A group of bewildered young woman are sitting together in a coffee shop in a shopping centre. They are new friends – their babies born within a few weeks of each other. Some of those babies are asleep in the humongous prams their mothers are only just learning to drive. Others are cuddled peacefully in laps. Yet others are being fed. Those breastfeeding are anxiously looking around to ensure that they are not embarrassing themselves or anyone around them. Those bottle-feeding are hoping desperately that no-one is going to judge them. And they ask each other the rhetorical question all new mother’s ask: “Did you think it was going to be this hard?”
Another young mother walks slowly past them. She holds her toddler’s hand and awkwardly pushes an empty pram. The toddler has insisted she walk and the ten minute shopping trip has turned into a two hour long adventure. That mother looks over at the newly formed mothers group and smiles ruefully. She remembers those days. How hard it all seemed then. She thinks, “you ain’t seen nothing yet ladies”. She looks back fondly on the days filled with baby sleep, cuddles, coffee and friends on maternity leave. Nowadays, she meets her mother friends (the few that have not returned to work) at the local park. Coffee shops are a nightmare with children that refuse to sit still. She checks her watch and realises that her parking will soon expire and hurries into the supermarket to pick up the milk that never lasts for more than a day.
There, another mother is arguing with her son. I WANT IT NOW! He screams and sits down in the aisle, stubbornly refusing to budge. This mother looks to the heavens and wishes the ground would swallow her whole. Onlookers either smile understandingly or scowl, depending on how long ago they had to deal with exactly the same situation. She watches the sweet, toddling, little girl, who is gurgling to herself in a language of entirely her own making. She remembers those days. When everything slowed down to the pace of a fascinated child just learning about the world. When the new words and new discoveries delighted her and her son in equal measure. When opinions weren’t as hotly contested and distraction was always the solution. She closes her eyes briefly and stands her ground. Her son eventually quietens, stands and hugs her legs.
As she scans her groceries, she tries to catch the woman’s eye. To convey some sympathy, understanding and acknowledgement of parenting well done. It wasn’t so very long ago that her own children were throwing tantrums in supermarkets. But they are in school now and their worlds have expanded beyond her. Her days are filled with ferrying children to and from school and sports commitments. She is searching for that elusive job that would allow her to work school hours. She worries about grades and good schools and her children making wise choices. She wonders what her life will look like now that she has the deceptively short hours of 9:00 to 3:00 to herself. She longs for the days when they were babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers. When she was the single brightly shining star of their life. When they were each others’ everything.
The lady behind the service desk watches the prams, the babies and the children parade past her every day. She hears the mewling cries of newborns, the delighted whoops of pre-schoolers, the demands of toddlers and the exhaustion in their mothers’ voices. She wonders if they know how lucky they are. To have these children in their lives. She had always wanted a child, but life didn’t turn out that way for her. And she hopes that, even amidst the hardships, these mothers know the exact, precious weight of the children bundled in their arms.