Every Monday, I sit and wait in a narrow corridor, lined with chairs for the mothers (always the mothers) to wait for their children. There are magazines there, drawings done by children, a confused receptionist who seems to feel he should know and greet every child by name but can never remember what any of them are called.
‘I’m so sorry,’ he says ‘I forgot the name. What is it again?’
I never know what to think here, what to do. I look at the people sitting opposite me, and I wonder what brought them here. What mistakes did they make, and were they as bad as the ones I made?
‘God give me strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ so goes the prayer, the saying which suddenly pops into my head. I breathe deeply, into my stomach – I don’t know if this is an accepted yoga technique but it makes my shoulders go down. I lift my head, stretch out a little, and in doing so I catch the eye of the woman sitting opposite me and smile at her.
I soon regret this, because she starts to make conversation.
‘What is your daughter here for?’ she asks me.
How can she ask me this? What if I don’t want to answer? Is she expecting me to make SMALL TALK about this, like we are back at mother and toddler’s club, or waiting at the doctor’s? (‘oh, and then SHE PUT THIS PEA UP HER NOSE’)
The woman is looking at me expectantly.
‘Oh, and then THEY TOLD ME SHE HAD SUICIDAL THOUGHTS’ I tell her; no, not really, of course I don’t. I still can’t speak this aloud without tears springing into my eyes from the memory (even though it turned out it wasn’t true, even though this was just her way of expressing her frustrations and even though I am glad that it got her the help she needed).
‘Oh, just a phobia about something’ I tell her, and she continues to look at me as if she is expecting some more detail
‘Isn’t it strange how small things can cause such problems for children?’ she asks me. I smile and nod fixedly in response to her inquiring stare.
‘Anyway, what about YOUR daughter?’ I parry.
‘Oh, my grand-daughter,’ she says ‘was being bullied. She believed what the bullies said and it’s taken a long time to help her, I don’t know why she believes them, she’s such a bright girl – just like her mother was – but she thinks that what they say about her is true, she thinks that she is ugly and that nobody likes her. And she’s so pretty…’
She talks on, this woman, and I sense a frozen wasteland behind her words – ‘like her mother was‘- but she is able to skim over this, and so we talk about the bright future of her clever granddaughter who is about about to leave school and to go out in the world, away from those school bullies.
When the conversation tails off, I lean my head against the wall. A wave of nausea sweeps over me, and then recedes. I think of my bright, clever, pretty girl and I try to empty my mind.
Here she comes now, with the counsellor.
‘She’s doing brilliantly,’ she says ‘She’s a credit to you,’ and my girl smiles at me as we leave and says
‘Are we going to get the Christmas tree now?’
I say yes and she sings ‘Yay!’. The future is on it’s way, and the Monday blues are over for now.