I walked into my usual, small town lunch spot on a usual, midweek work day. As I approached the counter, a young mom began frantically trying to move her stroller out of my way, so as to make as little a scene as possible.
I politely put up my hand, signaling her to calm down and not be stressed out and quickly said to her, “don’t worry, I’m a mom too… take your time.”
You could see the tension release from her shoulders and out of that emerged a sweet and relieved smile. She said thank you and moved ahead, still trying to maneuver her expensive stroller through the line.
And then I smelled it… a sickeningly sweet smell. But one that invokes such vivid emotion that you can’t ignore it. If you could see smells with your eyes, it would look like pixie dust, with tiny, glittering flecks illuminated by the warm sunlight. A pristine state of being, fresh as the load of linens you pulled from the dryer that same morning.
Put quite simply… that new mom smell…
You see them everywhere, tiny pine trees and air freshener vessels promising that “new car smell.” The smell of freshness, lightness and youth. And if I could have bottled this sweetness in the air and hung it from my rear view mirror, I would have.
As with a new car and most things in life, we’re obsessed with keeping things clean, bright, shiny and new. Untainted and like the first day you had it…
And there I stood, mesmerized by the smell, or rather, the sight of this bright and pure new mom. I felt the envy bubbling up inside me and I didn’t quite understand why. I have birthed two beautiful children and I’m quite grateful for that, actually… but I still felt a pang of jealousy for this life I used to have. The life of a new mom.
She had it all together, and I stood behind her, with 3-day-old unwashed hair, yesterday’s jeans and likely some form of either of my child’s bodily fluids smeared all over my shirt. If she was the new car, I was the years-old, beat up minivan that smells of sour milk and sweat and when you sit down in the seats, you get up with crumbs stuck to your pants. And there’s probably a “new car smell” miniature tree hanging in the mirror, trying it’s hardest to get back to its simpler days…
Her expensive stroller was bedazzled in ridiculously cute stroller toys, the kind you have to remove to even get your child in and out of it. Her diaper bag was trendy and cute, unlike the busted one I carry frequently that’s overflowing with stray dirty socks and empty snack wrappers with straps barely hanging on by a thread. Her daughter was dressed to the nines, including the most ridiculous sandals, the kind that are perfectly on trend and perfectly impractical because they’re falling off everywhere. Mom was also fashionable, clean and covered in cute accessories, the kind of accessories that quickly turn to chew toys and eventually end up in some dark pocket of said diaper bag only to be found 6 months later while searching for the wipes.
“While I’m no longer a new mom basking in the glory of firsts and adjustments to motherhood, I am still a mom just trying to do my best… no matter your season of motherhood, it’s all hard and it’s all beautiful.”
She will someday learn that the stroller toys aren’t worth the hassle, that the expensive diaper bag will someday be covered in vomit as you try to carry your sick child through a busy store and you’ll wish you just bought the cheaper version, and that bare feet are much simpler than impractical shoes, even when you have to set them down in a public restroom because you didn’t want to haul your full-size stroller in and you really just needed to pee.
She gathered up her lunch and went on her way. I imagined she must have been on her way to the park to enjoy lunch with her baby on an average day. And I imagined just how lucky she must be.
I realized my envy was that of a seasoned mom missing a simpler time and missing the innocence and naivety of new motherhood. I too, used to emanate that “new mom smell,” and dress my child in impractical shoes. Don’t get me wrong, having more than one baby is absolutely joyful, but it gets more complicated when you suddenly have to divide your time and money between two tiny beings who are 100 percent reliant on you. You’re no longer documenting every milestone, like first trips to the park or comparing notes with self-help books about when your baby should reach these milestones. You’re just trying to get everyone out the door in one piece without incident, and in that moment, things like earrings, lipstick and the perfect fall footwear become a blurred detail in the distance that you just can’t quite reach anymore.
I collected my own lunch, in between thoughts of envy and reflection, and headed out the door to my usual lunch spot, a parking spot next to the lake. I often eat lunch in my car in complete silence, because it’s the only moment of the day I usually get to myself. As I took the first bite of my sandwich, I noticed a car pull in beside me. It was that new mom, pulling off the road to eat her sandwich too, likely because that’s the only moment of the day she gets to herself while her baby naps in the back seat.
In a split second, I realized we are no different than one another. While I’m no longer a new mom basking in the glory of firsts and adjustments to motherhood, I am still a mom just trying to do my best… no matter your season of motherhood, it’s all hard and it’s all beautiful. While she seems to have it all together and I often feel like I’m falling apart, we are both mothers and we are both just trying to get through the stages of motherhood, whatever they may be, and we’re both just trying to find a moment of peace and quiet in the middle of our day to collect ourselves.
Always know that there has been another mom before you, and another mom after you, thinking she is doing everything wrong. Sort of like the older mother who allowed me to go ahead of her in the grocery line the other day because she felt sympathy while my one-year-old screamed, covered in snot, and my three-year-old insisted on touching every item on the shelf with her dirty hands. Give her a smile, a helping hand or even just a moment of peace and silence so she can just finish her lunch.
But for the record, I’m pretty sure she still smells better than I do.