Yesterday an odd thing happened. Not a bad odd thing, not an amazingly deliciously strange odd thing either. It wasn’t like a sudden clicking of things falling into place, nor a Eureka! moment of life suddenly making sense, but it was something. Something small and almost insignificant, yet undeniably hugely significant.
This is what happened. Sitting in a warm photography studio waiting for costume changes to be perfected, for props to be laid out precisely and elegantly, for ballet show photos to be taken of perfect smiles and neat hair and huge dresses, a woman walked through the door pushing a child in a buggy, followed by her two older children, skipping and running and teasing each other. I looked as the door was opened, smiled at the chattering children, carried on my conversation with my 5 year old. Her name was mentioned and it made me look up again, it was a name I had heard recently from another mum, a name that meant absolutely nothing to me then, and only familiar now as a part of a story told to me weeks previously. Except as I looked up, this woman was familiar to me. Her name, just a name in a tale, suddenly had a face, and it was a face that meant so much to me that I felt like I was experiencing about forty unidentifiable emotions simultaneously. She sat down, she chatted to other mums, she helped her children into costumes, and she had no idea that she had totally shaken my world by walking into that hot studio on a gloriously summery Sunday afternoon.
Six-ish years ago, I was sat in the local children’s centre, waiting for someone to do something to or with my baby. I really have no clue when it was, how old my daughter was, whether she was weeks or months, whether we were waiting for a weight check or whether it was the time I was told off by the health visitor for not doing baby led weaning. All I know about that day is that I was feeling vile. I was shaken and shaking, I had left the house because I’d had to, anxiety was overwhelming every cell of my body. I was sitting on a blue plastic chair, clutching my baby girl, wanting to scream and cry, to grip my baby so tight and not let go and also wanting to leave her with the nearest stranger because the responsibility was too much, too frightening, my inability to do this mothering thing was too much and too frightening. I wanted to run as fast as I could out of that room and that building back home, actually not back home as we were living in an ant -infested house that made my stomach lurch every time the road sign came into view, to run somewhere so fast that the speed and the change of it all would transform me into someone else. Into the woman sat opposite me.
She was sitting on the floor, her tanned smiling face make-up free, her curls piled on top of her head in a loose bun, her baby between her stretched legs as she changed it’s nappy. She said something casual in a confident, breezy way, I can’t remember what she said, but I remember how I felt. I wanted to be her. Her relaxed look, the contentment and confidence that flowed from her, her self-assuredness, her friendly face, her ease at making conversation, her ease at being a mother, she was everything I knew I wasn’t. She was everything I desperately wanted to be.
Nothing changed that day. I didn’t leave that children’s centre determined to make changes, to get help for my paralysing anxiety and depression (probably because I was getting help and it was useless; it was meds or bust), nor did I decide I was so inferior to this woman, so bloody useless that there was no point in even trying any more. Nothing changed. Her image just stayed with me.
And suddenly she was here in front of me again, not in a children’s centre, health visitors and red books and baby scales a distant memory, replaced by ballet shoes and hair grips and glitter from costumes. But all those feelings from six-ish years came screaming back to me, a cyclone of fear and self-hatred, awe and admiration, the acknowledgement that time has passed quickly with so many changes, memories of my babies, my incompetence, my fear of life and living, realising where I was how far I had come, all these things from this one woman. This one, amazing woman.
This story is as pointless and inconclusive as the event itself. Important but meaningless at the same time. Except maybe the point is this. We never know when we may have an impact on someone else, we never now how others see us, we never know who is watching us or why; we never know who is struggling, we never know who is feeling vulnerable or incompetent or like total crap. We never really know what is going on in anybody’s life or mind or imagination, and we can only ever strive to be our best self.
Also, this. Things change. Everything is a phase, a chapter, a lead-in to the next act. If you feel like you’re failing now, today, this week, at this phase of parenthood or work or life, it won’t be like this forever. The tide changes and so do we.
And if you’re really struggling, really feeling like you can’y do this, get help. Talk to someone. Speak out. Don’t struggle alone. None of us are alone in this life. And maybe that was the point of this story. We’re not alone. This random woman has appeared in my life twice, we don’t know each other but we are linked, however convoluted and tenuous that link is.
Or maybe there’s a point to this story that I’ve completely missed. If so, please do let me know.
These Ever-Flowing Phases