Topic Change

November 18, 2011 at 11:51 pm (Uncategorized)

Eyes are stinging…I need more sleep, but the good news is Master J is going down pretty easefully during the day now, so at least one of us is getting some kip. The “answer”? I’ve stopped trying to put him down as soon as the first tired signs appear. I just wait it out until I see him put his head down, and then I POUNCE. So far, so good. It’s become a peaceful transaction at last.

I caught up with a friend for dinner at her place last night. She lives virtually straight across the harbour from Man Town, but the ferry service to each of our suburbs only goes via Circular Quay, which is much further around, lodged deep in the inner harbour, so visiting each other instead necessitates a long drive around the sprawling land mass. It’s all a bit mad – not to mention maddening – but it’s the only way to avoid hours on public transport or a prohibitive cab fare. It would be lovely if an after-dinner service ran between the two jetties, but alas. Anyway, an absurdly privileged problem to have, I know – poor me, having to go from one beautiful harbourside suburb to another under my own steam, boo hoo – but I think my eyes are tired because it really took all my concentration to stay on the ball driving home last night. En route I had negotiated hardcore peak-hour traffic downtown in order to find Llew’s new office (he’s still working for the same people, on contract until March, and they’ve just undergone a massive relocation) so we could do the Master J handover before I carried on to Rose Bay. Stressful driving in any language, so I think I was shattered well before I had to confront the drive home.

Upon my arrival at her lovely new pad, my friend observed in her usual no-nonsense way that I seem ‘very thin’ and ‘agitated’ every time she sees me, and since another friend characterised my current look as ‘gaunt’ and ‘stressed’ a week ago, I must say it gave me pause. I stopped and thought about it for a minute, and then it came to me. A core part of me actually IS starving to death – I am not feeding the reader/writer that I fundamentally am, and I guess it’s really starting to show.

I am eating enormous amounts of food, even more than usual, but still I feel constantly hungry, and I suspect now that the omnipresent gnawing at my guts isn’t conventional hunger at all. I think the anxiety produced by not reading and writing sufficient amounts is slowly eating me alive. Perhaps this sounds completely unhinged and melodramatic to most people, but I can tell you it makes PERFECT sense to me.

I’d be willing to bet the people who’ve only known me since Master J was born – say, the other mothers in my group – think I am perpetually uptight, and I do feel tightly coiled, squeezed into frequent breathlessness. Litlove is dead right – I need to sort out some childcare. I am ‘baby free’ Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons, but that time keeps being coopted, in the nicest possible way, by friends keen to catch up without children interrupting our every mouthful of food and/or attempt at an actual adult conversation. And of course when we do get together, we inevitably talk about the dominant forces in our lives, being children and husbands. One friend was desperate to see a movie on Wednesday, and what was it? I Don’t Know How She Does It, a movie about a working mother struggling to ‘have it all.’ No wonder I’m on edge – I’m surrounded! Motherhood: it’s everywhere. Even here.

Now, my darling friends hear about my time out and leap with such generosity of spirit to share it with me, some of them little believing that what I most want is to spend that time alone, that I have mainly ended up with plans on Wednesday nights, which wasn’t really the idea. I do think it’s hard for people to grasp what my life was like before, very much by choice: my days were solitary and silent. In fact, my favourite Wednesday since the arrangement was struck was spent dining alone while writing a letter to a friend; when I told some friends about it later, they were horrified, crying, “Oh no! Why didn’t you call? We would’ve joined you!” Again, so lovely, and so appreciated, but so missing my point, which was that the evening was my idea of perfect bliss.

One friend said she went home and announced to her husband, “Di gets Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons off!” and I was so struck by that language – my own, bounced back to me – as though Llew is generously dispensing this free time to an eternally grateful servant. It’s a mess, the way we discuss these things, and the language we use isn’t helping. The other tricky element is that the window of time is so neatly corralled that it seems I am now expected to fit everything I might ever want to do inside of it. See a friend? Well, you have that time on Saturday. Need a haircut? Well, you have that time on Saturday. Go for a run? Well, you have that time on Saturday. Write a blog? Well, here I am, picking this up days after I began it because here it is, my time on Saturday.

