Once upon a time, there was a young woman who had dreamed of motherhood since she was a 12 year old-constantly-booked-$2 hr-babysitter. She nannied 3 boys all through college, one with special needs, as she earned her teaching degree…so she could be the best mom ever. We’ll just call her, Shelisa, because that’s such a common name.
Shelisa welcomed her first baby on Valentine’s Day, which was fitting, because in her dreams her babies were always Cupid-ish acting, but less creepy. In reality, this baby screamed like a pterodactyl with a microphone. Even the grumpy nurse, Mrs. Gruffburger, said “I sure wouldn’t want to take this one home” as the writhing pterodactyl flailed and screamed with rage. And, no, Shelisa didn’t punch the nurse. She was holding a baby and the drugs kept her peaceful as a lark…a slightly heartbroken, confused, really tired lark.
This story isn’t about the lack of sleep and excess of crying that lasted for months…well, years, really. It’s not about how much Shelisa cried because she couldn’t soothe her baby. It’s not about how insanely hard she tried to breastfeed…the lactation consultant, herbs, prescriptions, gadgets…but she didn’t make it past a month. It’s not about how humbled she felt and sometimes embarrassed that she had a “bad baby”….PS–never ask a parent “is she a good baby?” You might make a tired mama cry. Shelisa had read many parenting books, but apparently her baby hadn’t. Shelisa did her best to ignore the hoards of stinky eyed people at Target who would stare at her and her red faced, mad baby on those trips of desperation.
This story is about the Fazoli lady. After not leaving the house (except to see the lactation consultant, ob, and pediatrician) for 6 weeks straight, Shelisa and her husband decided to try to go out to eat. They strategized for at least 3 days…timing, location, and contingency plans. Of all the possible restaurants, they settled on Fazoli’s because it was a pay ahead, but sort of sit-down nicer than fast food Italian place close to the house. And, breadsticks always help stress.
They ordered. Baby was fine. Whew. They sat down.
“Look at us”, they said.
“We’re like REAL people with a baby!”
Baby started squirming in her carrier. Shelisa gave her the preemptive binky. Food comes. They devour the first breadstick and look at each other through bloodshot, exhausted, confused, disappointed eyes…but kept the conversation positive trying to ignore the fact that the baby was amping up.
“Hey, this isn’t so bad, look she’s doing ok. Well, sort of”. Shelisa starts to jiggle the carrier as the Fazoli Lady delivers the food with a smile.
“Oops. Spoke too soon”. Baby starts to cry and even though they sat as far away from everyone as possible, people turn their heads to look, a record scratches, and a Broadway spotlight shines on their booth.
“I’ll just hold her.” Crying gets louder. Insert two tired fake smiles. Crying gets louder. A cloud of defeat looms overhead. Crying. Gets. Louder.
Shelisa, standing by the booth now, swaying the baby says to her husband, “You eat, hon, and I’ll walk her outside.” Disappointment. Humbled. Tired. Mad baby. Sad mama heads to the parking lot so everyone but her can eat in peace. Shelisa just wanted one warm meal out with her husband. A much needed date. She walked and thought and failed to sooth her baby. Again. She said a mediocre prayer with a bitter voice in her head. Please stop crying. Maybe 10 minutes (felt like longer) they swap the baby so Shelisa can go in to eat by herself.
“I’ll just bring mine home,” Shelisa says.
“No, it’s ok, we’re fine. Just go eat.”
Shelisa held back tears as she walked back to the table, her shoulders slumping and an echo of the crying baby in her head. She defeatedly plopped into the cold booth in front of her cold pasta that didn’t look exciting anymore. Big sigh. Then, with a comforting smile on her face, The Fazoili Lady appeared with a brand new plate of hot piping alfredo with hot breadsticks and took away Shelisa’s barely touched cold plate.
“Honey, I’ve been there. You sit and enjoy a hot meal,” as she swooped off seemingly knowing if she stayed longer than the tired mom’s “thank you” there would be tears. The mix of kindness and exhaustion pushed those fat, slow, hot tears out anyway. It was an unforgettable meal. Cheap alfredo and salty tears never tasted so good. It was a life pause button. The kindness of a stranger. The alfredo angel. “I’ve been there”. Those words echoed in Shelisa’s head for months…well, actually years, through 3 babies in 31 months and the chaos that followed as they lived their imperfectly perfect happily ever after. “I’ve been there” didn’t take away the challenges, but it was all it took to not feel so alone…and that was life-changing.
I’ve been a mom now for 10 years. A decade of mistakes, confusion, guessing, tears, questions, good intentions, frightening situations, and exhaustion. But also, a decade of gut laughter, game nights, dancing in the kitchen, jammy days, and many blessings. A decade of the Fazoli Lady cheering me on. I don’t even know her name or what she looked like, but those words ,“I’ve been there” from a stranger were an amazing gift to me. I make it a point to tell the Target pterodactyl moms, “I’ve been there”. And, I share the cute stories, but I also pull my little mama friends and family aside and say “you may feel disappointed, angry, confused, embarrassed, and like a big, hot mess….a messy, beautiful, mess. I’ve been there.”
I’m not sure where you are in your parenthood journey or what personal obstacles you have to battle daily with your baby or babies or children. There’s highs and lows and middles. It may not even be parenting. Maybe its something else. No matter what, you are not alone. My hope is that you will always have a Fazoli lady in your life somewhere, somehow. Someone to do something kind to you and give you simple, encouraging words. And, most importantly, let’s do that for each other. Be the Fazoli lady.
And, it turns out, pterodactyl babies turn into the best kids ever, Mrs. Gruffburger.
This essay and I are part of Glennon Melton’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project on Momastery.com— To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!
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