22 April 2009

To be continued

I wouldn’t use the term ‘schedule,’ though let’s just say that it’s become a trend for Hartley to fall asleep for the last 2 minutes of an outing, a nap which he will happily continue in his pram near the open back door so long as I can manage to get the entire operation inside without too much hassle.

Given the transient nature of baby trends, I am even more hesitant to decree this unexpected period of rest ‘me time,’ except that I need to start thinking seriously about writing – writing anything at all – before the urge is entirely discouraged out of me.

Lately I feel no impetus to turn every last detail of my life into a blog post. Partially this is due to the fact that I can’t seem to keep on top of processing the rapidly expanding details, nor locate a familiar frame of reference by which to pin them down. Partially I just can’t be bothered. My inner life is not so interesting anymore – at least not in the way you’d want to magnify, and Hartley’s inner life is mainly only interesting to me. Even so, I scramble for moments to myself to record what I can - moments that are quickly snatched away before an epiphany of any kind can resolve.

I read the headlines every day, and bits from the Guardian on weekends, but events only serve to illustrate how specifically focused my life has become and, as such, untranslatable. Motherhood is truly not of this world – we walk around duck ponds and grocery stores, form bonds of convenience and sing songs without a shred of dignity or cynicism. Conversations are always to be continued, and you continue them with about as many mothers as you come across until you are satisfied, except you are rarely ever satisfied.

See? It’s fairly nonsensical. You have to be there.

But that’s not to say I’m not having the time of my life, or that I’ve capped my pen and welded it shut for all eternity. There are plenty of people with children who write (you only have to type ‘baby’ and ‘blog’ into a search engine to see how many) and plenty of people with children who write (how often are works of fiction dedicated to children?), so I hold out hope that one day I too will fall into one of these camps.

So now that we got that straight. I have a grizzling infant to rescue.

17 April 2009

On the fly

I’m typing this in my underthings, my clothing in a damp pile on the floor beside me, the two-for-five-quid tulips still wrapped in their grocery store plastic and dripping onto the hardwoods. I met Bruce from the bus and handed off Hartley, fast asleep in his pram, so that I could hurry away to M&S and then home for a bit of writing, and got caught up behind a large group of gangly teenaged boys wearing nothing but jumpers - smoke and dirty laughter and enigmatic snatches of improvised rap emanating off them - and boasting their indifference to the wall of rain that soaked those of us without umbrellas (just me and these boys, it turns out). Ergo, no time for decorum.

This afternoon Hartley and I made our way to Crouch End to meet up with the postnatal group, which has turned into a themed potluck lunch that someone agrees to host on a Friday, and which generates much emailing throughout the week about numbers and types of food and timings. It all sounds a bit mad and serious, and it is, at least until you get there, and then someone hands you a cup of coffee and you try to plunk your infant down on a play mat and two seconds later you’re joggling him about while he cries at the new surroundings and you’ve got your boob out and someone else is taking the coffee off you and handing you a biscuit instead and before you know it you’re all in the midst of feeding and distracting and calming but, more importantly, babbling about your babies and the week you’ve had. It’s strangely cathartic.

Apart from shamelessly exposing my breasts in mixed company, I’m learning more and more about my baby through the impressions of others, as our closeness sometimes obscures all but his most obvious qualities. Three main characteristics tend to crop up again and again: serious, intense, sensitive. I have tried my best to keep things light in my handling of him, and in my dealings with situations when he’s around, but it seems that nature has taken a stronger hold and, despite my best efforts, I am raising a child who shares my misgivings about the physical world and the people that inhabit it after all.

Morag suggested I try him on the baby swing, and after attempting to read the warning embossed on its side, Hartley proceeded to muddle over the purpose of this unlikely, swinging chair, first questioning its structural integrity and then simply frowning at the soft little toys that adorned its handle and which trembled gently just in his line of vision. He gave the vibrating sling seat and padded cloth jungle gym the same doubtful consideration and only seemed to relax once I’d taken him out of these and piled him, rather uncomfortably I would have thought, onto my knee. Nobody knows that Hartley has a wicked sense of humour, a great love of play and an abundance of affection for me and for Bruce and for his own toys, because he only displays these qualities at home. I suppose he’s just being honest.

Anyway, I meant to come home and write a good long post about something or other, but Bruce has already called from the bus and I could hear Hartley crying away in the background, so it won’t be long before they're here. I’m thinking I might have time for a two-minute lie down on my back in the middle of the floor, because a break in tradition is usually about as good as a holiday. Except I hear a key in the door.

11 April 2009

Hartley: Three Months Old

Your children are not your children,
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but are not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

- Kahlil Gibran

The art of sneaking away with both hands free to type these missives is nearly equal to the task of writing them, as you’re much more savvy about naptime than you once were, and although my thoughts rest almost exclusively with you now (with the important exception of your father, of course), conjuring something intelligible from these with the spoils of motherhood still booming away in my breast is about as fathomable some days as building a church out of feathers and wind.

It occurred to me earlier this week that I could by now compile a dictionary of your sounds, the meaning of which, though they most certainly elude most others, speaks directly to my heart and makes me babble to you in tones that would have my nineteen-year-old self blushing with shame and burying her nose in a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow which, between you and I, she’s really only pretending to understand.

