Master J is six months old today – half a year! I can’t quite believe it. Right now he’s obliging me by taking a morning nap in his swinger – they’ve reunited, though who knows how long the romance will last. At a certain point he’ll start trying to climb out of it, and that’s when the relationship will really sour. But for now, the house is quiet and I can try to write.
So where are we, how are we, six months in? Well, the past couple of days have been a bit of a low point for me, I must confess. Master J’s babysitter A came back for two hours yesterday, during which my editor called in two short profiles (which was very exciting, because I only emailed her last week to say I was available again), and I even managed to write a couple of hundred words of that short story I’ve had my eye on, so in many ways it was a new day for the old me. A is coming back Thursday, and during those two hours I’ll interview my profile subjects, with a view to transcribing and writing the stories over the weekend as well as during whatever nap time Master J manages Friday when the interviews are in the can. And therein lies part of the problem: I’m in a situation where I feel I cannot stop, and that I must make full use of every single sacred second I win to myself. It’s not like Llew being home or A being here equals actual down-time, it’s that I can simply do other work then instead. It’s a bit manic, and to be brutally honest it’s frying my spirit.
I am someone who needs to read and write and spend time alone. These aren’t just hobbies or preferences, as those of you who are similarly constructed already know – no, these are some of the constituent parts of my identity. And they are suffering. I need to claw back some time for tending to these core character traits, because I feel hollowed out and pretty shaky without them. Last night, poor Llew made the mistake of innocently relating the forthcoming freelance job to the cost of bringing in A, which I took to mean that her coming at all (and I’ve managed to get her for those 4 hours precisely once so far) is only justified if I am earning money in that time. Llew couldn’t understand why, of all the interpretations available to me, this was the one I immediately assumed, but… well, that’s exactly how it sounded to me. So I said, “I thought we were getting A in 4 hours a week so that I could have a whole 4 hours a week to myself like some sick, starved version of a normal person. Oh and thank you for watching Master J so I can interrupt making dinner to hang the washing.”
“Look at me,” I seethed, shaking underwear at the clothesline while Master J and Llew played on the bed. “Would you take a fucking look at me? I feel like my identity is in tatters.”
Understandably, Llew didn’t know how to respond and Master J thought it was hilarious.
So it’s not without its challenges. No surprises there – I just better understand now what Litlove and Charlotte and Lilian and everyone else have been saying all these years. Take Mother’s Day, for instance. I had a lovely family day, a long lunch with my in-laws, my son and my husband – and that’s absolutely precious to me, so don’t take what I am about to say the wrong way. But the truth is, I could’ve used a couple of hours to myself. I’m sure this will change as time goes on, because the intensity will change, and one day I’ll be begging Master J to come see his poor abandoned mother, but this year? TAKE HIM AWAY, I wanted to scream. Both of you, everyone, please, go, go – I love you, I couldn’t love you more, but please god leave me alone.
But you aren’t really supposed to say that, are you? I felt bad even thinking it, and now here I am writing it in public – for all intents and purposes, saying it out loud. And I feel a bit sick admitting it, a foul guilt rising like bile, but you know what? I can’t believe I am the only first-time mother who craved nothing so much as solitude on her first Mother’s Day, so I am just going to take a punt on that, and put up my hand and say, ‘I did.’
I did. I do. I want to be able to read a book and write a letter and contemplate the view outside my window and not feel like I have to cash a fucking chip to do it. If I underestimated anything, it’s the extent of the bargaining that comes with motherhood. Endless bargaining – with myself, with Llew, with A, with family, with friends, with other mothers – and eventually with Master J himself. It’s like a slave auction, and I am just trying to keep myself in the bid. There I am, ME – if I look closely enough, I see I’m still here, even though the hammer came down a full six months ago now, when I was pulled apart and sold to the highest bidder, who right this second, my beautiful boy, is slowly rousing from sleep.
A note on our recent trip… Llew and I seem to have an uncanny knack for timing journeys along the Pacific Highway with the most extraordinary downpours. Thundering rain – just deafening – would be challenging and dangerous enough along a half decent freeway, but along the Pacific Highway, a notoriously inadequate road, chock-full of black spots and now lined with modest memorials, it is hair-raising. If you want to experience true road rage, it’s a good place to start, because I never fail to throb with anger about the government’s appalling failure to upgrade one of the most, if not the most, significant highways in the country.
