Spilled lemonade and ice. At the mall.
Let’s go to the mall today, I said.
It’ll be fun, I said.
It’s just me and the two littles SO IT WILL BE EASY, I said.
It won’t matter that I don’t have a stroller with me for my two-year-old, I said.
People, I never go to the mall.
In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s some scientific law out there in the universe which says that mothers with eight kids and copious amounts of poopy diapers can’t go to the mall. It’s like oil and water.
But Easter was fast approaching, and my six daughters clearly needed new dresses. Last year we got them the day of the vigil, so I thought I’d be all prepared in 2015 and get them FOUR DAYS AHEAD OF TIME. I know, right? Be impressed.
So after a leisurely coffee with some girlfriends, I decided to hit the nearby Gymboree Outlet in hopes of scoring some deals. (I blame my burst of confidence and optimism on the caffeine surge.) All but two of my kids were in school, and people always seem to act like fewer kids are easier than lots of kids, and so I thought I CAN DO THIS. I ONLY HAVE 25% OF MY KIDS WITH ME. THIS WILL BE SO AWESOMELY AWESOME.
And, as far as the dresses went, it was! I was pleased to discover that the Gymboree Outlet was running a sale where nothing in the store cost more than $12.99. Yes, $12.99! So my Mary and my Alice sat and watched the store-provided movie like sweet little angels while I shopped, and then we left the store in search of the foodcourt. Because lunchtime.
Now we don’t really eat out much, we Heldts, because there are ten of us. And it costs a small fortune to feed the equivalent of a small country. But this day I decided I would treat my girls to lunch because we were at the mall! This is what people with two kids do at the mall! I even opted to get each girl a kids’ meal–another rare event for the Heldts, because kids’ meals tend to be a Horrible Value. And people with eight kids don’t buy things that are a Horrible Value. So we approached the Japanese food counter and got our noodles and sesame chicken and wontons and lemonades and soda, and sat down at a table.
Just the three of us, we sat and ate. I felt all fancy and glam and stuff because we were at the mall, and we’d shopped at Gymboree, and I decided this must be how the other side lives–the side not constantly chasing after cuties with Down syndrome and answering questions about birth control in the bread aisle, and sniffing bottoms every five minutes or so to figure out which of the three diaper-wearers had diarrhea AGAIN. I could actually kind of see the allure of this sort of existence, lunching in public places without causing a spectacle.
Until my five-year-old somehow spilled her entire lemonade. All over the table, me, my prized bags of name-brand dresses, and the floor. I dispatched my daughter to go get some napkins but shrugged it off in a smug, I’ve got this sort of way. Nobody knows it but I’ve got eight kids, I thought to myself, and this is SOOOOOOOOOO NBD. I’m not going to lose my cool over a silly spilled drink. Pshaw.
So the arrogant mom who *clearly* had it all together bent down with a confident smile to help clean up the mess–and that’s when my other daughter spilled HER entire lemonade. Now Alice is only two years old, and one might question the wisdom of giving her her own medium-sized fountain drink and straw in the first place. But then one remembers that this was a Special Outing to the Mall, and a Special Lunch With a Kids’ Meal. This time though I wasn’t smiling so much as shaking my head, and collecting as many flimsy napkins as I possibly could. Inwardly cursing the day and feeling mighty vindicated for eating the bulk of our meals in the comfort of our own home. Because in the comfort of our own home we can make messes and clean them up with ratty old beach towels. But not at the mall. Where clearly, we didn’t belong.