I didn’t know then that one day I’d become the linguist tasked with the important job of interpreting such obscure expressions as ‘owb’ and ‘aidoo’ which, as far as I can tell, are variations of ‘oh’, as in: Oh. I see you’ve got your face buried in my neck. Okay then. Lately I can’t seem to keep my face out of your neck, my lips off the soft skin of your belly and the slightly sticky soles of your feet, and even when you are asleep and I know that waking you would spell disaster, I can no more deprive your silky cheeks of kisses while you nap than I can keep myself from eating an entire bag of Sour Strawbs once they’ve been opened.

I think we must have reached the honeymoon phase of your infancy, because everything you do now – from those wide, gummy smiles that appear out of nowhere, even though you may have been shrieking with rage over the Springtime bumper on the Cbeebies channel only moments before, to the hysterical crying that could mean just about anything and that you do with such ridiculous charm that I can’t help but savor it a bit, even while I’m trying to make it stop – fills me with pure, unadulterated joy. You’ve come to associate me with such visceral integrity as well, and will often look up from a feed to consider my face and then offer me an unexpected peek at that lovely, shivering tongue of yours.

I have never felt so uninhibited, so given over to laughter and smiles as I have since I’ve known you, and you should know that this is a rare and wonderful thing you’ve inspired. Your lack of guile once frightened me, but I’m learning that although it renders you utterly vulnerable to the evils of humankind as I sometimes perceive them, it also reminds me of how beautiful the foundation of love and trust really is, and it fills me with awe when I think of how effortlessly these exist in you. I hope I will never do anything to bruise that inherent trust you have in me, or cast into doubt my love for you.

“Your children are not your children,” Kahlil Gibran famously wrote, and even though you are completely reliant on me, I know that this is true: that you do not belong to me in the most fundamental sense, even now. Your daddy and I are just the ones who are lucky enough to assist you in learning to be the lovely little person you already are. This is why, when you reward me with that enthusiastic grin of yours, I feel humbled, proud, and compelled to tell you Thank you, oh thank you! each and every time.

“You are the bows from which your children/ as living arrows are sent forth,” he continues, and although my trained eye must ultimately guide you towards “the mark upon the path of the infinite,” right now I am aiming that arrow straight back at myself so that I can feel the point go through me again and again. At least for a little while.

Happy third month, little boo. You’re awake again and I’m coming to see you.

10 April 2009

All the web's a stage

And on Twitter, Hamlet faces a pretty major quandry...

06 April 2009

Only this

Some prog rock meant to calm cot rage drones uselessly under the screams of two hysterical infants who lie beneath a strobing green play structure, Daliesque in proportion and sweetly butchering the Blue Danube at unhealthy decibels, over which Effy and I must shout at one another and, more pleadingly, at the babies, and I wonder what the neighbours must think but then realise that I stopped caring about that months ago.

Yes, months!

01 April 2009

Two nuns walked into a bar

Yesterday I went for a pelvic exam and I'm pretty sure the gynecologist hit on me. I know that sounds like an April Fool's joke but this isn't something I find funny, and even though I talked it through with Bruce and we agreed that I might have misinterpreted her, the aftertaste of the experience remains unpleasant.

Even before she made the questionable comment as I undressed behind a curtain for my internal, I got the distinct impression that this squat, middle-aged Spanish woman was trying to flirt with me. The first words out of her mouth had to do with my appearance, and not in the 'you look well for having just had a baby' way that most people like to grace the post-pregnant. No, she said something along the lines of 'You look very smart, very nice. I like the way you look. It's effortless, I know, but that's why it works.'

I know - what a monster, Friday, she paid you a compliment - but within the context of the environment and what I was there for, it was a little inappropriate. I was a bit flattered nevertheless because at this point I wasn't under any impression that she was being anything but pleasantly chatty.

As the conversation continued, though, I started to feel like she was looking at me, I mean really looking, in a way that was almost leering. She asked me details about my life that had nothing to do with pregnancy or babies, all the while making eye contact that seemed rife with meaning, though I couldn't discern the message. I remember thinking to myself that I really didn't want this woman anywhere near my business, but then she was inviting me to the exam table and I was remonstrating myself for being so silly, because really. A sexual predator in gynecology?

But then, just as I'd pulled the curtain to, I heard her say "I really like your accent, Friday. I find it sexy." My head reeled and I thought, But surely she doesn't mean... I laughed nervously and said "Oh, really?" "Yes, I do, I find it sexy," she confirmed. And then she came through to do the internal, asking me about Canada while I lay trapped and exposed beneath a stiff, white sheet that had been washed and pressed a million times before, for a million different people. It was awful.

I waited until we were in the lift to tell Bruce because I didn't know how he'd react and I wasn't even sure what had just happened, if anything. He asked me if I wanted to lodge a formal complaint and I said I didn't. We tried to rationalise her behavior - inappropriate yes, but perhaps open in a way that bespeaks a certain European sensibility - insensitive but benign, without intent.

And realistically, why would someone risk their career on such a ridiculous stunt? She's probably just like that, in which case she's like that with everyone. If there was anything behind it, chances are I'm not the first person she's done that to, and hence she'd already be out of a job.

On the way home, I bought myself a new dress from Frocks Away ("Love the accent," the saleswoman said to me in passing, reinforcing my earlier conviction) which sort of saved the afternoon for me. But as I said, that whole experience still resonates unpleasantly, regardless of what she meant.