Llew, on the other hand, took a day off work yesterday to play golf and go for a long lunch. Given he couldn’t find his way clear to taking the day off for my birthday – when all I wanted was not to have to sole parent that Monday, especially since he’d spent the previous three days partying in New Zealand as a friend’s guest at the Rugby World Cup – it smarts. And don’t think I am not communicating all this to him – I am. It’s just that he is receiving it all with genuine incomprehension. And when I tell him what my friends are saying to me, about my ravaged appearance and demeanour, he is bewildered and indignant. It’s lovely having him reject these observations so hotly, telling me I look great and am doing a fantastic job, but it doesn’t admit the possibility that my friends are right, and that perhaps they’ve picked up on something he is unwilling and/or unable to see. His reassurances have a silencing effect, because he’s already told me what he thinks, and it feels like the case is closed, because it’s churlish to keep rejecting compliments.

No wonder I just want to read my beloved books – books that have nothing whatsoever to do with parenting, I might add. It’s only writing that now that I realise why I haven’t yet taken up Samantha’s recommendation of Susan Maushart’s The Mask of Motherhood, which I really do want to read – it’s because I’m in the market for some pure escapism. Enough already. I’m a mother. I get it. Message received loud and clear. But that’s not all I am, and despite my own writing and conversation now being so thoroughly soaked through with this all-consuming role, all I really want is to read and talk about something else.

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5 Comments

  1. Grad said,

    Well, all I can say is, “Welcome to the club, dolly.” Actually…that’s not all that I can say…I can say quite a lot on this subject, having been someone who stayed at home and eschewed career to be with the three kiddies. I don’t know if I fully realized it at the time (probably not) but those years were among the happiest of my life…in retrospect. I would have thought that in the intervening two decades, however, dads might have evlovled to the point where child rearing truly is a 50/50 proposition. Perhaps they aren’t quite there yet. There is a bitter/sweet aspect to the whole thing in that the children do grow up, they go to school – leaving you with more time to follow your own pursuits. They eventually strike off on their own to conquer the world, get married, raise babies of their own. It all goes by so incredibly fast. But while you are in the moment, it isn’t easy to parcel yourself out in small bits, and at the same time retain all of who you are…but you can do it, and I know you will. Keep the pen gliding across that page.

  2. Grad said,

    …and then…one forgets how to spell “evolved.” All downhill from here, dearie.

  3. litlove said,

    I remember when my son was all of six weeks old and we were invited to a Christmas party with friends. We left our baby with my parents, but by the time we’d reached the party we pretty much had to turn around and drive home again because I was too exhausted to face an upbeat social evening. I was SO shattered. No one quite knows what that identity-destroying tiredness feels like, if they haven’t had children. I know just how you feel – so lovely of friends to want to be there for you (and with you), but now is the time when all you really want is the deep silence of absolute peace with no demands on your person at all. The good news is that this gets much, much better, and from the moment your child hits 3, or so, they are infinitely easier, start to go to nursery school or whatever, get to sleep nice and early in the evening, etc. You start to get your life back. Those years of baby and toddlerhood are really tough, though, and you do have to look after yourself loads at a time when it’s tricky to do. It’s not unreasonable, you have not changed character, this is just the effect of having less than no time to yourself. I also recall never being as hungry as those years. Honestly, just take whatever you need to survive. Culture insists on the image of mothers as hugely giving, hugely loving, indefatigable. Bollocks to that – you need sleep and time to yourself to stay sane. I send hugs and whatever back up strength you need!

  4. Pete said,

    Sending you lots of encouragement to keep reading and writing when you get the chance. I think Litlove is right, things get better with time. We’ve all been bed-ridden here (and Baby F was the most unaffected) so I have to think that it doesn’t get much worse than that. But of course I know that it does! And those bloody anxieties! I wish I knew a way to turn them off. I suppose that playing golf and relaxing with friends and generally enjoying life is the way to go. Pity it’s not practical for the other 5 days of the week!

  5. Lilian Nattel said,

    I don’t know how you can stand it without more solitude–and I hope you do get some to regenerate soon.

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