And Alice, smart kid that she is, must have figured that out. She was bored with the running-over-to-the-Japanese-food-counter-for-napkins-and-running-back-to-clean-up-the-mess routine, and decided to take off. I’m not entirely sure where she was planning to go, but it probably doesn’t matter anyway, because she’s just independent like that. Does her own thing. Thinks she’s too good for everybody. So it made sense that she would take a huge bite of chicken, grab her bowl of food with her chubby little hands, and set off into the sunset. Of course I saw her trying to escape, and went after her. Mom to eight kids and all that. Not my first time at the rodeo. But that’s when things REALLY went downhill, because she dropped her bowl of food all over the floor, started screaming, and slipped in the resulting grease–landing flat on her back in a sea of noodles and people. Like a cartoon character. It was at this point where I was like I JUST CAN’T EVEN, and hastily piled all the food BACK into the bowl, and tried to seek out somebody to help us with the ever-growing mess. After letting the kind man at the food counter know about all of it, I flagged down a janitorial staff member (is that what they’re called? I don’t know, but she had a mop), and said “Excuse me, the person at the Japanese food counter wanted me to let you know that—”
“Did somebody throw up?” she interrupted. Clearly this wasn’t her first time at the rodeo either. But I would make her happy. I would tell her it was just lemonade and chicken grease. I would tell her I wasn’t like those other puking-kid-moms at the mall.
“No! No throw-up! Just some lemonade my daughters spilled!” I was beaming.
And she looked me right in the eye, and said “SH*&!!!!!!!”
My face must have fallen, because she quickly apologized. I on the other hand just ducked my head, mumbled a sorry, and reclaimed my sticky purse, my sticky bags of sticky dresses, and my sticky kids with their sticky leftovers, and fled from the scene.
Because profanity might be MY natural inner-response to a spill when, hello, I don’t have my trusty stained beach towels around–but this woman had a mop and a bucket! She should have been relieved that no bodily fluids were spilled in the making of our mess! Does she not know that I had a kid poop their pants at a flea market one time? It could be so much worse! But instead she was mad, or at the very least annoyed, and so I slunk away in shame. My kids had made a mess. I hadn’t been able to fix all of it. I inconvenienced somebody.
I was an epic mall fail.
Now when I was fleeing (or slinking), I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the direction I was going. I thought we were, you know, exiting the mall. But no. We were winding deep into the bowels of the place, far far away from where we’d parked our blessed getaway car, with Mary carrying the two bowls of food, Alice trailing behind yelling and crying because SHE WANTED THE REST OF HER LUNCH RIGHT THIS MOMENT, and me shouldering the bags and my soda–because heck if I was going to throw it in the garbage. I had big plans to sip and savor the thing on the drive home, when my girls would inevitably fall into a deep sleep after our harrowing afternoon, and I would sing along to Ed Sheeran. But. Remember how I said Alice was screaming and crying? Yeah, all through the mall. Past all the stores. Past all the people. Wouldn’t let me pick her up. Kept chasing after Mary and the food, arms outstretched like a sad, angry little dictator. And we kept circling around, trying to find our way out, unable to cut through respectable stores like Super Target because of all the crying and the food. Better to stay out in the periphery where all the random shoppers and cell phone hucksters were, I reasoned, lest anyone else be privy to the live production of Purgatory for Mothers.
It was then, as we were trudging along, that we came upon one of those coin operated ride-on machines. It was out of order. But it didn’t matter, because Alice was suddenly happy! Pointing and shouting and climbing, and pushing buttons. I took the opportunity to collect my wits and steel myself against the rest of the stroller-less mission to locate and reach the car. I had a drink of my beloved soda. But then I decided it was time to move along. And Alice wouldn’t have it. NO! she declared, clinging stubbornly to the stupid plastic motorcycle. So I did what any mom worth her salt would do, and I wrestled her into my arms and off the lifeless toy. She wasn’t going to win, and we were going home.
And in doing so, I spilled my soda.
All over the play equipment. And the floor. And myself.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell. Because life is HARD when you’re a mom! And so unfair! We’d spent our entire Spring Break convalescing like a bunch of invalids with colds and fevers, and this was our first day out. This was our trip to THE MALL. This was our forgoing PB&Js for overpriced Chinese food masquerading as Japanese food. This was our day of kids’ meals. This was the day when I got a soda. This was the day when I got to be Mom to Only Two Kids. But no. Instead, there were three spills, one dumped plate of food that resulted in a fall, and one tantruming toddler. Oh and one sweating mother.
