouting “YAY! YAY! YAY!” while it swings out in a demonstration of what surely is some law of physics. I smile at him enjoying such a simple pleasure, but as I stand there and re-situate what has turned out to be a rather heavy bag containing my pickup order, the toddler’s dinosaur backpack, and my purse, I also feel the weight of the minutes ticking by toward nap time.
We still have to check out.
We still have to go to the post office.
I still have to feed him lunch when we get home.
I try to urge him toward the checkout, but he is more interested in the display of women’s razors on a shelf at his eye level. I make enticements involving machines that go “beep,” and we begin the long, short walk back to the front of the store.
The self-checkout registers are gloriously empty, and we quickly complete our purchases while I narrate the process for my ever-curious toddler. I even let him help me push a couple buttons to satisfy his desire to touch the machine. I collect our change, stow my wallet and the receipt in my purse, and head for the exit with bags dangling from my arms and shoulders and my toddler perched on my hip.
Next stop: the post office. As we roll down the interstate, a sudden, uncharacteristic silence in the back seat indicates that my passenger has most likely fallen asleep. Even though it’s still an hour and a half before nap time is supposed to happen. Not cool, kid. Not. Cool. I regret my decision to go to the smaller post office closer to home rather than the one a few miles from Target, and I debate whether I should go home instead and attempt to transfer him from his car seat to his crib. Then I remember that my current success rate with that maneuver is at 0%. Onward to the post office…
We arrive at our destination, and my suspicions are confirmed. He’s asleep. While he continues snoozing in his car seat, I pop the trunk and schlep two VERY HEAVY boxes of books into precarious positions on the stroller. The little catnapper wakes up at some point during all this maneuvering, and I extract him from his car seat and strap him into the stroller while I talk up our trip into the post office as an exciting and exotic excursion.
As we approach the entrance there is no visible way to make the door open automatically, so I roll backwards up the ramp with the stroller, hit a bump, and lose a box out of the bottom of the stroller. Ugh. I stop, lock the wheels, put the box back on the bottom, and try again. I hit the same bump, and the same box falls out again.
I’m very flustered at this point, and I’m sweating from the humidity, the exertion, and the frustration of the entire exercise. I see a man emerge from his truck, and he walks around me to the door and opens it for me. Grateful for the assistance, I back up yet again with my cargo and — thud — the box falls out of the stroller a third time. Seriously?!
I pick up the stupid box (and my pride) yet again, do some more wrangling, and — success! — finally roll the stroller into the lobby. There is no line, so I heave both boxes onto the counter and silently rejoice in the small victory of having gotten both boxes, the toddler, and myself into the building (relatively) unscathed.
The clerk emerges from the back, we exchange pleasantries, and I tell her I have two packages that I’d like to ship via media mail. She weighs each box, asks the requisite questions about the contents, adds the shipping labels, and puts them with the rest of the outgoing parcels. I quickly total a quick estimate of the weight of the two boxes, and I realize that together they weigh over 60 lbs. Holy cow!!! Sixty pounds! Of books! That I just lugged in! On the stroller! With my toddler in tow! I’m not sure what the weight limit on this particular stroller is, but I’m pretty sure I just pushed it well beyond whatever it is!
We arrive home, and I am tired. I feel sweaty and frazzled and disheveled from the morning’s excursion. I’m frustrated that the 10 minute snooze in the car means that any subsequent naps will be unpredictable, thus messing up all my plans for any significant nap time productivity. I stand at the kitchen counter, quickly fixing a bowl of yogurt for my son’s lunch, and suddenly, the pity party I’m throwing myself grinds to a halt.
I stop for a moment, and I try to think about the morning through my son’s eyes.
I see his happy little dance when I asked if he wanted to go for a ride to the store with mommy, the way he ran to the back door eagerly shouting, “YES! YES! YAY!!!”
I replay his excitement over seeing and pointing out the dogs and cats on the signs over the pet care aisles. The pure joy on his face as he smiled and waved in greeting to every stranger we passed. His glee over being a helper and carrying something for me. The way he happily mimicked every “beep!” of the registers.
I think about the wonder and amazement of discovering the whole big world around him, and his excitement over seeing things he recognizes in different contexts.
I remember what a content little observer he was from his perch in the stroller at the post office, and I hear his excited chants of “oooo-FISS!” (office) as we walked back to the car.
When I think about our day from his perspective, I realize that, in his eyes, we had a great morning! He got to get out of the house and do something different and special with mommy, to see new things, to delight in being a social butterfly. What an adventure!
In the moments when I’m racing the clock to nap time, it’s hard not to get caught up in the to-do list. In the moments when I feel like I’m losing control of the situation because my toddler is laying on the floor in Target and I feel like the whole world is staring at me… it’s good to remember that anyone who has ever raised a child, or known a child, or has spent any amount of time around a child, understands that children are unpredictable. They know that those moments just happen sometimes. Like the woman who couldn’t help but laugh at loud witnessing my plight at the service desk, who I turned to and shrugged my shoulders, and who said to me in that kind, non-judgmental voice of understanding, “Hey, whatever it takes!”
Motherhood is messy, and it’s not perfect. I realize that the way I handle the unplanned and unexpected moments matters so much more than everything going the way I planned. Besides, let’s face it — the expectations that I have for pretty much anything these days usually end up looking very different from the reality!
And if I get too caught up in the frustration of those planned moments going awry, I’m going to miss so many of those little moments that everyone always warns you are so, so fleeting.