6:30 a.m. Joseph's alarm goes off. He sits up and starts getting ready for the day. For some reason, the kids don't ever wake to his phone's melodic alarm. "Noooooo" my inner self screams. "I can not get up. Must sleep some more. Maybe I'll ask Joseph to stay home from work...." But Christmas gifts and dollar signs flash before my eyes and I sigh. "He should probably go to work. I can do this. I can do this. I can DO THIS." Then, "Ugh... we need food. All four boys to the store..." Grumble. We do all the things getting-up people do, then the 3-year-old knows it's really time to wake and bounds into the room, excited about his Rescue Bot, whom he shared a bed with last night.
6:45 a.m. I'm in the shower, and all four boys are now awake. The 2-year-old comes to see how I am doing. "Mom, shower?" I am doing fine, and apparently watching me shower is no longer very exciting, so he leaves the curtain gaping, cold air streaming in, and traipses down the stairs to play.
7 a.m. I'm awake and searching out the coffee press, meanwhile Joseph is making pancakes and eggs, talking to the two oldest boys. I don't understand the conversation, but it's something about Star Wars battles and astromech droids. Turns out Joseph has already made coffee, and I pause to think about how thankful I am for his foresight.
7:30 - 9:45 a.m. Fastforwarding a bit here because it's all pretty mundane. Joseph leaves, I begin a grocery list, then sit on the couch watching a baby-in-the-womb story on Formed while sipping coffee. I settle arguments, nag a little to put toys away and get the kitchen in satisfactory condition. Then put on an episode of Cat Chat for the kids, and complete the grocery list and find socks. Then I proceed to do my hair and makeup nicer than I would for a date with my husband. Why? Because for the first time in awhile, I'm taking four kids and a very visible baby bump to the grocery store. I've got to look put together, or at least a little less haggard... I never do more than a messy bun and leggings for a 2-kid run, but a 4-kid run requires a little more armor... and mascara, and jeans.
10:05 a.m. I take a deep breath as I pull the keys out of my ignition. "We can do this."
I've had to give myself "going out in public" pep talks lately and really dread going anywhere but Mass. My pregnant belly + four boys always seems to invite attention. My pregnant self on the other hand, suffering from a pretty intense introvert's anxiety, just wants to hide in my room until the baby comes. "Why didn't I just click and collect?" I think, but then I remember that I hate the produce that gets picked for me, and I really need a lot of vegetables and fruit.
10:07 I get the boys and a cart headed toward the store, talking about how they're expected to behave and what might be in store for them if they do really well (sugar cereal is rare and highly motivating around here). We enter and the stares begin as a line of boys follows me through the produce, while I command the procuring of certain fruits and vegetables, teach my oldest how to pick the best bananas, and remind the 3-year-old not to dart out in front of other's carts.
10:15: "They'll be back in school soon," a man says comfortingly as I steer out of the banana aisle.
"Actually, I like having them around," I smile and say, putting a hand on my 6-year-old's shoulder. The man smiles, but doesn't reply. What could he say?
10:20 I reach for my phone, on which my list resides, and realize that I've forgotten my phone in my purse in the van. I try to coax my almost-8-year-old to go and get it, and that he can look both ways and be safe, but his look of scared uncertainty convinces me.
10:30 I ask a kind customer service rep if I can leave my cart of groceries. The five of us dash to the van to get my wallet and back. The 2-year-old resists being stuffed back into the seat of the cart after a few moments of aimless running, but I am firm and ignore the staring people as he squirms and protests.
10:40 We go on, picking up some now dollar-a-roll wrapping paper for next Christmas. A man stops in his tracks. Seeing my baby bump and the line of children behind me as I say, "single file" to let a cart pass, the men says "Wow." I can see his head bobbing as he counts with a wide-eyed stare. I paste on a smile and practice the old "walk-away-fast" maneuver and whisper to the kids through my teeth to hurry.
10:45 We're picking up diapers and wipes when a lady comes around the corner. I move my cart and tell the kids to step aside. "You've got a whole army," she says.
"Yes, I do," I reply, to which my oldest adds, "Yep, a whole army. But we don't have any weapons yet." Yet...
10:55: We are almost done, and I've made it to the milk aisle. It's crowded, and several people are waiting in front of the cooler where our milk comes from. "This is taking a long time!" my 3-year-old says loudly. People turn to look at him, then more stares. "Good grief," mutters a woman, head bobbing. I'm not sure if she's counting the three four-litre jugs of milk I'm buying, or the kids. I want to point to my bump and say, "Five. That's right. Five. And these four will get through all this milk in a week."
11:00: 3-year-old begins to have a meltdown because each of his brothers got to put a milk-crate on the rollers. Despite the crowd, I tell him that he too can put a milk-crate on the rollers. After all, that is a help to the store staff and to the people who want milk. It's during this time that a couple with a baby walk by and the husband says to the wife, "Sheesh. Glad I don't have to feed all THOSE."
11:45: We got out of the store after going to the toy aisle to check things out because everyone was good (and convincing the kids that the grocery store is not the place to get bang-for-your-buck when buying toys) then an altercation in the cereal aisle when I said the three oldest could pick a single box of sugar cereal. We left the aisle with no cereal though after a loud argument couldn't be settled. The parents of one, searching labels for palm-oil looked extremely relieved (maybe because we weren't getting sugar cereal, but maybe because we took our chaos away from their precious snowflake, who looked fascinated). We received an "Oh. My God." at the checkout when the lady behind us saw there were four boys in my brood plus a bump. She then said something indiscernible to the cashier about the spectacular sight, but again, walking-away-fast saved me from hearing exactly what it was.
Once I got back to the sanctity of my mini-van full of kids (loud sanctity, but sanctity nonetheless) I sighed with relief. As we pulled into the driveway, I said, "Well guys, we did it."
"Was that so hard?" my oldest asked, "All you did was get groceries."
Little do you know, son. Little do you know.
The simple act of getting groceries, which is something I do weekly, always seems to give me a lot to contemplate. There's a massive difference in my experiences when it's me and my two youngest vs. all four children. The actual act of shopping is easier with the help of the capable older kids, but the psychological fortitude one must muster is another thing entirely. I must be clear that I'm not complaining. Afterall, I did say to someone today with genuine feeling that I do like my children.
I think it's the spectacle, speculation and commentary that makes it such a heavy cross to bear. I've crossed the precipice of "hands full" comments into the land of "you are a lunatic," and that both infuriates and mortifies me with each step.
But looking back on today, I managed to walk out with a little sense of pride. I had not only survived the trip, but I had helpful older boys, and younger boys who were as good as they could have been, given how difficult it is to follow mom around or sit in the cart when they'd rather be playing. I hadn't snapped or yelled, and evidently we had an effect. This time, I even handled the tantrums with better-than-average speed.
It occurred to me as I ate lunch with the boys that every time I am seen with all of them, I am seen not just with a bunch of little boys (and bump), but that I am seen with the very vocation I have embraced in becoming their mother. It's not something I have to have emblazoned on a t-shirt, or something I have to shout from the rooftops. I don't have to explain it. No, I simply have to walk out the door with my larger-than-average family and live.