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Saturday, 10 March 2012

A mother's love

Today I saw two incidents that abruptly brought home to me how precious life is. I had taken Isla up to London to meet some friends for lunch and decided to take a walk back along the Southbank before heading home. We were watching some impressive street dancers when I noticed a woman and child sitting against the wall. She was looking pretty dishevelled with matted hair and blotchy skin, a small battered suitcase on one side and a half drunk bottle of Becks on the other. The boy looked about five and was obediently standing by his mother while she looked blankly on. He looked well cared for but I thought how sad it was that while all these tourists were walking past, spoiling their children with treats and trips on the London Eye, they were in their own bubble, a million miles from the wealth surrounding them.

We queued for the London Eye and I spent the next 30 mins fealing queasy and asking Isla for the hundredth time not to lean against the glass to her increasing irritation. Even though rationally you know the glass isn't going to give way with the weight of a 3yr old, the thought of her plunging to the ground made me feel physically sick.

We headed back to Waterloo and down the steps by the National Theatre. At the bottom was an ambulance and a woman being treated by paramedics lying in a pool of blood, her head cracked open. I rushed Isla past and went into the food market where a woman sitting at our table told me the girl had tripped and fallen down the stone steps. She was a young woman on a day out, she hadn't been wearing silly shoes or drinking and she was alone. Was she someone's mother, someone's daughter? As the paramedics lifted her stretcher into the ambulance I thought how awful it would be for her mother to get that call and hoped that she would soon be by her side and she was going to be ok. How terrifyingly quickly our lives can change irreperably.

As we walked back to the station, I made Isla hold my hand even though we were in the pedestrianised area and felt terrified by the fact that try as we might, we can never fully protect our children. And there ahead of me was the same woman and child I'd seen earlier. She was rocking and laughing hysterically. At first I thought she must be laughing with someone but it was just her and the child. Next to her was an empty bottle of wine and he was eating a strawberry ice cream cone. He wasn't in the least bit disturbed by her behaviour, like it was the most normal thing in the world. He just carried on licking his ice cream while she cackled away. And, as I looked around me, not a single passer-by seemed to notice them.

Who knows what may have happened to bring them to this state.  I wanted someone to protect him and make sure he was ok and, in some stupid middle-class way, took comfort from the fact that she had bought him an ice cream as if that suggested things couldn't be so bad.  But what kind of a life is it for a small child to stand as his mother's protector while all around him the roles are reversed? It feels so wrong and yet the bond between mother and child is so unbreakably strong, I suspect there is nowhere that he'd rather be than loyally by her side.

I think of them now while I'm home and warm, my little girl tucked up in her bed, and hope that they aren't sleeping on the streets and his life doesn't have the inevitability that today's brief glimpse implied. At moments like this, it always makes me appreciate how lucky I am with my lot, but invariably we get sucked back in to our own lives and all too soon take what we've got for granted. So the next time that I snap at Isla, or moan about my work, or wish I had just that little bit more money, I hope I remember today and thank my lucky stars we've got it so good.

1 comment:

  1. So well put Rach, beautifully written, Hayley x

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