There was a lone Pringle in the middle of the floor.
But why would there be a Pringle in the middle of the floor?
Fast forward a few years. Beside the bookcase is a broken breadstick. A half-eaten biscuit lies in the hallway. And Cheerios litter the kitchen floor like confetti. I do not need to go far to find the perpetrator of such food related carnage, the trail of crumbs weaving behind her as she toddles away makes identification easy. And as I pick up the remnants of another foray into fine dining, I feel not annoyance, just grateful acceptance. That this is life now. Wonderful, chaotic, messy life.
And realisation. That that woman who eyed a randomly discarded Pringle in an acquaintance's house with such bemusement had a lot to learn. Because I understand now how food can be abandoned with such ease - as a slice of toast newly discovered on the window sill can attest.
Just as I understand how difficult it might be to change a baby in the toilet of an aeroplane. I recall sniffing and gagging at the stench of a rather ripe bottom from the seat in front on a holiday flight some time ago. I had to bury my head into a glass of Prosecco just to take my mind off the pong. Please change them, I pleaded silently, and completely at a loss as to why they did not. Until last year. Flying with our interested and animated daughter for the first time, it took all our powers of persuasion to keep her still, to keep her occupied, to keep her from having an epic meltdown. Had we needed to, trying to change a wriggling child in a space the size of a broom cupboard would have been beyond both of us.
Now I understand.
Just as I understand now that a tantrum throwing child cannot always be coaxed back to happiness easily. 'Blimey,' I remember thinking once as I steered my trolley round a screaming toddler, prone on the ground, fury pouring out of them like an exploding volcano. 'Whatever is all that about,' I wondered, alarmed by the screaming and confused by the parents' resigned yet calm expressions. 'Something serious,' I suspected. Probably not though, I have since learnt. The reason for such an excessive display of emotion could be something as ridiculous as not being allowed to eat her shoe, for example. Like my own child, throwing herself back in utter disgust and desolation at my unwanted intervention as I wrestle her tiny footwear from her surprisingly robust grasp. And though I can't see my reflection, I am certain that my face is sporting an expression of accustomed boredom, just like those parents in the supermarket. Now I understand.
And now that I understand, I am sorry.I am sorry to all those poor, hassled mothers and fathers who were doing their best to keep it all together regardless of the situation or behaviour. I am sorry that I didn't realise how difficult it might be to manage the enormous task of being a parent and the challenges that throws up every single day. Now, all that bemusement I once had, as an onlooker, has been replaced by an 'aaaaaahhhhhh' of recognition. I am sorry.
Because now I understand.
And I understand this too: that what keeps mothers and fathers going, through all the trials and tribulations, the mess, the screaming, the crying, the insolence is that all-consuming love. 'I wonder why people do it, looks like a lot of hard work,' my younger self mused on parenthood on many an occasion. Now I know why. Because for me, being a mother, is everything. It's my meaning, my motivation, my inspiration, my world. And the abandoned food, the stinky nappies, the tantrums are just part of all the wonderfulness of loving this incredible human being.
At last, now, I understand.