Close Encounters of the Motherhood Kind // Motherhood | Kylie Purtell - Capturing Life

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Close Encounters of the Motherhood Kind // Motherhood

About a month ago I was sitting at the local swimming pool, watching Punky splash in the shallows while we waited for her lesson. We had gotten there early so that she could play in the small park outside, but as it turns out, the area was closed while they replaced all the grass in preparation for Spring and the outdoor pool re-opening.

Zee was in the pram and I was slowly pushing her back and forward while she munched on a biscuit and watched Punky play. As I sat there, I noticed a couple of other small kids, one slightly older than Punky, one slightly younger. They were there with their Mum who was swimming around after them and, to be honest, looking well and truly exhausted.

I gave her an understanding smile as she called out for her kids to stay close, and then watched as her eldest walked up to Punky and tried to initiate play. Punky was slow to respond, but eventually she warmed up and the three kids spent the next 15 minutes splashing around and chasing each other.

At this stage the exhausted Mum climbed out of the pool and came and sat down next to me with her stuff. She told me it was a relief that we had shown up, and that the kids were happy to play together, because it gave her a break and a chance to sit and have a breather.

We got to chatting, and as we talked it became clear that she was struggling with the demands of two small children. Her kids were only 15 months apart and she was a full-time stay at home Mum. She was older than me, probably late 30s, and she'd given up a good career to have and take care of her kids.

She mentioned more than once about how some days she really struggled to keep things in order around the house, how the kids tested her patience to the limit, how she didn't realise just how full-on small kids would be. We both agreed that some days, at the end of a long week, it was just easier to take them out to the park and let them run around and exhaust themselves, in the hopes that they might bless you with a nap when you got home, then have to deal with the reality of the housework you hadn't gotten around to.

We talked about how it wasn't important to either of us to live in an immaculate house, but some kind of order needed to be restored from time to time, as the constant mess could be just as draining as the constant fighting, whining, or exuberant energy of the kids. That sometimes the overwhelming need to create some order in the chaos made the needs of the kids super frustrating when you were just trying to get shit done!

I confessed to her that there were some days when I let the kids do whatever they wanted all day, that the TV would be on from sun-up to sun-down, we would have chips for dinner and no baths before bed. That on those days, I didn't even bother to put on a bra till midday and spent most of the day lying on the floor of the lounge room with the girls, just letting them climb all over me and play. On those days, nothing got done, no washing, real cleaning, just the barest minimum to keep the kitchen clear enough so we could eat breakfast, lunch & dinner.

I told her that we lived with an almost chronic case of CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) and that while it might be (mostly) clean, my house was most definitely not tidy. In fact, most days it literally looked like it had been ransacked by some crazed tiny terrorists, hellbent on pulling every toy, container, plate, cup, sock, piece of underwear, t-shirt, pants and bag from every cupboard and drawer in the house.

While we discussed our own realities of motherhood I could see her visibly relax. As I confessed the often unspoken ways of our house to her, she told me more and more about her life. She told me how relieved she was to hear that she wasn't the only one who struggled with being at home alone with the kids full-time. That she often felt like the only one who wasn't able to keep her house clean and always tidy, and that she felt pressure not to tell people just how very tired she was by the end of the day after parenting two toddlers and would often find herself crashed out on the lounge at 4pm while the kids played around her.

It was amazing how much she shared with me in a short chat by the side of the pool. It was only when the kids ran up to us that I realised what time it was and that Punky's swimming class was starting. I told the other kids' Mum that I was sorry I couldn't chat longer, but that we were there every Friday and always had lunch in the cafe after Punky's lesson. I told her that if she was ever there on a Friday to come and join us.

What I didn't tell her was my name. I didn't get hers. I wish I had. I wished I'd asked her her name and her email address. Because I could see from the way she talked, the things she told me and the questions she asked, that she was in desperate need of a friend. Someone she could share her reality of being a Mum with.

