"I'm not being ridiculous," she said, as she pulled one
napkin after another out of the box. "I have four children at
my table. We need all these."
"Take your time," I said. "I've got nine kids. I get it."
She stopped her hurried napkin-pulling and turned to look at
"You have nine kids? And you survived? How do you do it? I
mean, I know we can't have a long conversation, but just tell
me one thing. One piece of advice. How do I do it?"
She was so earnest, there in the restaurant in
Charlottesville, her husband and children waiting. Glancing
at the table, I saw a child in a soccer uniform other than
the ones local to the area. Her youngest was about
kindergarten age. Her oldest, about 13.
"You're in the thick of it now," I replied. "Everyone needs
you to get anywhere. No one is really old enough to be left
on her own or to drive by herself, but they are all old
enough to have their own circles of activity and interest
that need you. It's exhausting. The one thing I wish I'd done
more is ask for help. You can't be pulled in four directions
all day every day without time to re-charge. Ask for help in
order to be able to take care of yourself. "
"Yes," she said. "That's it exactly. I have no help. It's all
me. I work fulltime teaching school and then I come home and
face more needy children. Everyone needs and needs and needs,
and there's no time for me to recharge. No space, either
"Find some. Find time and space. That's key. Can you trade
off with another mom, maybe?" I encouraged her.
"I'm not from around here. I live outside Washington.
Everybody's busy. Everybody keeps their heads down and just
plows through. I don't have anyone else to ask."
"Yep, I know. I live in Northern Virginia."
"I live in suburban Maryland," she said, beginning to notice
the cluster of people behind her waiting for napkins. She
thanked me and hurried off to her family.
I sat down with my own little brood of whichever of my
children were with me that day and I pondered all the pieces
of the hurried conversation. She was right. I've noticed the
head-down-and-barrel-through posture that comes in
neighborhoods where people work long days and then commute
We are meant to live in community. We are meant to bear one
another's burdens and to connect in meaningful ways. Clearly,
this lady was so starved for emotional connection with
another woman that she would allow herself to be vulnerable
in a restaurant in a town away from home. And I really
believe that if we weren't both far from our usual stomping
grounds, I would have offered to be that leg up for her. What
I hope is that she tucked my words into her heart and she
thought about how to share that same vulnerability with a
neighbor or a co-worker. Maybe it's harder to express a need
to someone nearby than it is to express it to a stranger far
I've thought about her often in the month or so since we met.
And I look for her - or rather, the mom like her - in all my
own familiar places now. I've thought about all the times I
felt the way she did and all the times I still do. I've
resolved to take my own advice: to seek someone else and to
ask for help, to allow myself to be vulnerable. At the same
time, I'm looking other women in the eyes and praying that
they will let me into the places where they need shoring up.
Because we really do need one another.
Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a
freelance writer from Northern Virginia.