motherhood, stray thoughts
comments 2

Postcard from now: canyon

Yellowstone canyon | edge of evening

Yellowstone canyon | edge of evening

Like the diaries I tried to keep as a child, the blog seems harder to come back to the longer I leave it. The gap between the ‘I’ and I myself growing until it is like the Yellowstone canyon we looked out over in the summer —not particularly wide, but deep, so very deep.

*
Walking into town one morning last week, I waved at a playground acquaintance walking in the other direction.

You’re alone! she called across the street.

Yes, I replied. I feel very alone.

You’ll have to get a job! she shouted.

Yes. I will.

She too was alone, I later noted. But, yes, she does have a job.

*

(The waving. A tick that I can’t seem to stop. I greet everyone with hi and a small wave, as though I think everyone I meet is two-years-old.)

*

There is the usual question of what the normal week might look like. First there is the week when the older two go back to school. Then there is the week when the youngest starts part-time. Then comes the week when he lies on the sofa with a fever by day, coughs at night. This is followed by the week when B & I are both ill, but all three kids are at school. Then came the week that B started his new job and I was alone. That was last week. Now there is this week and there will be next week. Then it is half-term.

*

I’ve read Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath twice. Both times I have tried and failed to write about it. Or rather, I have written about it, but some failure of nerve has prevented me from hitting publish. Cusk writes about the stay-at-home mum’s ‘pitch, her line, should anyone — a working mother, for instance — care to enquire’. More and more, I notice that people’s responses to things (my own responses to things) say far more about them (me) than they do about the thing. This sounds like it should be self-evident, but it’s not. Not when you’re the receiver of the response that is more about its giver than you, but feels likes it’s an obvious truth.

*

Sitting at my desk I hear a child’s voice outside. It sounds just like my youngest son. Mumma, the voice calls. Mumma. It’s strange because not many people are ‘mumma’ round here. I know it’s not him, yet I wish it was us out there, walking home together hand-in-hand.

*

I go to the dentist for the first time in three years. Despite my paranoia, everything is fine. She takes an x-ray and I’m asked to bite down on a piece of blue plastic. The plastic digs painfully into the soft folds beneath my tongue. The dentist and her assistant retreat from the room and I watch the red second-hand on the wall clock which ticks forwards and then tocks a tiny fraction back every second. I repeat my standard, post-labour, discomfort mantra to myself: I can make this stop any time I choose. A definition of pain: that feeling which you cannot choose to stop.

*

My mum retired in July.

Are you retired, Mumma? asks C, as we drive away from a weekend at her house.

I explain that, no, I’m not retired. But that I haven’t been going to work because my job has been looking after him. It’s called a career break, I add.

Isn’t that maternity leave? pipes up ten-year-old T.

A few days later, snack-time. I sit at the table slicing apple. C asks if I’ve decided what I want to do when I go back to work yet.

No, not yet, I say hopefully.

Well, he says, in the tone of one about to offer advice, you could be a teacher like my teachers. You’d like that.

*

I felt so self-conscious the first time I went out alone with a pushchair. I felt like a fraud. Now I feel naked walking along without a small child’s hand in mine. Later on the day of the dentist a friend comes over. She has also been to the dentist that morning, to have a filling replaced. Her two-year-old burst into tears at the sound of the drill and she spent the rest of the appointment with him nestled face-down on her chest.

*

Another friend goes to her GP about the intermittent chest pains she has been quietly worrying about. From the surgery she is sent straight to hospital. Four days later she has open-heart surgery for a congenital heart defect. I meet her husband in the playground the day after she comes out of hospital and he is so very kind to me, so gentle and patient when, although I’m offering help, sending love, I know I’m really saying, Tell me that the world isn’t like this, tell me that everything is going to be okay. He tells me that they just feel very lucky. The doctor said it could have been like that, he clicks his fingers, any time.

*

B’s new job is back in the City. For the first time he feels old at work. No one else on his team has kids. Most are in their first jobs post-graduation. I felt like we had children relatively early. I was twenty-eight when our daughter was born; thirty-four when our second son was born. A decade has past. They are still quite small: 10, 7, and 4. But it’s true, in some unfathomable way, we’re no longer young.

*

I like the idea of having a job that would stand in for me, a job that I could hide behind. Like a cardboard cut-out that would hold a space of a certain easily recognisable shape for me in the world. A job that would do the work that the word mother has done since we left London nearly seven years ago.

*

I get up early, read a few poems. The day is full of possibility. Later, when my children have gone to school the house will seem bigger, unmanageable, filled with the detritus of their lives: plasticine animals on the TV; Matisse-like paper cut-outs on the floor; art work and scissors on the table. Later, the house seems wild, untameable. Later, I don’t so much inhabit it as try to reclaim a tiny corner. Later still, they will come home and again it will be filled with noise and desire; arguing and making; their treasures and their still-tiny bodies.

*

On Sunday, when I go out to run the hour before sunset, I see my friend walking slowly with her daughter. It is nine days after the surgery on her heart. She looks drawn, but she smiles her very own radiant smile. I had forgotten its intensity. I don’t want to keep them standing for long. I don’t want to burden them with words that say more about my own fear than about what they’ve been through and the long recovery ahead. We speak for just a few moments and then, afraid to hug her, I blow her a kiss.

I run and run and every time I want to stop I think of her and know that I can’t.

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful and poignant thoughts. In particular, these lines resonated because I, too, struggle to define myself, my purpose, outside of those I love and care for:

    I like the idea of having a job that would stand in for me, a job that I could hide behind. Like a cardboard cut-out that would hold a space of a certain easily recognisable shape for me in the world. A job that would do the work that the word mother has done since we left London nearly seven years ago.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Loved this post, esp. this: “Later, the house seems wild, untameable. Later, I don’t so much inhabit it as try to reclaim a tiny corner. Later still, they will come home and again it will be filled with noise and desire; arguing and making; their treasures and their still-tiny bodies.”

    It seems to me that the house we reclaim, the space I mean, after our children grow, and grow up, is one we’ve dreamed all along. And it ages, as we age, and it contains every moment we’ve known and loved. New voices enter the space and find their own corners. My 2 year old grandson always mentions the epouvantaille on the upper deck when we talk on the phone, his favourte place and “person” here. He wants to know if it’s come into the sunroom for the winter yet. I send photographs to reassure him. And so that’s who I am too. Guardian of the scarecrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *