Sometimes it’s the fleeting moments of seeming inconsequence that stay with you for a while, peeking out from behind a pillar in your brain while you’re doing the washing up or making the bed. They can make you feel a bit displaced, a bit edgy. This is one of those.
Dear Thumbs Up Mum,
I’ve known you for a little while, in that easy and familiar way that mums on the baby group circuit know each other. Now that our babies are older, our paths don’t really cross, but when I cast my mind back to that hazy, lazy period where my maternity leave seemed as if it would stretch on forever, you’re there. You’re one little piece in a huge jigsaw of mummies, groups, sunshine, picnics, dribble, milestones, sweaty babies, advice, class leaders, coffee, loneliness, boredom.
One Friday not so long ago, I took my two to Sainsbury’s for lunch, which is hugely unglamorous. But I know from experience that eating outside of the house is infinitely easier, and both children seem to be instantly sold on a bought ham sandwich and a 25p Milkybar for good behaviour. I also know from experience that I find Fridays quite tough going.
I don’t know why, exactly, as we go to a lovely french group in the morning and come on, it’s Friday, which means chips for tea and a film on Netflix tucked up on the sofa with my husband. But between those two points on my Friday map, everything seems to unravel a bit and frankly, I’m always tired. By that point I’ve had three days of my “real” job, where I try and pack a mythical fourth day of work into those hours. I’ve had my transition day, where the girls and I do as much or as little as we please and we adapt to being together after three days apart. By lunchtime on Friday, the novelty has firmly worn off and I’m just mentally chipping away at the hours until it’s daddy’s hometime.
The big child was being an absolute pain in the arse on the Friday that we saw you. She’d been in our bed from 5am, wide awake and wittering on about all sorts of nonsense. Sometimes her nonsense is really good fun, and sometimes it’s just annoying. Like when the baby has poo down her legs and is wriggling all over the floor, and the toddler decides to invent a few questions which she’ll ask relentlessly, such as “why don’t trees wear jumpers in winter?”. On these sorts of days, I appeal to the god of parenting to deliver me more than my daily ration of patience.
I’d been trying to vacate our table in the Sainsbury’s cafe for what seemed like an hour, collecting up cups and satsuma peel and wet wipes and coats. I had Moo in a rugby tackle under one arm as I yanked her little changing backback from under the pram. “Right,” I said to Mouse. “Can you bring her bag please, I’ll get everything else, and we’ll go for a wee and a nappy change?”
“How do I carry it? Where is it?”
“It’s there, look. I put it on the chair. And you know how to carry a bag, don’t be silly.”
“I don’t know how to carry that bag.”
“Yes, yes you do. It’s just a bag, pick it up by the strap and help mummy, please.”
“I don’t know where the bag is. I can’t see it. How do I carry it?”
“Oh, for god’s sake. It’s right there. JUST BRING THE BAG, WILL YOU?”
At that moment, I looked up and saw you, pushing a trolley towards the counter. You smiled and waved, and through gritted teeth I gave a little half wave back, while I lugged the highchair away and sighed. “Please, please just come on and stop being a silly girl.”
I looked back at you, and you were still looking at me. You mouthed “Ok?” while doing a little thumbs up. “Yeah, fine.” I mouthed back. I don’t think I smiled.
Inside the baby change, I gave myself a little pep talk. “Sorry I got cross,” I said to Mouse. “But you were being a little bit silly about the bag.”
“Sorry mummy. Can I have a biscuit?”
Then Moo did a massive fart and we laughed, and instantly the mist of exhaustion cleared a little bit. Or maybe the caffeine just hit my bloodstream. When we got outside, I decided, I’d go up to you and say sorry for being rude, and that just you wait until your little boy is a toddler, because toddlers really can be buggers, ha ha ha. Then I’d ask how you were keeping, and say that I was sorry again for missing your boy’s birthday party a couple of months ago, but we’d been moving house that week and we were all over the place. I’d mention that I’d seen your partner at work a few times and yes, it was odd being back, but I was slowly settling in and getting back into a routine. How was work going for you, I’d seen a few things on Facebook and it sounded like it was all working out really well? That’s great, I’d say. I’m really pleased.
Ultimately, I’d leave with a smile and a laugh and a friendly wave, not the dagger-shooting, miserable, haggard mum you’d seen heading into the baby change.
But when we got back outside, you weren’t there. I scanned the cafe and all the tables, and I thought maybe you’d picked up a takeaway coffee to drink while you were doing the shopping. I considered sending you a message on Facebook to say sorry if I seemed rude, and that you’d caught me at the end of a very long week. But I didn’t. I don’t know why.
So I’m writing you this, instead. I want to say that no, I wasn’t really ok, in that moment, on that Friday. But that your thumbs up was enough to jolt me out of my little world, where everything felt a bit heavy and grey. And the rest of my afternoon was actually fine.
Thank you for being a sweetheart.
-SJW March 2017