The State of the Union

May 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm (Uncategorized)

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.


  1. Annah said,

    Definitely not the first mum to admit this…I hope…otherwise it’s just you and me! 

    It’s relentless. Minute after minute of needs. Baby sleeping means time to make purees, daddy looking after baby means hang out the washing, take a break he says…we need a few things from the supermarket, you can have some time to yourself….ahhh, thanks!

    I miss reading. Reading without a monitor next to me that ticks like a bomb about to go off. I miss watching the trees sway in the wind just outside my window…for as long as my mind wants to rest. I miss doing nothing, nothing, without a time limit.

    But I can see that with time, I will get some time to myself back. CC turned 6 months 3 weeks ago, and in the last 3 weeks her independence has blown me away. She plays by herself very very happily now and puts herself to sleep as soon as I lay her in her cot (unbelievable!!!!). So how do I feel about this…I’m mourning my little baby!  I miss rocking her to sleep, I miss cuddling her all day…well, maybe not ALL day! They grow up so fast, and unless we have another one and start the whole process again (which I am not going to do) I think we should treasure their neediness, because I think it’s coming to an end….

    • DoctorDi said,

      Ha ha ha – I love that trip to the supermarket, Annah, that’s exactly right! In fairness to Llew, I am responsible for some of this, and I did go out for dinner with some girls from my mothers’ group the night before Mother’s Day. It’s just that singular pleasure of being alone that can’t be substituted in other areas of one’s life. There is no replacing it, so I have to find some way of incorporating it.

      Oh, I am so glad for all our cuddle snoozes and all the time together even though it is hard on my sense of individuality. He has already changed sooo much and I wouldn’t miss it for the world – part of the endless contradictions the role throws up. But Master J’s independence is currently somewhat stymied by his reflux. He vomits all the time, and now he’s rolling I have to be there watching. Sometimes I glance away only to have him vomit in those few seconds, and there he is suddenly faceplanting a pool of puke… It is just awful, though thankfully he really doesn’t seem to mind – I don’t think it’s painful any longer, though it is still prevalent.

      But you’re right, and I do treasure it and him.

      This comment was brought to you by my left thumb.

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    Welcome to the club. Alone time is absolutely a necessity for sanity. Of course it’s not lack of love. You don’t love your child any less because you breathe, or use the toilet, or have a drink of water. Alone time is like all of those–the expiration without it is just slower.

    • DoctorDi said,

      It really is, Lilian – especially true for someone like me who has aaaaalways spent huuuuuge amounts of time alooooone. We knew it was a potential problem for me, and it’s moved up the line to actual now.

  3. Woo said,

    I don’t have children, but this sounds very familiar from various friends. And I can only imagine how awful I’d feel without alone time. It is such a vital part of ‘me’; its how I recharge my batteries and re-balance myself after the competing demands of work, friends, training, new relationship have pulled me in different directions… and like I said, I don’t even have a 6 month old baby in the mix.

    I shall remember your point about the bargaining, if ever I do have a baby!

    • DoctorDi said,

      Woo, sharpen those negotiation skills, honey – if all goes to plan with your man, you’ll have cause to recall this bargain basement soon enough!

  4. Pete said,

    No, you’re definitely not alone in those sentiments. I immediately thought of my sister-in-law who got to go to the mall on Mother’s Day all by herself for the first time in months. I try and give L some alone time but as you say it’s relentless. But Happy six months to your darling boy! And I hope you get some more precious me-time.

  5. Grad said,

    Oh, the good old days…remember them well. When I brought infant K home from the hospital, I had C, who was not yet two and J, who was not yet 4. I had given up my career after J’s birth and didn’t trust a babysitter unless it was my mother or my brother – thus narrowing the field a bit. I still can’t remember how I managed to use the bathroom, or carry a load of groceries, an infant and two toddlers into the house during a Chicago snowstorm. Ah, yes… It gets better, though, I promise it does. And PLEASE…hire the babysitter. There’s a difference between cost and value.

  6. davidrochester said,

    Happy six months to your new family! And no, you’re not a bad person for feeling this way; every parent does. The first three years are very hard on sanity — he’ll become more independent, but until language and some degree of cognitive processing catch up with physical development, that’s almost harder, as your job then is to keep him from killing himself in the hundreds of ways he will try, and/or destroying the world around him in the other hundreds of ways. It’s really hard to be a parent; finding ways to recharge, be still, and be *you* are absolutely essential. Be fierce about your rights and needs. They are just as important as the baby’s — and if your needs aren’t met, your ability to meet his will, inevitably, be diminished…because you won’t be as much you as you need to be.

    I remember a friend asking me once, in tears, if she was an evil person for sometimes wanting to just throw her screaming kid out the window and run like hell. This was and is one of the most careful, loving mothers I’ve ever seen. “Nope,” I said, “it would be bad only if you did it. You get to think and feel whatever you want.”

  7. Charlotte said,

    Mine are big now and I’m still desperate to be alone. My DH who goes on international business trips all the time, that involve sleeping ALONE, being in planes ALONE and sitting around ALONE in lounges, doesn’t really get it. However, I do have more time now than I ever did, to pursue th things that make me ME, and as the years pass, there will be even more time. I have felt resentful and enraged and sworn at the washing MANY times, and have also felt love beyond my wildest dreams. My life would be poorer without that love, but it’s still a constant battle between meeting the needs of others and meeting my own. Wish I could give you big hug, Di, and then take Master J for a very long walk!

  8. bookgazing said,

    I know from times when I’ve had friends who’ve just come out of relationships latch on a bit and decide my time was theirs to delegate (sorry that happened just the other day again and I’m a little bitter about it) that I would go absolutely mad with someone always there,. So although I can’t possibly know what you’re talking about in terms of scale, I hear you and think what you’re saying is something we should all acknowledge to try and make mothering less ARGH.

  9. litlove said,

    Oh I remember all this so well. My biggest mistake: thinking I HAD to be there every minute of my child’s life that I could. My second biggest mistake: thinking I had to police my thoughts so that I couldn’t really register how dreadful I was feeling. What’s bizarre about motherhood is the scale of the change that happens overnight. You’re suddenly on this long term intensive training program on how to bring up a constantly changing child. Where do you get a moment to sit and digest this stuff? To think about everything that’s happened to you and your life and your body?

    It rather worries me, because I think ideologically this has got worse since I had my son – attachment parenting has been promoted as a kind of moral law, and you’re almost criminal if you don’t do it perfectly. Of course you want your child to have secure attachments, but children were very successfully brought up in extended families for many, many years. No attachment should come at the cost of the mother’s sanity and wellbeing. The best thing you can do, I think, is get the best network of support you can (and that you can afford) and don’t feel guilty about it for one second. The better you look after your needs, the more you’ll have in the bank to give to the needs of others. (But I do know how difficult this can be to sort out – good luck! We’re all rooting for you.)

  10. Fiona Wood said,

    Congratulations on the mile stone. Six months!? Sympathy on that awful feeling that as soon as you pay someone for child minding you have to be PRODUCTIVE.

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