Home again

29 Jul

‘Oh, three weeks,’ I say breezily when people ask me how long I’ll be away.

Three weeks?’ they ask. And then: ‘are you taking your children?’

I shake my head, because it softens the No, which, as you can see, is a much harsher word if you say it with a capital N.

It went like this: meeting in Perth for three days; home for one night, then on a plane to Tasmania where I stayed here as part of this programme; then on a plane (or, as it happens two planes, one of which was terribly, terribly small and a little bit chilly) to Canberra to go in this comedy competition; and then, early the following morning, I got on a bus to drive across the Hay Plain and ended up back in Adelaide.

As my children themselves would say ‘that’s not really for children’.

When I’m away from my children I do feel a kind of disjointedness, a vague restlessness, a need to keep moving forwards to the time when I will see them again. I miss them. I ring them every day and wallow in their voices, long for a cuddle with them, look at their photos for hours at a time. But I also observe of myself, a certain distance from the missing-ness. I’m not sure how to articulate this, and I’ve been trying to put it into words all day. I’m not going to judge how much I love them by how much I miss them. Nor am I going to make any judgement about myself as a mother in relation to others on the basis of how much I miss my children when I’m away, because…well, because it’s pointless and doesn’t help me to answer the questions I’m asking of myself. After a few basics have been covered, there are so many differences in being a mother that you just can’t afford to judge yourself in relation to others. Like the sign on the back of my grandmother’s toilet door said in some kind of rhyming prose ‘there will always be someone better than you and always someone worse’ (there was also a poem about bowls which ended ‘what he could do with kitty, I could do with jack’ and so I think from that you can guess quite a bit about the rest of the house).

So the best I can come up with is the rather obvious observation that we all miss our children in different ways, because so many people, when I tell them I’m about to go away say ‘I could never do that’. This means a whole lot of things I know, including ‘I would miss them too much’ as well as ‘there isn’t anyone else who could look after them for all that time’ as well as ‘that really sounds like a shit way to spend a few weeks why on earth would you take three precious weeks of your life and flush them down the great toilet bowl of the past in such a fashion’.

I can make any number of sensible justifications for trips away. For example: you try starting a new novel when your study has two doors which make a perfect circuit for little boys to run around. Or this one: it’s my trade-off instead of going out to work two or three days a week (two days a week for one year being the equivalent of a few weeks away). But obviously I don’t really need to make the justifications to myself or I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t go away. I mean, I applied for the residency. I accepted it with much excitement. I quarantined the time and protected it ferociously as I thought over and over to myself during the last six months ‘it’s all right, your quiet time is coming, July will be here soon’.

Three weeks was a long time. The longest I’ve been away. And for the first time, I did cry at the airport (in between Perth and Hobart). But it’s been a bit of an emotional year, so I’m not convinced that was all about missing my boys.

In Hobart, I lived by myself. Like, I was the only person in the cottage. The bedrooms, loungeroom, kitchen, bathroom were all for me. Just me. It was pretty strange at first. I met the mister when I was eighteen and we moved in together when I was twenty two, so you can see that I’ve not lived by myself very much at all. Also, there was no television and no internet (I’m thinking of making a t-shirt). And, like I said, it’s been a bit of an emotional time around here. I’m in control of the shadows, but I have to work at it. So I was very glad for the mister’s company when he came to visit for a few nights on his way home from a meeting in Melbourne. And there were some very special uni friends who took good care of me. But mostly, I would say that I liked being by myself.

I’ve always been happy enough with my own company. It comes with the territory of being a bit of a book nerd I guess. I like parties, but I like being by myself too. I like it a lot.

It wasn’t really like living by myself, of course, because it wasn’t real life. What I liked most was that I didn’t have to make any decisions for anyone else. I didn’t have to think about what people were going to wear or to eat. I barely had to make any decisions for myself. It wasn’t my house, so I didn’t have any cluttered cupboards to niggle at me. I had so few clothes that the washing was a simple matter of a load every few days. I had no garden of rampant soursobs to make me think ‘I really must get on to that’.

All there was to do was think and write and delete and think and write some more.

That’s not real life, but it was a lovely, lovely interlude.

The solitude. I liked the solitude.

I was happy to be home. My youngest boy said ‘I’m so excited I’m going to go upside down’ and then did a handstand on the grubby lounge, and it made me laugh and it still makes me smile. It’s been a gorgeous weekend of boys cuddling my legs for no reason at all. It’s good. It’s good to be home.

But being back amongst it all, amongst the races, the jumps and the screams, it makes me know that I really did enjoy the last few weeks. And if I can, I’ll do it again.

It’s probably because I had caesareans.

PS I will write about the guilt another day, because I find that a most fascinating thing.

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13 Responses to “Home again”

  1. Jennifer July 29, 2007 at 7:05 pm #

    That sounds lovely. And thanks for the meditations on motherhood and justifications. I think I need to hear that right now.

  2. tut-tut July 29, 2007 at 8:46 pm #

    Seems you should be quite proud of yourself for securing a residency and stage spot. Seems we can’t all fit into some mold that other people might have for us and themselves. Are some of these people who raised doubts for you perhaps a bit jealous?

