But Walmart was on my way home. And we were down to our last roll of toilet paper. And I didn’t want to pack the kids up again after lunch, zip the winter coats, buckle the cars seats and endure another round of toddler tunes just to go back into town for a pack of Charmin.
So, I veered into the busy parking lot, sloshed through the ankle-deep winter slush, and plopped two wet-footed, over-tired and hungry preschoolers into a shopping cart for a quick run-through.
We might have made it, too, if it weren’t for the fact that only one out of the twelve cash registers was open when we arrived at the check-out lanes. I took my place in the snaking line and pulled two lollipops from my purse for my impatient children.
Unfortunately, the gentlemen at the front of the line felt like arguing over the price of the snow shovel that wasn’t ringing up on sale. And the elderly woman behind him couldn’t find her checkbook in that huge polka-dot purse she was carrying. And the blue-vested cashier happened to be in training.
I glanced anxiously at the clock, knowing that my kids were a ticking time bomb. And I looked longingly at the closed express lane beside me.
Because every mom knows that a lollipop only lasts so long.
Sure enough, by the time I reached the cash register, my two-year-old’s Dum-Dum was down to a nub. And so was her goodwill.
So, when her big brother stepped on her toe while trying to climb out of the cart to help the cashier bag the toilet paper, my toddler unraveled into all-out fury.
With a screech that could have alerted someone on Mars, she declared war on her four-year-old nemesis and unashamedly bit his arm.
My tender-hearted boy recoiled in shock and then sank onto the dirty floor, adding his own anguished cries to the melt-down medley.
In the meantime, the poor cashier was fighting her own battle with the tetchy credit-card machine that refused to work. She broke a sweat swiping my card a thousand times in a red-faced frenzy as if sheer willpower could complete the stalled-out transaction.I had only one dollar in my wallet, but I wanted desperately to rescue us both, the flushed mom and the scarlet-cheeked trainee.
So, I began digging for spare change in the trenches of the diaper bag and praying that somewhere beneath all those diapers and dried-out wipes was a forgotten wad of cash. If the currency for toilet paper had been smashed goldfish crackers and rock-hard fruit snacks, I could have paid my bill and someone else’s.
Unfortunately, the green stuff was more elusive.
While I dug for money, my disgruntled daughter tried to climb out of the shopping cart and managed to bonk her noggin on the edge of the metal shelf holding the candy display. A bright red bump promptly swelled up on her forehead and a fresh round of wails ensued.
Since there wasn’t already enough noise rocking the check-out line, the frazzled cashier hopped onto that static-spitting microphone and broadcast across the store-wide speaker system her need for a manager’s assistance . Although I knew the poor girl simply required help with the credit card machine, her voice sounded more like a desperate plea for a valiant rescue in check-out lane nine.
By the time the manager arrived, I’d found two dollars and forty-four cents in the diaper bag, and I’d seriously considered dropping to my knees and begging for permission to buy just one roll of toilet paper so I could leave the store and end everyone’s misery (Including mine).
At some point in the middle of this very public fiasco, I noticed the woman behind me was staring at me with furrowed eyebrows. She cast my flailing children a look of sheer annoyance and scooted her cart even closer to mine as if diminishing my space bubble might somehow bully me into moving more quickly through the check-out line.
I begged the Lord to make me invisible, to miraculously mute my children, or to part the clouds and whisk us all to Glory right then and there.
Though none of my pleas were answered, the manager did finally coerce the credit card machine to work with the help of a few choice words. The new employee cast him a grateful smile and finally expelled her breath in a long drawn-out sigh. I hurried to autograph the receipt without losing my grip on the indignant toddler thrashing on my hip, and I gently toed the preschooler at my feet to let him know it was time to leave.
Unfortunately, Joshua had gone limp from all his crying and had succumbed to a quiet solo of hiccuping sobs. With the toilet paper in one arm and my two-year-old in the other, I had no hands with which to carry my forlorn son. So, I set down the Charmin and squatted low to whisper in his ear.
Ok, Joshua, we can go home for lunch now. I bet your tummy’s hungry.
I patted his head like one might pet a friendly puppy, and I used my cheeriest mommy voice in hopes of luring my little boy out the door with the gushy power of kindness.
My four-year-old didn’t move a muscle.
Joshua, please stand up now so we can go. I kneed his arm to encouraged him to stand, my voice still wrapped in artificial calm and kindness.
Buddy, let’s go home and find your blankie and a cookie.
Joshua David. I’m leaving. NOW.
