I heard your quaking voice and felt your anxious energy before I saw you. I could tell you were having the worst of bad days. We sat at a nearby bench as I waited for my friend in the playground. You touched my heart instantly – a mum trying her best to hold it all together. Believe me, I know how that feels.
My 6 year old was playing nearby and my 2 year old son was at home with my husband (let’s face it, had he been with me I would never have had the space to really see anyone else). Straight away I wanted to approach you and wrap you up in a warm hug but I worried this wasn’t the most appropriate course of action for a total stranger.
You had two small boys, aged about 4 and 2, and it was obvious you were struggling. You first caught my attention as I heard you pleading with your eldest son. ‘Please stop this behaviour. All I want is for us to have a nice morning out.’ Your words were shaky; your desperate tone belied the superhuman effort it was taking you to hold it together.
You looked emotionally and physically exhausted as your eldest stood sulkily by and you wrestled your toddler in attempt to apply sun cream. He slipped out of your grasp, ran towards his brother and shoved him. His brother retaliated by snatching the small brown bunny he was clutching and taking off with it. Screaming and fighting ensued as you ran towards them and tried to break up the scuffle.
‘Please stop this.’ Your eyes were hidden by sunglasses but I could tell they were deeply ringed and threatening tears. As the fighting continued you sat on the bench and rested your head in your hands. I couldn’t hear your words but I felt them in my core.
‘I’m so fed up. I’ve had enough.’
That should have been the moment I approached you with my hug but I still felt awkward at the prospect of interrupting this deeply emotional moment. I may have been a total stranger but trust me I know how you felt.
I know that your day started at 5am with a clingy toddler and defiant child. I know how tired you were, how every step you took felt like wading through treacle. I know how you longed for just a few moments of calm without someone screaming, ‘Mummy!’ I know you were fuelled by coffee and good intentions to turn the day around – to just feel better about everything – but as every minute passed you felt worse.
I know that you said to yourself, ‘One more whinge and I’m out the door’ and instantly felt guilty for letting such a thought enter your mind. I’m sure you overlooked the fact there had been a thousand more whinges since then and yet you were still there. Still caring for your babies. Bet you hadn’t given yourself any credit for that.
You started frantically trying to ready your boys for the paddling pool, pulling on their swimsuits and blowing up inflatables. You were almost manic in your attempts to chivvy your boys and yourself along. As they resisted your every request, screaming and running away at every opportunity, a small noise escaped you. It was as if you choked on a sob you could no longer contain. You were clearly a master of deception and of putting on a brave face. But sometimes those hidden emotions found a way out, like steam escaping from a kettle, whether you liked it or not.
I decided to make my move; no longer caring if you thought I was a weirdo, so strong was my empathy for you. At the same time your friend arrived in a flurry of hugs and kisses. I could feel how relief washed over you like a brief summer storm. You returned the hug slightly too tightly.
‘My two are being a nightmare today,’ you smiled. I’m sure all you wanted to do was lean in for another hug and unload your weary mind but your toddler had other ideas. He wanted to push his trike over other people’s picnic blankets and bags. You had no choice but to accompany him to prevent further destruction. Resistance was futile. He had no intention of playing ball.
So your friend, your saving grace, sat alone with her baby while you followed your headstrong boys around the park. As is so often the way when mums meet, there is never a chance to actually have a real conversation. Unspoken words hung like a fine mist between you, ready to be channelled into a mammoth What’s App conversation later that evening.
Suddenly my friend and her daughter arrived and I lost sight of you in the crowded park. Though I’ll never see you again, I’ll never forget you. You are me. You are her. You are every single mother on the planet who has a gruelling parenting day from time to time.
Here’s what I wish I’d said to you. I know how scared you were of your thoughts and feelings that day. I know that your desire to run away and hide made you question your abilities as a mother. I know that you worried you were failing. I know you love your boys to the moon and back. Today you just didn’t love motherhood. Trust me, that’s ok.
I also know that tomorrow will be a better day. I know that after you have tucked your babies up in bed, you’ll watch their angelic, sleeping faces and your heart will thud with love and pride. Having a bad day is not the same thing as being a bad mum. We all have days when we feel pushed to the limit and wonder if we’ll crack.
Try not to dwell on it. You’ll probably love motherhood again tomorrow. You’re a great mum and you’re doing a fantastic job. Wherever you are, I hope you know that.