You have to see it to believe it. Whole sections are narrow, single carriageway death traps. Americans who travel along it must be aghast – this road would have made for a tight squeeze with horse and cart, but with the advent of the automobile, it’s become something far more sinister. Trucks constantly come booming past you, travelling in the opposite direction at such close proximity and at such speed that you cannot help holding your breath – it makes for anxious, exhausting travel. It’s not the fault of the truckies – they’re (mostly) on their side, it’s just that my bathroom is practically wider than the lane. The room for error is unacceptably, dangerously small. I think the thing that galls me most – aside from absurd conditions that mean abruptly slowing from 100 to 50 kilometres and even 40 at regular intervals as you pass through endless tiny townships (again, the problem isn’t with slowing for safety, it’s that the road between Sydney and Brisbane still goes through these places at all) – is they’re not even working on most of it. We saw lots of empty worksites – too many, and why they were empty of workers is a mystery that only makes one’s blood boil the more furiously – but what really gave us pause was our growing awareness of just how limited the (criminally overdue) upgrade still is. Even when they finally finish the parts they’re working on, there will remain whole long stretches where nothing has been done.
Better yet, we found out yesterday that the half-arsed, ineffectual measures – the cop out – successive governments have taken have created conditions far more hazardous in some sections than anyone might have foreseen. They’ve erected steel barriers down the middle of single carriageway sections, which ostensibly feel and look like a good thing. I myself thought they were better than nothing, until a paramedic we met yesterday told us how badly the barriers hamper access to crash sites.
“We can’t get to people now,” she said. “No one asked us, up they went, and now we can’t cross lanes if the incident is on the other side from our approach. Nice one.”
On the same side, of course, they can’t overtake either, because there’s nowhere to go. They’re stuck in single carriageway hell, just like the rest of us, who can do no more than hope we won’t ever need their critical services. There’s nothing to do but drive as safely as possible and hope like mad that everyone else is doing the same. It’s a wretched state of affairs.
Master J has exhausted himself rolling, dragging, drooling and sucking (you know, I never believed the kids and pets comparison had much credence, but come to think of it…), so I have a moment to myself and I’m going to ignore the state of the place and say hello.
Race recovery has gone remarkably smoothly… I expected to be a stiff-jointed automaton for a few days, walking without knees, but in the event I’ve been all right, which I put down once again to not having pushed my luck. The thing about a half marathon is that it sounds a lot more daunting and impressive than it really is. It sounds disingenuous to say, ‘Oh, it was no big deal,’ but I am giving it to you straight. You should see the range of fitness levels across the field – very few are in what I’d describe as great shape. The important thing is having a realistic grasp of how fit you are, so that you don’t do yourself an injury or place undue stress on your body. Amble along at a comfortable pace and I guarantee most people of average fitness would reach the Finish line. Plenty of people stop and walk for a bit – I didn’t, but I would have in a heartbeat had I felt the need. I don’t wear a heart-rate monitor, but Llew does, and he watched his the entire race. We’re not in it to win it, are we, it’s just a bit of fun, so I think the main thing is rocking up and participating, which a broad spectrum of participants did on Sunday. I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to follow our race preparation routine, because it was non-existent, but I do want to explode the illusion that it’s a distance that’s beyond all but the keenest, fittest runners, because it’s simply not. Once you’ve seen who turns up and gives it a crack, you’ll undoubtedly rate your own chances a little better – maybe enough to give it a go one day yourself. It’s a worthy goal for anyone who enjoys a trot.
Now, I really have a couple of fiction-related things I must get on with, chief among them reading a Darkling MS and also, one of these days, writing that short story I keep threatening, so I’m going to leave you with my latest feature for the Varuna Alumni News, ‘Young Buds and Late Bloomers: writing stages at different ages’, as well as this excellent article by Malcolm Knox, which made me feel badly caught out, as though he’s been watching the deterioration of my reading skills over my shoulder. It is spot on – I can feel my capacity for concentration coming undone, and the way I read has shifted so drastically in recent times that I feel certain Knox is onto something here, something big, something bad, something I must correct at all costs.
My little buster is awake and grumbling. Easy come, easy go.
I’m awake earlier than I wanted to be and can’t get back to sleep, so I thought I may as well do something rather than only lie there fuming about Llew’s alarm going off an hour and a half early, while I was in a deep sleep. Things like this, such small things, that impact my sleep, now make me feel positively deadly. I feel cheated. No longer able to go back to sleep easily – or ever, it seems – being woken by something like an alarm that wasn’t reset makes me want to scream. I’m still tired. I needed the sleep. And Llew is unaffected by the mistake – he can just roll over and be softly snoring in moments. This, too, makes my blood boil while I thrash about, awake awake awake.
