I hardly remember the week before Christmas last month. It was a whirlwind of year-end tasks at work, finishing up our shopping, wrapping like a fiend when my girls were in bed, last-minute baking and an awful lot of profanity because I just couldn’t get my act together. (If Santa had a swear jar in the month of December, I would have been broke by the New Year.) But there’s one night in that harried, frazzled week I will probably remember for the rest of my life.
I had picked up four-year-old Sophie and 17-month-old Juliette a little early from school and daycare respectively, in order to get to the post office to mail presents to our besties on the West Coast. It was the pre-Christmas mailing deadline for things to arrive in that part of the country on time. I know I waited too long, but my to-do list was the length of my arm. (Literally, it was. I’d taped two pieces of printer paper together to make a master plan for myself). I plied the girls with after-school snacks in the car and reminded Soph to behave about a million times before walking into the Shoppers Drug Mart near our house.
I put Juliette in a little cart and steered to the post office line. It was about three people deep, but I had to pack the box anyway—I’d actually expected to have more time, thinking the line would be longer. When I started putting the package together, I was facing the girls, but I turned to ask the clerk a question and Soph saw her opportunity and took off. I sprinted after her, walked her back to the cart and asked her to stand still for just a minute. I addressed the box and wheeled the cart over to the cash to pay. I must have asked Soph three more times to stop walking away, bugging her sister, asking for Bubble Guppies bubble bath, etc. (I know I probably should have been more firm and maybe even left the store, but I was just trying to get a major Christmas task finished.) Then, as I reached for my wallet, I saw Sophie take a running leap onto the side of the cart. It was a bit like slow-motion as I watched the cart topple, with Juliette in it and Sophie careening over the top.
Jules hit her head on the postal counter (not hard, thank goodness) and Soph’s hand was stuck under the cart. They were both screaming. I pulled Juliette out of the cart and into my arms, and then quickly stood the cart up to help Soph. Neither one was really hurt, but they were so scared, and I was hugging two trembling little girls, whispering assurances and trying to figure out how to properly discipline Sophie after everyone had calmed down.
The strangers in the store were amazing. One wheeled the cart away to give us space, putting my wallet in my purse and setting it on the counter. Another offered to get the girls water. Four or five stopped to ask if my cuties were OK. When the frenzy was over, I was still kneeling in the post office area, hugging my girls. Everyone had returned to their shopping. But there was one woman, standing about 10 feet away, who said to me, “Are you OK, too?” I nodded and smiled, and stood up with a kid in each arm.
It didn’t register with me until later that the last stranger’s question was the most touching for me. The other people were amazingly kind and I will never forget that generosity, but this woman, she waited until everyone had cleared, until the din had quieted, to make sure I was alright. That the Mommy was fine, too. I vowed then and there to be the one who hangs back forevermore—the one who makes a second visit to new mamas when the excitement of a new arrival has dulled, to make sure she has meals on hand and was able to take a shower in the last three days; to be the one who checks in weeks after a friend’s surgery or a death in the family to offer an extra boost of support when the initial wave of pain or grief has passed; and to be the one, when something scary happens to someone’s kid, to ask “Are you OK, too?”
It’s easy to become an extension of our kids, to think we’re fine when we know they’re fine. But we need to watch over our own hearts, too, and having someone remind you to look after yourself, like this woman reminded me, is sometimes the best thing we can do for each other. In 2016, I intend to do just that.
Walmart Live Better editor-in-chief Katie Dupuis likes structure and organization—a lot. Now imagine this Type A editor with a baby. Funny, right? We’re sure you’ll love Katie’s musings on life with Sophie, Juliette and husband Blaine. Read all of Katie’s Type A Baby posts and follow her on Twitter @katie_dupuis.