There was a Pringle in the middle of the floor.
But why would there be a Pringle in the middle of the floor?
Fast forward a few years. Beside the bookcase is a broken breadstick. A half-eaten biscuit lies in the hallway. And Cheerios litter the kitchen floor like confetti. I do not need to go far to find the perpetrator of such food related carnage, the trail of crumbs weaving behind her as she toddles away makes identification easy. And as I pick up the remnants of another foray into the cupboard, I feel not annoyance, just acceptance. That this is life now. Wonderful, chaotic, messy life.
And realisation. That that woman who eyed a randomly discarded Pringle in an acquaintance’s house with such bemusement had a lot to learn. Because I understand now how food can be abandoned with such ease – as the slice of toast newly discovered on the window sill can attest.
Just as I understand how difficult it might be to change a baby in the toilet of an aeroplane. I recall sniffing and gagging at the stench of a rather ripe bottom from the seat in front on a holiday flight some time ago. I had to bury my head into a glass of prosecco just to take my mind off the pong. Please change them, I pleaded silently, and was completely at a loss as to why they did not. But then, last year, I flew with my daughter for the first time and it took all my powers of persuasion to keep her still, to keep her occupied, to keep her from having an epic meltdown. Had I needed to, trying to change a wriggling child in a space the size of a broom cupboard would have been beyond me. Now I understand.
Just as I understand now that a tantrum throwing child cannot always be coaxed back to happiness easily. ‘Blimey,’ I remember thinking as I steered my trolley round a screaming toddler, prone on the ground, fury pouring out of them like an exploding volcano. ‘Whatever is all that about,’ I wondered, alarmed by the screaming whilst the parents looked resigned and calm. ‘Something serious,’ I suspected. Probably not though, I have since learnt. It could just be not being allowed to put one’s hand in one’s mother’s hot cup of tea, for example, as my own child throws herself back in utter disgust and desolation at my unwanted intervention. And though I can’t see my reflection, I am certain that my face is sporting an expression of accustomed boredom, just like those parents in the supermarket. Now I understand.
And now that I understand, I am sorry. I am sorry to all those poor, hassled mothers and fathers who were doing their best to keep it all together regardless of whatever situation or behaviour. I am sorry that I didn’t realise how difficult it might be to manage the enormous task of being a parent and the challenges that throws up every single day. And now, all that bemusement as an onlooker has been replaced by an ‘aaaaaahhhhhh’ of recognition. I am sorry. Because now I understand.