So I’m angry to be up – I can’t help it, my days are long and exhausting and I need sleep – but at least I am embarked upon something more productive than insomnia, and now I’m writing I’ll tell you about why Llew’s alarm was set for such an obnoxious hour. On a whim a few weeks ago, he signed us both up for the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon.
Yes, that’s what I thought too. I have managed a dozen or so – surely not two dozen – 5 kilometre runs since Master J’s been born. While we were away, we managed two apiece that were closer to 8 kms. But that’s it. Not even a 10 km run between us, and now 21 kms…? Sheer folly.
We genuinely didn’t know if either of us would make it, but I was absolutely thrilled just to be given licence to go for a two-hour run, and I intended to make the most of it.
Llew’s parents were delighted to hear we were attempting it, very supportive, and ultimately threw everything they had at us to help us manage Master J’s needs as well as make the run. They offered to babysit during the run, but because a trial wake-up backfired (we tested how he’d react to having someone else go through his morning routine with him instead of us, so Llew’s sister stayed over one night and went in to him first thing, and it was pretty traumatic all round), they also offered to stay downtown with us so we could do the morning routine as usual, I could feed him before the race, and we’d be able to get back quickly afterwards. My father-in-law made enquiries at his club (discussed in a previous post), and believe it or not (I didn’t think this would be the case in a FIT), we were allowed to bring our 5-month-old to stay. He just wasn’t allowed in any of the communal areas, which we weren’t going to use anyway. I tell you what, I don’t know how we’re going to keep this kid in the manner to which he’s growing accustomed – he’s certainly doing pretty well so far!
It made a real event out of the race – we all met at the club in the afternoon, and took Master J out for an early dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, where Llew’s sister also joined in the festivities. Master J behaved beautifully throughout, and when we returned to the club to retire, he really seemed to grasp the implications of seeing his portacot again, and promptly fell asleep. We weren’t so lucky, both of us spending an all but sleepless night. Pre-race jitters, no doubt, as well as alternating between being too cold (me), at which point the heating went on, to being too hot (Llew), at which point the heating went off. We didn’t seem able to master a happy medium, so it was one of the worst sleeps on record despite all the creature comforts one might possibly require and a sleeping baby to boot.
The day dawned clear and cold. An early morning wind howled up the empty corridors that lead straight off the harbour from Circular Quay and feed into the city. From our 7th floor window, Sydney felt braced for the thousands of pairs of feet that were soon to come pounding its streets. I fed Master J, the cup of tea beside me doing its vital work. Llew and I dressed and each ate a banana. We handed over our little man to his doting grandparents and left them playing happily in the room across the hall from ours. When we stepped out of the club’s main doors, I felt the familiar stirrings of adrenaline. The shock of cold air whipped the breath straight out of me, and we began trotting south toward the Start line a few blocks away. We were alone but for other runners, the traffic cleared for the race and the hour dictating that most people were still soundly sleeping.
As we came off Macquarie Street and into Hyde Park, crossing over toward the College Street Start line directly in front of St Mary’s Catherdral, I realised how happy I was to be there, and I thanked Llew for signing us up. Over 13,000 people registered for the event, so there was a decent crowd of people warming up, queuing for the toilets (though in my opinion, port-a-loos are perhaps the most depraved convenience of the modern world), and generally killing time before the gun sounded. We’d cut things pretty fine, so it duly did only minutes after our arrival. We watched the crowd surge slowly forward without bothering to join it – beyond the serious athletes at the front, no one was making rapid progress. Besides which, all runners were individually tagged. This is fantastic technology that means you record an exact individual time, and you’re not even on the clock until you cross the line. There was no need to rush the crush. A full ten minutes after the gun sounded, Llew and I wished each other luck and we were off.
I love fun runs. The atmosphere is always completely contagious, and the encouraging shouts of spectators truly make all the difference. Sometimes it’s only a well-timed cheer that keeps me going – although not on this occasion. I opted out of fun runs back before we even started IVF, so I was fairly blissed just being there. I didn’t need anything but the race itself. I took it very, very easy because I had no idea how my body would fare over 21 kilometres, plus it was a new course with which I was unfamiliar. I was wary of unexpected hills, so rampant in Sydney’s CBD; they’re uniquely brutalising in race conditions, so I maintained a very comfortable pace just to be on the safe side. I hadn’t done the training, so it had to be safety first.
