They were so little. The youngest just a toddler. It was the last day of our homeschool co-op, and I promised the girls that if they were ready early enough, I would take them to the coffee shop beforehand for a special treat.
They were so little. Yet they got neatly dressed in record time, the youngest with help, and we drove up the highway to the coffee shop. Chatting and giggling, they held hands as we walked across the parking lot and waited patiently in line.
But they were so little. It happened while I was paying for my order. Two of the kids started fighting loudly over the cookie dough cake pop and the third started wailing because I put her treat in the bag instead of handing it to her. It was a cake pop war and then some. The line-up behind us was long, and I was incredibly embarrassed. Everyone was staring. I knew it because I could feel their eyes boring into me.
The mom with the three little girls. The frazzled mom with the three upset girls.
Cheeks red and head down, I quickly herded them over to the counter with the milk so I could grab a lid for my coffee and get the heck out of there. As I reached the counter, a man approached me with a smile.
“I really miss those days.” There wasn’t even a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“Are you serious?” I asked as I poured the milk into my coffee and wished that I had ordered a larger size. Or two.
“Yes,” he replied, still smiling kindly. “My youngest daughter just left for university and I’m feeling a little down. I would really love to go back to those days. Tears and all.”
It was more than just a passing comment. It was a stranger making himself vulnerable to a struggling young mother. Tears and all. This man had been in my position once. He understood.
My eyes welled up as I left the coffee shop, both because I needed the reminder that the years are short and because it touched my heart that a complete stranger had reached out to me in the middle of his own difficult day.
I’ll never forget that morning and the man who reminded me that my children were just little.
That some day, I would miss them being that little.
I vowed to extend the same kindness next time I saw a young mom struggling with her kids. Goodness knows, parenting is hard enough as it is. Training up a child? It’s not an easy task. The least we can do is let people know that they’re not alone.
So to the stranger in the coffee shop that morning, thank you. Time has passed and my kids are a bigger now but I’ll always remember your kindness.
And to all the moms out there, meltdowns are going to happen. When they do, please remember: You’re not a failure.
Your children are learning. They’re little.
And you’re not alone.