I had a most unusual experience yesterday. We travelled into Sydney to meet with an old friend. My daughter completed her lessons on the train, and we experienced a lovely two-hour journey in. Autumn had summoned temperate weather and a dreary sky, as we lunched with our friend. When it was time to go pick up her daughter’s from school, we went in her car. Within five minutes, I had spotted all the characters she had described. I am just under five feet tall, and one lady was just as vertically challenged. Two balloon-type structures were groaning under her top, and I was afraid she was going to fall over as she waddled past, she was so top-heavy. Her lips were inflated with fillers. I felt sad. She was a beautiful girl who had sought “corrective” work in her twenties. There were women in floaty kaftans and strappy stilettos, designer bags slung over their shoulders. They looked me up and down as they sauntered past. My daughter embraced her friends, and then decided to climb a sturdy tree. She went up to the first branch, and called out to me. “Hi mum!” I noticed many of the mums were watching, but thought nothing of it.
All of a sudden, I heard shrieking. I wondered what the hell was happening. Four women were surrounding the base of the tree, pleading with my daughter to come down. She shrugged and alighted, which produced more hysteria. She was in a teeny little tree, strong and secure. There could have been insects! Oh no! One of the said mothers was about to say something about the child caught in the very dangerous activity of being in a tree when my daughter skipped over. ‘Yep, she’s mine,’ I would have stated proudly if she had asked. This woman, was one of those mothers. You know, the ones who know everything that is happening, haven’t a hair out-of-place and are beautifully groomed. Hell, she even had a Tupperware container filled with fruit for an afternoon snack, which we were offered.
This mother was about to inform me about the unfolding dramas in another mum’s life (someone I had never met), when the mum in question came up. I had been warned that if we were caught by this woman, we wouldn’t have a hope of getting out of the playground. She started on her story without asking my name or introducing herself. Her dreadful ex, her awful life… I must admit I felt slightly irritated and fought the urge to say “I’m fine thanks, lovely that you took an interest.” As she stood there, I noted the hand-wringing, the adrenaline pumping, the desperation in her eyes. People don’t crumble in a day. I was looking at the remnants of twenty years and a decaying marriage. “I hope I get this job. We are $60,000 in debt and I haven’t been able to pay the mortgage for months.” My heart softened. My friend is taking her for coffee in the coming week. I gently squeezed the woman’s hands. “I will be thinking of you; I know you can rebuild your life.” My friend said that whilst it’s a public school, its in an area filled with aspirational couples. This woman lived in an adjoining house, and wouldn’t give my friend the time of day before. You only hung out with those who appeared to be doing as well as you. Renting an apartment, or living in a semi-detached house, would socially ruin you if word got out. “So much happens behind the scenes,” my friend said. It always does. She is the one they come to, confide in, when it all falls apart.
I imagine the exhaustion that would inevitably come with trying to keep up the façade. Not knowing if people in your circle were being real. I felt desperately sorry for that mum who needed to offload. I felt compassion for the have-it-altogether mum too. I know she hasn’t. Its time to tear down the pretence hidden behind fillers, makeup, clothing, labels, cars and credit cards. Its time to see each other. I wont stop my daughter climbing trees. I am afraid of heights, but she isn’t. I am glad she isn’t. She has never fallen. I want her to climb as many trees as she can fit into her lifetime. I want to see my child with scabs on her knees, dirt on her hands, having a wild old-time. I don’t want to see her at the end of the day with ribbons still in place, the starch doing its job keeping her pristine. I want her to live. I would rather enjoy going back and seeing these women choose life as well.