I was tired, hurried, frustrated and ready to just go home. My husband, John, was pushing our son, Mareto, in the cart as fast as he could to leave the store before the meltdown got worse. We were frantically trying to open up a cereal bar to stem the tears. Our daughter, Arsema, was strapped to my chest in the ergo carrier watching it all through wide eyes. Sweat beads were forming on my forehead, caused in part by my embarrassment but mostly from the heat and amount of energy I was exerting by running through Trader Joe’s with my 18 pound baby strapped to my chest and my toddler screaming behind me.
I sure didn’t feel like I was going to be in the running for any mom of the year awards. I felt like a hot mess. In fact, I was sincerely hoping no one was looking at us too closely… that somehow we were invisible to the people bustling around us. It was chaotic, exhausting and an unfortunately all-too-common experience for us.
Our family doesn’t exactly blend in with the wallpaper. Not only are we two white parents with a brown son and daughter (something that causes enough stares and questions all by itself), but our son has noticeable developmental delays and different behaviors because of autism, and our daughter has missing and webbed digits. In other words, when we all go out together, we stand out. Usually I don’t mind, and often I love it. My children are beautiful, and so is our story.
Sometimes though, on the days when we’re far from having it together, I do mind. Those days I just want to blend in with the crowd and hide far away from the curious stares. Some days I get tired of it all and just want to be a family — not the adoptive family, not the family with special needs children, not the unique family — just a family. This was one of those days.
I was close to tears as John took Mareto to put the cart away. I rushed through the doors with Arsema on my chest to get to the car as quickly as possible when a voice behind me slowed my steps.
“Ma’am!” she called out. I slowed, hoping and praying she wasn’t talking to me.
“Ma’am!” I stopped and turned to find a young woman rushing toward me. A bright smile covered her face, and I immediately noticed her beautiful black curls, just like the black curls snuggled on my chest, tickling my chin. Recognizing her shirt, I realized she worked there and assumed I must have dropped something. I looked at her, holding back my tears, waiting.
“I just wanted you to have this bouquet…” and I looked down to see the flowers in her hands. She quickly continued to explain…
“I was adopted as a baby, and it has been a wonderful thing. We need more families like yours.” I stared at her, stunned. Hadn’t she seen what a disaster we were in the store? Didn’t she see that we were barely able to keep it together? Didn’t she see what I felt were all my failures as a mom?
As she handed me the flowers I managed to choke out a thank you and tried to express that this meant the world to me. She patted my shoulder, told me my family was beautiful and walked back into the store.
My steps were much slower as I finally headed to the car with my arms full of flowers and tears that had spilled over onto my cheeks. On a day when I felt like we were the worst example of family… a day when I hoped no one noticed us… she did. But she didn’t see what I assumed everyone was seeing. She didn’t think what I assumed everyone was thinking. She saw beauty and love and hope and family. She thought we were wonderful and it made her smile.
I wish I had thought to get her name. I wish I could go back and tell her, two years later, what her gift continues to mean to me today. To the beautiful young woman in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s … thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are a treasure.
This post originally appeared on LaurenCasper.com.