Ramblings on recent events

More brutality, violence, death, in the name of some absurd mediaeval gobbledygook, and something inexplicable – people knowingly, willingly, dying for ‘the cause’ (world domination/Apocalypse now/revenge/true religion/insert your guess).

Yes, I am somewhat naïve, so my question is, what would happen if someone stopped a person like that and tried to get through beyond the layers and layers of indoctrination, theory, self-justification, self-righteousness. Would there be anything at all to get to, at the bottom of the pit? Deep down, buried beneath it all, still, any real human emotions? Like fear, sadness, shame? Would a person like that at any level be aware that they are causing pain and suffering to others? And what do they do with that feeling? Do they ever have a glimpse of the question in their head: ‘What am I doing?’ Without ‘because’, ‘in the name of’, ‘in order to’. Just, ‘what is happening?’ Can someone so saturated with crap stop and think? Maybe not.

On Facebook, I asked whether there could be anyone in their community, like a mother or grandmother, to get through to them. Of course, I was quickly called naïve. Their parents would be behind them, the same as them.

What kind of parents sacrifice their children?

One of the more shocking realisations (of many) having become a mother, is the sheer enormity and constancy of labour, work, energy, it takes. From the early days of pain, sore, grazed and bruised body parts, countless waking at night, mornings blurred by the vertigo of fatigue, to feeding, cleaning, nappies, teaching, reading, tidying, bathing, running after, wiping etc. Nothing about parenting, once you’ve entered this terrain, looks casual, easy, fluffy or pink. It’s brutal work. And that’s why, I suppose, there is (apart from the ever expanding love for my child), a great sense of investment, of so much at stake.

So what kind of a mother sacrifices all this willingly, the years of back-breaking work and devotion? What sort of a mother does all this, knowing her child is just fodder for the great fight? Even if she is religious, devout, believes in the cause, believes she is but a part of a greater reality, does not matter as an individual, still, how can she do all these things, knowing the child will not live beyond his tender years of youth? How does she mother, and does this feed into the problem? I suppose it’s no different to the mothers over hundreds of years, producing cannon fodder for the countless wars fought, lost and won, and ultimately, gathering dust in history books. So much waste.

Female selflessness, self-obliteration, has always fascinated/horrified me. I have met some women, with little education, devout in faith, completely tethered to their family needs, and seemingly oblivious of any of their own. Without complaint (so their family insisted), without reproach, they never ask, and just give. Living in houses falling apart, freezing in winter and boiling at night, with husbands who have crazy whims and fancies but little regard for their wife’s needs, they seem to just float above it all, smiling and taking the little time between chores to read their Holy Book of choice. This was true happiness, I had been told by members of their family. True happiness in ceasing to exist as a person.

The chances of a dissenting female voice, and one to speak for the value of their labour, the value of the life they created, in any of these extreme and ultra-patriarchal organisations, are probably next to nil. What a depressing reality, thinking of generations of men who cannot value the gift of life they have been given, in love with death and destruction.

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Today, a poem

Untitled

A load of washing ends the cycle

with a bang of the old workhorse.

The basket is ready for my catch of the day:

pants, socks, smalls of various hues of greying black and navy.

I pull them out one by one. A snowstorm starts.

Fine soft flecks stuck on the twisted rungs of underwear and tracksuit chords,

embedded in the folds, the creases.

Wads of white sodden paper peppering the mound of wet darkness.

“I don’t use tissues”, my husband says from the kitchen.

Crumpled white is always stuffed into my back pockets.

Small packets hide in prams,  bags. I always grab

a serviette, or a paper towel when I leave café tables,  change rooms, houses.

When I was small, my babushka always carried:

a hanky, and

a piece of cottonwool

in her bra.

(We didn’t have tissues in the USSR. It was a ‘deficit’, as we used to say.)

I carry a tissue in my bra nowadays, if pockets or bags are unavailable.

Because of:

runny noses,

sticky mouths and hands,

messes on tables,

dripping gelatos, or just

suddenly something somewhere sloppy, slippery, slimy, slobbered over.

The balcony is a snow dome of slowly circling flakes.

I get out the dustpan brush,

telling myself to check the pockets next time for the thousandth time.

Playing shops

So, there is this little playground we often go to, about a 20-minute brisk walk along Hen and Chicken Bay. It takes a little effort to get there (especially now, with all the construction going on), but worth it, as it is under shade and has our favourite swings.

A few months ago, when S wasn’t walking just yet, we were there. S was enjoying his swings, and I was watching a game a grandma was playing with her little granddaughter, a girl of about 4. There is a little cubby ‘shop’ at this playground, with a counter and a register, and the little girl was huddling inside, being a ‘shopkeeper’. At first, grandma was buying fruit, then groceries, then bread and milk. Each round of the game had a pattern: greetings, some banter about what was on sale today, then requests for items and the items being given (twigs and leaves from the mulch ground), then the naming of the price, always a surprise from grandma (“So dear!” or, “So cheap today!”), the exchange of ‘money’ (more twigs) and then the goodbyes and seeyounexttimes. As the round ended, grandma walked off, and then returned to the shop, asking: “Is the shop open today?” and so the game continued.

