On a Wink and a Prayer
It was the end of a long day. My eyes felt like puddles of burning flesh and my head heavy, like a container of voodoo dolls being pierced every other second by a vindictive despot. Tolerance was nearing below basement levels by the time I got on the tube.
Cue in your public transport classics: the Smellmaggedon = smelly people, smelly people eating smelly food and smelly post-food bodily emissions; the LackOfRespectmaggedon – no one gives a seat, no one gives way, and the IgnoringEverythingAroundMemaggedon, probably a solid topper in the charts of not giving a shit, usually involving headphones or newspapers used as solitary confinement islands against any possible form of human contact even when packed against another card carrying member of the human race like tinned fish.
And suddenly there she was. The one person having it worse than the commuter collective. The priestess of all voodoo dolls, the queen of shitstorms, the leader of the sleep deprived world _ the mother with the overtired toddler. The child was knee deep in a tantrum so epic it deserved its own Greek adaptation. Her screams were like Russian dolls, each encapsulating smaller yet potent vocal cluster bombs determined to wipe out resistance and initiate immediate reaction. She wanted nothing, she wanted everything and it needed to be now.
Like a professionally prepared entertainer, the PTSD victim/mother skilfully dodged handfuls of half eaten snacks thrown in her direction, presented her red faced toddler with new ones and stopped Sophie, the Giraffe from being used as a weapon of mass annoyance at least five times. She retrieved dummies, she whispered songs, she held herself together with copious amounts of internal glue. But the cracks were showing.
As others pushed their headphones more snugly against their skulls, pretended not to see or gave the woman nano-second glances of disapproval I met her gaze. Then, on a spur of the moment impulse I winked at her.
You read that right. Winked.
A rush of embarrassment and self-awareness washed over me as I blushed redder than the crying toddler. I would forever be the woman who winked, not smiled or tilted her head gently, at a mother while her child was about to self-combust. You know, your kid may burst a neck vein soon and pretty much the entire carriage hates you so let me wink at you because that’s what you need, right? She offered me a polite smile before returning to her slow burning version of hell.
Suddenly her body language changed, exuding hope, confidence and she assumed the air of someone about to taste freedom or at least the joy of a run for it. It was her stop. She readied herself, fixed her limp fringe as her fingers dexterously removed bits of rice cake she could not see but instinctively knew were there, and held on tight to the pushchair. The doors opened. She walked towards them and turned in my direction. Then she winked back. Because that’s just what another mother needs, right?
Right. WINKS. Shitloads of them. Winks, prayers, hugs, doughnuts, a non-competitive sisterhood that will join her in the honest recognition that raising a small human is fucking hard, that at times she wishes she had never become a mother, that she loves that small human at a molecular level that supersedes the very definition of love itself but she doesn’t always like the little bugger, that she doesn’t have it together, that by the time she gets her hands on that dress she’s been eyeing it will definitely be out of fashion, that her current cultural references come from posters on the tube and half read Time Out articles, that the cute smiles and baby smell don’t always make up for the fact that most of the time she has no time and that the time she does have is probably the bit where she’s in the bathroom fantasizing about having time until a small person barges in and snaps her out of it.
She needs winks that know the times she feels lonelier are actually when she has to stand with other mothers and agree, like it’s an unspoken convention, that being a mum is a little tough but quickly offset it with how wondrous and rewarding it is when all she wants to do is cry over years of sleeplessness, the loss of her identity and her perceived failure in the balancing act of mastering parenting, holding a job, cooking food that doesn’t come out of a packet, trying to look presentable, being ok with the fact she doesn’t recognise her body anymore and remembering what day it is.
I winked into someone else’s dangerous parental centrifuge of chaos at my own peril today. So did she. And I’m guessing we kind of saved each other.
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