Master J’s grandma is watching the little man for me for an hour and a quarter, so this post finds me sitting in one of the beachfront cafes around the corner from our apartment. It’s a beautiful day, and Master J and I have had our third consecutive day of successful pram time. It makes all the difference in the world; between the rain clearing and the pram drama easing (after Annah and Jenny’s wise suggestions about the pram, I’ve been trying to reassure him that I’m right there by frequently reaching over the top of the pram and stroking his head, stopping to make eye contact with him, and talking to him more frequently so he can hear I’m close – all of which appears to be helping), that awful caged feeling has mostly dissipated, and Master J’s many smiles continue to light up my life. Now if I could only sleep as well as he does overnight…
So I found our vandals, the ones who badged our car last week? Yes, they were so pleased with their handiwork they returned to admire it. Not that they had to travel very far… Here’s what happened: I was standing in our courtyard last Friday afternoon, comforting Master J after his vaccinations. As I stood there, staring absently out at the street, my attention suddenly sharpened. My eyes narrowed to slits. Because right there at the scene of the crime, as brazen as you like, was a young woman photographing our car. Better yet, she was chatting happily to a young man in one of the holiday apartments directly opposite our place. The mental calculation spat its answer in a nanosecond – I was out our front door before the rest of me had even caught up. I still wasn’t fast enough to catch either of them still out on the street, but I knew the apartment, so I walked up the few steps to its garden and started calling out, “Excuse me..? Excuse me?”
Finally a different young man sauntered out.
“Hi,” I said. “I’d like to talk to the redheaded girl who was just out here photographing the red Mercedes out front.”
He looked dumbly at me, so I repeated my request. When he decided to persist with the dull-witted routine, I said I’d seen her talking to someone moments ago in this very apartment, so if she wasn’t available, I’d talk to him instead. Thanks. Eventually he sloped inside and the girl, all wide eyes and dragging feet, came out, her face carefully arranged in an expression of cluelessness.
“Hi,” I said. “I was just wondering why you thought my car warranted a photograph.”
Her head jerked back.
“Oh,” she said. “We were just… talking about it…”
“Really? What were you saying?”
“I don’t know….”
“Because it was badged last night, and it’s pretty interesting, don’t you think, that you would think it worthy of a photograph now? Funny, huh? Now why do you think you’d take a photo of it?”
“Well, obviously it wasn’t me,” she said.
“No, actually,” I said, “it’s not obvious to me at all.”
At the edge in my voice, Master J began struggling in my arms and let forth a long vomit down my arm. The girl and I both stared at it.
“Well, I didn’t do it,” she said.
“Really? Well then, perhaps you know who did?”
“We were just talking about it…”
“And photographing it. Interesting choice. Don’t you think that’s a peculiar thing to do in the circumstances?”
“Well, I guess I can see how it might seem like that…”
“Yes, it does, it really does, so maybe you’d like to go inside and ask if anyone else knows anything about it.”
She eventually agreed to do this, and returned alone, empty handed and lying.
“You must think I was born yesterday,” I said. Master J squirmed and arched. “But I wasn’t, so I’m going to go and complain to the management and see how you like that. Thanks for your help.”
The woman behind the desk was a rude idiot.
“Oh,” she simpered, “we haven’t had any complaints about our guests in that apartment.”
EXCUSE ME? WHAT DO YOU CALL THIS?
“If you can prove someone did something,” she continued, “you should call the police. You can’t just accuse people without any proof.”
“I don’t know who did it,” I corrected. “I’d have to have seen it happen to know who did it. What I do know is someone in that apartment thought the damage to our car worth documenting, and that doesn’t seem at all suspicious to you?”
“You should call the police if you want to start accusing people.”
She was really giving me the shits.
“Right,” I said, swapping Master J to my other hip before wiping a streak of white spew through my hair. “Well, maybe someone in that apartment saw whoever did it. Maybe they witnessed it or… yes, maybe whoever did do it threw the badge over the wall and into the grounds of the apartment, and maybe someone staying there has happened to see it lying in the dirt and picked it up. Maybe. Maybe something like that. Maybe you could ask them.”
She reluctantly took up a pen and piece of paper and even more reluctantly wrote down my name and number. The lady sitting next to her gave me a sympathetic look. We both knew I was wasting my time. She might as well have drawn up a game of noughts and crosses.
