“A woman in Walmart made me cry over a comment she made about my toddler.
It was an ordinary day, or as ordinary as we have these days. I needed highlighters, because I was trying to get my chaotic life in order. We slowly and hectically made our way to the new-to-us Walmart. It was a stressful ordeal because I hadn’t driven in that area yet, and driving in new places puts my anxiety at a very high level. Another thing that puts my anxiety up there? The Frozen 2 soundtrack blaring loud enough to appease the little diva in the backseat. She will loudly sing along, always to her favorite songs: ‘Into the Unknown’ and ‘When I’m Older.’
We walked into the store and she continued to be her loud toddler self. Not mean or hateful, just loud. Ironically, everywhere we turned in the store, there was a new form of Frozen merchandise. We saw Frozen snacks, Frozen ‘make-up,’ Frozen books, Frozen shirts, and more — all within maybe three steps of each other. #thanksDisney
We made our way through the sea of Frozen merchandise, and my girl continued shouting exciting cheers of, ‘Olaffff, Anna, Sen, el-SA, Let it Goooooooooo! Let it Goooooo!’ I finally got to my aisle and sunk into the sea of options. Name brand highlighters, off-brand highlighters, multi-color highlighters, all yellow highlighters. It was very important work. Yes, I was literally just deciding between packs of highlighters.
Sadly, so many people were coming up and down the same aisle. Like I said, it was the end of the year and the highlighters were stocked with the 2020 planners. So naturally, everyone else in the state was also cramming their buggies into this aisle too. It was not the leisurely stroll into Walmart I had envisioned.
I’m a millennial mom on social media so even though I don’t want to know these things, I know, by memory, every single Walmart horror story of the almost abductions, shootings, failed kidnappings, and even just the (much welcomed) story of a questionable political t-shirt spotted on someone at checkout. Like most mamas, I go into a new Walmart with the same mix of panic and awareness that I would enter a country at a Level 4 travel advisory. I was still just looking at highlighters, but I could see a woman glance over at my daughter and I a few times.
I should probably mention that the whole two minutes we had been on this crowded aisle, my toddler had used her superhuman vision and managed to find a Frozen set of pens, Frozen planner, Frozen notebooks, Frozen binder, and probably even some Frozen paper clips. She had also been shouting the characters names and songs, and I’d been faking enthusiasm and repeating the same bit of, ‘Yeah ha-ha. Yeah ha-ha,’ as I continue to focus on the all-important highlighters.
As my daughter turned her shouts even louder upon finding a Frozen coloring book, I practically rolled my eyes and made eye contact with the lady that had been casually glancing at us. ‘Crap!’ my enneagram 9 brain screamed, knowing that making eye-contact with any other, more bold type is basically like asking them to be friends or welcoming their comments about your life. She turned away from the section she was looking at and made her way a bit closer to me and said, ‘She’s very vocal…’
At this point, I was still so on guard, full of ‘Walmart-anxiety,’ overwhelmed by my daughter and the 97,2397 other strangers packed with us on this stupid aisle that I couldn’t tell if her comment was meant as good or the start of a drive-by mom-shaming on aisle five.
‘Yes,’ I laughed out, ‘Overwhelmingly so.’ I truly think this was just me acknowledging the crazy and offering her the chance to just say whatever she wanted to say. ‘Lady, you can try to make me feel bad, but this toddler can be a way bigger you-know-what than anyone else I’ve met so far,’ I thought to myself as I prepared myself for the worst.
‘My grandson is a bit older and non-verbal. So, I just love hearing it.’
‘Oh…’ I didn’t know what to say in the brief pause she took, so I was left doing that thing where you just cock your head, make your eye/eyebrows sad, and nod empathetically so you aren’t tempted to cut someone off just to fill the silence. I always fill the silence with the wrong thing and beat myself up years later, in true enneagram 9 fashion. In that pause, I could see that she was acknowledging that she just told a stranger a big, heavy thing and felt the need to add a silver living. She continued, ‘They are starting sign language with him though so that’s exciting!’
I’ll tell you, I was trying SO hard to be very kind and make sure I didn’t make it awkward, I really can’t remember what I said. It was probably still awkward, clunky and wasn’t kind enough to match the level of vulnerability this beautiful stranger shared with me. But I hope she felt heard and encouraged after talking with me.
After she walked away, I was very busy in my own mind, replaying the dismissive dialogue I had with my daughter on the aisles before. The shame of the previous 10 minutes I spent practically begging her to ‘be quieter please, just this once,’ began to crash down all over me.
Shame started to do its thing and whisper, ‘That stranger was more joyful over the sounds of your own child, and you couldn’t even appreciate her. In fact, you told her to STOP. HA! You don’t deserve this precious girl that can tell you, ‘I love you’ every day.’
I’m lucky as all that I had just begun to read more Brené Brown books and learn all about how shame tries to use our vulnerable moments to trap us in an ‘I’m just bad’ shame cycle. Instead of listening, agreeing, and joining in with the shame, I was adamant, compassionate, and reassuring to myself. ‘You are not a bad mom for wanting peace (or a muted version of toddler speak) for just a brief moment.’
We grabbed the dang highlighters, and left that cursed store. I think I prefer Target for a reason.
I strapped her into car seat, kissed her an extra time, slung the highlighters into the depths of hell (the trunk) in dramatic fashion, sat down in the driver’s seat, and turned on the car. In an almost comedic fashion, the Bluetooth connected to the stereo and resumed our Frozen ‘concert’. My daughter began singing along, ‘Into the unKNOWN,’ and quick tears of gratitude fell down my face before I joined in with her.
This stranger in foreign Walmart made me cry, and I’m thankful. This woman didn’t want me to feel bad. She didn’t know how frustrated I was on this day in a new place. She hadn’t heard me begging and pleading with a toddler on all the empty aisles before to ‘Be quieter pleasssssssse.’ She just felt led to share a bit of her story vulnerably with a stranger.
Remember how I was basically prepping myself to be mom-shamed by her? Well, even if she wasn’t directly saying the words, I still could’ve let her comments ‘shame me.’ I’d just be the one delivering the punches. Instead, I chose self-compassion, and it made me recognize and practice a bit of unexpected gratitude I was lacking that day.
As moms, we can be so hard on ourselves. We have a bad day, yell at the kids, don’t make the most of our day, feel bad, and then see a friend suffer a tremendous loss of child and don’t know what to feel.
In our unsureness, shame has the opportunity to creep in and say, ‘Look at the person losing EVERYTHING, and you didn’t even take the kids out of the house today. You’re not worthy of what you have.’ We have to realize these tugs can be wake up calls to appreciate what we have, but they aren’t a measure of if we are more or less worthy of love, joy and a happy life. We are already enough.
When we are kind to ourselves in vulnerable moments, we grow our capacity to be kind to others.
I’m thankful a stranger saw me and trusted me with her story, and I’m also thankful when my daughter goes through the stores a bit quieter. Both are okay things to be thankful for in this crazy, beautiful world. Be kind to yourself, mama!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Abernathy. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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