I see the way you glare at me as you make your way back to your desk. You’d just picked up two toys lying on the floor, marched over to the corner of the room, and slammed the little plastic train and ball into their toy box so hard, every single person in the waiting room looked up in shock. That glare you gave me was meant to be seen. I get that. I feel your annoyance as you storm past me in your cute wedges and tight pencil skirt – you’re clean and well groomed from head-to-toe. I used to be well put-together too, you know, now I struggle to shower and brush my teeth most days.
Your glare tells me that you think my baby left those toys lying in the middle of the room. It wasn’t my baby. Couldn’t you see that I was rocking her to sleep? Couldn’t you see the fear in my eyes? The wild uncertainty? The look of, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing here!’ The way I was imploring my daughter, with the intensity of my gaze, to ‘Please. Just. Sleep. Please. Don’t. Cry.’ And if you missed all of that, couldn’t you see how small she was? Practically a newborn at 11 weeks – unable to physically hold a toy, let alone carry two to the middle of the room and leave them lying on the floor.
Even if she did – so what? You work in a paediatrician's office. Their patients are children. Sick, unsettled children. And you get shitty because you have to put a couple of toys away? I was fuming so hard at you I thought I would combust. I wanted to say something to you – explain to you that your actions weren’t OK. But you got me at a moment when my confidence was at an all time low – and my ability to confront people? Non-existent. Maybe you knew that? Maybe you preyed on that? I don’t know. I settled for not smiling at you on my way out. That’ll show you.
To all the exhausted mums who have no idea what they are doing: I see you. I feel you. No matter what, at least we have selfies.
* * *
I see you mama. I see your hurried pace, the stress in your hunched-over shoulders, the smile-less face and big black sunglasses. I notice your pretty outfit and all the supplies you brought with you. You wanted simply to enjoy a lovely, long, leisurely walk while your baby slept, didn’t you? But I hear your baby. I hear his escalating cries and I understand why you’re so tense. He had plans of his own, didn’t he?
I know you were probably willing your tears and those of your baby’s to stay put until you reached your safe place. I know how you must’ve felt because I have been there too, and I know that the last thing you would’ve wanted was a stranger to launch into a conversation with you. Still, I wish I had said something instead of letting you go like that…
If I’d stopped you for just a moment, I would’ve told you that one day you will walk with your baby in the sunshine and he will laugh instead of cry. Point at flowers and trees instead of arching his back in distress. You will stroll instead of rush. And smile instead of frown. You don’t have to hold your head high or smile at anyone now, you do it when you feel ready. But know this: it gets better.
* * *
I see the look on your face as my baby starts crying. Instantly, I feel the walls of the store closing in on me. As her screams escalate, my capacity to concentrate on shiny silver trinkets glinting in the artificial store light diminishes. You shoot the other sales assistant a look I wasn’t supposed to see. Or maybe I was supposed to see it. I don’t know anymore. My heart starts pounding and I start to panic. I know your small, boutique jewellery store wasn’t built for prams – or children for that matter. But I really couldn’t find anyone to look after my baby while I shopped for the gift I desperately needed to buy. I would’ve left her with my mum or husband had they been available. They weren’t.
So, here we are. My little girl screaming. My face burning. A bead of sweat rolling down my back. Your pearly whites flashing – a huge grin plastered on your face. But your smile doesn’t quite reach your eyes and I know what you’re thinking. I used to think like you too. I used to be annoyed the moment a baby started crying in a public place. “Why bring them?” I would huff to my husband. “This isn’t a place for kids. Leave them with a babysitter for Pete’s sake.”
I picked a pendant and declined your offer of wrapping services. I paid, mumbled a hasty thank you and manoeuvred my screaming child out of the store, making a beeline for the privacy of my car.
* * *
I see you mama. I know that the glance you just snuck at your reflection in the shop window ruined your entire day. You were meant to be going out for a delicious, warm lunch, but you lost your appetite the moment you saw your side profile, didn’t you? You don’t look the way you used to. You have rolls on parts of your body you didn’t even know could house them. I know you look in the mirror and feel like a stranger is looking back at you. I know that you cry every time you get ready to go out – I can see, in my mind’s eye the way your bedroom looks after one of your ‘getting ready’ sessions. Clothes strewn everywhere - on the bed, over the chair, and on the floor.
I know nothing fits, and I know how this feels. You want your body back don’t you? You want to be able to pull anything out of your wardrobe and not worry about how it will fit. You don’t want to have to dig around, looking for your old ‘fat clothes’ while simultaneously wondering why you didn’t procure more fat clothes in your past life, and praying that the ones you do own will fit.
I know it feels rubbish to have a wardrobe full of clothes you can’t wear. I know that not being able to throw on any of your old favourites makes you feel like you’re trapped in someone else’s body.
You know what else I know, though? You will fit into your clothes again. But you’ll never be the same again. You will be stronger and softer. You’ll live your life like you’ve never lived it before. You’ll see beauty in the simplest things. You’ll be exhausted but happy. Sometimes you’ll be intensely sad too, but overall you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been: you will not be you; rather, you will be a better version of you.
I have been on both sides: the single brat (left) and the softer (in more ways than one) mum. It's not a bad thing. It's just who I am.
* * *
I have a confession to make: I was once the rude receptionist and the ‘smiling’ sales assistant. These days, I don’t feel so great about it. So what do I do? Stand in the middle of an arena and have people throw rotten tomatoes at me? Be angry at myself for the rest of my life?
But wait - I was also the mother that witnessed walking mum’s tears, and reflection-mum’s body image crisis. I did more than witness though, I felt their distress, anger, pain, and their disappointment.
What does this mean? To me it means being angry at myself ‘til the end of my days would be silly. More than silly, it would be wasteful. Because I may have behaved like a brat in a past lifetime, but I am not that brat anymore. I have since lived on the other side and I have learnt to empathise; I have learnt to put myself in the shoes of another and walk their path for just a few moments. I have learnt how to feel compassion for another human being.
My days used to be filled with the things on the left. Hello Cuba! Now they are filled with more of the things on the right. I'm different and I like it.
I know people can be rubbish to one another – more than just rubbish – downright cruel. But I have also learnt that the reverse can be true: we can be so good to one another. We are more powerful than we know.
So this is what I will do: I will practice being the person who offers struggling mums - and in fact, all mums - words of support. The person who smiles at people instead of glaring. The person who cares. I will practice being the kind of person that makes the world a wonderful place. I will ooze kindness and love, and when I have a bad day and feel like punching someone, I will stop and recharge – then go again.
While I practice these actions – my hope is that my daughter soaks it all up - everything I say and do. That she taps into her inner kindness and humility. That she learns to love people, listen to them, show them respect. That she taps into her inner power – and uses it for good. That she recharges when she needs to, and raises her level of tolerance before she heads back out into the world again. I may have lived as a brat in the past, but that doesn’t mean that she has to – perhaps my bratty days were enough to teach us both.