With a parting shot of sarcasm – “Thank you so much for your help” – I left.
Anyway, when Llew finally did get home Friday night – to find it transformed into the proverbial dog house, I might add, because I was fucking furious with him for strolling in after a few drinks at 8:15 – I told him what had happened, and he took the excuse to put some space between us, immediately heading over the road to confront them himself.
When he returned about 20 minuted later, he was holding our Mercedes star. I admit I laughed. It was a mean little laugh, sure, chock full of cynicism, but it was still an improvement on the evening’s angry snarl. In short, he shamed them into it. Shamed the girl into getting the right guy to come out and face the music, and then shamed the guy into meekly handing over the badge and writing out his name and address (which Llew checked against the guy’s passport for no other reason than to shame him further). This was probably his drunken idea of a frat party trick (when he tried telling Llew he’d “blacked out,” Llew silenced him and said, “Don’t undo the good work of owning up by bullshitting me any further. Those things are hard to pull off, so don’t give me any ‘I blacked out’ shit because I know you’re lying”), but he vandalised our car, and the damage is small but irreparable. For the record, he was a young American, and I’m sorely tempted to write to his parents
Oh dear – I didn’t mean to suggest last post that Llew doesn’t help with Master J – he does, and has done from the beginning. Of course it’s fractional, but there’s not much to be done about that, plus Llew is out working full-time (not to mention overtime, without pay) five days out of every seven, so he’s hardly failing to pull his weight. Yes, I agree that kind of work is very different to the relentless demands of caring for a newborn 24/7, and Llew gets time to himself every single day – time that I miss more than anything else – but it’s real and demanding work that he does, and quite frankly, without it we’d be screwed.
A friend told me a story from the early days of her own parenting that I’ve found myself repeating since Master J was born. She and her husband were having words about some aspect of childcare, and her husband became quite defensive and wounded, saying to her, “But I’ve been so good, I’ve been helping…”
“Helping?” she screeched. “Helping? Listen, pal, there’s no ‘helping.’ You don’t ‘help’ with your own kids. You might ‘help’ with someone else’s, but there’s none of this ‘helping’ business with your own. ‘Helping’ my arse!”
I love this anecdote – I loved it well before I had a child – but ‘help’ is still the dominant verb in this house. Llew does help, and he probably helps more than a lot of guys – he must do, otherwise those women in the restaurant at my sis-in-law’s birthday wouldn’t have felt so compelled to fall all over him, gushing admiration until I thought I’d puke, because he’d managed to hold his own child for an hour over lunch. Wow! That’s INCREDIBLE, ladies, you’re right! He’s amaaaaazing! And it’s a truth of the species that most men need endless thanking and acknowledgement for every little shred of domestic assistance rendered. Unpack the dishwasher? Thank you, husband, thank you thank you! Take in the washing? Thank you, husband, thank you thank you! And you know, I am happy to thank Llew, I mean it when I do; I genuinely appreciate and rely upon his contribution, and that’s something he seems to need to know. It costs me nothing to say it out loud.
Every morning before Llew leaves for work, he gives Master J his reflux medication, then changes and dresses him before the first feed. At night, Llew gives Master J his bath and dresses him for bed. We share story-time duties – sometimes I read and Llew nurses Master J, and vice versa. If he’s here, Llew also burps Master J during and after feeds. But outside weekends, he’s not here for any but the final feed. Sometimes – although only very rarely – he’s not here for that. This will not change – not even if Llew manages to get home earlier. He will also do chores, and actually strives, I know he does, to lighten my load. He just doesn’t think or operate the same way, so he often genuinely can’t see what needs doing without being told, and ‘being told’ creates its own problems…
Llew has taken Master J on numerous occasions. I think it’s very important (for all three of us) that Master J and Llew spend time alone together, and they’ve done that from the beginning. They’ve done all sorts of things together: they’ve been to see Master J’s grandparents, to the driving range, to the pub to watch the football, to the mall for emergency baby supplies, for walks… and it’s mostly during these breaks, along with those afforded by Master J’s grandparents and auntie, that I’ve researched and written the two Varuna features, and done whatever other shreds of writing I’ve managed. I have also had lunch with girlfriends twice (the third occasion is booked this coming Sunday), and had my hair cut twice. Llew and I have also had two date nights, courtesy of first my sis-in-law and second my in-laws. So we’re doing all right. I am doing all right. It’s just quite full on, he’s not one of those “easy babies” (if they even exist) and, as every mother knows, it never ends. We really shoulder the sack – it ain’t called the ‘mother lode’ for nothin’ you know.
