This afternoon I made that error that isn't the end of the world but makes you feel a bit cross when it happens. I was in the queue that looked shortest, but turned out to be a woman who was paying separately for 4 loads of shopping. While I sighed, told my boy for the 15th time to stop climbing onto the shopping trolley and pondered how I'd managed to visit Sainsburys 3 times in two days I spotted a familiar woman at the next till. She wasn't looking over so I had a good look to see if she was who I thought she was. Her hair was blonder and she looked a bit heavier than when I last saw her (we both are), but it was definitely her. We worked in the same office in Wimbledon in 1995 - I used to stop and talk to her on reception on the way to my desk. K was glamorous and I remember her dark bobbed hair and bright red lipstick. She was like a friendlier Magenta Devine.
As I packed my shopping my son kept calling over, "Mummy, Mummy, look over here. Look over here Mummy," as he stood in front of the kiddy vending machines festooned with pictures of Minions, Elsa and assorted other characters. I noticed that K was still there too so decided to wait and talk to her when she had also finished packing. As she did I called over, "K ? We used to work together a while back. It's Swazi." She smiled, but clearly didn't remember me. Well it was 20 years ago so it's hardly surprising really. We pushed our trollies outside the store and stood chatting - all the while my son was climbing onto the side of my trolly and I kept telling him not to.
I asked her how she was and it all flooded back to me. Her husband B and how they were struggling to have a baby. How I went to her house for waxing as part of her training to be a beautician and she told me about their difficulties conceiving and that their Christian faith gave them strength to cope. As we talked today and she told me about the failed IVF and how they eventually accepted they would not have children and they settled on a 'selfish' life. This lovely woman who wasn't in the least bit selfish then and still isn't. As we said goodbye we hugged and my boy gave her a cuddle that she was kind enough to be delighted by. It was a salutary lesson for me.
I've been beating myself up a lot lately for being a rubbish parent. For getting angry, for not being around enough, for not cooking proper meals, well just everything really. Even today I was losing patience with my boy as he tried on school shoes and moaned that he was too tired to put his own shoes back on. I found it all a bit much that he asked me to save his wedges so he could eat them later and when we got back in the car he'd changed his mind so we sat in a car that smelled like fried food. On the ride home he burst into tears as I switched over the radio station so I could listen to the Archers repeat because he wanted to hear his 'favourite song.'* Sigh.
For all that I complain about how bad I am at parenting or how annoying my boy is - or worry that Hubbie sustained a head injury last week and hasn't been quite himself since - I'm grateful that I have both of them. That I have the good fortune to have found a mini packet of love hearts in the car that made my boy so very happy when I said he could eat them. That my lovely neighbour popped round for our weekly cup of tea and a catch up and brought a Tonka fire rescue truck for my boy.
Mostly I'm glad I stopped to talk to K and that I remembered what we had shared. When I knew her me and Hubbie hadn't even met yet. She opened up to me about the pain and heartache of infertility and I had no idea that years later I would be in exactly the same situation in my own marriage. I've thought of her occasionally over the years since and wondered what had happened to her and B. I had no idea I'd ever see her again, with my son, on a day that I felt overwhelmed and underpowered.
The son that for a long time I thought I'd never have. Who I love with a ferocity and a joy that I didn't know was possible. This boy who made K's face light up today when he beamed at her and waved goodbye with a cheery, "Bye, see you later."
It's like he's magic.
*mostly Arctic Monkeys, Jake Bugg or anything else that gets played incessantly on XFM.