How a Bystander Can Help a Hot Mess Mom

I have gone ahead and purchased an annual pass to the Hot Mess Express.

I know that I am an absolute hot mess and I own it. Under “Hot Mess” in the dictionary (or Urban Dictionary) you may find a photo of me. I am looking with half-open, sleep deprived eyes. My hair is pulled back in a hasn’t-been-washed-in-three-days fashion. A baby spitting up on my shoulder, a toddler on my leg screaming, “Why!?” and a school-ager pulling my arm all complete my look.

Fun fact: when I actually looked up the word “hot mess” on Urban Dictionary, I found these pleasant words, “When one’s thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.”

This had me feeling slightly awesome, like the hot part in my messy situation was actually sexy. That is until I found the slightly different definition for a “Hot Mess Mom.” Apparently we are a breed all our own. Back to feeling like a bag lady.

I am so much of a hot mess that while working on this post I accidentally hit “publish” (a no-no button prior to editing) after only having inserted the title. Palm to the face.  

If you see me passing through, do me a favor and do one of two things:

1.)    And I quote, (from Bridesmaids) “Look away!”

In truth, this is my preference. I know the tricks it takes to calm my storm and if I have not been able to still those waters, then I am just going to ride it out. I would prefer that I do not have an audience flooded with judging eyes.


2.)    Lend a helping hand…maybe

Do not, I repeat, do NOT simply comment. A casual “Somebody’s not happy,” does nothing for a mother conducting her failing railcar. Most of the time, I would rather not have a stranger approach me assist my messy situation. However, there are times when yes, I would love for you to take my shopping cart after unloading groceries while my kid screams in the car. If you get too involved (and are a stranger), you will make me feel like I don’t know how to do my job as a mother.  Option #2 can be tricky as it is an unrehearsed dance between Hot Mess Mama and the bystander. Ask yourself what YOU would want if you were in her shoes.

Climb aboard my Hot Mess Express!

I will take you through three particularly messy stops. Note: These are actual instances that have occurred. Let it be known that there is nothing artificial about the stories here.

Stop #1: The Library

My three children and I entered the silence of the library. My toddler had just fallen and skinned a knee on the way in. The wheels of our stroller chugged along, trying to blend into our surroundings. I reminded my two oldest to use their inside voices. Not a squeak.

By the time I was in the self-checkout, my baby was screaming. Not a whimper, but a full out freak-out mode scream. The kids piled books on the bottom of the stroller, so it took quite some time. As I tried to ignore it and frantically scanned each item, a librarian shared with me her observations:

“I have never seen a baby turn that shade of red.”

She tried to follow rule #1, but had to comment. To her credit, she did eventually follow through with #2 by helping me take the locks off our DVDs. She also tried to look at my baby in hopes that he would stop screaming. No such luck.

We were about to leave, when she pointed out that my toddler still had a movie and several random CDs (that we would never listen to). I scanned my library card again, the librarian assisted, and we were on our way. She sent a whispered, “I hope your baby is okay,” to me as I hauled it towards the parking lot. For the record, he was perfectly fine (which I already knew). I have a photo to prove that is was just gas. A giant blowout occurred on my lap once we got home. I was totally going to wear that outfit to work the next day. No one I knew had seen me. Sigh…

Stop #2: Target

In preparation for my husband’s weeklong work trip, the whole family of five piled into the van and headed to Target to stock up for the week ahead. As soon as we entered my baby started crying. I got him out and carried him in one arm, a basket to fill with groceries in the other. I left my husband with the toddler and school ager. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up my birth control pills. (Oh, the irony).

I finally met up with my husband. I tried putting baby back into his carseat unsuccessfully. So, I waited near the checkout holding my screaming baby. Our giant cart (two seater) next to me. I couldn’t even push it; it was so awkward. People were staring and I didn’t care. My husband threw the keys at me to take the baby to the van. He took our oldest two through the checkout. Cue the whining for checkout paraphernalia. I frantically tossed him my phone and reminded him to use my Cartwheel App. In the midst of the chaos, an extra 10 seconds of hot mess is worth saving $10.

I walked out of Target with my baby in my arms and without half of the items on my grocery list.

The next day I placed a grocery order for delivery from Hyvee…

Stop #3: School Drop Off/Pick Up

After a long day at work, I pick up three kids from three distant locations throughout town. It takes me at least 1.5 hours. On this particular day I picked up my oldest from school last. Out went the baby again, then the toddler. My toddler insisted on carrying in several toys and snacks inside. The baby car seat (all 500 pounds of it) it one arm, a toy or two that the toddler dropped in the other.

All I needed to do was find my kid and sign him out. As we made our way back to the van, my toddler was demanding to sit on the outside bench. When I told her no, she hit full melt-down mode in a matter of seconds. This panic trickled on down to my baby who was red in the face once more. From there, my toddler did the arched back tango as I tried desperately to buckle her into her car seat without looking like I was trying to kill her. Through sweat and nearly tears, I listened to my oldest ask about snacks and dinner on repeat. All this while other parents went skating by our hot mess. They followed rule #1 well, avoiding eye contact.

Perhaps some of them had been there.

Perhaps our scene was too ugly to glance at.

The week before, we had forgotten to move out the middle seat in the van, so I had to drop my son off to school by releasing the rear hatch. He couldn’t get around the others’ seats, so his sojourn from the backseat outward was a short one. Out he would pop with a wave. Yes, folks, I rear-hatched my kid off to school. It lasted several days as we kept forgetting to move the seat. We put an end to this hot mess method when my son climbed into the van and his pants slid on down to expose a half moon at the rear hatch, facing the car behind us. The smile on his face made me think it was no accident.

So the next time you see a mother in distress, instead of commenting…

1.)    Look away!


2.)    Offer a helping hand…maybe


How would you like others to respond when you are in the heat of a hot mess?

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