That Repeated Phrase

There is a phrase I hear more often than any other when I am out and about with my two sons.

“You’ve got your hands full!”
Folks say this to me when the kids are laughing, crying, tantruming, shrieking, running from me, smiling, being polite or adorable. You name it, and for some reason or no reason at all, someone drops the line.
I think I can say without exaggeration that I hear it at least once a day, but usually more.
Sometimes it is accompanied by, “Two boys, huh? ” or “Oh boy!” or a simple “Wow!”
I don’t know what the phrase really means. What was it supposed to mean back in the day when someone came up with it?
When you hear a phrase so often, you might start to wonder…
Do I look tired? Busy? Flustered? Joyful? Are my “full hands” meant to be synonymous with “my cup runneth over?” Like there’s more love and laughter in my house with my two little lovies, and whoever is saying the phrase is really meaning, “I’m so jealous of you right now!!!”
I tend to assume folks look at me and think, “she looks overwhelmed” or “she looks like she needs help because her hands are so full.” Or I assume they are trying to make conversation.
It’s a terrible pick-up line/conversation starter, but, hey, maybe it’s all they’ve got.
The trouble is I can’t imagine how saying it to a mother who, in fact, is tired, busy, flustered and still joyful could make her feel better in any given moment.
The last time I heard the phrase, I was at the lake with my little men. LM2 was crying because he’s a baby, and plenty of times, babies cry. LM1 was crying because he was tired (I pushed nap time because we were having too much fun at the lake) and he didn’t want to leave. His protesting turned to all out kicking and screaming, shrieking and wailing.
But I carried both men in my arms, a backpack diaper bag behind me, sand toys tucked into an elbow crevice and trotted toward our truck.
A small, tan, smiling (laughing?) older woman stared for a while, and when I was finally within earshot she said, “You’ve really got your hands full.”
What am I supposed to do with that? Is that an invitation to start a dialogue? Does she want to reminisce about days from her own early motherhood? Was she showing sympathy? Empathy? Did she really need to laugh at the situation?
I’ve been thinking about this because I’m really not sure what this phrase even means.
I want to believe that little old woman is sweet and kind. I want to believe she was laughing and smiling to show me the humor in all of these sometimes stressful situations. Then I ask myself what the best case scenario could have been. What do I want someone to say to me instead? Do I want anything to be said at all?
And because the answer is not so transparent, I decided that I just need to come up with a better retort. Instead of smiling with a bewildered grin, I can say any of the following:
1.) “My husband can’t keep his hands off me!”
2.) “I’ve got three more at home!”
3.) “We’re hiring!”
4.) “And they’re all gunna be president.”
5.) “Oh, they’re not mine.”
6.) “And I’m pregnant with twins!”
7.) “Full is better than empty.”
8.) “Well, they’re not cell phones so ‘hands free’ isn’t always an option.”
9.) “Thank you. I’m not sure what to call your hands.”
10.) “Full is the diaper I’m about to change!”
and my personal favorite…..
11.) “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want a hug? Maybe later.”
What do you do/say when folks drop this line on you???
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2 thoughts on “That Repeated Phrase

  1. Erica Delp

    I always like when people say this to me. To me, it’s kind of affirming that someone sees that there are challenges, but it’s just a normal part of how life with little ones is. It always seems good natured and I feel less alone in the moment. I never considered that someone else could feel so diffently about it. Usually if people think you’re doing a bad job at managing the kids, they stare and shoot looks.

  2. Lauren

    Odd thing to say! The older I get and the more I see I feel like people shouldn’t say too much! “You’re hands are full” is strange, “is this your first child” “how do you do it” etc! Being a mom is hard enough… asking some questions can pose a sensitive topic or be the last straw
    In a moms busy day. A simple “what adorable kids” is easy enough and can help a mom feel good, or take a moment to breathe and remember they’re cute.. even when they are screaming!!


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