We had a stack of legal documents from our attorney we needed notarized.
You see, we've been trying to sell our house for eight months, and for one reason or another it hasn't panned out.
But on this particular Sunday, we were optimistic that a close date was pending our signatures in the presence of a notary. So that's what we set out to do.
We made a few phone calls, piled our crew into the minivan and drove 30-minutes to a branch of our credit union tucked inside a local supermarket.
Get the groceries purchased for the week and finish up house documents in one trip? Psshhhyeah! That's a no-brainer.
By the time we were able to lug ourselves, our kids and the paperwork inside the store, though, we had a 20-minute wait at the bank. And -- as if on cue -- two of our three girls started crying.
Their tummies were rumbling. They were hungry.
So we chauffeured them to the in-store restaurant and ordered an early lunch.
As we sat down, I noticed an older couple starring at us.
While our 1-year old was screaming for mac & cheese in her highchair, our 2-year old dumped ALL THE SUGAR PACKETS onto the floor and started stomping her feet when we told her she couldn't eat them. After 30-seconds of unintelligible shrieking she announced to the entire restaurant: "GO POTTY, GO POTTY!" And as if there wasn't a minute to spare, my husband shot up from the table, grabbed her and ran to the bathroom while our 1-year old continued screaming for mac & cheese and our 2-month old started wailing for a bottle I still had to shake up.
It's no wonder that couple keeps starring at us, I thought.
When my husband and our 2-year old made their way back to the table, we exchanged high-fives, finished a quiet-ish version of the "Potty dance," and then it happened.
That older couple that kept glancing over at us? Well, that woman was now standing at our table looking at us through her bronze-rimmed glasses with a smile on her face.
"Do you do foster care?" she asked calmly as she leaned down to get a better glance at our 1-year old pounding her hands on her highchair tray as if to be louder than our 2-year old who was back to counting dozens of sugar packets on the floor.
Chris and I looked at each other. We had a feeling we knew where this conversation was going.
As a transracial family, we've had people assume we saved two at-risk kids from an awful home life. We've had people assume we rescued them from a poverty-stricken orphanage in a third-world country. We've had people assume they weren't our children.
So when this woman asked us if we were foster parents, I felt my internal defenses go up in full force.
"No, we aren't foster parents," I said. "Maybe someday!"
My answer wasn't good enough for her, though.
"Did you adopt them?" she pressed some more.
"Where are they from?" she pried.
I answered politely; Yes, we adopted them. The one on the floor obsessed with sugar packets? She's from Texas. And this one screaming in the highchair for her mac & cheese? She was born a couple hours away.
And just when I was about ready to shut the conversation down, she told us her daughter's family had adopted from foster care. They, too, were a blended, transracial family.
Then she said words I will never forget:
"We've been watching you and think you're doing a great job with all of your girls. You've been so patient with them, and you're just doing a marvelous job."
The waiter brought out our lunches, and tears started welling up in my eyes.
Not because my daughter finally had her mac & cheese on the table in front of her, but because this woman -- a complete stranger -- was so gentle and genuine with her words. Because this woman -- who I unfairly assumed was going to make her own unfair assumptions about my family -- only wanted to tell us we were doing a good job. Because this woman -- who I'll probably never see again -- has no idea how badly her words were needed and how powerful her validation was for us.
The truth is, having 3 kids under the age of 3 is amazing, but sometimes it's really stressful. It's hard and chaotic and fun and exhausting all at the same time.
And sometimes, when you're feeling like you're not cut out for this whole parenting gig -- when you're overwhelmed and ready to throw in the towel -- when you feel like the world is looking at you and judging the chaos that has become your life...a complete stranger will show up in front of you. She'll look you point blank in the eyes and tell you YOU ARE ENOUGH. You are MORE THAN ENOUGH. You are GOOD. You are GREAT. And your children? They're beautiful.
Hands Off: My Daughter's Hair Is Not An Exhibit