Effortless hot mess

Today I thought it swell to take all 4 of my little sweethearts to Vitamin Cottage around 4pm to buy dried elderberries to make witches’ brew on my stovetop because January is not the boss of me. And because last month a friend hooked me up with a bottle of her own home-brew that cured a sinus infection without a z-pack. (And it doesn’t taste terrible. Recipe here.)

As I was pulling into the lot I miscalculated and had to recalibrate and reposition the mini for optimal car seat to shopping cart child schlepping. A bemused employee watched me back out and re-park 75 precious feet closer to the cart corral before deadpanning the following:

“Should I leave you the big cart?”

Yes my good woman, yes you should.

I gratefully buckled Evie into the top slot before wiggling and jiggling Luke’s just-the-right-size baby seat into the body of the cart. Which left 7 cubic inches of available real estate for actual groceries, which was fine, because Vitamin Cottage.

I stationed a blonde pre-schooler on either side of the cart and we set off across the parking lot. The same cart corralling employee spotted me from across the lot and yelled TODAY’S A REAL FAMLIY OUTING ISN’T IT??? And what would have been deeply off-putting to 3 years ago me just kind made today’s me chuckle.

To be fair, and in her defense, I don’t suppose many people do bring a quartet of small children to Vitamin Cottage at 4pm on a Tuesday.

But until you have, have you really lived?

The five of us, aided by a helpful teenage employee named Dustin, soon found ourselves armed with dried elderberries, surprisingly inexpensive Seventh Generation dish soap (more on that later) and a can of lactose intolerant formula for those special nights where you feel like treating the special little person in your life to something white, powdery, and completely legal. Or for when mommy goes out for more than 4 hours and doesn’t want to pump.

We had to pit stop for the potty where the cart-dwellers and I sat guard outside the ladies’ room, admiring the promotional posters and watching people come and go down the back hallway. My favorite employee popped around the corner and waved as she made her way into the office, laughing “how are you going to fit any groceries into that cart?”

At this point I could have been flustered or I could have been annoyed, but I can honestly say I was neither. I smiled and said something about it being a great budgeting tactic to have so many bodies on board you couldn’t allow for a single impulse buy.

In reality, the 5 items I had selected for purchase were piled atop the baby in his carseat, and as we doubled back to the spice aisle for some 6!dollar!cloves!, I mentally berated myself for not just going to Target and dropping another $28 on activewear and Star Wars paraphernalia. Because magical syrup wasn’t really going to keep us healthy, was it? And for this kind of money I could be the proud owner of another pair of black “running tights” and a Luke Skywalker journal.

I forked over a fistful of cash and collected my 5 items, redistributing them across the baby’s abdomen because plastic bags are immoral, and the kids and I hustled back into the parking lot. As I dug through my purse for the keys, Jared the checker loped up behind me asking if I were looking for a phone. Chagrined, I took my battered hot pink Otter Box from his proffered hand. Thanks Jared.

As I loaded kidlets back into the car one by one, I spied a really, really inexpensive bottle of dish soap that’d been stowed away behind Luke’s seat. Oops.

As I held the contraband bottle in my hands, squinting into the late afternoon Colorado sun and mentally weighing my options, I decided that going ahead and taking the soap and coming back at some indeterminate future point to pay for it was basically shoplifting, so instead I hoofed it back inside with a baby on my hip, throwing $3 at Jared and panting out an apology.

At this point Jared would be right and just in his judgment of me being a hot mess.

Back to the car, back to the buckling, and back to the house where I did indeed brew a grog of the foulest-smelling stuff I’ve sniffed since the last time I let my amazing husband make good on his offer to “make something up” for dinner, and came home to hamburger curry over green peas.

But, mixed with honey, it isn’t completely terrible.

And, we probably saved $4 making it at home. Or at least $2.75. For sure I saved $1. The punchline of all this pointless backstory is that when I first started combining kids and public places, not only was I probably not nearly as hot a mess as I am today, but I was 100% more nervous, more concerned with everyone else’s opinions of me, and more prone to judge my kids’ behavior harsh harsh harshly, because they were my little ego reflections for all the world to see.

To be clear, I probably was hotter. But I was far less a mess.

Now? We’re objectively a little trainwreckish. But it’s ok. They’re learning and I’m learning, and I think we’re probably entertaining the general public more often than not. And even if we’re not, I’m just so much less concerned with how it looks, with how I look, with who’s looking…that it’s just not an issue.

If I’m being completely honest though, I still prefer Costco. And it’s much harder to lose anything in those big ol carts.



