Ellie was three weeks old.
Sitting was still painful, breastfeeding still resulted in tears for both of us, and I was an exhausted hormonal mess - but for Topher's sake, I decided that it was time.
I nursed Ellie, praying a full tummy would help her sleep, strapped her into her car seat under her cozy blankets and cover, and loaded both kids into the stroller for the short walk to the library.
It was our first outing as a trio - and I was terrified.
What if I couldn't handle two kids?
It was colder outside than I thought it was. I let Topher wear his fireman jacket and rain boots when he should have been in a snowsuit.
He didn't have a hat or mittens in the diaper bag so I gave him mine to wear. April, in Edmonton? What was I thinking?
Ellie was toasty warm but she hated being in the car seat so she screamed the entire way, and of course I had forgotten to bring the only soother she actually liked.
The snow had thawed earlier in the week, then frozen again so the sidewalks were a mess of icy ruts that I couldn't navigate the stroller through, so I had to ask Topher to get out and help me push.
By the time we got to the library, I was ready to turn around and head back home - but Topher was so excited to be out in the Real World that I just didn't have the heart. Ellie calmed down once she was in my arms so I figured we could stay for story time. Topher had a fantastic time, singing silly songs and heckling the librarian from the back row (he is so his father's son!), and Ellie finally fell asleep, so I wandered around, picking out books one-handed and depositing them in the stroller.
Then it was time to go and all hell broke loose.
Topher - usually a cheery, helpful little boy - threw his first ever lying-down-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming-tantrum when I asked him to put his coat on.
Of course that woke up Miss Ellie, who realized she was no longer in my arms but in the Demon Car Seat, and she started to scream.
I had no idea what to do.
Take Ellie out of the stroller and calm her down while ignoring Topher? Deal with Topher and ignore Ellie? Start screaming myself?
I took a deep breath, then squatted down on Topher's level and told him in no uncertain terms that whether or not he put his jacket on, we were going home. Without his jacket he would turn into a popsicle, but if that's what he wanted to be, it was fine with me.
I stood up and started rocking the stroller back and forth, waiting for him to collect himself, avoiding eye contact with the dozen or so other moms who were leaving story time with their calm, quiet, obedient children.
But then I felt a hand on my shoulder. "How old?" she asked, gesturing to Ellie. ""Three weeks," I mumbled. "Gosh, you're brave!" she said with a smile. "I didn't venture out with my second until he was at least six months old, and that was just for a walk around the block!" I tried to smile, blinking back the tears in my eyes. "You're doing a good job, Mama," she said softly. "I remember what it was like. You're doing a good job."
And with that, she was gone.
The presence of another adult seemed to bring Topher to his senses because he immediately stood up and started to pull his coat on. We checked out our books and headed home for naps all around.
* * *
I still look for that other mom every time we go to the library because I want to say thank you.
Thank you for being there. Thank you for stopping. Thank you for smiling. Thank you for understanding. You spoke give simple words that day, but those five simple words went straight to my heart and gave me the courage and the confidence I needed to make it through those early months as a mother of two.
I haven't seen her since that day.
It used to frustrate me - she had a huge impact, I want to tell her, goshdarnit! - but now I've given up looking for her.
Instead, I smile at other moms. I ask them about their children. I listen. And I offer simple words encouragement.
This motherhood gig? It's hard. We need each other.
And every now and then, we need to hear the words:
You're doing a good job, Mama.
Because you are.