I hear her before I see her. She is grumbling under her breath because of her toddler's incessant cries. Someone obviously didn't give this mother the memo that crying is what little kids do. The child, holding onto the woman's leg, begs to be carried. "Up! Up!" her little voice says over and over. The woman actually seems angry that her own child wants to be held! Maybe this lady should try being a little more grateful. There are people all over the world who would kill for an adorable kid, a healthy kid -- just a kid.
When I turn the corner, I finally catch a glimpse of this hot mess of a mother; there she is in full force, red face and crazy eyes. Noticing my glances, she tries to soften a bit, apparently embarrassed to have someone witness her tirade. Try as she might, she can't seem to contain the fury boiling just beneath the surface. She continues ignoring the beautiful children vying for her attention, opting to finish a text message instead of addressing the little girl who implores her for help completing a workbook. A WORKBOOK! What the rest of us wouldn't give to have a kid who actually wants to practice tracing the letters of the alphabet! This mother doesn't know how good she has it, and from the irritated look on her face, she certainly doesn't appreciate it.
"HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?!"
Now she's barking orders at her son, who immediately shrinks beneath her harsh voice. Through gritted teeth and snarled lips, she turns words into weapons; a seething, "OK?" from her mouth changes the question into a knife, blade sharpened and at the ready. I wonder if she has any idea how scary she looks. If I were a kid, I'd be terrified of this woman.
A growl begins to emanate from her belly, works its way up through her throat, and explodes into the air.
WHAT DID I JUST SAY?!
The children are met with a barrage of heavy sighs, and eyes that speak volumes: They say, I have no patience for you to act your age and You can't do anything right today.
I feel like I'm about to witness a heinous car crash, and even throwing myself on the painted lines in the middle of the road wouldn't stop it.
Afraid to look because of what I might see, I reluctantly make eye contact with the woman in the mirror. For a split second, I hear nothing. The room is deafening with silence. I look down at my baby, who is screaming because she's exhausted. I promise my sweet 4-year-old I'll help her connect the dots in her workbook just as soon as I clean up the water from her 6-year-old brother, who has, yet again, drenched the bathroom floor with his nightly shower antics.
Work has been crazy, but at 8 p.m., I finally call it a day, refusing to check my phone so that another issue can't suck me back in. I hate the way I've acted today. I haven't appreciated my children, nor shown them enough love. I've answered their questions with disinterested "Uh huh"s and pretended to pay attention when they've pleaded, "Mummy! Look at me!" because I've allowed things that shouldn't matter to consume me. Deep breaths are supposed to be cleansing, but the more I gulp for air, the more suffocated I feel. I look in the mirror again.
That's me? Doesn't look like me.
I look at my children. They look like me.
Although I haven't given them what they deserve today, they continue to give me exactly what I need. My children are innocence and understanding and tenderness. Even on my worst days, they don't hesitate to throw themselves into my embrace, instantly forgetting the anger and the way I've hissed at them. My children are unconditional love, even when I've unconsciously given them conditions. They are better than I could ever be, graceful with forgiveness and welcoming arms.
Stephanie Jankowski is a mother of three in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her blog, When Crazy Meets Exhaustion, was born in 2011 out of a work-at-home mom's need for adult conversation. Say hello on Facebook and Twitter.