An essay inspired by an unlikely alleyway conversation:
We'd seen him so many times before. He was a tall man, always in sunglasses and a beanie with a little swoop of white hair peeking out from underneath — like a man who never wanted to grow up. He drove a black van with the word "SUPER" written on the side. For years, he would show up at neighborhood parties, yet I never knew his name. To me, he was just an old guy who never wanted to grow up. I did wonder from time to time who he was, and what his life was like. What did he do for a living? Why did his van say "SUPER" on the side? But we never did get around to figuring that out.
And then we recently attended a party. Yes, a party. Our first party in over a year, and a first with two kids. We found ourselves in a sea of high schoolers, their parents, and a few even older — we were the only 30-somethings in the whole room. We spent the night wrangling our two-year-old and balancing our two-month-old as we tried to have adult conversations and appear normal. The evening was marked by the holding of half-eaten snacks, and the constant swatting of little sneaker feet off the couch. There was the exchange of glances between two tired parents who embarked on an ambitious night — trying to guess what the other was thinking. There was the deciphering of toddler speak for well-meaning adults who were leaning close to listen, and the frantic grabbing of burp clothes to prevent a regurgitated mess.
Once the early signs of toddler meltdown began to set in, we knew with certainty that it was our cue to leave. We said our thank yous and goodbyes, and took one step out the door towards our car. We both shared a simultaneous sigh of relief — somewhat congratulating each other that we had made it out in public, but both so happy it was now over. We could retreat back to our cocoon — covered in sweat, spit-up, and whatever was on our toddler's hands.
"Was it worth it?" I thought to myself. The hours of preparation and working out of logistics — all for two hours of toddler madness, a half a glass of white wine and a deviled egg. It was a pretty darn good deviled egg.
No sooner had we rounded the dark corner to get to the street were we met by the outline of a dark figure, seemingly just showing up to the party. Sure enough, it was the tall man with sunglasses and a beanie — the forever teenager we had seen so many times before. He'd caught us in an ungraceful moment; juggling our bags and our babies. I thought we'd just exchange a quick pleasantry, as I apologized for taking up so much space and getting in his way — but just as we had passed one another we heard something that made us jump. It was his voice. He was speaking to us — directly to us for the first time. I whipped my head around, ready to apologize again for something but wasn't quite sure what.
Gah, you're in it right now, man," he said. "You're in it. It's crazy right now and will be for awhile. It's so hard. But you'll look back and it will be the best time. Trust me."
He then proceeded to spend a few minutes telling us about his kids, now grown and living in other states. He doesn't get to see them much these days, and they no longer need him the way they used to. It brought a tear to his eye talking to us. And while I never want to assume, since I had never seen him with a partner I did assume that they were no longer together or perhaps she had passed away. He chose us in that moment to offer a glimpse into his personal life — the things that make him tick, and the vulnerability of it all. There was a sadness to his words that I couldn't quite grab onto around as our conversation was so short. No sooner had the conversation began did it end, and he vanished around the corner presumably to grab a beer and enjoy the festivities.
Although I felt clarity after this encounter, in the moment his words hung heavily in the air around me. They rested on my head and my shoulders, and wrapped around to my heart, my lungs and all the way to the ground. They took hold of me in a way I hadn't anticipated. I felt it immediately as I looked down at my full hands, and realized they were also signifying a full heart. For a fleeting moment in time, my annoyance and exasperation were gone.
"Yes, it was worth it," I concluded to myself, as we tucked our two little dudes in the car and headed home. I looked at my husband in the driver's seat, his tired face lit up by the rear lights of the car in front of us, and felt a wave of gratitude rush over me.
That night, I felt present. I slowed down, took stock of everything happening around us, and vowed to try my best to do the same for all the days here on out. I soaked in all the little things that had passed me by each day. Our lives are moving a million miles a minute most days, and our minds are already thinking about our next tasks. Yet it is this kind stranger's words that have stuck with me, and remind me to let even the of smallest moments place an imprint on my mind to last forever.
For me, it is the endless piles of little boy laundry that are always knocked down at least once before putting them away. It's the little hand that gives me a dino car, and wants me to play. It's the ever-so-slight head tilt of a toddler that is figuring life out, one day at a time. It's the way he say's "mama", "dada", and his brother's name. It's the gobbling up of strawberries, yet not touching the blueberries.
It's also the good morning stretches of a well-swaddled baby ready to start the day. It's the look of mommy recognition, and the subsequent explosion into a gummy smile. It's the satisfaction of the PJs that zip from the bottom instead of the top. It's the sweet eye flutter of a milk-drunk baby at the tail end of a nursing session. And it's the sweet smell of lavender mixed with newborn scent as we cuddle up before bed.
The moments that feel like the most mundane are often filled with a most inexplicable charm. We're in it. And it's hard. But we'll look back, and it will be the best time. Trust me.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series "Minutiae"
Hi! I'm Laura, a 30-something first-time mom raising her little dude in southern California. It's been quite a first year, and this is my way to try to make sense of it all. This is a safe space for all moms to get some laughs, recommendations and feel like they are not alone.