She walked the streets not knowing where to go or what to do. The White Lion pub – she used to go there in her college days. Good times. But it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in there now. She kept walking.
A trendy cafe, full of people in suits with ironic hair-dos. She didn’t think she’d fit in. She kept walking. A beautiful LBD in a shop window- she used to be that size. Now she’d be lucky to fit a wobbly thigh in.
There was a library- she could have a quick browse and see if there was anything that TJ might like. But what was the point? She never got a chance to read these days anyway. But reading was good- better than hours of daytime telly anyway. Ok, she would have a look.
She struggled with the doors until an old man came to her aid.
“Thank you.” She smiled.
He was the first person that she had spoken to all day. Ben had woken up and rushed to work soon after she’d fallen asleep. She’d had a whole 3 hours last night- the longest night’s sleep in a while.
Melissa never thought that she would be so lonely. People said that these were the happiest years of her life- but it didn’t feel like it. She felt old. And so, so tired.
She went to the crime fiction section. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d read a whole novel. Trashy magazines were her reading option of choice now.
She picked up the latest bestseller. It had to be returned in two weeks’ time. She nearly laughed- she’d never manage a book in that amount of time! She flicked through the pages, it looked like a good read. Maybe one day.
She wondered over to some books that TJ would like. She picked one up. It was about transport. Not many words, although the pictures were pretty good. She showed him a picture of a motorbike.
“Motorbike.” She told him.
He did not look impressed.
Maybe not. She found a book about dogs. She showed him a picture of a Dalmatian.
“Woof woof.” She barked.
Maybe he was hungry? A woman and her 3-year-old walked past. The mother looked sympathetic.
“Is he hungry?” She asked.
“Um, I guess so.”
Shouldn’t she know if he was hungry? She felt stupid.
“Well, when was the last time he ate?” Asked the mother.
“Um, breakfast – at about 8.”
“Oh, yeah he’s probably hungry. It’s gone 11. I would feed him now before he starts to scream if I were you.”
Melissa started to feel anxious. Where would she feed him? Was in the library ok?
“Um, do you think I could feed him in here? Or should I find a special room?” She asked.
“You don’t need a special room! You can feed him anywhere you want to. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Melissa wished that she had half as much confidence. She looked for a place to sit down. There was a cafe- she probably had to buy something to sit there though.
TJ started to scream. An old woman walked past and tutted loudly.
She felt flustered. Did everyone think she was a useless Mum? She hurried over to the library cafe and ordered a latte. The barista took ages to make it. She wished he would hurry up. TJ was drawing a lot of attention.
“Is he tired?” Asked a woman with a purple scarf who was sitting nearby.
“Oh, um, he could be… I think he needs his lunch.” Melissa replied.
She was finally handed her coffee and found a table to sit at. She got TJ out of his pram. He wriggled and yowled angrily.
“He’s going to be a singer with those lungs.” Commented the scarf lady.
Melissa smiled thinly. Now she had to try to feed him. It felt like everyone in the cafe was watching her, waiting for her to make a mistake. She tried to be subtle, but he was so loud. She slipped her t-shirt up carefully, so as not to expose too much flesh, and he thankfully attached quickly.
“We used to nurse in private in our day.” Muttered a woman eating chips at a nearby table to her husband.
Her husband nodded and continued reading the Sun.
Melissa allowed herself to relax a little as her son fed. She reached for her latte and sipped – ah, it was so nice to have a hot drink when it was actually hot.
“How old is he?” Asked the scarf lady.
“Ah. A lovely age. I remember mine like it was just yesterday. Is he your first?”
“Yes,” replied Melissa, “can you tell?”
“Aha! Oh well, no, I mean, yes. You do seem a little nervous. Try not to worry too much about what other people think. You are his Mum and you know best.”
“Thank you.” This time, Melissa’s smile was genuine.
The chip lady frowned at her.
“How many children do you have?” Melissa asked scarf lady.
“Four. Two boys and two girls. And also five grandchildren.”
“Wow. Four children! How did you stay sane?”
“I’m not sure I did! It was easier in some ways back then. We didn’t have books and TV programmes telling us what we were doing wrong all the time. And our Mums and other family lived nearby, always happy to help with babysitting.”
“Yes, you were lucky. My parents live a few hours’ drive away. And my brother and his partner don’t have kids yet – and they don’t do babysitting.”
TJ stopped feeding and cried.
Oh no, what’s wrong now? Melissa wondered to herself.
“Could he have trapped wind?” Asked the scarf lady.
“You could be right.”
Melissa burped him gently.
The scarf lady got up to go.
“Think of these precious years as an amazing adventure. And the perfect parent doesn’t exist – no matter what the books say.”
Melissa was suddenly ravenous. When was the last time she’d eaten? Midnight last night she remembered – some crisps.
Two yummy mummies pushing designer pushchairs holding cherubic sleeping babies walked in and sat down.
“Get me a peppermint tea please?” Yummy Mummy One asked her friend, who went to the counter.
“Sure, any food?” Asked Yummy Mummy Two.
“You have got to be joking – I’m on a diet.” She replied, pulling out the latest i-phone and furiously tapping the keys.
“Ah, I am so tired from that class! Who’d have thought that Mum- and baby pilates would be such hard work?” She asked her friend.
“I know, darling. My abs are killing me.” She sat down and got a gossip magazine from her snake-skin handbag.
“Oh my gosh! Look at Lady Tabitha Parkinson-Whattingley! She’s positively obese after giving birth. The poor cow.” Laughed Yummy Mummy Two.
“Let me see… wow, she’s got to be at least a size 14. Didn’t she have the baby three months ago?” Asked a shocked Yummy Mummy One.
“I know. She’s obviously let herself go.”
Melissa looked down at her saggy tummy underneath an old grey jumper. Some baby sick added to the look. Suddenly she didn’t feel very hungry. She put a now sleeping TJ in his pram and quickly left.
As she headed for the bus, she passed a poster of a skinny twenty-something in lace underwear holding a tiny baby. She sighed.
“Just remember – the perfect parent doesn’t exist.” She told herself.
She looked down at her sleeping son – he was almost perfect, even though he was very loud and not a fan of sleep. She was on an adventure- a surprising one, a messy one, but an amazing one.