The first time I heard it, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. An older man holding open the door for me loudly proclaimed, "You've got your hands full. Don't ya?"
Embarrassed, I looked around hoping no one else heard him or thought the same. I looked down at my two hands, both clutching tightly to infant car seats. My hands were technically full, but I felt like I had things under control. My twins were only two weeks old, and this was the first of thousands of times I would be embarrassed—well, pissed off—at such comments.
Adding more children to the mix continued to up the comments. At least once a week, strangers would boldly ask questions that felt more like put-downs. Many times I would give a fake smile and walk away. Sometimes I would reply, "Yup." But I never did say what I really wanted to. I never told these strangers every single one of my kids was planned or about the miscarriages I had. I never shared that their judgmental comments made me feel like they thought I was incapable and incompetent.
My husband's death didn't stop strangers from sharing their thoughts about me being in over my head. Many outings ended in tears because of the blatant honesty of others. Their comments about my hands being full served as a reminder of my own insecurities in my abilities to parent alone.
As the years passed, I remarried and gained another daughter. People stopped telling me my hands were full not because I looked more put together but because with so many kids the same age we started looking like a day care. And the day care comments just made me laugh, so I had forgotten about the painful comments of the past.
Last week I took all six kids out to run errands. We had a wonderful day, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. We were about to walk out of a store when I heard it—those words from long ago. An older gentleman again holding the door for me proclaimed, "Wow lady. You sure have your hands full."
My blood started to boil, and I looked into his eyes. This was it: I was going to let him have it. All those years of pretending people's comments didn't hurt me, all those moments when I just walked away, were going to come to an end.
I said, "You know sir … I … I …" I looked at the six little children that trailed behind me, each of them grinning from ear to ear. For a second, time stood still. My mind flashed over the last few years. A murder trial, blending a family, writing books, speaking, being a wife again, parenting … my hands were full. He saw through me, and he was right. I have had a lot on my plate, and I have been in way over my head.
I said with a smile, "I do have my hands full, but I am the luckiest girl in the whole world. My hands are so full, and so is my heart."
He looked at me with a warm glow, "We never could have kids, so it always amazes me to see all you parents with your hands full of so many blessings."
It had never crossed my mind that anyone had told me my hands were full—of blessings. But they are! My life has been full of a lot of things, but the greatest are those six little ones that have made my hands so full. There is nothing I could have filled these hands of mine with that would have brought me so much joy.
Ashlee Birk is the author of The Moments We Stand, the blog and book series of her healing journey after the secret infidelity and murder of her husband in 2011. Graduate of Utah State. Mom of six. Contact themomentswestand.com www.themomentswestand