She smiles at me somewhat shyly from beneath her broad brimmed and ever sensible sun hat as I pull up at the table next to her. I apologise for interrupting her peace as I sit my young boy up in a chair and she laughs and seeks to engage him in conversation. Her efforts are fruitless, as there is nothing my four-year-old enjoys less than conversing with a stranger.
“He is so cute” she enthuses as he scowls at her and then issues his commands for more food, a straw, whatever. I attempt to maintain some shred of dignity in the face of his demands, while at heart my real concern is figuring out how to best keep my son occupied with the least amount of effort. I need a quiet moment to recover from what has been, in no uncertain terms, a bad morning.
“So how old is he? Does he go to preschool?” she asks and I soon learn that she is a fellow mother, attempting to maintain her sanity in the face of sleep deprivation and all the unspoken strains of new motherhood. She has an 11-month-old at home, a nanny, a PhD in mathematics and is working for a start up. A typical mother in these parts, and like most in this neighbourhood she is not a native Californian but hails from Europe.
“I am trying to decide if I should have another one”, she says, holding up a self-help book covered in baby pastel shades of blue, pink and lemon. And I realise that she is in fact highlighting and writing notes in the margins as she seeks a logical answer to a question that is better suited to the science of Chaos Theory than algebraic formulas.
She reminds me of another mother I know from around these parts who drew up a spread sheet to determine the optimal name for her future child. Not surprisingly, six-months down the track the child’s name was changed.
“You do know,” I say as if sharing some great secret “that in some ways it is easier with two. At least they have somebody else to play with.”
“But what if they don’t play?” she asks bluntly. “What if they don’t like each other?”
At this I am rendered speechless. Moments later I guiltily join in as she enthusiastically lists the many reasons why having more than one child is an irrational and unwise decision and then we both retreat to our private worlds. My son, possibly so drained from my morning of tears, is in an unusually cooperative mood. While he draws I read and mentally re-group in preparation for the long afternoon ahead.
Before long it is time for my new friend to leave. She stands up and then issues forth with a stream of motherhood statements worthy of a Hallmark greeting card catalogue, statements so at odds with our earlier conversation that I can only assume she was gripped by a certain guilt at our earlier disloyalty to the project at hand. I nod and smile awkwardly, happy that however briefly, I shared an honest moment with a fellow traveller on this strange journey called motherhood.