I spend an exorbitant amount of time in my car. I work outside the home and commute about twenty minutes each way, five days a week. Then, as the mother of three busy children (two teens and one almost teen), my time outside of work is often spent running errands to keep my home stocked and my family fed, dressed and outfitted for whatever they are doing, or I am dropping someone off, picking someone up, or sitting in my car waiting for someone to finish something. While in my car, I listen to music and I scroll my phone. I think. I plan. I snack. And I do a good amount of crying.
I laughed while I typed that last sentence. I hadn’t actually realized how much time I’ve spent crying in my car until I wrote it. But it’s true. If I’m going to cry about something, it’s most often in my car. And this habit goes way back…
I recently saw a TikTok from a young mother. She was sitting in the back seat of her car in a Target parking lot holding a fussy infant and she was trying to get her to calm down and nurse. Her hair was a mess. She had no makeup on her face. She used no filters. She added no music. She simply held up her phone, hit record, and spoke to her TikTok audience, through tears. She said she was sitting in her car in the Target parking lot because her baby wouldn’t stop crying, neither she nor her baby had slept much over the last 24 hours, she needed diapers but did not have the energy to take her fussy baby out of the car, get her into the cart, and navigate Target. So they were sitting there, in the car, crying.
As I watched her video I was reminded of a similar moment of mine almost eighteen years ago. My oldest was 8 weeks old. I had been forced to return to work since I was a new teacher and had limited sick time to take and too many bills to pay. Natalie was still up several times a night so I was functioning on very little sleep. I had picked her up from daycare and was driving the twenty minutes back home. It was dark. And she was crying. Loudly. I had no formula with me and was in the process of weaning her from nursing. I turned off the radio and listened to her wail reciting in my head over and over “just get me home, just get me home”. Then, disaster. Traffic. And the combination of her crying, my exhaustion, and the endless brake lights between my car and home did me in. I pulled into a rest area, got into the backseat and locked the doors. I took my crying baby out of her car seat, held her close, and cried. I had never, in my entire life, felt so alone. I had this tiny little life depending on me and I truly had no idea, in that moment, what to do…so I cried.
So to the young mom on TikTok who was brave enough to share her lonely moment with strangers, I praise you for your bravery. I wish my generation of moms could have had such an easily accessible support system when we were in the trenches. So strange to say that a silly app filled with so much garbage (yes, garbage) could also be a source of strength and inspiration to many but that’s exactly what it is providing. Because most likely another young mom saw that TikTok while she too sat in the backseat of her car trying to get her baby back to sleep. She saw this mom’s desperate, tired eyes and knew she wasn’t alone.
And to all of the other moms sitting in their cars, young moms and more experienced moms…I see you. I see you scrolling your phone, too exhausted to do anything else while you wait for your child to finish a lesson. I see you staring off into space, your busy brain spinning with lists of tasks you’ll need to do before bed. I see you eating fast food alone in the parking lot because you know if you brought your meal home you wouldn’t eat it hot. I see you reading a book while your baby sleeps soundly in his car seat because you know if you tried to move him your break would end so you took your break right there, in the car. I see you blasting 90s pop and singing along, hoping your teen doesn’t come out of practice for just a few more minutes, knowing she’ll change the station when she gets into the car.
I see you crying. I know how hard some days are. I know you just need a space to cry.
I see you. I am you. I’m sitting in my car too. We’re in this together, mamas.