  • Hannah

    First time commenter, you often get me right in the feels & today I just gotta tell you – you’re the best.
    I felt like a hot mess today, 15 minutes late with my 2 boys to the first school day of the new year, left my car keys in one of their classrooms & didn’t realise till I got back to my car, then late to drop my new kindy girl off & late to pick her up in the afternoon (like no other parents there anymore getting a phonecall as I pull up kind of late) all the while bearing my 29 week pregnant belly around like a big question mark over my sanity & capability! “That’s ok, we’re learning” & even if I’m fairly embarrassed at still having so much to learn at 36 and fairly terrified of how much learning is to come once all 4 are on the outside, I feel encouraged to be less concerned with what others are thinking so THANK YOU! Your truth-filled, real life, Christ focused blog brings me so much life! It’s truly a ministry and praise God you made yourself available in this way.
    Here’s to hot messes, trainwrecks & a whole lot of love!

  • Annelise

    I love your tales of venturing out with your little ones! What energy you must possess! I have four young kiddos too–but I only order groceries online from a local store that offers home delivery!!

  • Julie

    Ah, but when you factor in your witnessing to all those lovely people (especially since you did it all with a smile!), you’ve reserved a place in Heaven, Jenny!

  • Bley

    I have just come to accept that it’s our role in life to provide amusement to the general public (5 kids 7 and under):) And I’m okay with that.

  • Ashley

    Haha – I looked at myself in the Costco bathroom mirror today (after rolling the cart into the large stall – did you know they actually fit? – so my newly potty-trained 2 year old could “try” while his 1 year old sister could still be supervised because she’s the totally insane one and not to be trusted for even one second away from a watchful eye) and my hair was a hot mess. Wind blown side braid, hat hair bangs (shoot – why did I leave my hat in the car?), really just screaming “my looks are NOT my priority right now”. And you know what? I just laughed. And thought “Hey – I’m looking pretty good for a half crazed mom of 3”. Ahh – the beauty of mellowing out with some age and perspective. I wouldn’t have been caught dead looking like that in public when I just had my first kid 🙂

  • melissa

    I had to come back and comment. Today I very wisely took my 2 and 3 yr olds with me on my big “stock up before the new baby” trip to target. While we were checking out (our metric ton of stuff) my 2 yr old snuck behind the counter and shut down tthe computer system (how?!). While two check out ladies transferred all our stuff to another aisle and started ‘re scanning everything, and while my 3 yr old loudly announced to everyone how bad he had to pee, my 2 yr old bolted for the front doors and almost made it before I caught her. Please picture me and my 38 week pregnant belly sprinting across the target lobby. Yep! Effortless hot mess. oddly enough I DID think it was more funny than embarrassing, and I thought immediately of this post.

  • Tiffany Webb

    While I have indeed been there for the “Hot-Mess-Out-With-A-Whole-Bunch-Of-Little-People” part, what I’m really commenting on is the elderberry syrup! Love that stuff. I the dried elderberries online, a pound at a time, and I really do think I’m saving money. Really I do. You’re right, at LEAST a dollar! Some of my kids love it and will drink it like tea, some hate it and will only drink their dily tiny teaspoon under duress, but we’ve maintained relative health during the winters we’ve stayed on top of it.

  • Colleen

    The public bathroom with babies in the cart thing is always the hardest part of venturing out isnt’t? Well, next to the barrage of “Are they all yours?/ Any twins?” ( 7 kids in 8 years-we’re insane).

  • Rose G.

    I only have two so far, age 22 months and 1 month. I did my first two-child grocery shopping trip the other day, so I felt a little nervous. (Especially since the last time I was at that same store, 39 weeks pregnant, my toddler threw a fit in the coffee aisle, yelling, “Mommy! Coffee! More coffee!” because I made the mistake of letting her take a little sip of my decaf coffee sample.) So I had the toddler in the cart, baby in the Ergo carrier. Toward the end of our shopping, one of the employees came over to get a closer look at the baby. She then told me how she had just returned from the East Coast where she was taking care of her dying mother, and that it “healed her heart” to see my two children, especially the brand new life. She said that seeing us was exactly what she needed that day 🙂 I was thinking about your post, and how even when we feel like a hot mess, sometimes our lively, busy kids are a real blessing to someone else.

  • Suzi Whitford

    But until you have, have you really lived? – I love your writing! I always need to get a cup of coffee and just enjoy every word. Thanks for being an internet momma friend and making us all smile! xox

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