I could see her approaching, wending her way through the tables toward me with a determined look in her eye. She had something to say, and Bejaysus, she was going to have her say. I prepared myself mentally for what life was about to throw at me.
All I’d wanted was to spend a bit of time with my kids. Only two days of half term break, and the boys had wanted a pyjama day yesterday. I didn’t mind; they’re still young, and school wears them out. They play sport almost every night, so they deserve some down time. But today, I was determined we’d have a day out together. All they asked for, was lunch at KFC. Typical boys, always happy if they’re filling their bellies, particularly with junk food.
So that’s where we went. I was well organised. Carys was fed and watered, nappy changed, before we left. My bucket-sized handbag was filled with her fave toys, blanket, DVD player and headphones; we were all set.
Carys was in great form…until we stepped inside the restaurant. One minute she was smiling, the next she was screaming like a banshee. I can’t blame her; KFC would not be my ideal destination of choice, either, but happily, my behaviour is slightly more controlled.
There was no pacifying her. The toys, the blanket, the DVD’s that she normally loves, they weren’t what she wanted. Even my cuddles and singing didn’t work.
By now, I had donned the Invisible Blinkers. You won’t ever have seen them (they’re invisible, duh!), but believe me, every mother has a set. They enable you to avoid noticing all the stares which are directed your way when your child has entered Tantrum Mode in a Public Place. But you can still feel them; the stares tinged with relief from other parents, who are glad it’s your child playing up and not theirs; the stares tinged with annoyance from the young and carefree, who have yet to experience the joys of parenthood, and the stares from the staff at the disruption your child is causing to their well run establishment.
I jammed her back into her pushchair and beat a hasty retreat, while the boys finished their meal. My sons have great little personalities; I had been so looking forward to a bit of banter and a bit of fun, just me and my boys, and Carys. I was so proud of them, the calm way they handled their sister’s outburst; they never accuse her of spoiling their fun, never ask, “Do we have to bring Carys?”. I’m not sure I would have been so gracious or understanding at their age.
Outside, it was windy and cold, but at least the screeching didn’t seem so loud. I could see through the window, though, that I was about to be the recipient of some unwanted advice.
The determined woman placed her hand on Carys’s head (which didn’t help,as Carys has an extreme sensitivity to having her head touched) and looked at me with accusation in her eyes. “Will you not do something for the child?” she asked, reproachfully.
The woman was a stranger. I had never seen her before, and am unlikely to ever see her again. I shouldn’t have cared, but that question hurt. I never stop doing things for that child. I do things for that child which most parents can’t even begin to imagine. In the few moments it had taken her to observe Carys’s behaviour, like everyone else in that building, she had formed a judgement of me as a mother, and found me so severely lacking, that she had to say her piece. Then she walked away, shaking her head, casting a last, pitying look at Carys. Because that’s how easy it is. But I can never walk away.
I bundled my family back in the car, abandoning all plans for the rest of the afternoon. On the way home, Carys danced and sang. I smiled to see her happy again, but couldn’t suppress the odd tear from falling too.