Recently, I had the brilliant idea to gather my four kids 7 and under and emerge from our safe hole where face crust and wearing PJs for day clothes is perfectly acceptable and meet a friend for lunch at a mall food court.
I tucked my 4-month-old into a baby carrier, held my 4-year-old and 2-year-old’s hands, and asked my 7-year-old to not skip too far ahead and entered the real world.
Lunch was not too catastrophic. My patient, generous friend helped out a lot when she wasn’t busy juggling her own two littles.
We sort of caught up with one another in fragmented sentences. “So how was your Christm….Stop poking your sister.
“It was nice. How was…Watch out! You almost spilled your drink!”
Despite the constant interruptions, I was thinking it was nice to be out and about wearing chic clothes – no matter that I emanated Eau du Breastmilk. I felt almost human.
That is, until things started to get highly harried. Then I started to feel like I was morphing into a mommy monster. I wasn’t planning on shopping. I just wanted to quickly return something after lunch. I forgot that doing anything quickly is impossible when you are managing so many little ones out in public. My 7-year-old, who is normally very easy to handle, started repeatedly throwing herself on the mall floor.
“Why are you doing that?” I asked.
“Well, if you’re too tired to walk, then you’re too tired to have a spend the night with your friend,” I said. (My friend was planning on taking my daughter back with her.)
She instantly popped up and began skittering about with more energy than an hummingbird.
Sigh of relief from me. But the baby, who is typically an easy-going little guy, started to wail. I’d just nursed him and knew he was just tired.
“It’s time to go,” I announced. “Rachel, do you have to go to the bathroom?”
“No,” my 4-year-old replied.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” she answered emphatically.
So we headed to the exit, exchanged good-byes, and I was about to congratulate myself for surviving the trip when Rachel tugged my hand, “Mommy, I told you I had to go to the bathroom.”
“No you didn’t,” I said.
“YES! I DID,” my feudal lord screeched.
I repeated the conversation we’d just had, and she burst into tears. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I told you I was sure I had to go to the bathroom.”
Okay, so we’ll traipse back into the bathroom. No biggie. I can handle this. We walked back into the mall. Rachel was still sobbing, wondering why she was so unlucky to have such an obtuse, uncaring mom who did not understand her. Baby was crying, too, and burrowing deeper and deeper into my chest. My entire body was tingling from the effusive milk letdown I was experiencing.
Then my 2-year-old decided to go boneless. Wonderful.
I tried to pick her up, but that’s not easy when you have a tank-of-a-baby-boy barnacled to you, and you’re trying to console an emotional 4-year-old. So I started to drag her across the floor of the mall. People were staring. A few understanding moms smiled knowingly at me. They’d been there before. This was some consolation. But then a teenage boy with a horrible Justin Bieber do had to crush my already withering spirit by remarking as we passed by, “Man, that kid’s getting dragged.”
Here’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to stop that wisp of a boy and stare him down and say, “You have no idea!” I wanted to burst into tears like my 4-year-old and nestle into the chest of my husband or even my own mom like my baby. I even considered that going boneless and being slid – gently, I should add – across the floor would be better than what I was having to do at that very moment.
Instead, something bubbled up inside of me, and it didn’t come out as anger or pity. It came out as laughter.
I was hoping my unexpected giggles would be infectious as they often are. This time I wasn’t so lucky. But that didn’t stop my chuckles. I continued to laugh like a cruel, uncaring mother as my motley, maddening crew schlepped our way to the bathroom and then back to our mini van. I thought of crying once I was safe from the stares of others. But I held myself together. I texted my friend and husband and managed to keep a humorous tone.
My husband texted me back, “That sounds awful. Glad you survived.”
My friend did, too: “I told the girls when we left that kids are good at giving mommies grey hair. You did well. You always impress me.”
And I smiled and laughed some more.
When we returned home, I was changing my baby’s diaper when, out of the blue, he began to loudly guffaw. This was not a timid chuckle. It was uproarious laughter. “Thomas is giggling! Thomas is giggling!” I shouted.
His sisters galloped into the room because who doesn’t love to see a baby laugh? We all started to giggle as we watched my butterball boy shake with fits of happiness.
Raising children is not always a laughing matter. There are days when you want to scream. There are days when you will scream. There are crying jags – from you and your child. There are boneless toddlers, melodramatic preschoolers, and inconsolable infants. But I’ve found one of the most powerful survival tactics in the trenches of motherhood is keeping a sense of humor even if it means laughing through the tears. Let the good times roll, and don’t be afraid to find your funny bone when you hit a few bumps along the way.
This column originally appeared at WhatToExpect.com.
Copyright 2012 Kate Wicker