I wish I had taken the time to do this, rather than worrying about missing the start of Punky's class and rushing off. If we'd had longer to chat I would have tried to reassure her that we all do the best we can. That as long as the kids are alive and breathing, fed, happy and feel loved at the end of the day, then that's all that matters.

I really hope I see her again at the pool. She seemed like such a lovely lady. She seemed like she could really do with a friend. I'd love to hang out with her and buy her a coffee, help her wrangle her kids and just quietly let her know that she's doing a great job. Sometimes that's all we really need, we just need to know that we're not alone in our struggles.

This is why I blog about the shit stuff. It's why I don't sugar coat the details of life as a Mum of small children. After speaking to this lady I wondered just how many other Mums are out there, beating themselves up for what they believe are their failings. How many are thinking that they are the only ones who struggle to keep it together sometimes, the only ones who don't live in immaculate houses, with healthy, home-cooked meals on the table every night.

How many worry that because they aren't as good or as perfect or as well presented as the other Mums they see at the shops or read about online, that they must not be very good at this mothering gig. That they are failing in some way. Through blogging I've come to appreciate that I'm not the perfect mother, and slowly I am starting to give myself a break. The comments and support that I've been shown by you people in my little community have meant the world to me.

I hope one day I can pay forward the love and support I've been shown on here to the Mum I met at the pool. It's the least I can do.

Have you ever connected with a stranger at the park or the pool? Have you regretted a lost opportunity to give someone support? 


  1. Great post Kylie, and I hope you do see her again. If you don't I think you have already helped her enormously. I actually met one of my really close friends now about 10 years ago in the park when we were both trying to 'exhaust' our 3 kids under 3!

  2. Don't underestimate the support you did give her.

  3. Really lovely post Kylie. Hopefully your paths will cross again. I could so identify with all this lady was saying. I do think there are many mothers like you say isolated at home thinking they are doing a crappy job. Part of the is these days society has put huge unrealistic pressure on mothers and many of us live without any family support. The village to raise the child is very small these days. I am sure the words you spoke helped a great deal !

  4. It's total chaos here too! I hadn't heard that it stands for Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome before, but how apt! This was one of the good things about attending a Playgroup. There was a fair amount of letting of steam about the harder parts of parenting. I'm sure your words made a difference to this lady and hopefully your paths will cross again. Beautiful post. x

  5. I think you'll be surprised at the amount of love and reassurance this women already got form you in your short chat. It is so lovely to connect with strangers. The modern mother is so isolated with her children and it is so important to reach out and also to allow others to reach in.

    Thanks for linking this up to #thankfulthursday! xS

  6. What a beautiful post, Kylie. I hope that you run into her again. I so needed this boost today xxx

  7. This is a great story Kylie and I am sure you really made a difference to that Mum. Love the CHAOS (can't have anyone over syndrome) - perfect (well not perfect at all)! I can't believe how much chaos we still have with two aged 11 and 4 - suffice it to say the older sister does not set a very good example and with work and trying to fit in yoga teacher training and blogging the house can wait.

  8. I am sure that your paths will cross again - I think she will seek you out because, in you, she found a kindred spirit.
    I am almost embarrassed to say that our home often looks like CHAOS - and there is only A and myself there. I get so tired of nagging him not to charge his phones in the kitchen or leave his keys and opened mail on the kitchen bench, to put the super glue we bought about two weeks ago away and move the coke labels he is collecting for some competition - sometimes I just let it all go until I explode and then he knows to get onto it quick smart or risk my wrath !!! But I hear you - I have realised that living is actually worth more than having a clean and tidy house - it's about doing things with those you love and, you know what, if someone comes around and is shocked at the state of my house - that's their issue, not mine !!
    Always remember - you are not alone !!!! (And not in a creepy kind of way - just a 'there are others in the same situation' kind of way !!)
    Me xox

  9. Great post Kylie. I can relate to so much of what you have written. I am a full-time SAHM to two girls and our house is always a mess (although I am making a HUGE effort to get on top of the cleaning & tidying as we have a party on Sunday). Most days there are toys and stuff everywhere, when I think I've conquered an area its piled high with stuff again. I've stopped asking people over to our house as I'm too embarrassed by the mess.

