Master J has passed out thanks to two bike rides and a marathon session at a local playgroup ($6 in the bowl, thanks for coming), at which he made his first ever painting – which was very exciting until he started sampling the paint and brush as a possible morning tea treat. I pegged his artwork to the line running along one of the perimeter fences, and it was dry by the time we’d done the hokey-pokey and the cows had slept in the meadow and the frogs had galoomped and Old McDonald had had a sheep… or something like that. My Mothers’ Group friend J has been telling me for months to come along, and boy, I’m glad we finally did, not least because there were four of the other kids from our group there, so plenty of familiar/friendly faces.
Though the playgroup is set up in the grounds of an old church, some of the children are distinctly unholy terrors. I saw a little boy smack one of our little ones, A, right across the face when he met her at the end of the slide. At the grand old age of 15-months-old, A is already a target. She’s petite and sweet, and her mother has said to me several times now, “A always cops it.” Always…? But she’s only 15-months-old! And yet I’ve seen it with my own eyes too many times to discount what A’s mum is saying.
One of the older girls there this morning was a mean little wretch – and yes, it’s an odd thing to feel an immediate aversion to one so young. I couldn’t help it, though, because she was so unpleasant: bullying the other kids until they cried; pushing them away from whatever they were playing with; claiming everything in the place as her own (occasioning much furious darting as she tried stockpiling toys about her); pouting until you hoped for a wind change; whining whenever anyone successfully reclaimed their used and often broken item of choice, and generally behaving like a sour little cow. Her mother, meanwhile, was preoccupied with Baby No. 2, occasionally letting out a feeble, “Share, G,” or “Go and make friends” – not bloody likely in either event. Maybe Baby No. 2 was the root of all this bad behaviour in the first place – for all I know, G was a total sweetheart until she was usurped.
It’s a crazy scene, in other words, full of children exploring their power and testing not only their own limits but also that of the supervising adults around them. Master J fended off a couple of bullies, fell off a bike and fell into a sand pit, but we emerged unscathed and without a single tear being shed. I was proud. Oh, and I remembered to unpeg his painting before we left, so it’s in the kitchen ready to show Llew as soon as he gets home. Do you think it’s nuts to want to frame it…?
The other highlight of this morning was that Master J also loves being on the bike, making riding there and back an unequivocal success. His seat is attached to the front of my bike, and he spends most of the trip calling out, “Wheeeeee!” whenever we get speed up or head downhill. It is achingly cute. When I suggested we go for a bike ride, he just about busted out of his skin with excitement. He knows exactly what I’m saying, too; this morning he took to frantically pacing the apartment pointing at our bike helmets and my backpack and of course out the backdoor, beyond which sits the bike. One of my other friends from MG saw us out on the bike last week and said, “He really loves it, doesn’t he? He looks so happy” – and it’s really true. Besides which, I’m so glad to be able to use it again. I love my bike, so between the two of us there’s a lot more touring to be done.
As for the new project, I was hard at it last Thursday/Friday while Master J was at Family Daycare; it’s now sitting at just under 6,000 words, so I must crack on while the going is good…
I celebrated last week’s family day-care commencement by starting work on a completely new story. Who knows where it shall lead, but I have 2,500 words to show for the two days I had to myself last week, and I should really be capable of producing more in the coming weeks, especially since I shared the writing time last week with an assortment of other appointments. If I can only keep jealous guard of my Thursdays and Fridays from now on, I’m hoping to make reasonable progress on the thing.
I tell you what, though: it is soooo invigorating, working on something new. I suppose it’s no surprise I feel leaden whenever I open up the MS shrapnel (boom tish), but I hadn’t appreciated the difference until I hit upon my first entirely clean slate in…well, in years… oh, the blessed freedom. I know the blank page can often feel overwhelming, but isn’t it also blazing with potential? I haven’t stuffed anything up yet, have I, and there’s a great sense of renewal when you finally realise that you can, in fact, simply open up a new blank Word doc and start again. I feel positively girlish about it all.
The other reason I am giggling behind my hand is that I have finally, gratefully accepted that I am not a writer motivated by dark materials – not by natural inclination at least. I only figured out by doing a PhD that I am not a born academic writer, and the same has proven true of the gritty and the grim. There was quite a bit of heavy stuff in the old MS, and, if I am to be brutally honest, I was posturing when I wrote it.