A day later…
Oof. Through no fault of our own, Master J and I have had a hell of a time getting him a proper sleep today. I’d succeeded after an earlier feed, and he was sound asleep, only to be violently awoken by the thoroughly obnoxious din of a leafblower. I think leafblowers top my Most Hated Sound list. Talk about aural torment. I hate them, I hate everything about them; quite apart from the way the sound makes me feel – deadly – I hate their pointlessness. Why blow leaves instead of collect them? I just don’t get it. Anything that sounds that appalling really ought to satisfy in the utility department. Coffee grinders, for instance, do good work. But leafblowers? What do they do except wake sleeping babies and enrage neurotic writers? Nothing, that’s what, fucking nothing. Grrr.
Oh good. He’s awake again. Awake and crying. Again. But good news: we had a successful pram outing this morning, and a successful leg of a car trip yesterday. Okay, so it’s all gone wobbly elsewhere, but those small victories still shine very bright.
I have an hour.
Make that I had an hour: that was Thursday, and I confess I sacrificed the blog post to a few hundred words of fiction. I am trying – so incrementally it’s ridiculous– to start drafting the short story I’ve been thinking about for some time, and I used my hour to chip away at that. I haven’t even managed to read over those few paragraphs yet, but I am confident they won’t alter the course of my career. I just can’t get any traction on any writing at all. Llew’s getting home from work at about 8 o’clock most nights, so it’s a pretty long day with the little man. By the time Llew walked in the door at 8:15 Friday night, I was rigid with tension.
Baby J – and I think we’ll start referring to him as Master J, don’t you, because he’s not ‘the baby,’ he’s himself – had his 4 month vaccinations in the morning, and I could’ve really used a hand at the tail-end of the day. I hadn’t kept any of this a secret, so to be honest I was pretty livid we came in such a poor second to Llew’s work drinks (admittedly an important gathering in this instance for reasons I won’t go into here, but he still could have excused himself early and didn’t). I was exhausted. I had spent the entire day comforting Master J after his shots. When he wasn’t feeding or sleeping, he only wanted to be held upright and walked. I’ve never been more grateful for the front-pack, which took over support duties once my wrists packed it in. And boy, did my wrists pack it in.
(Have I told you what’s happened to my wrists? It’s de Quervain’s Tenosynovitis and it’s incredibly painful, so much so that at its worst I’ve been mortally afraid of dropping Master J. I’ve been wearing braces on both hands for a couple of months – around the clock – and seeing a sports physio for a number of weeks, but now both my doctor and I think it’s specialist/cortisone injection time. After all, as a friend pointed out to me only this morning, as a writer I need my wrists even more than most. And as a mother, the full use of my wrists is indispensable. Hit me.)
The day was a dog from the beginning. Llew committed the cardinal sin of waking me as he jauntily popped in and out of our room dressing for a run. He was in great spirits. He was clearly suppressing the urge to whistle. He’d had a flash of brilliance, you see: apparently 5.45 am is the perfect time for him to go and exercise. So off he danced, while I lay awake fuming. I soon gave up, got up, and got in the shower. Llew came home sweaty and happy, and changed again for a swim.
“IT’S ALL BEER AND SKITTLES FOR YOU, ISN’T IT???” I screamed from behind the shower curtain, just as the front door closed.
Llew’s mood wasn’t quite as buoyant by the time he returned. Some arsehole had badged our car in the night. We have an old Mercedes, it cost about three grand so is nothing flash, but it still sucks now it’s been vandalised. What’s worse is that as a new driver, I used the Mercedes star on the bonnet of the car as a spatial marker, and I’m afraid I’ll be lost without it. But it’s gone now, ripped off by some drunken tool.
