Today I took Adelade to her dance class, which is in a small neighboring town. Sawyer and Emerald and I went to the store to grab some groceries while we waited.
We run into friends and acquaintances of all kinds when we go there. I’m always on the lookout for people I know and people I should know but can’t quite place. We’ve lived in this area for two and a half years, and I still see people all the time who look familiar that I’m not entirely sure that I’ve met.
That’s why when the white haired woman came toward me, I figured that she must know me. She walked purposefully up to my cart and placed both hands on it. I smiled, waiting for her to speak. She leaned toward me, not returning my friendly grin. She looked me directly in the eyes and said, I don’t like you.
My heart dropped. I immediately felt shaky inside, wondering what I had done to offend this woman. As a pastor’s wife in a small town, I often worry that I have unintentionally upset someone, and I felt sure that somehow this woman had gotten a horrible impression of me and was taking this opportunity, right here in the middle of WalMart, to tell me about it.
I laughed nervously. You don’t like me? I squeaked.
No, she said. You’re so young and skinny and you have these beautiful children following you around. She grinned. Then she asked my kids to give her a hug. She hugged them both and chatted with them about spring break and the five dollar neon pink flip flops that Emerald had just picked out. She told me about her children. About how her grandchildren used to come to her house and put on her square dancing skirts and twirl around before they collapsed in a giggling heap in the middle of her floor. About how they got too old for that and how much she misses having little children around. She told me if she were 40 years younger she would adopt every child she sees. She waved goodbye to my kids and wandered off in the direction of the sporting goods section to collect her husband, whom she jokingly referred to as “the old grouch.”
I absent-mindedly walked on and found myself in the baby section. I ran my fingers over soft little sleepers that my kids have long outgrown. And, I continued to shake inside, finding it hard to recover from the terrifying moment when a stranger walked up and pronounced that she doesn’t like me. I looked down at Emerald and Sawyer, both fairly bouncing through rows of tiny clothes, carseats, diapers, and baby rattles. These things don’t suit our life anymore. We’ve moved on to bicycles and name brand shoes and Barbie dolls. Soon we’ll shift to braces and school dance dresses and driving lessons.
But, not yet.
Someday I may be the white haired woman strolling through WalMart, longing for these very days that I’m living right now. The days of always, always crushed Goldfish in the minivan. Days of loud kid chatter and endless questions and the never-ending baths and brushed teeth cycle. Days of Hold me, Mama. Days of bad knock-knock jokes made up on the spot and long you-really-had-to-be-there stories.
My kids’ babyhood will never be back again. And these days, these crazy, funny, warm, exasperating, loud, precious days, will someday be gone, and they won’t ever be recaptured, no matter how hard I try. All of life is made up of phases. And this one right here, the one that has me nodding off while I try to write these words to you? This one is a phase that I don’t want to take for granted. Not one, single second of it.
Someday I will be the white haired woman. I hope that when I see a young mother herding her kids through WalMart, through the longing I will be able to say, That phase is gone. But, I sure did soak up every minute of it while it was mine.
I thank that little white haired woman, who scared me to death in the middle of WalMart, for helping me remember that this time with my kids is amazing.
And, also for calling me skinny.