Recently I was heading out of the YMCA with my three kids: Alex dangling in her car seat carrier from my straining bicep, Maggie jumping spastically from one box to the next on a giant hopscotch board on the floor, and Ceci's feet spinning like the Roadrunner as she attempted to keep up with her big sister. As I herded the older two through the turnstiles and toward the door, I noticed a middle-aged woman watching us closely, a subtle smile on her face. Our eyes met and we acknowledged each other in that silent, secret mom language: The Look.
The Look generally lasts only a few seconds at the most, but it carries with it decades, perhaps even generations, of memories and parental experiences. It says this: I may not know your name, but I know you, because I was you. I know the joy of watching your children run wildly and your desperate hope that they won't embarrass you in public. I know the aches in your muscles and your desire to escape, if only for an hour, to a place where no one demands anything of you. My children were once as small as yours, and I would give anything to be back there again, to warm baby skin and unrestrained laughter. So I envy you, a bit, you and your fledgling love, but I pity you too, because you are drowning in the day-to-day. I see your struggle, and I understand.
That's The Look. I see it everywhere, in grocery stores and airports, at the library and on the rare occasion when we venture into a restaurant. It is sometimes accompanied by a small gesture, a door held, a jovial, "You've got your hands full!" To these, I can say thank you, but for the others, the ones who catch my eye from a distance, I must reserve my gratitude and pass it on. Because I am also a giver of The Look. I know its power, and while my hands may be too full for me to help in any other way, The Look is something I can always impart to those who seem to need it.
Most of all, I love that The Look carries no trace of accusation. It isn't a judgment of my inability to keep my kids obedient, quiet, and under control. (Though I've gotten those looks too.) I'm with you, it says. I get it. I know. It's kind of like when you're hiking and you see someone who is on their way back down. It's not all uphill, you think, feeling a sort of kinship with your fellow hikers. In just a little while, that will be me.
So you march uphill and you bear your load, whatever that might be: a busy schedule, a dirty house, an exhaustion that you can't help but believe you will carry with you always. Every once in a while you'll remember to glance up - everyone says you're supposed to, that you have to look around and appreciate the little things. It will take your mind off of how damn hard this is. If you're lucky, you might just catch a Look thrown your way.
And honest, your load will feel a little lighter.