When circumstance comes between me and my food, I get mad. Not mad as in a bit cross, but as in violent, unhinged mad. And today proved to be one of those days, where the hungry beast was unleashed.
Having been denied childcare today due to a chicken pox outbreak, my working day was interrupted. Fine. These things happen and I don’t begrudge spending a day with my daughter, given the chance. But with the weather being what is currently (ala snowing), one’s activities become rather limited. After attempting playgroup and being turned away due to overcrowding, I thought the best option was to meet the Doctor for lunch in the cafe below his office – a mere ten minute walk away.
As I pushed the Maclaren inefficiently through icey brown sludge on the footpath, the snow falling with an increasing insistence, I began to fantasise about the ham and dijon sandwich that awaited me at the other end. Once I finally arrived, lugged the sleeping child and pram up the stairs to the estate, de-robed and approached the cafe counter, I was met with the horrific sight of conspicuous nothingness. No pastries, no sandwiches, nothing. As if a plague of locusts had swept through, not a moment ago and cleaned the place out. My heart sank.
It’s only half past twelve, I thought to myself. Perhaps they haven’t made them yet. Even as these thoughts entered my mind, I knew them to be fanciful. Then, as I glanced to my right, I saw the culprits. An army of mummies, jamming up the bench tables with their fat bottoms and blocking the entire eastern thoroughfare of the cafe in flagrant disregard of the ‘buggy parking’ area. My eyes narrowed in blinding hatred as I stared at them all, their dowdy faces contorting as they simultaneously masticated and chatted their boring, mummy-soaked chatter. I was forced to summon every ounce of composure within me in order to resist the urge to bundle one of them to the ground and rip the sandwich from their podgy clutches.
‘Can I help you?’ Smiled the barista.
‘You don’t happen to have any more sandwiches do you?’ I asked, longingly.
‘Unfortunately we’ve been a bit busy today’ he replied, nodding in the direction of the mother convention.
‘Bloody mummies’ I muttered.
Looking decidedly uncomfortable, the barista offered ‘we’ve got some nice soup and even curry I believe.’
‘No thanks’ I pouted, pulling my hat back onto my head.
Now in a most obvious funk, I flounced back to my pram (appropriately left in the designated buggy area) and re-robed my many layers while the Doctor tried to placate my worryingly volatile state with lunch alternatives.
‘No’ I snapped. ‘I’m going home to eat last night’s risotto. Boring, gluggy, leftover risotto.’
And with that, I huffed off into the now heavily falling snow, the sound of the pram pushing through the ice making me wince.
What a diva I hear you say. Well, yes, there’s no getting around the fact that my outburst was pretty illogical. But in my defence, hunger and disappointment often collude in triggering irrational behaviour. It wasn’t even about the sandwich really, but more what the sandwich represented: a glimmer of positivity in an otherwise annoying day.
Without being a traitor to me ‘kind,’ there’s something so repugnant about a cluster of mummies. And I use the term ‘mummies’ as something distinct from a ‘mother.’ Mummies are a particular social enclave who are marked, at least in my area, by a certain demographic. White, upper thirties/early forties and financially comfortable. This is hardly surprising as being part of the cafe set costs, and for many, prohibitively so. I certainly remember having to avoid a few coffee dates in the early stages of motherhood, as my statutory maternity pay couldn’t always cover the cost of ancillary expenditures like coffee and cake. So in this sense, there’s something slightly obnoxious about this collection of women en masse, with their paraphernalia of bottles, muslins, plastic cutlery, skinny lattes and bambacinos.
Having said that, I have been at the heart of that cluster (briefly) and know how much insecurity, exhaustion and boredom lies therein. For reasons laid bare above, I resisted the whole mummy arena for sometime after first giving birth. I didn’t feel there was anything there for me accept a sense of inherent awkwardness. But after a point, I realised I needed the company of other women undergoing a similar experience; I needed to learn from others and to be reassured. So I dallied for a while and in many respects, my presumptions were satisfied and the cliches given credence: many mothers were competitive, chomping at the bit to inform you of their baby’s latest discovery before you could even say ‘hello’; and most of the talk was about poo. But behind the forced exuberance and baby talk, there were some important issues that emerged about the collective loss of autonomy, frustrations with partners and, after six months to a year, the difficulties in reconciling work, childcare and an independent identity.
The upshot however is that ‘mummy’ groups were never really for me. There wasn’t a great deal of like-mindedness beyond babies. And while I concede having a newborn is a notable commonality, it’s not enough. For me, being able to discuss the grittier, darker stuff with other mothers is far more important and that requires a level of trust that can’t be found in a big, rather superficial, group of disparate women.
And that folks, is why I abhor groups of ‘mummies.’ That, and they eat all the pies – so to speak.