The new single-lap course is spectacular, and much easier going than the previous two-lap course, which had killer burn potential thanks to Hunter Street hell. It’s just so satisfying running through a ghost town, which Sydney is at that hour, using roads that are usually reserved for vehicles to see the city from an entirely different perspective. Up and back along the Cahill Expressway at either end of the race was a highlight, with its outrageous views out over Sydney Harbour: the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the first ferries and the glinting water all gleaming in the morning light. The Rocks precinct was another favourite leg – it’s an area I love anyway, but the soundtrack of thumping feet echoing through those old residential streets and bouncing off convict-constructed sandstone walls… well, what’s not to love?
I finished with a huge smile and plenty in the tank – I was just so excited to be running I almost felt I could go again. Typical of my slightly unhinged personality, my only regret is that I didn’t push myself harder, but with no training and no idea how I’d fare, I really had no concept of what was around the next bend and the one after that… but when I finished with a time of 2 hours 2 minutes and 23 seconds, all I could think was – and yes, I do know this is because I’m INSANE – ‘I should’ve gone faster…’
Ah, it was great to be running again.
Desperate times call for desperate measures… I am holding my iPhone in my right hand and composing this post with my thumb. What prevents me from sitting down and using my laptop, not to mention both hands, is lying in the crook of my left arm, sleeping. He’ll wake up in a moment, any moment, and I’ll have to renegotiate even this.
We got into a bad habit while we were away, and Master J is not taking kindly to my daily efforts to restore us to normal. The swinger didn’t – couldn’t – come with us, so cuddle snoozes became the order of the day. That is, with the exception of pram and car naps, either Llew or I pretty much held him for the duration of the sleep. And now – naturally enough – he’s figured out the swinger is a pretty shit offering by comparison. In this current
contest of wills, I’d say it’s Master J 4, Di nil. I let him rant a good
long while today, until I just couldn’t take the indignant screaming
anymore. He can really serve it up, and has apparently endless reserves of energy for bringing the house down until yours truly
caves, as I did today after a battle lasting a good 45 minutes. He
just would not calm down. Pick him up and he’s asleep in minutes.
Thank Christ this is not the nighttime routine, is all I can say.
So the dilemma is this: I need to break the back of this new little habit because obviously I can’t hold him every time he needs a
daytime sleep at home. So where do I put him, when he won’t have
a bar of his cot during the day and hasn’t done since he was about
10 weeks old. I revisited it not long after he moved to the cot from
the bassinet and he screamed like I’d dumped him in the eternal
hellfires. He isn’t one for simply registering discontent – he really
goes bananas. I have a fairly developed capacity for tuning out, plus
I have a stubborn streak myself, so I don’t capitulate the second he
cries, I really don’t, but he outclasses me for staying power. I tough
it out for as long as I can stand it, still foolishly believing he’ll settle
without my intervention. You have to understand this is after
cuddles as it is – he is well renumerated on that score. Anyway, I’m
out of ideas. Part of me thinks he’s only this age for such a short
time, I may as well cuddle him while I still can, but another part
says, ‘Don’t be daft.’
I guess I have a few awful days ahead trying to change things or at least return them to pre-trip status. I can’t believe I am finally blogging and all I can think to say is how badly our daytime sleep
routine has hit the fan… Riveting reading!
Please forgive me. I’m tired. It was a tense sleep after a long 13-hour day. Today’s been another.
The break itself was great, although I expected to read and write
and managed neither. We had our first family road trip, taking the
new car – now officially known as the Silver Surfer – up to the north
coast so we could introduce Master J to Nana and my sister. Master
J proved a star traveller, taking to his portacot like the world
wanderer we hope he shall be. He also embraced distance travel by
falling asleep in the car for entire legs of the journey, awakening
only when he was due for a feed. A miracle! He did, however, take
serious exception to being in the darkened car at night – once the
sun went down, we had to get him to the other end as soon as
possible or suffer the unhappy consequences. It was a race against
time we lost more than won, making for stressful arrivals
everywhere we went. But overall, I was amazed and relieved by how readily he took to the onslaught of change – he’ll be off on his Grand Tour in no time.
680 thumb-written words… We’re back in some sort of business. The thumb chronicles continue