“Hi! Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you! I just had to say something to you. I’ve seen you walking, and I want to wish you the best with your baby!”
Pressing one hand into the small of my back and using my other hand to shade my eyes, I stop, squint, and search for the voice. Is that person talking to me?
Even though it’s only 6:30 a.m., the sun in already beating down on me. I feel sweat rolling down the back of my neck, seeping into the regular-sized-person exercise top I pulled snug over my nine-month pregnant belly. I’ve been pounding the pavement for days, weeks, really, begging for this baby to be born. The other two just…came on their own. But this one seems content to hunker down.
So I’ve been walking. And walking. And walking. Long and with purpose. And still no baby.
I pull one earbud out of my ear and see the car creeping along beside me, the window rolled down, and this lady waving to me.
“I’ve loved watching you! Good luck!”
And she rolls away.
What? She’s been watching me? She’s seen me?
I smile, just a little, my mood softening, just a little. I plug my earbud back in and finish my walk. Maybe this walk will be the one that brings on this baby.
Is that the baby? Can I see him? We’ve been watching you and wondering if you’ve had that baby!
Michael just got out the NICU a couple of days ago, and we’re out for one of our first walks. I’m battered and bruised both physically and mentally. I hear phantom beeps of monitors. I only just stopped crying a couple of days ago. But I can’t hide in our house because I also have a toddler and a life and a dog that needs walking.
I guide the BOB over and pull back the Aiden and Anais blanket.
“Oh, he’s so cute!” they say. “And you look great!”
I’ll take whatever I can get, so I thank them, and we start back home.
“Slow down! Slow down, please!”
I know they won’t listen, so I don’t know why I bother saying it. They love to run down this steep hill. All I can see when they do that are skinned knees and tears. And yet….oh well, there they go.
I’m huffing as I push Thomas in the BOB, this fateful single BOB we’ve had since Kate was born. We got it as a gift from my parents. I remember we were so excited because we love to walk our neighborhood, and we decided this was the perfect stroller for our walking lifestyle. Dan got it all put together, and I rolled it around our family room, my big belly between me and the handle bar, dreaming about the baby that would sit inside that stroller.
Little did I know how much she’d scream. Like scream for the entire walk. And the first several years of her life. Oh, well.
Anyway. I’m pushing Thomas with one hand, holding Beatrice on the leash in the other hand. It’s October, so it’s still warm, but not too warm. And I can see that the sun is working towards that autumn light. I’m watching Kate and Michael run on the sidewalk when I feel a car slow down next to me. Oh, no. Another parent lost on their way to baseball practice.
I’m about to explain how to get to Yeonas Park when this lady rolls down the window and before I can say anything she says:
“I’ve been watching you for years. I remember when you were pregnant with that little girl. And you had an older dog, right? And now, wow! Look at you. Three kids. Amazing. You are truly blessed, and it’s been a blessing watching you. Bye!”
I stand there like I’ve been stunned. You’ve been watching me? YOU SEE ME? YOU REALLY SEE ME?!
When I became a mother, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to feed a baby or put a baby to sleep or how to deal with a baby who wouldn’t stop crying. Three kids later, I figured out all those things. I learned to breastfeed while strolling the aisles of Harris Teeter while talking on the phone with my mom. Spontaneous puking doesn’t even make me blink. Poop everywhere is a daily part of my life. I don’t get to go anywhere without at least one child ending up on the ground screaming and crying and generally acting a fool. I employ the football hold on the daily, wrangling a kid in the other arm while the football-carried child kicks and cries and everyone watches me, and I don’t care.
I got used to all that stuff. I, dare I say, even mastered all that stuff.
But what I never, ever got used to and never, ever figured out was how to deal with feeling invisible. Sure, what I did mattered in that it kept children alive. But what about who I was? Did that matter? Did I matter? Who was I anymore, anyway?
I think, on some level, we all want to be seen. I know I do. Life with little kids has made me a hermit. I can’t take Thomas anywhere. The other day I tried to go to Target, and he ran away from me so many times I finally gave up and abandoned our Dollar Spot Valentines cards, RX Bars, and L’Oréal’s newest mascara because I wasn’t going to chase him one more time and watch people’s horrified expressions one more time.
So I’m home. A lot. Sometimes I worry I don’t know how to be a part of the world anymore. That being home and feeling invisible stripped away my personness. I fear I won’t know how to interact with people. I’m scared I’m fading away.
The other day I had to go to Athleta to pick up a top my store ordered for me from another store. I had both boys with me. I braced myself for what I knew they would do. Hide in clothing racks and pop out at shoppers just trying to buy cute printed tights. I knew they would slide around the dressing room floor. I knew I’d need to beg them not to peek their heads under dressing room curtains.
When I got to the store, several Athleta corporate employees happen to be there. I panicked just a little. I wanted to be able to speak intelligently, hold a conversation. And keep an eye on my boys who would undoubtedly be destroying piles of neatly folded tank tops.
I managed to pick up my shirt, make good enough small talk, and as I was leaving (and coaxing Thomas out from under a display), a man shopping with his wife turned to me and said “you’ve really managed a lot here in the past 30 minutes!”
Pulling Thomas out from under the mannequin, I smiled and thanked him.
I feel invisible because I can’t even see myself. The other day I read a comic and the mom in the comic (also a mom of three) remarked that she couldn’t even remember her own name. I totally get that. But just because I feel invisible doesn’t mean it’s true.
People are out there, extending me grace. It’s up to me to see it. And be sure to pass it on to the next person I see. Maybe she feels invisible, too. Well. I see you.