I think the gloom descended thanks to some residual ‘tortured artist’ routine I still rather fancied at the time. I wanted to be taken seriously, and out of that I think I came to feel the material had to be suitably dire in order to match my gravity of purpose. More than that, I made the fatal error of taking myself too seriously as well. In a way now it’s like letting go of a youthful self – all that sharp-edged angst and dread intensity so characteristic of one’s first forays into adulthood… it almost deserves a small ceremony down by the harbour. I should release the paper lantern of my youth and watch it float away. You know, I have enormous nostalgia and affection for that time now it is so far behind me, but Christ, all that misery at the time was exhausting. And reinhabiting that kind of costume for the purposes of writing the manuscript was exhausting too. I am so happy to shrug it all off that by comparison working on the new MS feels like… dancing.
So that’s good, although less glowing was Master J’s day 2 report card from family day-care. Not that there were any problems per se, just that he was a bit more unsettled and sleepless and clingy. Apparently day 2 blues is a very common setback, and it makes sense; they’ve figured out that if they’re back for another day then whatever is happening isn’t a one-off thing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow morning when he returns. As for me, I’ll race back for another spin on the dance-floor.
I’m just waiting to find out if Master J is happy to have his nap at J’s or whether I need to pop round and bring him home, but otherwise the maiden family daycare experience seems to be going well… I’ll find out more when I collect him, but he was certainly all smiles when two of the other children turned up at the same time as us this morning. I do think he grasps so much of what I tell him; when I explained what was happening… well, of course one can’t be sure when a child doesn’t actually speak, but what can I tell you? He really seemed to understand.
And how have I spent my time? Well, I’d made an arrangement to catch up with my writer friend L, and while it was good to have an uninterrupted conversation, I think this time to myself really needs to be that, or else I’ll never get anything done. But we talked shop for an hour, and that’s always useful anyway. I love talking about writing with L. She’s a sharp thinker and is great at no-nonsense pep talks. I always come away from our chats fizzing with renewed energy. So that was good. Then I went for a run and a swim – bliss – before settling down to go over another hacked off section of the MS. It’s about 2,000 words… not quite a functional standalone story at this stage, more a vignette… and I’m not entirely sure what to do with it. Currently it’s still lacking something. I did what I could in terms of finessing, but really the whole thing requires a bit more thought. And that’s okay.
Meanwhile the latest Varuna Alumni News is up. This month it’s a member interview with one of my dear Darklings, Jennifer Scoullar. Exciting times for Jenny, with her rural fiction Brumby’s Run slated for a July release through Penguin. Of course we Darklings are madly shaking our tail feathers with pride – it’s a truly fantastic experience to share and we’re counting down the days to the launch. Go, Jenny, go!
One of things I enjoy about parenthood is the way it forces me to renegotiate my relationship with Sydney. Sometimes this radical reimagining of my hometown is enormously frustrating, as I’ve blogged about before, but increasingly it’s very, very rewarding.
Take, for instance, the Botanic Gardens, one of the great public spaces of Sydney. It suffered years of neglect as I all but ignored its existence – always on my way somewhere else, via the fastest route possible, it rarely occurred to me to enter the gardens, let alone stop long enough to enjoy them. But when you have a baby, parks become your outdoor HQ. I constantly keep my eyes peeled for the next jaunty patch of green blades. A huge expanse of well-maintained (or in the case of the Botanic Gardens, immaculate) grass means Master J may roam, and there is nothing a small child likes so much as roaming.
First he roamed by rolling – and don’t think for a moment he didn’t have places to go and people to see – to the left, to the right, off he rolled, all the while seeing what he could see, see, see. Next came crawling – an excellent means of roaming, as it turns out – and Master J became a real bullet on his hands and knees. And now, well, he’s walking (occasionally tripping) his way around the park, hurtling toward fountains, figureheads and picnicking foreigners with a spring in his step and an ecstatic squeal issuing forth from his dear sweet lips. “It’s me!” he seems to be saying to the statues. “I’m doing it! Did you see that?! The way I walked from there to here? Aren’t I incredible?!”
And the statues indulge him with their fixed smiles and reliably sturdy stands.