Anyway, Llew left for work and I fed Master J. Then I popped him in the pram. I may as well tell you we’re having severe issues with vehicular transport in general. First it was the car. Now he’s also taken to screaming nonstop every time I put him in the pram. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve broken into a run to get him home as quickly as possible. Aside from this dash of desperation, I can’t get any exercise in at the moment, because I can’t even take him for that perky brisk walk you see all the other mothers enjoying. Walking has become a totally fraught experience with Master J, so I’ve had to largely abandon it, and any time he is momentarily content in the pram, I spend the whole time poised for his always-imminent combustion. I’ve changed the seat, I’ve opened it up, I’ve dangled things, and I’ve altered his position… all to no avail. On and on he screams and flails. He loves being outside, he loves seeing what he can see, see, see, he loves trees and people, but he seems not to love being seated in such a way that he can’t see me. And I need him to be in the pram sometimes, just as sometimes I need him to be in the car. But I tell you what, all this screaming is a major disincentive to put him in either. It’s no fun at all.
I was sweating and frazzled by the time we turned up at the doctor’s, the first appointment of the day. She wasn’t there. Master J arched and twisted unhappily until he was emancipated. My wrists howled their own protest. Master J grabbed a fistful of my hair.
Eventually Dr J arrived and ushered us in. Master J decided to turn on a full display.
“Is he hungry?” Dr J wanted to know.
I wanted to shout, “NO, HE ISN’T BLOODY HUNGRY, HE’S TIRED BECAUSE HE HASN’T STOPPED CRYING SINCE WE LEFT THE HOUSE,” but I managed to simply state all this in a calm voice that didn’t betray my inner turmoil, rhythmically patting his bottom all the while. Baby J fell asleep on cue, and I felt wildly vindicated.
“SEE?” I wanted to scream. “DO YOU BELIEVE ME NOW?”
Doctor J arched an eyebrow at my sleeping baby. Ah yes. Needles. Needless to say the nap didn’t last.
I know this is going to sound a bit I, Robot, but sometimes I really think computers have a mean streak. Baby J can usually be prevailed upon to have one good sleep a day in the swinger, and whenever he does oblige, that reprieve is my prime writing and admin time. But yesterday when I sat down to quickly blurt a blog post while the little man was counting sheep (I thought the three unaccountably creepy creatures dangling from his swinger were three blind mice, but I’ve been soundly outvoted on this count), my laptop decided to fake its own death. I mean, come on, that’s just cruel.
Every time I rebooted (my technology cure-all), that message in five languages immediately appeared: you need to restart your computer. What, again? Surely not! Maybe I have mice on the brain because I am the lab experiment that never learns. After the umpteenth time (and I have no need to tear my hair out, it’s falling out unaided), I gave up, Baby J woke up, and there, my friends, lies the ruins of two precious hours.
I wasn’t able to do a damn thing about it until Llew got home, at which time I hopped on the phone to AppleCare, and Daniel, a true ‘wizard,’ talked me through an hour’s worth of software CPR. So far, so good. And for anyone out there weighing up whether or not to cough up for the extra tech support for their shiny new Apple anything, the answer is an emphatic YES. Do it. You’ll almost certainly live to regret it if you don’t. If you’re prepared to burn all those apple cores in the first place – and let’s face it, it’s quite a pile – then for Christ’s sake burn a few more to keep that fire going into the long good night. That’s all.
Anyway, none of this is of ANY account at all given the horrific situation in Japan. How utterly terrifying and tragic – it’s the stuff of nightmares, and truly an impossible reality to endure. I can’t watch any of it without tearing up. What I can and never will get over is how utterly… desultory the wave looks as it takes a few indifferent seconds to wipe out an entire fishing town. It looks so casual and half-hearted, barely committed at all, and yet it mows down everything in its path with a mesmerising constancy that would be calming were it not so catastrophic. Just the dread thought of it makes me want to draw Llew and Baby J close and never let them go.
I’ve read a few International Women’s Day commentaries the past few days, and while it’s ambitious in the extreme to imagine for a moment that I might post about it myself given Baby J’s resolutely disgruntled mood today, I can’t let it pass. However, Mr. Cranky Pants woke up on the wrong side of the bassinet this morning, and he is determined not to cooperate, so this little two-second session may well be a bust. In fact, maybe I should forget the nap he’s currently resisting and wheel his soft little bite-sized bot-bot to mothers’ group instead… (For a final insight into my baby boy’s temperament, consider this: one of his main nicknames is Grumbles.)
