Did you have a secret hide-out place when you were little? I loved to turn a card table, couch cushions and blankets into a secret retreat. Our swing-set club house was a place to escape—at least until dinnertime.
It is essential that every child has a fortress to escape to; it’s also essential for mothers as well. Mine isn’t particularly hidden or secret. In fact, it’s a Mecca of young motherhood where kids are welcomed and half the food is fried. It’s Chick Fil A. In this town- known for its horrible drivers, unfriendly people and suicide rate double the rest of the army- it is the one place that is welcoming. Employees offer to refill drinks so that I don’t have to leave children unattended. The play area is clean. Someone always holds the door for me as I push the stroller through. Regardless of what you think of the policies and politics, Chick Fil A is a fortress for the weary mommy warrior.
It is my fourth day alone with 2 little ones, far away from my two favorite states: Texas and Sanity. I needed to fall back and regroup. I called a fellow military wife and young mother and sounded a retreat. 20 minutes later I wheeled a double-stroller into a crowded restaurant. It was challenging, but I managed to get a table and tie down Firstborn in a high chair. Then I waited for the arrival of my dear friend Katie.
Our boys are only 4 weeks apart in age and have been mistaken for twins, but it takes about 2 seconds to realize Katie’s son is an ‘agreeable child’. Mothering my strong-willed boy is a bit like breaking a wild mustang every day…and he’s not even two. Despite my best efforts, he bullies and throws fits while his counterpart smiles and signs for more milk. It’s the perfect storm to make any mother feel incompetent. Thankfully, Katie smiles sweetly without judgment and reminds me gently that tasers are not allowed.
After the boys were settled, Katie went to order while I held down the fort. Our two blonde boys immediately started shrieking, crocodile tears pouring out of their blue eyes. I grabbed sippy cups, wiped faces, spoke lovingly…to no avail. As Firstborn started kicking his cowboy boots against the plastic wheelchair I realized that every other child was sitting nicely, eating their food. Nearby spectators looked on with sideways glances. Fellow young mothers remained neutral- their kids were simply having a good day. To my left a group of clean, stylish single girls looked over their iPhones with thought bubbles over their dyed hair that said, “My kids will never…” To my right a white-haired grandmother was laughing. I smiled and said, “Young motherhood. What are you going to do?” She just shook her head with a ‘glad it’s not me’ smile. This is NOT a sympathetic smile and should not be mistaken for compassion.
Katie returned and her lovely son began eating. While he did have fussy moments and refused to eat anything but fries (typical for his age), mine turned into a ticking time bomb. When the chicken and fries were gone, so was Firstborn’s patience. 3-2-1…total temper tantrum. Now the spectators moved from stolen glances to stares. After pulling Firstborn out of the chair and physically restraining him until he became still (time out) for the second time, I braved getting a refill of Diet Coke. I have been scolded for caffeine intake before… no one has found the body. (Hint: it’s with Jimmy Hoffa.) I was second in line but unfortunately, the woman in front of me was ordering for her whole office. After 4 minutes of hearing Firstborn revving his screaming engine and watching Katie gently but sternly give him the what-for, I gave up. Returning to the table, I told myself that it was simply saving me a future potty break.
As I sat down and looked around at the onlookers with a clenched jaw, Katie quietly and wisely advised me that I was doing fine but needed to just ignore everyone around me. Busted. SO busted. It is hard not to notice the judgmental stares. I took a deep breath and returned my attention to Firstborn, who was again pitching a fit. As I returned him to my lap and used my arms as a straight jacket, I caught the eye of another white-haired lady. She was NOT smiling. In fact, she’d been glaring at us for several minutes. It’s VERY hard to ignore that kind of hateful stare, especially when it is only 10 feet away. I felt like quite the show- we had moved from making a scene to Broadway musical.
As we finally called the lunch on account of tears, I buckled Firstborn into the double stroller and tried to weave around the tables. As I passed Grandma Glare-A-Lot, I had to squeeze my double-wide between her chair and a support beam. Rather than move or say anything, she looked down her nose to observe, as if I was about to take a hammer to her Ferrari’s door. If she had ever been a mother, shame on her. If not, it’s probably for the best.
Now, one of my sons had slept the entire time. Katie’s son was very well behaved, particularly after a few big tantrums this week due to missing his dad. As for my sweet terror of a child… I’m doing my best. I’ve been as consistent as possible for having a 4 week old. I’ve been gentle and loving, done time-outs, spanked, and prayed without ceasing. The next person who offers a suggestion can just come over and fix my child’s behavior themselves. I’ll pay you. Upon that success, we’ll send you overseas to win over the hearts and minds of our enemies. It’ll probably take you a week at the most. (Eye roll) As I drove to my retreat, I had resolve. Driving home, I sobbed. With a newborn and another son under age two, I’m burning the candle at both ends. Burning like this hasn’t been seen since Sherman marched to Atlanta. Want to talk scorched earth? Two words: Stretch marks.
It’s disheartening to retreat to a fortress only to be greeted by ‘friendly fire’. It’s true what they say- there’s nothing friendly about it. My thick skin started to crack but Katie had me covered. Likewise, at our last CFA visit, she had just delivered her first real spanking to her son and had a bit of a breakdown herself. Friendship at this stage involves a lot of therapy- we just take turns being the psychiatrist. Once we are armed with fries and our boys are restrained, the doc is in.
Who has your back when you’re running on empty? Spouses, family members, friends- even pets? The problem is that we all run dry. For Heaven’s sake—even Chick Fil A runs out of chicken! So far I’ve only found one source that hasn’t run dry; one fortress that can’t be toppled. I’m not the only one who has run to this fortress. In fact, one young warrior running for his life from a band of 300 of the military’s elite wrote: The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge. 2 Samuel 22:3
I am not defeated- just feeling weary and momentarily wishing I could escape my situation, although it is the path I am meant to take. That’s nothing new to God. In fact, it’s Christlike. On the night before Jesus was hunted by Roman guards and ultimately crucified, he prayed with all his might for God to rescue Him. Even Christ needed a fortress as he fought the Enemy. The gospels tell us that God sent an angel to strengthen Jesus in his hour of need. Christ understands feeling weary. He understands wanting to escape the current situation. He understands being surrounded by needy, weak people who just couldn’t relate. The older, more ‘experienced’ Jews didn’t like how Jesus did things and looked down on Him (that was certainly not how THEY would have redeemed Israel!) He asked his friends for help and retreated to God to strengthen Him. Then Christ emerged and returned to His purpose.
A high chair surrounded table at a chicken joint doesn’t look much like the Garden of Gethsemane, but something similar is occurring. With a few fellow moms in tow, I am being strengthened, fortified and reminded of my purpose to serve my God and Creator in the roles of wife and mother. Even Jesus fell to pieces! I shouldn’t be ashamed of my occasionally tear-soaked grilled chicken. I may not enjoy the glares of others while I regroup, but in the grand scheme it doesn’t matter. My rock and fortress is also my deliverer. I just hope that when I emerge from my Mom-fort I’ll have a heart full of resolve and a stomach full of chicken.