“You’ve got your hands full!”
With 3 kids 3 and under, I hear this phrase every single time I am out in public with the kids by myself and most times my husband and I are out with them together (every single time until recently when we had one entire outing without hearing it–so there was that one time…). In restaurants, airports, the park, church–we have our hands full, or so we’ve been told. Sometimes other diners will even take the time to walk up to our table at a restaurant to tell us how full our hands are. It doesn’t matter if the kids are being little angels, or if someone is having a rough time. It doesn’t matter if we’re wearing the baby and holding big kids’ hands walking in a parking lot or if two are riding happily in the stroller down the street.
Most people don’t mean offense, although some say it with eyebrows up and eyelids down, perhaps with the hope that I can take a hint, will realize we have too many, and will immediately return one. Regardless of the intent, I take issue with this phrase for several reasons.
First of all is the general over-use of the phrase. In addition to having my hands full, I also have brown hair. It would be equally annoying to me to hear that every single time I went out. *walks in the store* “Wow, you have brown hair!” *goes to the produce section* “You sure do have brown hair, don’t you?” *checks out* “It looks like you have brown hair!” *walks to car* “You’re cute, but you certainly have brown hair!” (And this isn’t an exaggeration of the frequency this phrase is used.)
Did you catch the underlying tone of that last one? “They’re adorable, but you certainly have your hands full!” even when said in a jovial tone with a smile hints at the fact that their being cute (a positive) doesn’t outweigh the fact that your hands are full (a negative). Speaking of them, they are listening. 9 out of 10 strangers (and that’s a conservative estimate) look at them and tell their mommy she has her hands full. How must that feel day in and day out? Judah asked me the other day why everyone says that. He hears you.
We are thankful for our children and are sad they are being raised in a culture that is hostile to children. Don’t believe our society does not like children? Have 3 of them, and take them out in public. Three! How many siblings did your grandparents have?
Most of you don’t know that my hands are actually even fuller than you can see as I walk with these three beauties. Some days we’re sailing; other days we’re drowning. On a good day, I can laugh at what you’re missing as you comment on me and my full hands. But in those hard times–when we’ve been in seasons of appointment after appointment and sleepless nights and teething and potty accidents–you have no idea as you blithely comment “You have your hands full,” that I feel so incredibly drained. You have no idea it took almost 2 hours to get ready and into the car to drive to the grocery store or a restaurant or yet another doctor. You have no idea that by the time we get there, someone should be sleeping, someone is hungry, and I’m mentally making a list that when we get home, so-and-so needs a diaper, everyone needs to eat, if I can get out in 30 minutes, we will not have completely screwed up naptime. And you interrupt my unceasing inner dialog to tell me what I’ve heard a thousand times. Yes, my hands are full. But on most days and whenever I pause to ponder, my heart is full to bursting, too.
Lastly, depending on the day and on the person, this phrase can deeply hurt. My hands aren’t as full as they should be. With all the craziness I just mentioned…we totally love living life with each of our wonderful kids, but what you don’t know is that we’re missing someone, two someones, in fact. You think they’re so close? You ask if this was on purpose? (As though that’s any of your business, but that’s another post…) They would’ve been closer, stranger, but I won’t tell you that. And for those struggling with infertility or loss, it stings to be out with the friend with her hands full and to hear that phrase tossed at her a handful of times on a playdate while your hands feel painfully empty.
I don’t take for granted that my hands are full of blessings, that my mind is full of memories, that my arms are full of cuddles, that my lap is full of “Please read one more story!” and that my soul is full of hope and love, growing with this amazing family of ours.