  3. ThirdCat July 29, 2007 at 8:52 pm #

    Maybe, but no one was mean about it or anything. It’s just the thing that seemed to roll off people’s tongues. One of those kind of cliche things that we just pop into the conversation (there must be a name for those phrases, but I’m not sure what it is). Probably it’s a bit unexpected too – it really is a long time, and I was lucky to have people who can (who even want to) look after my kids for such a long time.

  4. meli July 29, 2007 at 9:48 pm #

    Oh, wow! Congratulations! That sounds amazing. I’ve taken myself on self-imposed writing isolation holidays a few times. If I’m completely alone I usualy go a bit nutty, but still get lots done.

    I’m not sure about that ‘I could never do that’ comment either. I hear it about a lot of things, especially about the care-work I used to do. Often it’s just not true. If these people had a good reason to do whatever it is you’re doing, they probably could.

  5. elsewhere July 29, 2007 at 10:34 pm #

    How interesting. I know someone else who had a residency there… What a shame you couldn’t have blogged while you were staying! But I guess that would have been a distraction. I’m sure it was good that you had time away from the chillun to write (she says with the heartlessness of a singleton).

  6. SQ July 29, 2007 at 10:48 pm #

    You’re back! Hooray!

  7. Meggie July 30, 2007 at 1:51 pm #

    Glad you enjoyed the break. Dont feel guilty about going & leaving them. I probably loved my kids too much, but a good healthy dose of being apart from them, for say, 3 weeks did us all good! I say that, having done just that.

  8. Cellobella July 30, 2007 at 2:06 pm #

    Spending time away from your children does not make you a bad mother unless you leave them on their own and they are too little to look after themselves… plainly this was not the case.

    IMHO: Having “respite” breaks whether for work or pleasure allows you to balance your life and gain perspective… it also helps you to survive the tough times when it all feels like grind grind grind.

    We as mothers carry enough guilt as it is. I absolutely agree with your philosophy of not equating your love for your children with how much you miss them… or even how guilty you feel at either not missing them or leaving them in the first place.

    It annoys me when I go out (rarely) and people ask – who is looking after your kids – as if their father can’t do a perfectly adequate job!

    Anyhow, you must have touched some guilt nerve there or something… I’ll go away now…

    🙂
    CB

    BTW Well done on the residency – impressive and I hope the weather was nice to you in our fair city of Perth.

  9. Ariel July 30, 2007 at 2:32 pm #

    What a marvellous post. (And what a number of nerves-of-recognition it touched with me, especially about my time overseas earlier this year!)

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time away, and you must not feel guilty about it. You may need to use a justification, but I like the one you did use anyway, about the three weeks away making up for the time you don’t go away to work. We all structure our lives differently around motherhood and what matters is not how you do that, but if, at the end of the day, you are a good mother – if your kids are reasonably happy and healthy and well-adjusted and you have a good relationship with them.

    From reading the blog, you sound like a brilliant mother.

    And a big fat well done on earning the residency and stage spot, too!

  10. Comic Mummy July 30, 2007 at 6:28 pm #

    Wow, that’s awesome. I had three and a bit weeks away from my kidlets last year for a US grant trip and while I was actually shocked by how much I did miss them, I certainly didn’t beat myself up over it or let it stop me enjoying myself. The way I see it, three weeks is NOT a long time, it’s not like you’re abandoning them, not coming back or even forced to go for a bad reason, like a relative has died or something. It’s a joyous reason to go away and just makes for more appreciation all round once everybody’s reunited.

    Methinks anyway. As it seems do you.

    Hey, how did Green Faces go, by the way?

    Also, so weird…looks like we’ve both set up Facebook pages at the same time too! I’m gonna check your comments for advice as I’m in the same ‘now what?’ position. Parallel lives…

  11. fifi July 31, 2007 at 5:40 pm #

    I have spent, in 13 years, I think 4 nights away from my cubs.

    In October I am spending 3 weeks away from them.
    My husband doesn’t know, he thinks I’m going for a week. And he don’t like that…

    When I have the four people employed to be me, I will tell him.

    I will probably love my chillun more, looking at them from the other end of the world…
    good on you for going.

    I really enjoyed this post. It is something which only one who has endured that exquisite agony which can be domestic life can truly appreciate…

  12. Janet July 31, 2007 at 8:51 pm #

    I find the mother guilt pretty interesting too. Never having suffered much from guilt before. Even when I probably should have. So why now? Does it grow in the placenta alongside the babe? Is it a modern affliction?

    Several weeks of solitude and not having to manage the needs of others sounds blissful. I’ll do it in some form one day if I can. But sheesh, no internet!

  13. em August 5, 2007 at 9:31 am #

    I love you last line… mother guilt fascinates me too…

    next weekend i’m going away from my children for the first time in 6.5 years (ie, two of them weren’t born the last time i went away). this is not because i haven’t wanted to but the right time, excuse, opportunity has never presented itself.

    i can’t wait!

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