Bye Bye Baby

I don’t want another child. I was never especially maternal. So I never thought I’d be someone to mourn the passing of the “baby years”. I used to read stories of women’s sadness at saying goodbye to this time with, if not scorn, then at least bemusement. But you had those years with them, what gives? But now, I’m here.

My youngest child turned three near the start of this year, next August, he’ll start school. I went back to an office job at the beginning of June. It’s a seismic shift in my life, after 4.5 years of being a freelancer and stay-at-home-parent.

This week it’s been hitting me: the baby years are gone.

I thought I’d be pleased, entirely. I have tried to enjoy each step of my two children’s development and I’ve always relished the next stage, skipping ahead, looking forward without regrets. I don’t want to hold them back, or fix them in time. I love seeing them grow and become more independent. I see my biggest success as a parent displayed in their increasing ability to do without me.

And yet, and yet…

I find myself tearing up with regrets. Yes! Me! Maybe it’s a natural backlash to major change to glance back over one’s shoulder as your train leaves the station, wondering if you should have stayed one more hour, one more day.

A passage in a novel described a new mother “kissing every inch of her baby’s body” and had me welling up in tears. Did I ever do that? Did I stop, and take the time to explore his skin, lip-print by lip-print until I’d covered it with an invisible velvet of love? It wasn’t the author’s intention (I suppose) but, like all the bestworst parenting articles I read, it had me questioning myself.

Because maybe… I just got through? Maybe I didn’t stop and simply exist in love. Maybe I didn’t even feel that perfect, gentlefierce babylove they describe in stories. I am not doing mum-guilt here. I honestly do not remember.

I do remember feeling anxious, feeling the need to get things done. Being miffed by the books that said “leave the housework!” because, what is worse than sitting, pinned to the couch by breastfeeding and contemplating a huge, dusty mess? Ugh. I got things done, I met my friends, I did the grocery shopping, I went for long walks listening to music and exploring the suburb while the baby slept. I walked an hour a day, easily. I read books and newspapers. I produced a 48-page quarterly magazine for the local NCT branch. I cooked food and kept the baby fed. I went to the pub occasionally. I organised minor repairs and renovations on the house. I went to the park, to baby swimming, to coffee dates and tea with mates. Did I ever just kick back though, suffused with joy in my small perfect creation? I don’t know.

Probably I did? And maybe I still do. We’re all attempting to be more mindful these days after all.

Perhaps it’s that the moments of quiet joy are just that – so quiet and humble and unmemorable. You can’t recall them, much less write a whole 750-word column about them, unless you’re really smug?

In another novel, the mother regards her newborn as “the most perfect thing she’s ever seen”. OK it’s another one of those clichés, but I don’t know if I ever felt this either. Others must feel it, I believe that. Was I too busy, too sensible, too practical, too nervy to have allowed myself to feel that pure love and contentment? Did I have postnatal anxiety? I do remember describing that first year of maternity leave in London as “the best year of my life” and it was. I went back to work, eventually moved countries and had another baby, then spent another busy “maternity year” and beyond. In many ways, things have just got better and better.

But I can’t remember. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But now, I never will know for sure…

So I’m mourning a little. And it’s somewhat unexpected. Goodbye baby years and all your chaotic, scary, busy intenseness and boredom that means I can almost only remember rushing about and enjoying myself, sometimes frustrated and upset, other times happy and occupied but almost always with something-to-do rather than sitting in a post-natal haze of rosegold glow. Ahh, maybe that’s just my own version of it.

Whatever it is, or was, I find myself surprisingly sad to say farewell to that bright pocket of time as my life moves, ever swiftly, onwards.

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Forest faerie

In the forest

in the morning

the mist lies heavy

and protects the trees

hiding sprites

wrapped in soft grey wisps

of light

undetectable to the eye

I think they won’t hurt me

but better not

give cause

step light

fly swiftly by

onward and through

a mere visitor

clearing foggy mind

it’s not quite

my place today

Photo: https://unsplash.com/@eberhardgross

Dragon Breath

 

And I thought about what someone far away was doing

imagined

a length of yellow-white fabric with words printed on it

fluttering near a bedroom window

 

Someone flying long-haul in a plane through dark sky

right now, that twilight world of

stale-cold air, engine hum, the fittings’ faint rattle and the rustle

of other people

 

A view over the rooftops of buildings

(see the city’s ripped back sides)

 

Stepping alone into an early-morning kitchen

he puts on the light

feeling the unheated floor and seeing crumbs on the benchtops

makes no move to clean them away

 

The pattern: blush of bright pink, royal blue and orange

imprinted behind closed eyes

intersected with black, it’s a piece of clothing

that existed cheaply, wonderfully, in a previous decade

 

 

Bigger than Texas

the earth will take back

in heat and ordure

the shredded plastic bags

and bottle caps.