This game went on for some time. We were on playground time, so we had a fair go of the swings, then tried the seesaw, the slide and walked around with S holding my hand – probably not less than half an hour, most likely more. I was not paying any particular attention, but could hear it at the background, the naming of items for sale, the negotiation of price, the “goodbye and see you tomorrow”. There was something reassuring and comforting in the ritual. What struck me was the number of turns this game took, and the patience and interest this woman took in her granddaughter’s game. She just kept on doing it, inventing new items to buy, new ‘haggling’ pleas, over and over again. Those with older children know this all too well, I am sure – the sheer repetitiveness of some activities kids like. I know it so far with reading books to S, the same books over and over producing the same smiles and delight from him every time.

Well, S started walking on his own now, and we found this playground a good one for building his confidence, as it has objects his height at just the right distance for his ventures out on his own. Last time we went, he formed a little circuit between the light pole, the monkey bars, the slide ladder and some single standing rocking horses and twisty fish. He was chuffed at being able to walk such a long distance, and completed a few rounds to my cheers and hoorays.

So, we walked over there this morning to try out our new circuit. It had been raining the night before, and there were only 2 kids there, a girl of about 5 and a boy of 2, by the looks. Their dad was there with them.

We walked in and went on the swing (our usual starting point). The little girl wandered over to us straight away and told us excitedly about a rotting apple she found further away, offering to show us how yucky it was. I said something back, she kept talking, as I kept the swing going. The father was off at some distance, I assumed, looking after the younger boy. “Lets play shops”, the girl then said to me, pointing to the play “shop”. “OK”, I said, “but my son had just started walking and needs my help. So we will walk over there slowly”. S, of course, started meandering off as he does, attempting to grab all the wonderful leaves and sticks off the ground, and to surreptitiously stick a piece of mulch in his mouth.

Eventually, we made it to the ‘shop’ and started the game. I ‘bought’ some apples, and bananas and watermelon, ‘paid’, and we said our goodbyes and thankyou’s. “Lets have another game,” the girl cried out. “What would you like this time?”

We had another turn, and another, while S was pulling my hand to go on his own venture. As I started walking off with him, the girl followed, jumping on the slide. “See how fast I go!” she shouted from the top, but we were around a corner where I could only see her from the corner of my eye. “I can see you from here!” I shouted back, but she was not satisfied with where I was. We walked all the way to see her, and she slid off, “Wee!!!” Sam went on his little circuit, and her father walked by, asking some perfunctory questions about S’s age and telling me his childrens’. He proceeded to walk off to sit on one of the swiveling stars, and got on his phone.

“Let’s go and play shops again!” the girl begged. By now, I was experiencing a niggling annoyance, as S wanted to walk in a completely different direction and I was torn between letting him walk me (what we usually do) and obliging the girl. We walked over to the ‘shop’ and this time, I was the shopkeeper, having to put S with me inside the cubby, so that he would not wander off. We had another round, and I said that we probably had to go now, as S was tired and needed to sleep. “Why doesn’t he just sleep in the pram?” she asked. As I started explaining, I had that slightly uncomfortable feeling I used to have often with other people’s kids, before S arrived. The strange feeling of being put on the spot by a little person who has grown up questions, but cannot understand a grown up answer. And the growing question in my head: “Where is your father?”

As S and I walked off having made our excuse, another mother arrived, with her daughter, a girl of about S’s age. The little girl I played with immediately went over to them, engaging them in similar conversation and asking to play shops. The woman obliged, getting into the cubby shop and putting her daughter inside. By this time, S was getting tired after his early start and a bad night before, so we were walking towards the exit gate. As I was strapping him in his pram, I could still hear the game going on. As we walked around the playground fence and found our footpath, I heard the woman calling out, and saw her running out of the ‘shop’ after her daughter who must have walked off on her own and ended up near a big puddle. I noticed the man walking over towards them from the bench he had been sitting on the whole time.

So, I became curious about the gamut of feelings I was now experiencing.

Guilt. Because how could I refuse a child wanting to play or watch her slide down the slippery dip? After all, the thought immediately arose, this is the big problem with our society today, isn’t it, that we are not a ‘village raising a child’ anymore, but do our own solitary things. After all, haven’t I often observed in the past the women arriving at the playground with their children, all looking after their own, or the lone pram pushers, crowded yet alone in the shopping centres? Haven’t I thought, where is the community, the sharing of care, the looking after each others’ kids our mums took for granted?

