I was recently at an international airport, and was engaged in my favourite hobby of “people watching”. There is nothing quite as entertaining as an airport lounge, teeming with a multitude of people, all unique and interesting to observe. The best-seller novel i had just bought at the book store lay ignored and unopened in my lap. The world around me was far too interesting for me to find further solace within the pages of a book, however beautifully it may have been written. And so, i glanced around, my gaze flitting from here to there, drinking in the sights around me and gaining, at the same time, an insight into humanity. My eyes finally rested on a young woman a few rows away from me. She seemed to be in her early twenties, and was engaged in a valiant but futile struggle to calm her baby whose loud feisty cries drowned completely her soft, soothing voice. I could see she was close to tears herself, so full of despair was she. I felt goosebumps on my arms, for simply by looking at her, i felt myself transported back in time…I had been at this very same airport over thirteen years ago, almost the same age as her and holding my first-born, then a mere five month old , in my arms. Engaged in a similar struggle to calm him and his tears, I was terrified at the very thought of the 12 hour flight ahead of me all by myself. In the first flush of new motherhood, i had been just as lost as this terrified soul….. For a moment, our eyes met and i offered her a smile…i hoped to convey to her through that tiny smile a sense of sisterhood, of belonging, of assuring that she was not the first, nor would she be the last to be struck by this sense of suffocating panic. She stared at me for the briefest moment, and then turned away without returning my smile. And i understood…..and took no offence at her apparent lack of friendliness. She wasn’t quite ready to smile yet…she was too young, too new to her role of protector and benefactor, too frightened and too alone….. A few thoughts sprung to my mind which i ached to share with her…..it would have made her load lighter and her fear less daunting….of course i could not share these thoughts with her….but they lingered in my mind, one mother to another…and i write them here below…the words i would have said to her if i could have…..
Dear Young & Frightened Mother, Just a heartbeat ago, you were a little girl yourself, playing with dolls, climbing through cubby houses, writing notes to Santa….and now, a heart beat later, you are a Mother….responsible for the well-being and safety of that little bundle of joy (and sometimes terror) looking up at you so trustingly. I know what you are thinking as you look down at those eyes that remind you so much of yourself. You are wondering how will you ever live up to this huge responsibility, how will you survive those years ahead when you will be plagued with scratched knees, splinters in tender palms, bleeding lips…how will you know what to say when your little girl rushes into your arms, sobbing as if her heart would break because she was the only one who had not been invited to a class-mate’s birthday party? ….would you know when it is correct to say “yes” and when it is imperative to say “no”…. I know what you are thinking, even though you don’t quite know it yourself, so vast and vague is your sense of overall terror….you are wondering what words you will offer as solace when she gets passed over for school monitor although she had worked tirelessly towards that same goal for months and a less-deserving (of course that’s what you would think, so staunchly loyal is a mother’s heart) girl gets the honour…..you are wondering if your own heart would be heard breaking as she sobs, her head in your lap, over a teenage crush that was rejected…. I know all this because i am young and frightened myself….no matter how old you become, when you are a mother, you will always be young and frightened….there are never any sure answers and never any guarantees….I cannot assure you that it will get easier, i can only assure you that you are not alone. Because at every stage and at every age, a child comes to you with different challenges. It doesn’t necessarily get easier….you just become stronger…… When the time comes, you will know how to deal with the scraped knees, the splinters and the tender bleeding lips….you will know what to say and what to do and how to do it…..no one can teach you, and therein lies the pathos of it all….you must learn by yourself…stumble and fall…..and if you were to watch carefully around you, my dear, you would see countless other young and frightened mothers, treading the same path as you. We are all stumbling and falling and picking ourselves up…. I cannot offer you any solace other than to remind you yet again that your struggle is universal. Some day, when this little bundle of terror has grown up into a slender, beautiful girl just like you are today, perhaps our paths will cross again, and this time, you may very well smile back at me…. returning the smile I had once offered you at a crowded airport a lifetime ago.