I took two steps toward the door.
I took two steps back and bent down once more.
If you do not stand up right now, I’m putting your toy tractors in time out, I growled as I gave his arm an I-mean-business squeeze and pulled him off the floor with a jerk.
Joshua wobbled and wrapped his hands around my knee, then I began to shuffle toward the exit like a prisoner dragging a ball and chain.
“Are you Alicia Bruxvoort?”
Somehow, I heard the question above my children’s protests.
I looked over my shoulder to see the irritated woman who had been standing behind me in lane number nine.
She scanned me from head to shoulders, her eyes alight with a spark of recognition.
My stomach lurched.
For a fleeting moment I considered lying and claiming I’d never heard the name before.
Instead, I nodded wearily.
“Like the Alicia Bruxvoort who writes a blog?”
I felt heat rising from my neck to my face.
I swallowed hard and muttered a feeble, “yes.”
Joshua wiped his dripping nose on my pant leg and the young woman stared at us incredulously, a shadow of disbelief (or was it disgust?) crossing her face.
I had no idea how to respond to such honesty, so I mumbled a lame apology and staggered to the parking lot.
And with every sloshing step, I wondered why I’d ever deemed toilet paper a household necessity.
I wrestled for weeks over that humiliating encounter.
I wondered if I should stop writing. Or maybe just stop shopping. Or simply quit using toilet paper.
But in the end, I realized that my knee-jerk solutions would solve very little. Besides, I agree with the honest woman in Walmart.
I like me better on my blog, too.
It’s not because I’m a different person on these pages. I don’t hide behind pixels and pithy posts. From the very beginning, I’ve committed to being the real me right here at The Overflow, to sharing all of life, not just the best of life. That’s why I write about my child dive-bombing onto frozen peas at the grocery store and about my crying into the mashed potatoes on a fancy dinner date, about those days when I’m tired of being that mom and those nights when I wonder if I’m messing up all these kids I’ve been given.
But the truth about sharing life on a blog is this–
You can read my tales from the comfort of your own couch.
And I can re-tell my fiascos with carefully chosen words or tightly tempered tone. I can choose when and how to describe my raw and hurting places, and you can choose whether or not you feel like leaning in to listen or leaving before you reach the final sentence.
Women of Faith speaker Nicole Johnson says that writing our stories is like “tasting life twice.”
And maybe life is just easier to swallow the second time around.
It tastes better when it’s seasoned with hindsight and peppered with perspective, when it’s flavored with humor and enriched with humility.
But real life is unedited and raw.
Real life– the grocery-getting, tantrum-taming, tongue-slipping, prayer-pitching life that unfolds in our moments and minutes–can get stuck in our throats and leave knots in our stomachs.
Real life is full of typos and if-only-I-would-have’s.
Real life doesn’t always come ready to post or pretty enough to pin.
Real life is a story of stumbling and standing, shrinking and growing, believing and becoming.
Real life isn’t a collection of flawless lines or perfect plots.
Real life is a tattered tale of redemption’s glory.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe the best thing we can do for one another is to simply remember that…
To remember that real life is smelly and sweaty and unpredictable.
Real life is fabulous and flawed; miraculous and messy.
And, maybe being real doesn’t mean that we have to delight in everybody’s faulty lines. Maybe being real just means that we choose to applaud the courage it takes to keep on living the story. Hour after hour. Day after day.
Maybe being real is an invitation to embrace unedited, imperfect life together.
Those were the thoughts that were spinning through my mind today as I stood in the check-out lane of my favorite grocery store in Holland, Michigan.
Ahead of me, a weary mama was trying to juggle a pack of toilet paper, a gallon of milk, and a wailing two-year-old.
And when that unhappy little shopper in the sweet pink tutu dove right out of her mama’s arms and landed bottom-side-up at the grocery-bagger’s feet, I wished that I could erase all the staring eyes and the wrinkled brows that stood behind us. I wished I could wrap my arms around that frazzled sister and tell her that I know she’s doing her best to live lines that matter. And I know that sometimes our scripts make us tired. And, without a doubt, I understand the importance of toilet paper.
But instead of hugging a stranger right there in Family Fare, I shot up a prayer and started digging in my purse for a lollipop.
And when I found one lingering beneath those expired coupons and the crumpled wad of Kleenexes, I offered it to that red-faced mama with an empathetic smile.
Of course, I know that a lollipop can only last so long, but I hoped that she could see my offering for what it really was–a sweet stick of grace from a woman who knows that sometimes real life can be hard to swallow.