But – this wasn’t it. This was no shared community. This was me looking after both my child and this man’s. I brought my son along to this playground, expecting to look after him, and sure, potentially look out for some of the other kids or engage in mutual play. Of course. But while I played with the girl, no one was playing with my son, or watching him – I had to do both. No one was watching the baby girl daughter of the other woman, while she was roped into the shop game. There was no introduction or negotiation of shared care, nor even the simplest of acts of joining, standing nearby, or being attentive to mutual activity by this dad. The man who brought his children to this playground was, for most of the time, nowhere in sight. In fact, at one point, he went outside the playground fence altogether, leaving both kids under my, and then the other woman’s watch, as he walked to refill his water bottle or get something from the pram.

Seems convenient. Sort of like, I guess, an occasional care arrangement.

So, why was that ok?

Is it because women, mummies, grandmothers are better at playing shops? Or watching a child sliding and cheering them on? Or expressing interest in their surprise finds and insights? Why would that be so? Is it because women just naturally don’t find stuff repetitive, that we are better with stuff that can get boring, because we are just naturally more patient and kind? Maybe it’s the breasts… Something along those lines anyway. It’s always about breasts and hormones when we talk about what comes naturally, don’t we.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s that we are conditioned and condition ourselves for all those things, and at the end of the day, well actually, we are left with no choice. Because who will look after baby?

Am I overthinking the whole thing? Maybe. Maybe the guy was just a tired dad needing a little break from juggling attention between 2 kids. But hey, who doesn’t? Who isn’t tired?

So we walked off home. Feeling kind of like something had been crossed. An ‘off’ kind of smell, as a colleague would say. Feeling annoyed for S not getting his walking done, for myself feeling guilty yet angry, for the woman now roped in to the arrangement. Thinking I should have said something, to the man, or at least to the woman. And a bit sad for the little shop girl.

On resentments of motherhood (initial thoughts)

Something my husband said to me during an argument, which made me think:

“You resent the things that all mothers do”.

So, this old idea that a woman naturally, effortlessly transitions into a “mother”, because she was always destined to, was geared for, so, how come a complaint?

Can men ever get an appreciation of what becoming a mother feels like?

Apart from a myriad other things, amazing, wonderful things, what springs to mind as the hardest is the necessary shutting down, putting away, of so many parts of yourself, to fit the hours of the day, the amount of energy available and the needs of others. A lopping off of bits and pieces, interests, pursuits, own space, room to think. And then, managing the expectation that this is just what mothers do.

One of my biggest gripes from the early days of motherhood has been my husband’s ongoing pursuit of swimming, one of his long standing rituals way before we met. For the first 7 weeks when he was with us at home, he religiously went almost daily, early in the morning, leaving me with the baby. It was for the good of the family, he said, as he needed to be healthy for both of us. It seemed to make sense. As time went on, and he went back to work, swimming became a weekend morning activity for him, with some grocery shopping or such tailing it off just on lunchtime. The day with him at home starts at lunch or after, and any family outings, well after 2-3pm, by which time I am exhausted and sleepy after looking after the baby. ‘My time’ (if it happens) will more often than not be slotted in at the end of the day. When I raised a question about this, my husband was quick to point out that he cannot go swimming during the week when he works as he gets up with the baby and lets me sleep (true and much appreciated), so he cannot give up all swimming, and mornings are the best time for him.

An incontrovertible argument. I get it, I do. However, the corollary of this is that ‘my time’ is whatever time is left over. Time for my swim, or art, or reading, or writing. It is nothing new, of course. Drusilla Modjeska’s ‘Stravinsky’s Lunch’ springs to mind here, Stella Bowen’s motherhood and sacrifices to enable her to continue making art. And many others. The third or forth shift, when everyone is fed and bathed and asleep. Burning the midnight oil at the kitchen table, to retain any sense of inner life other than in relationship with others.

‘My time’ is what is left over from the majority of time where baby belongs in my care, as a given. Baby is an extension of me, and I, of baby. It is a given that I will look after him, because that’s where I belong. So whilst my husband’s activities may be somewhat curtailed, he is still free to walk out the door to do whatever it is he wants or needs to do, whilst I simply cannot.

And it is this very difficult position, this new state of being, that is hardest to explain and that brings up most defensiveness and comments about resentment.

So what do I resent?

Certainly, not mothering my baby. Certainly, not my precious time with him. Certainly, not having this amazing gift in life.

I resent the expectation of willing sacrifice, and the reproach when I struggle with it and voice my struggle.  And in the bigger picture, the reduction of a ‘mother’ to a woman making do with whatever is made available after others have taken what they need. The burnt chop scenario, over and over again.

So, nothing new.

And so it goes…

Having had over a year at home with our precious firstborn boy, there have been many projects contemplated, mulled over, half started and abandoned, due to various reasons, the main one being the partial inspiration for the title of this blog. It is, of course, the essence of Virginia Woolf’s famous ‘A Room of One’s Own’, and the story of mothers all around the place and throughout time… How to find the space – physical space (a clear desk!), the mental and emotional space (when baby sleeps!), to create something as well as the daily things and people we nurture, make and bake.

So, this is it.

A space to write, ponder, share, and daydream.

Welcome!

Diana