But then he might spot a plane in the sky, a bird on the path, a girl reading on the grass, and he’ll be off…
We often return to the Botanic Gardens if we’re downtown during Master J’s afternoon naptime. It really is an oasis inside its walls, so beautiful and calm, the canopy of trees providing ample cover as we take a turn – he asleep in his pram while I push it – around the winding paths, happily losing our way. Yesterday on one such stroll I came across the Succulent Garden, a place I’d never before entered, full of spiky, furry, phallic, inhospitable varieties of cacti and succulents that I happen to find very dramatic and interesting (I think it’s because they’re such survivors). Next I came across the nearby charmer, Lions Gate Lodge, which would make a great little spot for a twilight soiree were one looking to host such a thing (a helpful little sign at the entrance confirms it is available for event hire, so that’s a piece of info I shall store for another time).
There was even a photography exhibition in a little building deep in the gardens (I thought it was called the glasshouse but I can only find the Arc and the Pyramid online… it was more like a shed, anyway), and Peter Elfes’s photographs of Lake Eyre and other remote outback and desert aerial images are well worth a look. The Australian landscape captured from above looks positively extraterrestrial. Llew’s parents were lucky enough to see Lake Eyre flowing a couple of years ago and I would love them to see Elfes’s stunning shots of this rare and fascinating natural event.
All in all it was very restful, not least for the little sleeper who didn’t stir until we re-entered the fray and found ourselves back in the thick of the madding crowd. It’s so nice knowing the Botanic Gardens are there anytime we need a little bit of shush. I highly recommend it – especially because there are signs everywhere inviting visitors to take off their shoes and Please Walk on the Grass. That’s my kind of public space.
Well, my friends, my faithful friends who drop by here and remind me of this blog’s value (because I would certainly be lost without you), I have reason to hope I may soon be blogging twice a week: Master J is starting family daycare this Thursday-Friday. Family daycare is somewhat different to daycare centres; there’s a maximum five children of staggered ages, and a qualified carer looks after the kids predominantly in her own home, with excursions. Daycare of any description is really difficult and expensive to access in Sydney, so I feel very fortunate that we have been offered a place – it’s one of those ‘Grab it now and deal with it later’ scenarios, because had I declined to commence him this term, we would likely wait another year for a second offer.
I think the timing is actually good for us, though in an ideal world I’d have preferred him to be talking before starting any sort of organised care. But he’s walking, and a very sociable toddler, and intensely interested in older kids particularly. He’ll likely be the youngest child at this placement, given their policy of spreading the ages, but I expect he’ll quite like that and no doubt benefit from it developmentally too. Though we’ll be paying for two full days in order to secure the place, I’m only going to start him off with a few hours at a time, in order to ease him in, see how it goes and assess how much he likes it. We were lucky enough to get our first preference, too, a lady who has looked after a good friend’s kids and whom they have come to regard as an extra member of their family. I couldn’t be happier that we managed to get a place with J. She lives literally around the corner from our place, so I can also be there in under a minute if need be.
So Master J shall be thoroughly stimulated and I shall have a few hours to myself… quite a tantalising prospect. We’d been using a fantastic Masters student from Germany for 6 hours a week (on the weeks she was available), and even that has made a HUGE difference to my state of mind, because it’s made a huge difference to my ability to get some writing done. The blog didn’t really benefit so much because I was busy deconstructing my MS, and once that was done I worked one little bit into a much-altered 3,000-word short story (invaluably aided by fantastic critical feedback from our very own Litlove). As a result, one small, discrete piece of work has been pulled clear of the wreckage… and okay, it’s really not much to show for all those years of work, but I still feel pretty good about it. It feels like a twisted sort of progress. I’ve done something. And I remain convinced that pulling apart an entirely unworkable MS was my only path forward.
Sigh. I can’t deny that it’s sad I wasn’t up to the job of fixing the whole thing, but I’m convinced there’s much to be gained from scavenging from what I can from its unholy carcass. The benefits may largely end up being educational – it’s probable nothing I salvage will ever be published – but as long as I’m learning… well, in that case I believe the effort is well spent. Education is a beautiful thing.
So there you have it. A few hours to myself, a couple of days a week…I might actually get some reading and writing done. Fingers crossed this child of mine likes the freedom too.