“I’m sorry if I sounded grumpy. I’m just so tired!” Polly Gillespie is whisked off to a less-than-rose-tinted nostalgic moment after making the mother of all mix-ups.
I well remember the exhaustion of having three children under four. The relentless early mornings.
Broken sleep sometimes followed by one of the children deciding 2am was the perfect time to projectile vomit all over the room from their position on the top bunk. The incredible force with which that vomit travelled across soft toys, rugs, the book shelf and the sleeping child below.
Attempting to breastfeed the small baby cradled in one arm, praying not to suffocate them, while grabbing the sick child, bedding and various soggy bears, and doing the don’t-breathe-through- your-nose-Polly chant as I walked quickly to the washing machine.
Oh yes, I remember waking the next morning after 15 minutes sleep to accept it was another day with three small children to care for. A day that would be broken up by several two-minute sessions of locking myself in the toilet to cry or scream, then starting another day all over again.
There are some places parents can go for a wee bit of reprieve. When my kids were little, there was Lollipop’s Playland and Chipmunks, and I have recently rediscovered these magical havens all over again thanks to my granddaughter.
Yes, it still smells slightly of milk, cookies and feet. It still acts as a big plastic child-minding activity too, as I sit with a coffee and sigh with relief knowing that I’m about to get an hour of… I was going to say peaceful solitude, but that’s not quite right. Rather an hour or two of pumping pop music, the voices of mothers and children debating the necessity of sweet drinks and cookies, and squeals of tempers and delight.
It’s not solitude, but it’s a comforting community, allowing a brief reprieve from that important but infuriating question:
“We’re getting in the car now, darling.”
“To go the supermarket, honey.”
“To buy cat food and toilet paper!”
“To feed the cat and wipe our bums, sweetheart!”
And so it goes on.
Roseanna was very excited we were venturing out to the playland – although not half as excited as me, I must confess. Once through the padded gate, she galloped off to the castle and all the other brightly coloured child treasures.
I ordered coffee and found a spot at a table. After wandering away to check the opening hours, I returned to my table, pleased to see my trim flat white waiting.
Putting the cup to my lips, I became suddenly confused as to why my iPhone had become a Samsung, and my keys were no longer attached to a Disney princess key ring. What followed was the sudden, cold horrifying realisation I was standing at someone else’s table, drinking someone else’s coffee.
At that exact mortifying moment, a young mum holding a baby and several toddlers alerted me, “Excuse me, you’re drinking my coffee.”
“I am so, so sorry!” I apologised in a semi-bow. I wanted to crawl under the table, her coffee in hand.
“Please forgive me. I’ll get you another one immediately! What are you having?”
“Just a flat white, thanks,” she replied. “I’m sorry if I sounded grumpy. I’m just so tired!”
The pretty young mum’s name was Lou. I’d stolen her caffeinated ambrosia.
“Oh, you don’t need to apologise. I’m sure you must be exhausted!” she replied. I went and ordered her another coffee.
It seemed to take forever. I bowed and apologised again and she sweetly said, “Thank you. Just so very tired.”
I knew her “tired”. I remembered her tired. The fog. The constant dull headache. The dragging piles of chunder-covered sheets to the washing machine at midnight. The wondering if you’ll ever get a leisurely sleep-in again, or if that pleasure we all took for granted is but a distant memory.
So here I sit with two coffees. Lou’s flat white and mine. To my right is a young blonde woman who looks like a supermodel and doesn’t appear the slightest bit fazed or ruffled.
I think it’s a disguise. Inside she’s probably deciding what she can make her kids for dinner that they won’t immediately chuck on the floor.
Oh, I remember this well. I don’t have a glass of champagne, but I’m raising a stolen flat white and half an average cookie to all of you warriors! (Especially you, Lou. Sorry!)