I wrote these words over seven years ago and rediscovered them today. Such a strange experience - looking through a window in time to a younger me. I only vaguely remember writing these pieces and I'm not sure why they didn't make it into this blogspace at the time. Maybe they were too close, too personal. With the distance of time, I feel happy to share them now.
I look into my baby’s eyes and have a strong sense that she is not a blank slate. From the time she could focus on my gaze I am convinced that she knows things. What if we were born with a full slate, with memories and knowledge and understanding of things, with experience of a life lived before. What if our inarticulate tongues and bodies had no way of telling this. If as each week and month and year went by, new memories and experiences and knowing wrote over the old knowing so that by the time we could speak our earliest consciousness had been replaced with a new version, a new life, the old one fading out of reach. We can never know that this is not the case. I can remember those knowing looks that my very young baby gave me – it was not a look of blankness and incomprehension. It was sometimes a look of searching and questioning, sometimes a look of calm containment and fullness. Observing me with the eye of someone who knows as much as I and perhaps more. I can’t help but think that within this gaze there is something like wisdom or understanding or knowing amusement at my ineptitude. Is it just because the idea that such a look cannot come from a baby whose age is still counted in days and weeks? That these ‘windows to the soul’ open into a blank-ness seems impossible. Does consciousness begin or is it just a continuation? Is there a ‘collective consciousness’? I no longer think that the idea of re-incarnation beyond considering. I am no longer sure that death is the end and birth is the beginning.
I remember when my friends started having babies. First one friend, then another, then three or four or five of my friends all became ‘mothers’ and I became aware of fundamental changes in my relationship with them and how my own position in the scheme of things seemed to have shifted. Some of my friends would go ‘off line’ – they would talk of nothing but babies or they would disappear, not answer the phone or not return messages for weeks. And when I met these women, sometimes with other friends who also had children, I began to feel peripheral, on the outer, like someone who has not been watching every episode of the latest TV must see. I don’t quite ‘get’ things, references, in-jokes, shared laughs or looks. I can no longer finish the sentences of the friend whose sentences I have finished and she mine for many years. Something has opened up between us. And then I start to perceive a certain smugness on their part. The complicity or women who have ‘secret mothers’ knowledge’, the phrase “you’ll understand when you have children” made me seethe quietly. How dare these smug women think that just because they have children that they have somehow tapped in to some profound knowledge and wisdom that makes them know things that I cannot know, experience things that I cannot experience, understand things that I cannot understand. And all of this while they outwardly give the impression of being people with incredibly narrow areas of interest, little to talk about and no fun to be with. I have lost drinking companions, travel companions, shopping companions, artistic companions. These women are lost to me and I resent it and am annoyed by their children and their overly domestic preoccupations. And I make a quiet oath to myself, that when I have children I will not be like this, will not be smug and self righteous, I will not ignore my friends, I will not allow my life to contract to the extent that drinking and shopping and art cease to be a part of it. And I swear to myself that I will never say to anyone, “you’ll understand when you have children”. And then I have a baby, and then another one and although I don’t think I have actually said those words, I have often thought them. And I don’t reply to phone calls or emails for months at a time and I don’t want to go out and I lose interest in art and shopping and drinking and am too exhausted and preoccupied to notice. And I do look at friends who don’t have children and think that they are missing out on perhaps the most amazing thing possible to experience. And although sometimes I envy them their independence and their autonomy and freedom, I often find myself feeling a little pleased with myself, a little bit fulfilled and perhaps superior and that my life experience may perhaps even be a little bit richer than someone who doesn’t have children and part of me feels a little bit guilty that I have betrayed my previous self and my vow to avoid smug-motherness but now I think I just misunderstood – what I saw as smugness was something quite different.
I have re-entered the land of measurable time. I searched through drawers and unpacked belongings and found my two watches, both non-functioning – I think their batteries ran out in 2006. I put “watch batteries” on my shopping list and, although it took me several weeks to complete the task, I did buy watch batteries for both watches. I managed to replace the old batteries, prising open the battery casings on the back of the watches that were gummed up with years of dust and wrist grease. Then I put a watch on – for the first time in several years. And throughout the day I checked the time. I saw what time it was when I left the house and how long it took me to walk to the shops or take big girl to crèche. I could see how late I was running or how much time I had to spare. A revelation. I had always been a watch person. I can remember in the past feeling rather anxious when my watch battery ran out and making it a priority to replace it. The feeling of my left wrist being naked if there wasn’t a watch on it: feeling exposed and vulnerable and at sea and out of control. But the arrival of babies put a stop to all of that. Not because of some huge philosophical and spiritual shift in my life, although there was one. Not because I decided that time was of little consequence when faced with the constant and unceasing demands of a baby, although this was also the case. I stopped wearing watches because the hard metal edge of the watch band could scratch the softer than soft skin of my baby as I changed position while cradling them to feed or that the angular face of the watch might dig into the side of their sleeping face or wake them up. And having something hard and metallic and mechanical on my body seemed increasingly strange and unnecessary and before long the various watches were relegated to the back of a drawer or the bottom of a trinket box and left there – for years. And then I started to emerge from the fog that enwraps you when your life is taken over by babies and breastfeeding and sleepless nights and the idea began to take shape – I think I want to wear a watch. I think I want to know what time it is, at any moment of the day, just by looking at my wrist. How liberating. How radical. The watch still feels strange on my wrist, like being manacled or encased in something foreign. It makes my wrist feel sweaty or pinched or just not free. But I keep wearing it. And I feel as though there might be something significant in this development – this need for a way to measure time, to orient myself in the day, to latch on to something definite and unequivocal. It poses the possibility that I might need to be somewhere at a certain time, that stumbling through another chaotic day with no idea of my temporal coordinates is something I would quite like to change. That perhaps by measuring and better accounting for my time I may even find some more of it, discover that there is 30 minutes somewhere that was overlooked in the chaos, hidden under a pile of unsorted washing or several weeks worth of local newspapers and junkmail. Maybe there are little bits of time waiting to be mustered and corralled and consolidated into chunks of time that could actually be useful. With an eye on my watch, who knows what might happen.