Some days, I am invisible.
My children can see me, but no one else can. I walk around shops, play with my children in the park, hide from rain in the entrance of a supermarket. No one meets my eye. No one sees my face. I am so invisible, I don’t even have a shadow any more.
I wait for someone to walk through me as if I were a ghost, an apparition.
Loneliness weighs heavily on my invisible shoulders.
We have been in this town for a while now, but making friends is hard. When I was younger, I could meet people anywhere. At work, in the gym, in a nightclub. Friends came easily, I loved the abundance of human contact. But as I got older, I lost something of that ability to see a potential friend in everyone. I became more aware of who I am and who other people are (or seem to be), and the differences between the two. I often feel that without a long common history I cannot become close to someone. It is not that I have become choosy – it’s more that I have become weary.
Days pass, often weeks (and weeks), without me speaking to anyone who is not my children or my husband, when he comes home.
Those days sometimes feel completely filled with the joy of Ana and Sacha, and we are busy and thriving in the midst of playing, painting, baking, having picnics in the garden (when it’s sunny) and having picnics on the living room floor (when it’s raining, which is more often). In those days, I only seem to notice things which are good about our life – I feel grateful, and these two children are truly everything I need in this world.
But other times, there is a different feeling – a sense of lack, a sense of constraint, like when you have been inside a closed room for too long and the air no longer feels fresh. I long to speak to an adult about a piece of news I heard on the TV. I wish to discuss my voting choices with somebody, or talk about what is going on in the world. I want to recommend a book I have just finished reading. I want to complain about the weather (all that rain, again), about the amount of laundry I never seem to get on top of, about how my children are fussy eaters and how I wish they would sleep longer in the morning. Sometimes, I want to indulge in a bit of gossip about day time television. Yes, even that.
On those days, I feel invisible. The people around me go about their business, no one speaks to me, no one nods as I walk by, the invisibility cloak covers me from head to toe. I feel like I don’t really exist, except in my own head, in my own consciousness. I feel restless, I flicker from one thing to the next without giving myself fully, just going through the motions sometimes, counting the hours until my husband comes home. I do not find my children boring – it would be hard to find them boring when they change by the minute, grow by the hour, every day brings something new about them – but the relentless and repetitive rhythm of our days, combined with that peculiar isolation that comes from being a stay-at-home-mother, sometimes seeps into my brain, gets under my skin, makes me see the world in grey, pushes down on me with oppressive hands.
At the preschool which Ana attends, every morning I see women, just like me, dropping their children off for a morning of socialising and play.
Somehow I have always felt that I don’t have anything in common with those women, except the fact that we are mothers. We don’t know each from school, work, or any social environment. We nod politely and move out of the way of each other’s prams, smiling to each other’s children in passing, as we know that they are friends with ours. Some women are talkative and others are shy, but no one exchanges anything but the most perfunctory chit-chat about the weather, about always running late everywhere because kids won’t put their shoes on, about what to put into snack boxes.
I have always felt that we are essentially strangers, and strangers we will remain.
But I observed them today, suddenly, in a new light. Most of them, like me, have that I-haven’t-had-time-to-brush-my-hair look which seems hard to get rid of once the number of someone’s children rises above one (or even zero, perhaps). Most of them look vaguely under slept, dressed in casual clothes which reveal that we no longer take such pride in our appearance as when we were young and child-free (but the children are dressed with great care). Every single of one of them - of us - has a beaming smile of sheer delight when we spot our children through the glass playgroup door and when they run towards us at the end of their session.
How could I think that I have nothing in common with these women? How could I have ever thought that?
What we share is that we have all carried these children in our bellies and managed to get them out somehow (by some means or another, never easy on our bodies, always giving birth to ourselves as mothers, in the process); the sleepless nights of looking after newborns who like to cuddle and play in the middle of the dark hours; the rushed meals eaten with one hand while the other holds a breastfeeding baby, cups of tea gone cold, always attending to someone else’s needs before our own, happily so (at least most of the time!).
What we share is anxiety over raised temperatures, over upset tummies, over first hours and days of our children being away from us – in preschool or nursery; the frantic trying to get everyone ready in the morning, running after a toddler while carrying a baby in one arm and a changing bag in the other, answering multiple simultaneous questions and demands (where is my cup/where is my dolly/why do we have chicken for lunch/I want cheese for lunch/I need potty/I want to sit in your lap/me too/me too).
We have been mothering, to the best of our abilities, to the full extent of our power, knowledge and wisdom, we have made that our mission and task in this life, and sometimes it seems like life only started when our children were born.
We might have many differences between us, we may be of different ages and looks and hair and skin colours, different backgrounds and interests and things we love and hate. But one thing we all love is our children and we care for them every day. It’s a whole world of shared experiences.
Amongst these women, I should be looking for the possibilities of the future - this is where I should be looking for my shadow.