 

unbeautiful bits of nature

pond dust, saline scum and

damp piles of leaf and blossom scrofula

look like horror

brown-shiny beetles and chokey cockroaches

creep slow on sickly stick-legs

 

they take back the dirt

one insect footstep at a time while

seahorses attached to Q-tips

and seagullpigeons in rubber bonnets

are not raging like us

no

they merely persist

hoping to discover

that rubbish-island in the sea

the size of New South Wales

(because it’s bigger than Texas now)

– must be terra nullius for them

 

 

This poem was inspired by the novel Arkady (need to get back to polishing up my own dystopian story one of these days!) And also somehow by Singapore (pictured), a place where the lush fecundity of nature mashes with the nasty detritus and pollution of human industry.

 

Blue Crush

 

 

leaked my heart through my eyes

a soft blue sludge like

Blue Crush slurpee

what she couldn’t see

was the thaw

of a long-petrified glacier

that had been waiting

for her

release

 

behind those same bruised-blue-raspberry eyes

a sand-blasted

desert over which wind

harshly blows

eroding

thought and feelings

smoothing surfaces that

emotions slide off

like a Dali pocketwatch

I sigh, it’s time

to wait, redux

 

So I kinda bombed out on poetry month. It all got too much with the travel and everything. I was going to come back and write up the ones I missed but I don’t know if it’s really worth it. Some big changes ahead as I’ll start a new job in a few weeks. I need to spend the time in between contemplating what I want to do with my poetry and writing and/or HOW!

Photo: Moon jellyfish in Singapore Oceanarium by Claire Doble

The meat of time

I’m threading chunks of time on a string

bloody purplish gristly cubes

they slip sinewy and slick on my fingers and

stain the sheets

spatters of strawberry red

give off the sexy-filthy intimate smell of beach coves away from the wind

where it’s warm and protected and the ocean’s sweat lazes in postcoital gentleness

while the sound of the breakers booms a satisfying distance above, beyond

seagulls cry and tease the ragged exciting air up there

but we’re safe here

except for

those grisly bits of meat, the bits of time I want to eat

stick in my teeth

and taste of

juniper berries and suncream and peanut butter and aged reisling today

tomorrow it’s salted caramel, meat pies, prosecco and lonelieness

so beautiful that

I want to spew them back up and taste them fresh, yet

on each regurgitation they’re more grey and flavourless

senseless time, and time rotting on my plate

Skipping ahead to day 26: a poem that includes images that engage all five senses.

Corridor

Newtown smells like limes

cocktails and

the soft dark night

smudge of bodies

we’re the old ones now

she says

we talk

gin and jogging, noticing

how I hold my friends

a physical thing

while their fingertips are laid

so gently in my head

like kisses, kindness

and life’s gentle wingbeats

whisper

I’m home. I’m home

Day 19 (sort of) – a poem written based on a paragraph that recounts a scene from everyday life

Psoriasis Narcissus

what happens when Narcissus shows
a face in ribbons
and red
that cannot reflect
aching bones and
corporal betrayal
the horrid looks
at monster flesh when
she once served haute cuisine
with a flourish
eyes smiled in her head
quick wit, gleaming bright
but her ravaged music slammed through
the walls at night
and remembering the scent and curled dust
of her psoriasis skin
makes me think
she must be gone
Ave El, Narcissus was unkind

Day 21 (I’m all out of sequence): try writing a poem that plays with the Narcissus myth in some way

Swagman

The Swagman’s Rest by Pro Hart

Touch my hand

bones splinter in the dirt

think of the wind over the sea

and places bandicoots skitter in the eve

I was once a good man

with shining rope, glinting gun and a plan

although the map’s not one you can see

and my words came smooth, debonair, like lies

 

My final shouts rang true though

if anyone cared to hear them

and I washed myself in the sound

‘Oh Nell, my love, I wronged her.’

the drink has taken stronger men

and left better women stranded

but I broke her heart and stole her wine

the child we’d made, abandoned

 

When it came time for him to die

alone he was, in bracken

the river was so loud that night

she felt the baby quicken

perhaps he called aloud those words

Nell, she didn’t hear him

upon his head she put a curse

and found him in the morning

 

To free his twist in memory’s embrace

we left a blank and humble cross in place

lost now to all but she:

Sandy Dan the Swagman, we

tied ropes across his grave

of bleached bloodwood, as dead as he

and while mountains rise against the sun

no more a-roving will he see

 

Day 18. I enjoyed this prompt: First, find a poem in a book or magazine (ideally one you are not familiar with). Use a piece of paper to cover over everything but the last line. Now write a line of your own that completes the thought of that single line you can see, or otherwise responds to it. Now move your piece of paper up to uncover the second-to-last line of your source poem, and write the second line of your new poem to complete/respond to this second-to-last line. Keep going, uncovering and writing, until you get to the first line of your source poem, which you will complete/respond to as the last line of your new poem. It might not be a finished draft, but hopefully it at least contains the seeds of one.

I used “The Swagman’s Rest” by Banjo Patterson. It ended up with an odd, off-kilter rhyme sequence but I like it

Cat food

Sugary childrens’ cereal

shaped like stars

the colour of Mars

(planet not the bars)

so different to

breakfasts of ours

back so many years

may as well have a nibble

OH NO it’s kibble

so embarrassing!

will never tell this thing

but

it has a funny ring

Ok, make it sing

wake up kids, do

Nana ate cat food!

Day 17: write a poem re-telling a family anecdote that has stuck with you over time.

Photo @Unsplash