The Big Picture by Tracey GreenOn this day, I am a busy mother of three. Some say I look too young to have a one-year-old balanced on my lap, bustling and squirming about. But I am not. I am thirty-two.
My arms would be free to eat my dinner the waitress has set before me if my baby boy would be happy to sit in the restaurant's sticky high chair. But he wants to sit with Mommy.
Across the table, my four year old colours with her crayons. Drawing, scribbling, running out of space on the back of her children's menu. She eyes a fresh square of white on her three-year-old brother's page and stabs her crayon at it, smearing it with navy blue. He shrieks. Daddy is reaching, grabbing, managing the scene. He sits in front of a cold hamburger that was served piping hot and juicy moments ago.
The baby reaches for my fork. I say thank you as I try to pull it from his hands. He squeezes hard but his grip loses the battle and I place 'forkie' far from his view.
I have spilled my drink in my efforts to save his life from the fork. My husband grabs napkins and throws them on the spill while still helping our other son squeeze too much ketchup onto his plate.
I look across the table at my mate. My date for the evening. It is chaos. We once had conversations that could finish; when words were not assassinated with buck-shots of screeches, screams and mini emergencies. I am tired. I miss him. And I need a break.
I want the opportunity to blow-dry my hair and look somewhat fashionable. I want to wear a shirt that doesn't have goop on it. I want to dine in a place that doesn't have plastic cups with cartoon animals on them. I want to order something that looks like art; so beautiful that I would stare and appreciate the fresh mountain of garnishes that cascade down into my plate like a beautiful fountain, just for me.
And the entree would be hot when I put it in my mouth.
My senses bring my thoughts back to the table. A waft of something non-food related travels up my nose. It's my bouncing baby boy, jumping up and down on my lap while my hands hold tight under his chubby little arms. His diaper's fresh deposit breaks my day-dream of a fancy meal.
My face must say a thousand, unspoken words. Words that all Moms know but seldom share.
An older woman comes over to our table. She carries in her hand three lollipops that came with her bill; their bright colours showing through the cellophane wrappers.
"I thought your kids may enjoy these since we won't eat them," she says, handing them over to me, but my hands are full and I can't take them from her.
She places them on the table. She smiles at the scene before her in a way that tells me she gets it. Every part of it.
"You know, they're not ours for keeps. They're only on loan to us for a little while," she says.
I look up at her. She's got my full attention. I stare at her, not quite understanding her point.
"We think children belong to us, but they don't. We only get to borrow them for a short time. I lost mine at forty-seven. Enjoy the time you have. Enjoy all of it."
I don't know if she means she was forty-seven when she lost her child or if her child was forty-seven when they left this world. But as every parent knows, it doesn't make a difference to her story. They're forever our babies, no matter the age.
I remain speechless as she walks away, the lollipops left behind. I hug my baby tightly into my chest and tears brim as I take in my family and the craziness that eminates from our little booth. My diminished attitude has transformed to gratitude. The small things give way to the bigger picture that I lost in the moment.
I whisper thank you to the space above me.
Today, I am forty. Life is busy in lots of different ways from then. And in some ways, the craziness seems the same. Yet I have never forgotten that mother's words from our fleeting encounter: My children aren't mine. I am just entrusted with this gift to care and love them.
When things get chaotic and parental frustrations seem insurmountable (we're coming into the hormonal years now), I remember that day in the restaurant when a stranger came in and out of my life for only a minute and calmed my world.
I keep with me the realization of how boring 'manageable' would be and that a tough time is still time together.