A mom walked into the library where I work, plunked some books on the counter, and said she had a huge fine to pay. As I checked in the items, they all came up as “lost” which means they had been overdue for more than a month. I told her not to worry, that her fine would seem a lot less without the lost charges. I spoke too soon.
Her fine was close to $30. While I showed her the breakdown, she started berating herself. “They were a month overdue?? How did I let that happen? I knew when they were due, and then I just forgot. And I would think of it, and then forget again. I mean, I take full responsibility, and I am more than willing to pay the fine…”
I asked if she got the email overdue notices. Then came her realization: “Wait, I could have just called you all to renew? Or I could have renewed the stuff online??” She looked to the ceiling in disbelief.
I smiled at her sympathetically and said, “I get it.” And I saw myself in her self-beating reaction. So I told her, “I really do know how easy it is to forget something like that. It just leaves your mind. I have ADD, so yes, I really do get it.” She looked at me with gratitude and relief and said, “So do I. Have ADD I mean, for real.” And in that quick connection it was clear we understood each other on a deeper level.
Later that shift, a very pregnant mother walked in with her 2-year-old daughter at a time I would have considered past the child’s bedtime. They returned a stack of books, then walked towards the picture books where we have some children’s toys.
I heard the mother snapping at her daughter, “No! I told you NO! Don’t touch that! I told you we did not come in here to play! Now pick out some books. DO NOT TOUCH THAT! Are you going to pick out some books? Okay then, I am leaving. Let’s go. [Screaming from little girl ensues.] You want books? Then pick them out! Nevermind. I’m going. Bye-bye.”
My initial reaction was shock and discomfort at the sharp way she spoke to her daughter. My other thoughts were judgmental: Why is she here this late anyway? Her daughter is way too young to pick out her own books. How can she expect a kid that age to walk past a bunch of toys and not try to play with them?
But the more I listened, the more I realized I have been there. And I get it.
A few more screams, then some quiet, and five minutes later they came up to check out their selections. She handed me her card forlornly without making eye contact. The little girl asked if she could read the books right now. Her mother replied, “Not now, we’ll read them after we get home and take your bath.”
Looking at her address, I noticed she lived about 25 minutes from the library. Pregnant, tired, overwhelmed, short-tempered, and dedicated, she was still planning to give her daughter a bath and read books before she herself could rest.
After they left, I couldn’t stop thinking about the encounter. I had considered offering to help her daughter pick out books, but there is no tactful way to do that in the midst of a kid’s meltdown. I felt sad that this obviously exhausted mother was still trying to do it all. She didn’t have to come in–she could have just returned her books in the book drop. She didn’t have to give her daughter a bath when she got home. And she most certainly didn’t have to avoid eye contact with me after I heard their altercation.
As I thought about the two women, I also thought about my self-talk earlier that day at home. I was scolding myself for not yet sweeping the kitchen floor that was coated in crumbs. I was embarrassed when Kyle’s helper came over and sat at our table with its milk stains old and new, embedded crumbs, and piles of papers.
I was anxiously planning how to fit washing the kitchen floor (the job I loathe most) and yard work (the job I love most) into the upcoming holiday weekend. I was discouraged that I had let Kyle spend over an hour sitting at the table, playing on his iPad and eating a pancake, while I putzed around and got ready for work.
Parents, we need to stop beating ourselves up. It’s so easy to criticize, most of the time we mothers are not seeing all the good we do for our children.
I get it. I have been there, and I will be there again. But I am thankful for these glimpses that help me understand I am doing the best with what I have, and that’s really all I can do.