Skeletons, vampires, wizards, witches and the occasional Elvis Presley will soon be arriving at my doorstep calling “trick or treat, trick or treat”. I have found my lanterns and spider webs, carved my pumpkins and will fill my bowls with candy. “Trick or treat”. Candy for you.
Watching children at play brings me joy and sadness. It helps me remember.
There were so many beautiful moments when my sons were growing up – birthday cakes, halogen balloons, school plays and castles in the sand. I remember little boys in Superman pyjamas and mastering “the bike”.
But there are others.
One year I took my sons to Disney World. I watched other couples holding hands and wearing mini-ears and I wished from the depths of my being that I was somewhere else. While they took the rides I sat on the benches and wrote notes to myself on the Disney program and napkins. I forced myself to smile and pretend an enthusiasm I couldn’t feel. They bubbled with laughter and relief – a ride in the bag and they had survived. We ate popcorn and candy apples and inside I wept from the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I closed them. My face was tired from trying to smile. I envied every single person I saw. I was sure that the whole world was happier than I and I have never been lonelier or more unhappy. In the place designed for happiness and joy I was dying a little with every passing moment.
Now I can’t help but scan the faces of the moms. They’re always smiling, adjusting masks and re-inserting vampire teeth. Years ago I would have believed that they were all happy and cherished by their husbands and children – all of them except me. I alone was trapped in my misery and loneliness.
Now I know better. It is not just the children who wear disguises and masks. We disguise our fear behind our brittle, bright smiles as we trail behind our children, wondering what we should do, when and how and if. We smile on. Eventually they will go to bed and we can too. We can curl up in a foetal position and cry or just not move.
I once read that when we look back at our tears we will laugh – I am still not laughing. It is not the raw powerful pain it was back then. Now it’s just sadness for myself as I was then and for all the brave mothers who smile when they want to cry, who make costumes when they want to sleep the day away and who turn up no matter what. I will be looking for you behind the disguise.