Monday morning at Brockwell Lido cafe. I’ve met a friend, our children in tow, for a play in the park. With me being my characteristically twenty minutes late and the weather having transformed from sunny and Spring-like to chucking it down with rain, we abandon the park and go for coffee instead.
I’m not feeling quite right and there is an element of desperation in my need to imbibe a good quality, hot, caffeinated drink. The relentless repetition and exhaustion of motherhood is getting to me and I’m feeling discombobulated, vulnerable and a little bit feral.
Barging through the swing door, buggy first, the narrow entrance opens out to a bright oasis, the wondrous fragrance of freshly ground coffee permeating the air, the place pleasantly abuzz with mothers and their children and a few spatterings of individuals on laptops. A welcome contrast to the cold misery outside, I feel a wave of pleasurable anticipation wash over me. I always feel like this when I enter the Lido cafe, right before I’m rapidly reminded of how disappointing both the food and service never cease to be.
A waitress with heavily drawn in eyebrows tilts her head away from the woman she’s currently serving and rather abrasively declares she’ll “be with us in a minute,” as if to put a stop to us seating ourselves as opposed to conveying any welcoming or helpful sentiment. A bit much, but perhaps they’re understaffed and she’s really up against it; we’ve all been there, I think to myself.
A few moments later she marches up to my friend and I in her white Fila hightops and states: “Right.” Then motions us to a table, giving directions for us to put our buggies outside. I inform her I’ve a sleeping child in mine. No problem, I can keep him at the table. But then our communication begins to break down. She’s clearly flummoxed and needs me to park it somewhere very specific but isn’t able to clearly articulate why or how. I want to help her, if only I knew what the hell she was saying, but I also want to dig my heels in because she’s being unnecessarily awkward. We settle for alongside the table, but then she complains that the buggy keeps rolling. “Yes,” I tell her, “That’s because I need to put the break on.” She’s beginning to irritate me and I want her negative hovering to end.
Five minutes later we finally manage to get everyone dejacketed and sat down. Then another customer makes a point of struggling past my buggy. I get rid of one of our four chairs, park my buggy in place of it and put my daughter on my lap. There, I think, everyone should be happy; clear aisles all around. Not a moment passes and the angry eyebrowed girl returns and says to me “Sorry, but is there an issue you with you keeping your buggy where it was?”
An ‘issue’? Her tone is confrontational, but I’m now feeling disproportionately confronted. I just want some fucking coffee so I can feel less agitated with the day. I want to sit down and I want a coffee. Why is this person being such an obstruction to what I need?
“No,” I reply. “No problem, I thought this was a preferable place as customers were struggling to get past. But, if you’d prefer it back there, I’ll move it there…” Or something to that effect.
My heart is constricting, my voice is becoming slightly strangled and I’m getting hot in the face while my hands become ice cold. My body begins to jitter. I’ve no idea what my face is doing, but presumably something to unnerve her because she suddenly begins to splutter: “I’ve obviously upset you so don’t worry about it [it’s not an apology but rather an accusation]. It’s just that…” Splutter, splutter, splutter. She’s explaining something about spills but she’s still not providing me with a logical explanation. I kind of want to push her but I realise that would be a crazy thing to do. The sound in my ears has gone foggy and I feel an overwhelming need to remove myself from the place entirely.
“You know what, let’s just go.” I say to my friend.
“Let’s just sit and have a coffee,” she replies.
I push the buggy back to the original place and sit down again, my internal organs feeling like they’re going to overheat and explode all over the nice white walls.
I’ve had what I assume to be a panic attack, the worst of several within the last week. Not so bad on the scale of panic attacks, but humiliating nonetheless. Even as I recall it, I find myself breaking out into heat rash and getting clammy in my armpits. My younger and more grown up friend is now trying to reassure me that it was her (the waitress) and not me that was at fault there. And while I appreciate the comfort, it compounds my sense of feeling like a fucking cliché: neurotic mother of two loses it in cafe after exerting inflated sense of buggy rights. That wasn’t how it was, but that’s how I knew it would be perceived. People hate mummies.
Having worked for many years in retail, I get how these scenarios can happen. There were times when, for a variety of reasons, I was having a bad day and I found myself being almost deliberately obtuse with customers, only to discover it not only made my life much harder, but probably gave a toxic element to their day. Not one of my prouder moments. For the waitress and myself, we were both clearly speaking English, but we may as well have been speaking in dialects from opposite ends of the universe. Part of my brain could reasonably see the situation for what it was and would’ve tried to circumvent any awkwardness by simply trying to help her articulate what she needed from me. Unfortunately on this day, I was not in a position to allow my empathy skills to govern.
This is part of the problem with anxiety. The triggers can be so innocuous. Small situations can launch one into an emotional and physical abyss, while other, traditionally more stressful situations, can force one into a state of zen-like clarity. For me, this mad disposition has been quietly simmering, only bubbling its way to the surface very recently and has therefore caught me somewhat off guard.
They say that awareness of a problem is the first inroad to recovery. So I’m aware that I’m not right. That’s something. But now what is in order? Psychiatry, a big glass of gin and a heavy dose of SSRIs? Xanax, as one of my more snarkier friends often suggests to me? Beta blockers? Or, as the old Australian adage goes, do I simply need a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down?
The sensible answer is most likely far more prosaic than that – yoga, multivitamins, more sleep, and a more equitable division of labour. More cultural stimulation would be good too, but that brings its own host of restrictions. At least Girls is on tonight, the opportunity for me to watch people even more narcissistic than myself for a change.
Egh, clichés all round…
Fight Club GIF source