When my twins were nine months old and their brother was two years, I was 25 and a zombie, my brain mushy from lack of sleep and too many babies. My memory from that time period isn’t the best; it was mostly a blur of feeding someone every 90 minutes with several diaper changes in between. There is one day, however, that I remember with such clarity that it’s like something I keep looking up on YouTube when I need it the most–the top result under the “Watch It Again” section of my memories of young motherhood.
I was pushing the double stroller through Babies “R” Us and probably looking like I could use a nap. I used to go there at least once a week to get myself out of the house and have some human interaction with reasonably coherent adults, in a place where I knew no one would judge me if I had spit-up on one, if not both, of my shoulders. I must have looked terrible, anyway, because a woman came up to me at some point and said with sympathy, as happened so often in those days, “Wow. Twins?”
I nodded while smiling wearily, already predicting the turn of the conversation in my head: Yes, I have two babies. Yes, and a toddler, too. Yes, I’m a very busy lady. Yes, they’re certainly a handful!
I never minded those conversations I had with random strangers; one of the first “So, you’re having twins!” parenting books I picked up said something along the lines of, “Twins are a point of community pride. When you’re a parent of twins, everyone you meet wants to share their twins stories with you, absolutely everyone.” That part has always stuck with me because it’s so true. People I will never see again tell me their twins stories, even to this day. Oh, my uncle married a twin! My grandmother is a fraternal twin! I dated twins in college!
So, when a nice stranger peeked under the stroller’s hoods and said, “Wow. Twins?”, it wasn’t anything new.
Until I looked up and noticed her looking directly at me with a very specific kind of sympathy.
“It gets better,” she continued.
Thank God, I sighed internally, but out loud, I said something brilliant like, “Huh?”
“My twins turn 20 next week,” she explained. “It gets better, easier. After the first year, you’ll start to remember what it’s like to be a person again, instead of a vending machine. Keep on doing what you’re doing. You’re going to be just fine.”
Then the kind, beautiful, wise, benevolent, glorious, and wonderful stranger offered me a soft smile and went on her way.
I paid for my stuff and made my way back to the car, not noticing until I had the kids buckled up that I was crying–a rare ugly cry that comes on for no good reason at all. I wasn’t sad or overwhelmed or anything, just… full. Sometimes the kindness of strangers can do that to you. I don’t remember anything else about that day, either, just that when my husband got home and asked me how my day was, I smiled and told him that it had been pretty damned good, actually.
So now, whenever I see someone pushing a double (or triple!) stroller full of babies, I like to make eye contact with the parent before telling them that it gets better, easier; that my twins just turned thirteen; that one day they will remember what it feels like to be a person and not a vending machine. That they should keep on doing what they’re doing, and that they’re going to be just fine.
And they always, always look how I must have looked that day: utterly relieved. It isn’t a funny or amusing exchange when this happens, just like it wasn’t particularly funny or amusing when it happened to me. It’s simply a shared moment between strangers, a small offering. A reaching out. An acknowledgement that other people have survived, so maybe you will, too. And, if anything, a much-needed reminder that you’re going to get through it in one piece, and maybe one day you’ll be the one telling a stranger that they, too, will make it.
This post is part of a series of essays by the contributors to our second anthology, Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Twin Years. Subscribe to get new posts on your favorite reader as and when they’re published.
Kristen Williams is a novelist who occasionally picks up work staffing conventions for fun and to get out of the house. She enjoys meeting people from all over the world, crafting her feelings, liquid matte lipstick, and cooking without recipes. Find her on Facebook.