Okay, it’s later now. We abandoned the nap, went to mothers’ group an hour late, and now I am home and making the most of the minor miracle that is my child asleep in his motionless pram…
So. Women. I’m a fan. I’m even more of a fan now I know just how much shit they have to deal with as mothers, and I mean steaming volcanoes both figurative and literal. How men ever came to be regarded as the Masters of the Universe I will never know. I can only surmise that women were simply too busy running things to set the record straight. And I love men, I really do. I say this with all due respect to them. My best friend is a man. You may have read about him here – he’s that guy I married? Yeah, that’s the one. The father of my child? Uh huh. Him. And he’s great. And he works really, really hard. But it’s very different work to the kind of work I do, and I’m lucky – very lucky from what I understand – that Llew both recognises and values my contribution for what it is. But society at large? Not so much. Still.
I am fortunate to have a freelance career that means I am still able to contribute financially (cough) and intellectually to our household beyond the primary care of Baby J. And it’s extremely important to me that I am exercising my mind and retaining some sliver of my professional identity. But now I understand some women’s decision to pack it in, because the balancing act really just means more work – those women who head back to paid employment don’t opt out of childrearing and housekeeping, they just add them to their job description. And while there are always exceptions, and I have a good friend who is a stay-at-home dad, I would argue pretty strenuously that this is true for women much, much more often than it is true for men.
I have done the lion-share of the housework at Poo HQ ever since I started working from home as a freelancer-with-novelist-aspirations. I am a worker by nature, and this trade-off seems only fair to me, since I bring in such a piddling amount of legal tender. Leaving aside my commissioned work, which is sporadic, I think the writing work I do – including the unpublished fiction – is inherently valuable. I believe in written language the way some people believe in God, but the vast majority of words I write are not worth anything in purely fiscal terms. It’s Llew’s work that keeps us financially afloat. And so I think it’s reasonable that I make up the shortfall in my income by taking on the work of the house. Women have been doing this for centuries, because care-giving roles have and continue to be predominantly filled by females. They’re in the home having and raising the kids, aren’t they, and like it or not, it’s a job lot (unless you’re loaded, which most of us aren’t).
I was always going to be Baby J’s primary carer, but what’s only clear now he’s here is that the value of my writing has decreased in direct proportion to Baby J’s demands on my time. I am writing this post because he’s sleeping. I will stop writing this post when he awakes. Oh, and the menial work of the home is likewise prioritised above the writing, whereas previously I’ve had the luxury of being easily able to accommodate both. No longer. Now I’m finding even unloading the dishwasher a struggle some days. So when Llew does get home? I whip round the apartment like someone’s chasing me. Writing is coming a distant third – and I would love to get a show of hands from other writers, male and female, to see if this is what has happened to them too, because writers are so much likelier to work from home than other professionals.
When I flee our home now, and meet up with other women with babies as I did earlier today, it’s not leisurely; it’s solidarity. I hadn’t realised that when I used to pass all those ubiquitous packs of pram-wielders – I used to think it all looked pretty jammy. But it’s not. It looks leisurely, but it’s not. No, no. Make no mistake: I have not been at my leisure for one single second since my baby was born. Not. One. Second. Even when I am in bed asleep, my entire being is attuned to the possibility of his cry in the night.
I don’t even know what I am trying to say. Women work. I guess that’s it, and I think it needs saying because women work in so many different and often quite gender-specific ways and many of those ways are still completely overlooked. Every woman I know – married, unmarried, with or without kids, homemaker or mover and shaker – is busting her arse around the clock. Women are crazy multi-tasking maniacs, and it really does disgust me that so much of that talent, born of necessity, goes unacknowledged in a Western world still completely myopic about what and who matters. One of my friends forwarded this to me the other day, and it’s so, so true:
The sentiment expressed by Eva Cox in Crikey’s International Women’s Day issue yesterday — that feminism has become wrongly aligned with the appearance of a select number of high-powered women in traditionally male executive roles — was echoed by a number of readers.
Emily Crawford, in her email to Crikey, laments liberal feminism’s focus on merely assimilating women into an economy and working environment that “are still structured pretty much along male lines.”
“If we take earnings and status as a signifier of values in our capitalist society, it’s pretty clear we do not value ‘female’ occupations and concerns because care workers of all types are paid so bloody badly and those jobs attract no status. Not like those oh-so-clever Masters of the Universe in the financial sector nearly bringing the world to its knees with their hubris.”