    I hope you get to meet her again someday. She sounds like she just needed someone to chat to and understand how hard it can be somedays. I have bumped into other Mums at parks or appointments and we've chatted about our kids but never talked about how hard it is.

  10. We definitely live in your version of CHAOS - although I must admit that there are some friends I'll have over any time no matter the state of the house because I know they come to see me/us, not to judge the state of my kitchen floors.
    I hope you run into that lady again soon xx

  11. It helps so much when you have honest conversations and not pretend that you're doing great (when you're not) and try to live up to some impossible standard. Hopefully, you;ll meet her again, it sounds like you had a great connection.

  12. I so know what you mean. I feel like I'm failing all the time. Our lounge area is always a mess and Ned, now five and a half, just refuses to help tidy up or basically do anything he is asked unless he is threatened with losing his ipad and sometimes that doesn't even work. Living with my parents doesn't help. My mum and dad always pipe in with "you're the parent" as if that automatically qualifies me to make him do what he is told.

    Re reaching out to people, yes I've had random connections with loads of people actually. I think it is because I am such an open person. I tell people about my mental illness or that I'm in recovery which are situations I guess a lot of people would just not talk about with strangers. I find if I show my vulnerability others feel able to to show theirs too which usually creates a connection.

    I hope your new friend shows up on Friday. Sounds like you both enjoy each other's company.


  13. Gorgeous. What a beautiful story and that photo - wow! It's amazing what a difference kind words can make in a mother's day x

  14. I love this. I can only imagine how reassured you must have made this mum feel, and even if you don't run into her again, you have probably made a difference in her life. As a stay at home mum, and relatively isolated due to being unable to drive, connecting with other mums is why i blog, and why I read blogs. We are all doing the best we can with what we have xx

  15. I hope you run into this mum again - it might be the start of a wonderful friendship?? I have often wanted to go up to mums at shopping centres when I see them struggling with a child having a tantrum and just smile and say 'you're doing a great job' but I have always stopped myself - I fear I might come across as patronising - but I always wished that someone would do this for me when I struggle with my little girl. Motherhood can be such an isolating experience at times - I think it would be nice if we felt we could be more supportive of each other.

  16. That's terrific, sometimes we think we are the only ones, but it's not until someone is brave enough to tell you how it really is that we realise that we are definitely not alone, thanks for making me feel better too Kylie!

  17. Beautiful post Kylie. It's so important to reach out and connect with others in our situation isn't it? I don't know what I would have done without my blog and great mothers group who I meet with weekly to share my hellish stories. I would say 2 out of 3 woman give themselves a hard time about what they think they're not keeping up with or doing right. The other woman in that three probably has a cleaner and a nanny....

  18. These kind of encounters were what got me through life with three under four. A kind smile, a quick chat, a shared glance - us stranger mums are all we've got some days. x

  19. I hope she does come back on a Friday to see you too, it does sound like she's in need of a good long chat and a sit-down! We all need an avenue for venting our honest feelings without judgement.

  20. The park is such a great place so random encounters like that! We sometimes forget we're not on our own with this parenting journey, lovely to have times to connect and share.

  21. I so hope she is back again next time you go as it sounds like the start of a gorgeous friendship took place that day. I too believe it is important to share the good AND the bad as those 'you too'? moments, are often exactly what you need to hear to get through a rough patch xx

  22. That lady may not know your name, but I am sure your afternoon together will stay in her memory for a long time, whether you catch up again or not. I hope you see each other next Friday!

  23. If you don't meet again, and I hope you do, that talk with you is probably what she needed THAT day. I am sure through this blog, you are helping mothers just like her everyday xx

  24. I love those serendipitous connections. I bet she'll hold it with her too.


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