The final countdown has begun to Llew’s last day of work, and with it comes the still louder whistling of the winds of change. Change is coming, ready or not. As it happens, I am ready, at least in principle. I can’t wait. I‘m so restless and want so badly to travel that I can feel the wanderlust rippling beneath my skin, its own strange current moving faster every day we inch closer. Yes, we’re approaching the end of something, and this term of employment has been the most significant of Llew’s life, but we are hurtling toward the start of things, too. A new phase commences the moment Llew walks out those office doors; we’re both pretty keen and interested to see what the hell happens next.
In the meantime I’m sorry to say I’m having still MORE technical problems with my MacBook Air, which began during my writing time last week (which is a bit unfair, don’t you think?). Apparently my motherboard has died, and they want $990 to fix it. That won’t be happening, so I am talking to the good people at Apple about an alternative arrangement. Something closer to a compromise, because I am feeling very long-suffering at this point: my entire history with this device has been one long crash and burn after another. I’m sooo sick of it. It’s cost me money (quite a lot of it, too), time (so, so much time), energy (so, so much energy), work and words and frankly I have had a gutful.
I’m in need of a holiday generally, I think. We’ve not taken any time off together since Easter last year (I am not including the period over Christmas, as we were in Sydney and had family commitments), so I am really staggering to the finish line now. I am exhausted on every level. I look every day of a thousand years old and my mind just isn’t working properly (had typed ‘probably’). Cycling home with Master J the other day, I told him we needed to “take over” the pedestrian walking ahead of us, rather than “overtake” her. I am making these small errors constantly, little mistakes that multiply whenever I am tired, so that now, tired beyond all reckoning, my speech is daily riddled with malapropisms and mind-mashed nonsense. Llew’s last day isn’t just a beacon of change, it’s the promise of some much-needed time off. A family holiday. Travel isn’t necessarily the most restful activity in the world, I know, especially not with a 15-month-old toddler in tow (yes, time is galloping ahead), but having Llew on hand to help, and being able to take turns taking some time out can’t help but have a huge impact on my ability to reboot myself, if not my computer. I even went so far as to have blood tests recently, so concerned have I become about this grinding exhaustion. Not only did the results come back clear, apparently my blood’s never been in better health. Odd. I could have sworn I was leaking.
I am getting one sacred, hard-won night alone on Friday night. But boy, talk about fiercely contested. Never mind that Llew has enjoyed multiple weekends to himself since Master J was born, the protracted and ugly negotiations that were necessary to secure this one night of going out with my mothers’ group before hopefully SLEEPING AN UNINTERRUPTED NIGHT’S SLEEP have really underscored yet again just the scale of inequality in parenting roles. I can’t tell you how rigidly I had to stick to my guns, and this is the core of the issue: every second, every concession, every single moment to myself is subject to scrutiny and negotiation. If I am to have any time to myself, it is by the grace of some arrangement (be it easily or sourly agreed, “free” – for no gift is unencumbered – or paid). I do not believe Llew has the first clue about what that is like. He is still himself in the world. He has liberty. He has the ability to make autonomous decisions and take independent action over the course of every day, whereas it is by arrangement and by arrangement only that I am granted (and it feels like that sometimes, too, enough that I was compelled to hiss, “Oh well, thank you, Your Highness” when the latest set of terms were finally agreed) any moments or hours of reprieve at all. And I pay for it later, too. Sometimes I begin paying for it in advance.
At least now I’ve figured out that no one is coming to volunteer to relieve me – no one – I have to make it happen. I have to lay it out for Llew – repeatedly – and I have to be unwavering in my claim. I have to advocate for myself, and it seems I need to keep doing it on a daily and weekly basis. If I don’t grab at a specific window of time, hold it close and say, “It’s mine,” it slams shut. Llew’s experience is sooo vastly different that I am not surprised he is struggling with my vehemence and my rage – after all, he still makes spontaneous plans for himself, he still decides on a whim that he’ll have a few beers with a mate – but unfortunately I can’t do much about that except try to explain, over and over again if necessary (and it does seem to be necessary), that I need time on my own, and that carving it out is the only way I’ll ever get it. There is no spontaneity in my life anymore. I have no capacity for the unplanned.
Personally I think this is one of the seismic shifts that really separate the parenting experience into two fraught halves. The home carer is forced to plan out each and every break from the family unit, otherwise they’ll never get one, and is forced to keep lobbying hard for that time out as well, whereas the working parent holds the cards both in terms of cash and freedom. For instance, Llew may send me a text saying, “Oops, ran into a mate…” – and that’s him done as far as he’s concerned. He’s just having a few beers, after all, and I can make my own arrangements. Except, of course, I can’t. If Master J is in bed asleep, then I can’t go anywhere or do anything. And I’m not earning any money, either, which Llew is generally awesome about but which is used as ammunition in many a household. It’s no wonder so many couples become so combative – I’ve heard terrible things, really shitty stories of being begrudged one lousy night out with other mothers (which wasn’t Llew’s problem – Llew’s problem was my wanting to keep my day off at the expense of a day and night away together as a family), but I better understand how quickly these conversations degenerate because ours have degenerated too, and we’ve both ended up feeling bruised and resentful. He said to me, “I don’t know how I ended up with the hardest bitch on Earth,” which goes some way to demonstrating what he feels he was up against. It also says a lot about what I am still working to overcome, which is this pervasive sense that I am being unreasonable when I decline to give up the precious window only so recently eased open to allow a little air back into my lungs. Mind your fingers, is all I can say. This thing keeps dropping without warning.