That was how I used to shop for groceries. Every single item counted. Calculated. Figured out in my head. Sometimes if I took the kids with I’d get frustrated because I couldn’t remember my count and then I would stand there in Target and re-add every single item in my cart again.
I was the mom counting things next to the peanut butter.
In case you ever see someone standing on the side of an aisle moving things around and stacking them in that way, well, they’re probably counting that total. It’s a bit embarrassing but I got really good at making it look like I was just looking for something. I remember it very clearly – even though I would try to be super prideful about the fact that I could get to the register and tell you within five dollars what my total was – and often times within a dollar.
I knew how to put everything on the belt as well. I’d organize it – oh maybe it looked like it was frozen together and then fresh and then packaged and so on – but it really was part of the deep plan to not spend over the allotted money that I had at the moment. And so often the last couple items on the belt were the things that I was willing to say oh I changed my mind on these when I would get nervous that the total was going to creep to more than I had in my checking account.
And then, then there was always the fear of the moment when I would swipe my card.
Please go through.
That’s what I would think in my head.
I’d also try to chose the register with the nice looking employee or where no one else would be in getting in line because I’d be so fearful. And then then if someone did get in line I’d avoid eye contact.
I’d try to tell myself to not compare to be grateful and to find joy. But the real truth is those moments sucked at the joy more than most things in life did. I’d walk into Target and look at an end cap of fun things that Target was screaming at me would make their lives more awesome and I would realize that the $8 bubbles would never make it into my cart.
It’s almost impossible to not compare I think, especially in those moments in life.
And, honestly, in those days it just plain and simple hurt.
Like really really hurt deep.
I hated living with that constant fear of money and worry that someone was going to knock at my door and turn off the power. Because, just because we’re being super real here, that’s happened to me too. I don’t think two years ago I could ever write to you about it because I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know. In fact, even that day when that man came to the door I felt such horrible shame. I asked him to come inside because the neighbor kids and my kids were playing out front and he told me he couldn’t.
I talked so quietly because I wanted to hide.
I don’t believe in hiding anymore.
I think culture teaches us to hide in a way. We no longer have that universally obvious struggle of survival and instead live in a world of digital facades and expectations and when the real life doesn’t match the perceived exterior it’s easy to hide.
I really don’t want us to hide and to attach shame to our identity. I think sometimes women in that spot need to be free to say that this stuff hurts. I knew life could be worse back then – I knew that there were people with much more challenging circumstances – but in that moment the fear ran so deep that it would keep me up late at the night crying in the corner in my room so that the kids wouldn’t see and wouldn’t know.
I honestly don’t know how I made it through those years sometimes. I do know that I would feel this deep down hurt and resentment like I wasn’t worth it because life was so hard. And I didn’t like pity. Holy moly, I didn’t like to feel pity. Or that I wasn’t smart. Or any of that.
Because the truth is sometimes life is just hard and people have situations in life that they never ever thought they would have to deal with. It’s just the truth. It can be really easy to judge or to tell people to not compare to others or to minimize feelings but honestly those years had some of the most painful shame that I ever felt.
And it felt lonely.
So very very very lonely and isolating.
And honestly, honestly that’s why I’m writing about this today. Not to tell any of you who are in this spot to stop comparing because that didn’t help when I was in that spot. You know what I wanted in those days?
To not have to add every single item in my cart and to not have that anxiety of not having enough. To be able to go to bed without the weight of the world on my chest. To be able to look at the superficial bubbles on the end cap in Target and to put them in the cart and in the front of the belt and to not panic if they were dumped over by kids who were too exuberant. To not fret about the birthday invite and the present we needed to get because I didn’t know where to find that $15 but I wanted my kids to still go and have fun. To not feel badly because my kids didn’t have a birthday party with their friends either.
I don’t really have the best ending or beautifully wrapped up finish statement for this post.
I think it’s because life is so unbelievably messy and that there are moments in life where cliché answers or simple solutions aren’t what one needs. And I don’t look at any of you with pity either – because pity just sucks. I won’t tell you it’s awesome that you’re so strong because sometimes you feel like why do I have to be so strong all the time? and that gets tiring too because sometimes one just wants a break. I won’t tell you that it won’t be like this forever because when you’re in that spot you just want to get through the day and the thought of next year is almost impossible to see.
I will tell you that I see you.
That you are not invisible. That you do not need to wear shame anywhere. That even if life is hard – whether it’s money or divorce or rebelling kids or any of that – that it does not in one iota define who you are at the core and the intrinsic value that you bring to this earth that we all walk on.
Maybe it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.
But you bring value. Even in those moments when you don’t have enough or are pushed to your limits or simply want to wave the flag and quit.
I don’t see a quitter.
I see a fighter.
So grace to you today.
Grace for the moments when you’re simply tired or when you want to put your hands in the air and for the tears that fall. Grace for the times when you compare because it’s so hard to not compare. Grace for the times when you just get angry because the fight is so hard. Simply grace.
You are human.
Your worth isn’t determined by the monetary number in your checkbook or by your marital status or by perfect kids or any other external definer.
Thank you for being you and counting the groceries and fighting and doing what you need to do.
That’s what I want to tell you now.
Walking The Visual Journey
If you’re following the Brave Art of Motherhood Visual Journey . . . I still wear that bracelet I got in Haiti every day. It is what anchors me in knowing I will never go back.