Earlier this week I was having one of those days where life felt frantic from the moment my eyes opened. The kids were cranky, my plans for the day were getting altered right and left, and I had a pile of errands to run and tasks to accomplish. By the time noon rolled around, I found myself loading up a fussy baby and sketchy three-year-old, facing the prospect of not one but TWO grocery store stops. Without yet having had lunch. So let's just say I wasn't in the best frame of mind from the get-go.
Store visit number one was not pleasant. We don't shop there often, so I was completely turned around as we navigated unfamiliar aisles, searching for items that (inexplicably) didn't exist in this particular shopping establishment. (You have strawberry, lemon, and funfetti-flavored gallon buckets of ice cream, but not VANILLA? That is bizarre. And inconvenient.)
Oh, and compounding all of this? The Halloween display towards the front of the store that featured a blow-up pumpkin that slowly opened every thirty seconds or so to reveal...eventually...come on now...yep, almost there...seriously now...a friendly little ghost, "popping" up (I put that in quotes because popping should really constitute quick movement) with some fake bags of candy. Why was this problematic? Because although one repetition of this process is enough for any sane person, the suspense is not lost on a preschooler on the second round. Or third round. Or...well, you get the point. So every time we would come within eyesight of that area of the store, Maya would yell, "Mama!!! I want to see that ghost again! He might pop out with the candy and I want to see him because he's a nice ghost and not a scary one and he has candy and why is it pretend and if it was real could I have some and could I have some candy sometime and why does he pop up like that and does he have friends and why does he live in a pumpkin and who gets to eat the candy and why is it all orange and why does the store smell like cinnamon and sometime can you make a pumpkin that blows up and can I touch the ghost and why is he nice and can I SEE him again because he's REALLY COOL, Mama!"
Or something to that effect.
So by the time we headed back to the van, having viewed the wonders of rudimentary Halloween decor several dozen times more than necessary, we were all a little frazzled. Maya was upset because we were leaving "such a fun place and I want to come here again sometime PLEASE...(repeat)..." and Noah was crying because I wouldn't let him eat my cell phone. And I was feeling a bit like George Costanza's dad in the Seinfeld episode with the self-help tape. ("SERENITY NOW!")
Arriving at store number two, I had one thing in mind. Get in and get the heck out. Well the thing is, though, that this store has car carts. Not the kind with the video screen, because I do not do those. And that's a rant for another post. These are just the kind where your child can sit up front, spin a little wheel, and yell things back to you that you can't possibly hear because you're about two cart lengths behind, with a thick layer of red plastic blocking all sound travel. It's actually not a bad situation... Anyway, Maya likes to clean her vehicle before driving. So as I'm strapping Noah into the front of the cart, she grabs a sani-wipe from the nearby dispenser and begins her car wash. (Focusing, mind you, on the TOP of the car. Not any part that her hands will actually be touching.)
But here, finally, was where it happened. Noah was babbling excitedly at the prospect of gnawing on the seat strap, Maya was singing a little song as she cleaned an obscure section of her car, and I was silently counting the minutes until naptime. And that's when a woman, in probably her mid-fifties, enters the store. And as she passed by, she slowed down for just a moment, took in the scene, gave me a wistful half-smile, and simply said, "I miss those sounds."
Now, I frequently have people stop when we're out in public to coo at my kids, talk to them, or tell me they're adorable. I've had more people than I can count tell me things like, "Oh, hold on to every minute...they grow up too fast." And while I know it's true, and know I should be taking that advice more to heart some days, I hear those things so often that I tend to forget them mere minutes later. But this woman's statement stopped me in my tracks. Both literally, as I paused mid-buckle to stare at her back as she walked briskly past us through the entry doors, and emotionally, as there was something about the look in her eyes when they met mine that spoke volumes about the reality of her words. I imagine that her children are grown, or nearly so. That those simple times of car seats and cart straps, urgent mid-store potty breaks, baby babbles and silly songs, are now just precious memories. I miss those sounds. She meant it.
So as I looked down at my sweet boy, now happily grinning a three-toothed smile at me, and over at my daughter, now working at disinfecting the car's wheels, I suddenly felt a welcome rush of contentment. A small part of that, in all honestly, was likely the knowledge that a Starbucks kiosk awaited me just inside those automatic doors. But mostly, it came from the much-needed dose of perspective that God had just gently placed before me. There will come a day very soon when I will walk, without thinking, towards those bright red and yellow carts, only to realize that my child has neither the desire to use one nor the ability to even fit inside. There will come a day when the only things I need the front section for are my purse and a latte. There will come a day when the sounds around me are quieter, calmer, more predictable. And while those days will bring new blessings and joyous seasons, I know I will likely notice the young mother, looking slightly rattled as she maneuvers her noisy children through the store, and I will both smile and ache at the same time. And I will miss those sounds.