It was last Thursday morning. I was sat in a coffee shop working on my laptop, after having a meeting in the building next door. I was sipping a cappuccino and trying to clear my inbox, before moving on to write a feature for a magazine that was due in the next day. I was keeping an eye on the clock, as I needed to jump on the tram and pick up my oldest from nursery. I was happy enough; it was a pretty average morning of work.
And then suddenly, one by one, a group of mums with buggies started arriving to have lunch with their babies. The café was filled with the sound of warm greetings, babies babbling away, and chat about how everyone had slept the night before. In the way that mums do when they join up together for a good chat, seeing each other suddenly gave them energy and the conversation was non-stop, happy, and familiar.
I haven’t regretted going back to work in the mornings once since I made the decision to do it. But as I sat and watched the group from over my laptop, I felt a pang of utter jealousy.
Because I was just like them once. Only a couple of years ago, in fact. And at that moment, I would have done anything to swap places with them, ordering coffees and slices of cake between stories of projectile vomits and breastfeeding woes.
And the thing is, I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time.
After I had my first baby and I was all alone with him in our echoey villa, I filled the long days by making plans to meet up with friends. We rotated around each other’s homes, baby-friendly coffee shops, and play dates in the park. I wasn’t officially on ‘maternity leave’ as it doesn’t strictly exist when you work for yourself, but those days revolved around this little person who had come into my life and caused a tsunami of total chaos and fierce new love in the process. He was absolutely my world – and those meet-ups with friends, just like the one I was witnessing, kept me sane when I was dog tired and constantly worried about whether I was doing it right.
I wish I could go back and tell myself how special that time was. I wish I could make myself appreciate his tiny body, his strong grip around my finger, his milk-drunk smiles in the middle of the night. I wish I could go back and soak up every second of those meet-ups with friends, laughing at the stories, sipping on the strongest coffees money could buy, and pushing my sparkly new pram through the mall as he slept.
I was supposed to be working, but I couldn’t help but listen in to their chat and watch them pass around their babies to allow each other to eat. I wanted to shout out ‘I have children! Can I join your gang?’ I wanted to tell them everything I have told you above. But I knew that they’d think I was mad. And I knew that one day, when they returned to work (or had their second baby and realised coffee dates weren’t quite as relaxing with a toddler in tow), they too would realise how precious that time was. And they would miss it too, just like the mad lady eavesdropping behind her laptop.
So I flipped the laptop shut, asked for the bill, and walked out of that coffee shop. And when I picked that baby up from nursery 20 minutes later, now a nearly-three-year-old that has the same big blue eyes but much more interesting vocabulary, I pulled him into a hug, breathed in the familiar smell of his hair, and walked home hand-in-hand as we talked about what he’d done that morning. And I reminded myself that one day, I would no doubt be missing these moments too.
And maybe a mad lady was watching us from the other side of the road, wishing she could tell me just that.