Niall Clugston feels similarly. He writes:
“International Women’s Day was founded by the socialist movement, but now the discussion centres on getting more women on corporate boards … The assumption is that the payment system, and other social structures, are fair for men, and all that’s needed is for women (as a statistical classification) to receive the same results.”
Essentially, a number of readers made clear to Crikey their view that we need fundamental shift in our societal understanding of the workplace — a transformation that cannot be reflected by the meeting of quotas alone. To put it simply — as Ian Buchanan did in his email to Crikey — “culture change is needed, not quotas.”
We do need to be the change we wish to see in the world, but I’m just going to start with a humble thank you for all that women do.
Okay, this month’s writing feature, ‘Rub it for luck: rites and rituals of the spooky art’ is now up on the Varuna website if anyone’s interested, although I’m afraid I can’t guarantee coherence. I am only beginning to understand just how much my old ways of working must change, and there’s bound to be a few misfires along the way (my first feature back being the chief offender so far – it was far too personal for the Varuna News, but the best I could do at the time). I do hope this isn’t one of them.
Good grief. Another fortnight has gone by… and I tell you what, time management is a very different thing on someone else’s timetable! Baby J doesn’t always sleep much during the day, but as he has started sleeping through the night, I am not about to start messing with him. Take your victories where you find them, I say, and that’s a biggie. He is asleep right now, actually, which is how I am able to spit this out at all, but when he’s awake and alert, I must admit I do feel compelled to interact with him. I find him impossible to ignore when he is clearly ready for some conversation and play. He seems to sense this magnetic pull, too, which means he quickly makes his presence felt if I do try to leave him hanging – or rather, swinging – in order to get anything else done. So, no sleep for Baby J means no writing for me.
His is not a placid personality; his most recent trick is still screaming his head off despite the gradual abatement of the Meanies (although he’s had a number of sporadic bouts the past few days). Now he’s not screaming in pain, he’s decided he despises car travel, so he’s screaming about that instead. I do wish he’d decided to make himself the exception in some other field. I keep telling him babies love cars, babies sleep in cars, but he is deaf to all persuasion, as am I deaf to just about everything by the time we reach our destination. I just don’t understand it. He has this absurdly plush throne, so comfort is not the problem. We’ve tried adjusting the headrest just in case it was too tight, but beyond that, we are out of ideas. And I am not embellishing on any level when I say he screams his guts out from A to B. In fact, as I was saying to the Darklings only this morning, he screams a lot. Obviously earlier it was pain-related – and it is a really different thing, there’s no confusion about that – but now it’s some unidentified general outrage. He’s not standing for it, whatever it is. No sir! He’s not having it at all.
Like his mother, he loathes being woken, so transferring him is a godforsaken nightmare. Moving him definitely kicks off the screams. And I wonder too if he isn’t lonely and bored back there in his car seat, since he is very curious and sociable, and he can’t even see out the window in the car because of the (absolutely essential) sunshade. Perhaps I need to affix something of interest to the straps or backseat so he’s got a diversion… it has to be worth a shot. Anyway, as a new driver it makes for a pretty intense initiation, but I suppose it’s excellent experience.
A-a-a-anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a Baby J Blog. At this rate I’ll have to rename the whole thing. DoctorDi? Who? But what else have I been doing?! NOTHING, that’s what. Well, I finally managed to file my woefully late monthly feature for the Varuna Alumni News yesterday – a week late, no less. I must confess I found it rather challenging finding sufficient blocks of time to write and edit it this time; leaving freelance jobs to the last minute used to work much more effectively than it does now. Deadlines have always worked for me, but now I realise I have to be much steadier in my approach. Next month’s feature I shall have to start now, whenever an opportunity arises. No wonder so many parents plan the week’s meals in advance. It makes complete sense to me now.
If you’d like to know what makes me want to scream, it’s this: instead of finishing this post, I’ve just spent over an hour – that precious period in which Baby J was sound asleep, whereas now he is due for a feed – dissembling the Varuna News into smaller attachments to resend. I discovered an error message from yesterday sitting in my Spam folder, so the file didn’t go at all. Imagine me biting down hard on my knuckles and you’ve about captured the mood here at Poo HQ.