Tonight, I took a walk with my three boys and pregnant self. It was a peaceful stroll, minimal yelling (if you don’t count loud quacking at sleeping ducks or figuring out how to make an echo by screaming at the pond). All in all, we had it together.
As we passed over a small bridge, a walking Bachelor ad hurriedly caught up behind us as my brigade blocked the way. The man was clearly in a rush, but as soon as he approached us his face turned into a genuine smile as he took note of the boys throwing leaves in the pond, chuckling at them. We exchanged hellos and as I turned he saw my watermelon belly chilling there and as he passed he exuberantly said “you have your hands full there!”
And as he said it, my first thought was which witty or perfect come back to throw at him from all the blogs I’ve read about this apparently thick with negative meaning phrase: Hands full hearts full! Sure do and we love them all! You betcha – and we’re not stopping now!
I smiled genuinely, said we love it that way, and he excitedly sped to his car (date night perhaps?!). As he walked away, thinking how lame my response was, I realized something I think is really important.
We are not in a competition with humanity at large. We don’t need to plan out witty comebacks. We need to chill.
I have heard that comment too many times to count as a parent. It started when we only had two kids! (And truth be told people probably thought it when I only had one and was awkwardly learning how to care for such a squirmy human being.)
And you know what? Most every encounter was just an average human trying to make conversation in passing with another average human. As this man walked by it hit me real deep – he was doing just that. He was just trying to make conversation.
The phrase made me smile tonight. “You have your hands full!” Tonight, it felt different. I let go of the witty remarks I could have said about it and instead held on to simple human joy. It meant I’m noticed. What I’m doing is seen. This stranger sees enough value in our existence to do more than just walk by like we are ghosts. Why would I complain and pick apart his word choice?
These cliche phrases aren’t dripping with existential meaning, don’t read into this too much. But on the flip side, isn’t it about time we admit they also aren’t dripping with malintent in most cases?
I’d rather hear the same cliche phrase ten times a day than have those passing around me act like I don’t exist or that my children don’t. Somehow, it comforts me that people still use it.
They see us. They see families. And whether they agree or not, it strikes them enough to open their mouths about it. When was the last time you commented on what a person was up to as you walked by? Ever commented on how many dogs someone is walking? How about how many groceries they have? Those things don’t touch the human spirit quite like a living, breathing, growing family.
So you know, whether it’s with sarcasm, sheer horror, or awe, when someone says “wow you have your hands full!”, I’m going to stop thinking less about the perfect comeback and more just about how I can acknowledge others too. To see someone, to say hello, to make a comment of affirmation even if it isn’t perfect. To keep things human and fraternal. Because honestly, most people are good people. And no one is going to give you that perfect response to your family size all the time.
Rest easy knowing that humanity still needs to see families – even if it is to shock them. And when they utter those shrill words of full hands, just think of it as a walking witness to life and try not to take it so personally.