By Katy Rank Lev
“You are a busy woman!” Heard 2 times, both from men, one a passerby on the sidewalk and one, the cashier at Costco, where I purchased $346 worth of diapers and string cheese. These men are right, of course. I feel busy and astounded each time it takes 17 minutes to buckle my sons into my minivan, which I also filled with gas at Costco. Without comment from bystanders.
“Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” Heard from countless droves of strangers, mostly women, often in parking lots, sometimes in stores or doctors offices or museums where I am using my foot to kick open a door and loudly instructing my five-year-old to then hold the door open for me so I can back in with our stroller full of sons. Where I sometimes have to shove the commenter out of the way in order to bustle inside an elevator whose door is about to close with one of my young sons inside.
Sometimes, actually, my hands are empty despite this comment, because I’ve got the baby in a sling and the big sons are crouching to stare in wonder at particles of rock salt.
“That’s a lotta boys!” Heard from one woman, shouting from the driver’s side window of the school bus she stopped in the middle of the road in order to speak to me as I pushed all three of them up the hill from the school bus stop in my very large stroller, all of us singing “Everything is Awesome.”
“Do you need help getting out to your vehicle?” Heard from the blessed, blessed grocery bagger at Whole Foods, who carried my bags to the car while I carried the children. He loaded my grocery bags into the back of our minivan while I forced stiff, protesting bodies into car seats. He lingered just long enough to see my prolonged exhale as the last buckle clipped into place.
“He really should be wearing gloves, or a hat. Or at the very least not pajamas.” Zero people in zero stores, even on days where the temperatures never broke double digits, which represents a 100% decrease in such comments since the arrival of the third son. Only in tallying this list did I realize what relief I feel to no longer hear comments about what my children are not wearing.
“Ya tryin again for your girl?” Heard from one man in the cereal aisle of the grocery store as we both reached for the multigrain Cheerios, on sale this week. Since the moment I was visibly pregnant with my third son, I’ve been bombarded with comments about the gender distribution of our family. The streak of Y chromosomes intrigues strangers so desperately they seem unable to refrain from comment. Generally on the very edge of panic, I cannot fathom keeping another child safe, nor can I muster any sort of response.
“Which one is making all that noise?” Heard from one sort-of-smiling man, working at Target, where my sons are sobbing from the mega-cart that enables me to seat and buckle all 3 of them securely even though I cannot steer around corners on our mad dash for two dozen eggs, which will last our family 4 days. They weep in stores because it takes us so long to do anything at all, and we’re always, always out of bread.
“Make sure they wipe their feet.” Heard from one elderly couple selling their home, who fibbed on their listing and said their laundry room was a 4th bedroom. Our realtor tells us the space is technically a bedroom because it has both a heat vent and a door. Though the house is too small for my family of sons, I smile both because they did wipe their feet and because I can imagine them climbing happily around the wooded back yard.
“You remind me of a little Russian lady counting all her monkeys in a cartoon.” Heard from one very earnest woman in the halls at school as I took census, trying desperately not to lose track of the carpool kid whose hat matches every other kid’s hat. We just made it inside before the bell, having run from our parking spot two blocks away. With a child in each arm, I feel the burn of my muscles more acutely than my confusion regarding the meaning of her observation.
“You guys must be going crazy in this weather.” Heard from one woman, on the morning of the umpteenth day our rhythm was disrupted by a school delay for sub-zero temperatures. I smile and think that crazy isn’t quite the right word to describe what it’s like cooped up with these sons, who ricochet between building ships from cardboard boxes and peeing on each other in my bed.
“Can I help you?” Heard from one woman, who gave up her spot behind me in line at Target when she saw my toddler sobbing because he’d spilled his popcorn, because the Chapstick was not blue. Is it possible she saw the creep of my embarrassment over the cacophony? Was it obvious I’d run out of ways to soothe him?
“I drove by and saw you, with that baby strapped to you while you were getting your other boys in order, and I am straight up in awe. Praise hands!” Heard from one woman who just moved in down the street, who said so on a day I was home alone with my tiny sons for 13 hours and really needed to read it.
Katy Rank Lev is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. Her three feral sons inspire her work covering parenting, women’s health, and family matters.