Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: The smiles of strangers felt like being blown kisses

A mother's weekly dispatch from the pre-school frontline

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The Independent Online

Today did not start well. It started several times in fact, none of them ideal. First at midnight: "Woody weed in my bed!" (Woody is three inches tall with button eyes and synthetic wool for a bladder.)

Then at 2.20am with a text from the young joiner who recently came to hang some doors: 'What you saying, mate?'. Implying either he was short of friends and deeply touched by our 20-second chat about the merits of hinges. Or that he was about to cry out: "OMFG, I'm off my bloody face and I just texted my client!!!!".

All this before being alerted to the new dawn by the dulcet shriek of the five-month-old foghorn. So it was heartening when, at 7.45am, I stepped on to the street and people smiled. Confusing, too, because as a buggy-user it's customary to receive hisses from fellow pavement-users as you selfishly deliver your children to nursery so that you can go to work – and rightly so, if you are so feckless as to give birth to babies who cannot walk.

So this morning, the smiles of strangers felt like being blown kisses and strewn in puppy-scented confetti. Everyone was at it; a group of boys at the bus stop even managed a light chuckle.

And it was infectious – by the time I reached the supermarket mid- morning I was positively beaming. "Look at me!" I wanted to shout: "I may feel like I've been battered with a cast-iron bath but here I am, just me and an empty double-buggy, and I'm grinning from ear to ear!"

Then a hand tapped me on the shoulder: "Sorry love, your cardigan is inside out".