How Are You Really?

Photo Credit: 123RF
Photo Credit: 123RF

Last fall while I was out for a walk, I passed a young mom on the street.

When I first saw her from a half a block away, I thought about how lovely it must be to be out for a mid-afternoon walk on a warm and sunny afternoon. As we walked toward each other, I made up a whole story in my head about this woman, her family, and her life. I imagined her baby had just woken up from a nap, or maybe they were heading home soon so that she could put him down in his crib for one. I thought about the books she might read to him, classics like Brown Bear, Brown Bear or new favorites like The Day the Crayons Quit. I thought about milestones like crawling and standing and walking.

I thought about how happy she must be.

As I approached her, she paused for a minute to talk to the baby and I noticed the baby looked to be about 10 or 11 months old. And then, all of a sudden, I was looking at myself.

Once upon a time, I was the one pushing a cute baby with chunky thighs through a quiet neighborhood in the middle of a warm and sunny September afternoon. Once upon a time, I was the one reading Brown Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Once upon a time, I worried about nap times and baby-proofing.

Once upon, that woman was me.

Except my truth looked nothing like the hypothetical narrative I had just conjured in my head about this stranger. I hadn’t felt happy. I felt scared, tired, and lonely. Each day was about survival, making it from one naptime to the next. I didn’t feel in control of my life, but instead like I was gripping the steering wheel and hanging on for dear life.

These images of my own truth, contrasted with the stories I had made up in my head about a stranger on the street, flooded my brain in a matter of seconds and suddenly I had the urge to stop this woman who I had never met. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and ask, How are you? How are you REALLY? Are you okay? Because it’s okay if you don’t feel okay.

Maybe her baby was up all night teething. Maybe her spouse was traveling. Maybe they had been fighting, bickering about socks on the floor and whose turn it was to get up with the baby. Maybe her family lived far away. Maybe she was counting down the hours – the minutes – until bedtime. Maybe her baby was sick and couldn’t go to daycare so she had to take a day off work and while they were out for this quick walk around the neighborhood, emails of stress were filling her inbox.

Or maybe, just as I had imagined, she felt like the luckiest woman in the world out for a mid-afternoon walk on a lovely September afternoon.

How often do we do this? This hypothetical story thing about how other people are feeling without actually asking, How are you? How are you REALLY?

Because the truth is, the imagined story is rarely the truth.

As parents – heck, as humans –much of what we see are the snippets and snapshots. We see adorable Facebook photos. We hear about how so-and-so’s son is walking, talking, potty training. But do these glimpses into other’s lives represent reality? Sometimes, they do. But most times, they do not.

We ask new parents whether the baby is sleeping through the night, but do we ask a new mom how she is really feeling? We talk about baby names and share pediatrician recommendations, but do we ask a father how he is feeling? We don’t shy away from asking intimate and personal questions about the labor and delivery, breastfeeding, maternity leave, and returning to work. And somewhere along the way – after a parent is out of the new baby haze perhaps – we assume that, unless we are told otherwise, things are just fine. We stop asking, to the extent we ever did ask, How are you? How are you REALLY?

Lately I’ve been wondering what might happen if we did ask this question more often. Perhaps people would assume that we are nosy, busy bodies who are crossing boundaries. Or maybe – just maybe – they would answer the question. Maybe parents would start answering with an honest “things are tough” or “I’m exhausted” instead of a generic or canned responses. Maybe we’d connect a little more. Maybe we’d all feel a little less alone. Maybe we could breathe a collective sigh of relief.

If you asked me, I would tell you that I am tired, always tired, but content. Happy even. I would tell you I am missing my parents and my siblings a lot right now. I would tell you I’m worried about my dad, who is recovering from surgery. I would tell you I am worried about my mom too, who is soldiering on through it all as usual. I would tell you I sometimes feel beaten down by my younger son’s incessant demands and whining, and often exhausted by my headstrong and rambunctious older son. But in the same breath, I would also tell you that they fill me with joy and awe. And if you asked me how are you really?, I would tell you that after a long stretch of feeling emotionally “off,” I am thankful to finally be feeling like me again.

I’m no longer a young mom pushing a baby in a stroller. I’m the middle-aged mom walking her dogs in the afternoon while the kids are school. But you know what? Maybe we never stop needing to be asked that question. And maybe we never stop needing to answer it.

So tell me: How are YOU? How are you REALLY?

 

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10 Comments

  • When Will was about 2 months old, I went to the grocery store on a random afternoon while Will stayed home with my husband. I was standing in the baking aisle when I ran into an acquaintance of mine from my synagogue. She is about 10 years older than I am and her youngest is 7, so she is pretty far removed from the baby/toddler stage. She said hi, and jolted me out of what I’m pretty sure was the first stage of actually falling asleep standing up. It occurred to me that I didn’t even know how long I had been standing there, and why I was even in the baking aisle since I was certainly not doing any baking.

    Anyway, she asked about the baby of course, and I gave her some kind of canned, fake cheerful answer. Then she looked at me, I mean really looked, and she said exactly this: “and how are YOU?” And she said it so seriously and with such kindness that I’m almost positive I started tearing up right there in the grocery store. I think I said something like, “it’s hard,” which was all I could manage, and instead of saying something like ‘it gets so much better” or “enjoy every minute” like almost everyone else I knew said to me, she just said, “yes, it’s so hard. It’s ok to feel like that. Bring the baby over to my house if you start to feel overwhelmed and I’ll watch him while you take a nap.” It was the first time that anyone really acknowledged to me and for me that it’s ok if it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with a new baby and I’ll never, ever forget it. That interaction completely changed the way that I now talk to new moms. More listening. More “are you ok?” and, like you said, “it’s ok to not be ok.”
    Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted…A Letter to My Baby – Ten MonthsMy Profile

  • Honestly? I’m a little concerned with this crush I’m developing on you lately. Your writing. Your truths. Your talent.

    Seriously.

    Stop it.

    (Don’t really. Please.)

  • How am I really you ask….well, I am tired, so tired. I feel like I am never going sleep again in a full 8 hour stretch, I mean right now I would settled for 4 straight hours. My beautiful amazing 16 month old daughter has never slept through the night, not once and I am hanging on by a thread. A pretty little gold thread but it’s still a thread. I miss sitting outside in my garden for hours at a time by myself, I miss being able to think a complete thought, I miss being bored. This shit is hard, so hard. I really don’t know how you moms have more than one. I can bearly handle the one little never stopping red head I have now but you know what, I can not even remember life without her. Without the running, leaping toddler hugs, and that laugh! Her looking up at the trees and the sky and being completely amazed, watching her discover her world, her joy at seeing an airplane and her love for ducks but the thing that I still can’t wrap my head around is how much she completely and whole heartedly loves me. Me, she LOVES me. I am her whole world and that, that is the biggest gift of all. When someone loves you and see you as the perfect somebody, not just their perfect somebody but THE perfect somebody then, then you know what it’s really all about.

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