I’m Sorry for Staring

I’m sorry for staring at you in the grocery store this afternoon.

I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable while you were scanning your cereal and diapers and orange juice at the self-checkout.

You were just so beautiful, with your impossibly long legs and flat stomach, and clothes without stains. I just wanted to be you: effortless, beautiful, perfect.

I’m sorry for staring at you at soccer practice this morning.

I wasn’t judging you for being late or barking at your kids as they tumbled out of the minivan still getting dressed. I noticed your husband, and your wedding ring, were missing. I just wanted to help you, but I didn’t  know how without offending you, while my perfect husband stood near by. I was just in awe of your strength and how you picked up the slack when your supposed partner in the world’s hardest and most worthy endeavor didn’t show up at soccer, or in your marriage, or in your kids’ lives.

I’m sorry for staring at you at the urgent care last week.

I wasn’t worried that your kid’s runny nose or barking cough was contagious. Okay, I was a little. But mostly I could tell you’d been up all night, waiting, worrying, pacing, comforting, beating yourself up for not leaving work early to take her to the pediatrician during office hours yesterday. I just wanted to tell you “it’s okay, you’re doing your best, and that’s good enough for her.”

I’m sorry for staring at you in Babies ‘R’ Us yesterday.

I didn’t mean to be one of those people a heartbeat away from inappropriately touching a stranger’s pregnant belly, sharing my 20 hours plus a c-section birth story, or spewing unsolicited advice about diapers, homemade baby food, and God knows what else.

You were just me 6 years ago. I could see the joy, the discomfort, and even a little bit of trepidation on your face all at once. And I remembered when it was me wandering those hallowed miles of aisles of baby gear, armed with Consumer Reports printouts in one hand, and the parenting guide du jour in the other. I wanted to tell you that peepee teepees just fall off and you still get sprayed in the face by baby pee, but that you absolutely need the little newborn mittens so your infant doesn’t look like he got in a fight with the cat. I wanted to say save your money on the wipe warmer, but spring for the organic crib mattress. But most of all I wanted to tell you ‘you got this. Trust your instincts, love your child, and enjoy this time. Before you know it, you’ll be a seasoned vet staring at a younger, pregnant version of you, remembering how exciting and scary and wonderful it all was.’

I’m sorry for staring at you at the park on Tuesday.

I didn’t mean to look like one of those baby-snatching people from a Lifetime movie of the week. Don’t worry, I have 3 of my own and couldn’t possibly handle yours too. I just missed the days of being able to lavish all of my attention on one person (thankfully my husband understood). I remember how tough it all seemed then, how I didn’t know what I was doing, but I took on this new role more seriously than a White House security detail. I just wanted to say ‘relax, you’re doing great.’ I even wanted to say ‘enjoy this time. It goes by all too fast’ but I know how annoyed I get when well-meaning moms say that to me, no matter how right I know they are.

I’m sorry I stared at you in the OB/gyn last month.

I didn’t mean to hurt you when I involuntarily clutched my hugely pregnant belly when I saw the tears spill down your face and onto the crumpled ultrasound photo in your lap.

I just wanted to put my arms around you and let your tears soak my shirt. I wanted to tell you ‘I know this hurts. I’ve been there. And I know you want to know why.’ And also ‘this too shall pass.’

I’m sorry for staring at you in the coffee shop this afternoon.

I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable or old while you were having coffee with your grown daughter. I didn’t mean to distract you from what looked like a long overdue catching up.

I was just admiring the wisdom and confidence in each delicate line of your face, how comfortable you were in your own skin and your cotton cardigan. How you smiled at me even when my 20-yard stare turned disruptive. I just wondered what your life was like and what stories you must have to tell. I hoped your daughter, despite thinking she was grown and knew it all, knew what a gift she had sitting across from her, what painful lessons she might be spared if she listened closely enough to your words. I hoped she appreciated the simplicity and truth and love in your wisdom. And I hoped she’ll realize in time to thank you for it before it’s too late.

I’m sorry for staring at you in the living room this morning.

I didn’t mean to make you think I’d caught you cutting the cat’s fur, or discovering the Halloween candy stash. Okay, the Easter candy stash.

I was just thinking I can’t believe how sweet you are to your brother, or that anyone could have eyes as beautiful as yours. Or that you were once small enough to fit inside my belly. I was just admiring how you have your father’s generous heart, and my stubborn tenacity, at the same time. I was just thinking how proud I am of you, and how excited and terrified I am to watch your life every day. I was just daydreaming about the incredible human being you are, and are yet to become, and all the hopes and dreams I have for you. I was just thinking how lucky I am to know you, let alone claim to be your mother.

I’m sorry for staring, but I just need to take in the gift of your presence, and the message God is sending me by placing you in my life in this moment.