Anyone looking on would have assumed I was a newish mom. Nobody would have seen me and known that I actually once had three kids ages two and under. Or that in my tenure as mom I’ve done battle with lice, parasites, open heart surgery, learning delays, and bad tween attitudes. They’d never assume that I also drive a big passenger van, or that when we go to Costco we use two carts to haul all of our kids and food. They couldn’t see that my Gymboree bags were filled with six beautiful dresses for my six beautiful daughters, who love any excuse to dress up. No, I blended in that day, except for all the screaming and spilling and hidden mental anguish. And do you know what’s funny? Do you know what I really wanted to tell everybody that passed by our hot mess? I wanted to tell them that no, we don’t have our act together, but it totally doesn’t matter.
Because one thing being a mom-to-many has taught me is to not take myself too seriously. To not put so much stock in appearances or social constructs that I end up shouldering the world. Yep, I’m the idiot who decided to drag two little kids, sans stroller, through the mall at naptime. I’m the moron who dumped her soda all over the plastic motorcycle and yeah, I’m the mom of the kid that slipped and fell in her own lunch. I’m the lady that decided pretend Japanese food was a good idea for lunch. That’s me! Over here! With the screaming toddler! And I can’t find my car! But it’s all good, because you see motherhood is tough. The struggle is real. I work my butt off and don’t make a dime, and my work doesn’t ever really end because at 4 am a kid might show up to my bedroom door, telling me they did indeed throw up, and I go running for the beach towels. I gave up on trying to be cool and hip a long time ago, and now the highlight of my week is usually watching an old TV show on our old TV with my husband, in bed.
And do you know what else? I love my life! I wouldn’t trade it! There’s FREEDOM in ditching the culture’s expectations for mothers. If I want to go bargain hunting for Easter dresses with my two bitty kids at a ridiculous time of day, I’m gonna do it. If I want to stay home in pajamas all day the next day and hide from the world, I’ll do that too. It’s whatevs. I’m not ashamed to say I prefer simplicity and the mundane, but I’ll also say it’s an acquired taste. It’s taken years to hone. There is joy in the little things, in the smallness of life. And it’s hard to see sometimes, unless you’re forced to look multiple toddlers and medical needs and chaos and spilled lemonades SQUARE IN THE EYE. You go into survival mode and realize that it’s actually not such a bad spot to be in, because what really, truly matters always manages to slip into focus. And you’re never really alone, because lots of other moms are there too. We’re all in this together.
Eventually, I found the mall’s exit and my car (both were RIGHT BY THE FOOD COURT. Who knew?). My daughters did drift off into a sweet slumber on the drive home and, even though I didn’t have my soda (boo), I soaked up the sunshine and enjoyed twenty minutes of peace and quiet. My husband called me on my cell phone, and I got to laugh and tell him about our day. Which was, you know, just another day in the life when you’re a family. There was good and bad and funny and sad. Then the littles and I spent an hour or so at home, before heading back out to pick up kids from school. Then we got kids from the bus. Then my house transformed into the usual weekday afternoon cacophony of laughter and “I need help with homework!” and kids petting (and shouting at, depending on age and stage) the cat on the deck. There was listening and dancing to the Doc McStuffins CD one of my girls had checked out from the library—she’d thought it was a DVD, and was initially so disappointed to discover her mistake, but has since decided she loves gathering her siblings in the basement and rocking out to the music. My husband had to work late so kids had sandwiches for dinner (PB&J), and a bunch of them played outside long into the evening. Then it was showers, and cozy pjs and the convos they always want to have with me in those precious moments before bedtime, when they are settling in and pondering the day’s events.
Speaking of the day’s events, did I mention I went to the mall? And had a downright horrible time? And made the food court cleaning woman swear?
Well, I did. Sometimes I’m a disaster out in public. I own it. I have to. Because I’m a mother. And small kids are wildly unpredictable and delightfully uncouth. Occasionally they do embarrassing things like marching through the mall screaming, with chow mein on their face and chicken on their back. They do weird stuff when they’re older, too. Trust me. Sometimes even adults spill their prized drinks.
So I laugh, do my best to clean it all up, and I move on. It’s real life, and it’s my life, and I really kind of love it.