To the Woman Who Sold Me Stamps At the Post Office Today:

I would have liked to zip in and out sans kids but because you close at 5pm and my husband doesn’t get home until 6pm, I had no choice. Plus, I want to take my kids to the post office. I want to explain how “mailing a letter” works and what “stamp” means and I want to help them understand how our mail gets from here to there.

My children are 4-1/2 and 2-1/2. The line was long. When Sophie complained about having to stand, I talked to her softly and she stopped. I made everyone stay close to me. No one was running around. They started humming and singing, and I asked them to do it quietly. When Owen and James started whining and asking to go home, I held them one at a time. Yes, the other child was whining while waiting his turn to be held but I did what I could.

So, dear postal worker, when it was my turn to make my purchase I was sort of upset when you pointed to Owen, who was in my arms, and said “You have a spoiled one there, don’t you?” And then, when I mumbled a response while lifting each child up so they could see over the counter (something they love), “I have a stamp that says ‘spoiled’ if you want to put it on his hand.”

I would love to have toddlers who never cry and whine when having to wait in a long line in a place they have no interest in. I would love for them to always be content standing next to me (although, I admit, after awhile I’d miss occasionally holding them in my arms). I’d love to go somewhere with all three of my children and once, just once, have such a quiet and calm experience that no one even so much as glances at us.

But right now, that’s not possible. Both my boys are getting over colds, colds which required regular at-home nebulizer treatments. They’re hopped up on steroids, too, which makes them more irrational than usual. Owen also is battling an ear infection and is on antibiotics. And yesterday, they only got a 40 minute nap.

These may sound like excuses and, perhaps, they are. But just know that I’m trying my best. I’m trying my best to lay down rules and expectations for my children while also taking into consideration that they don’t feel good. Maybe I shouldn’t have given into Owen’s whine/cry to be held but honestly, I don’t mind holding him—especially when he doesn’t feel good and especially when he just wants to see. The woman who sold me a cup of coffee understood that yesterday. As I picked up each of my three children so they could see what I was seeing over the counter she smiled and noted how hard it must be for young children to miss so much when everything around them is so tall.

I realize I should let these comments go. But these comments are like tiny gnats buzzing around my head that I can’t seem to kill. They bother me. They make me wonder if I’m screwing this thing up, if I really am raising spoiled children. And part of me hates them because maybe there’s truth to them—Owen and James have been so whiney lately. I try not to respond to it. I try to insist on “nice words.” But, sometimes, I fail. Especially in tiny, crowded post offices when I’d rather just hold my child than deal with—and make everyone else around me deal with—a full-blown tantrum.

As a mother, every day I feel like I’ve failed some way, some how. I make mistakes, constantly. I question myself and worry, worry, worry. But I’m waking up every day. And I’m getting them out of bed every day. And I’m trying to teach them, guide them, share with them, show them, play with them, feed them and care for them the best way that I can. And I know my best isn’t as good as it always could be, or should be. But I’m trying.

In closing, I know my son was acting spoiled. I’m sorry about that. But I don’t need it pointed out. And I certainly don’t need to stamp it on his hand. What I need is a knowing smile, a small word of encouragement, a friendly “hello” to my upset child or, at the very least, just my stamps and receipt so that I can exit as quickly as possible. I imagine throughout your day you experience many unpleasantries—upset children, upset customers, maybe an upset boss. But I was doing what I could to make your day as pleasant as I could—given that my three children didn’t want to be there. In return, I had hoped for something different than the offer to advertise my parenting failures on my son’s hand.

a sometimes-frazzled, constantly worrying, hoping-tomorrow-is-better mother of three

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” —Eleanor Roosevelt