My toddler, red-faced and grit-toothed, has determined that we must not stay here. I hoped to recapture the days of her sleepy babyhood when I could peruse an op-shop while she napped, strapped to my chest.
But not today.
She’s sitting in the pram, the disgruntled monarch, scream-crying hot tears of injustice as we pace the aisles.
The book I gave her as a distraction lies splayed on the floor like a crime scene. I feel the rising shame, colouring my neck as shoppers give me the sympathy-eye.
At least this will make a good story, I think, relishing the retelling of it. How I thought she was suddenly struck ill. How I finally joined the club of public toddler temper-tantrums. Exchanging horror stories with other Mums over a decaf latte.
Story has always been the frame by which I view life. Not just the world around me but my interior life, constantly sifting through memories, impressions and experiences to shape them into something beautiful.
It gives me a clean beginning, middle and end, sometimes with a moral thrown in for good measure. Much of my essay-writing revolves around this format and I relish writers who do the same.
Oliver Sacks writes, ‘we have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative- whose continuity, whose sense is our lives’.
I’m obsessed with the show ‘Restoration Australia’. Perhaps in pregnancy, it’s an extension of the nesting-instinct.
I used to think TV shows which fell under the umbrella of ‘home improvement’ were as fun as poking my eye with a fork.
But I’m captivated by the optimistic homeowners, staking their piece of Australian history in that run-down sandstone terrace, determined to modernise and preserve it.
The host/architect comes on screen and explains the challenges the couple will face as they’re handed a hefty document full of heritage listing guidelines.
They gut the house to its bare bones, strip back paint to reveal its incarnations through the centuries. Archeologists are called in to dig for ghosts of the past, uncovering buttons, hairpins and other detritus which have slipped through the cracks.
Each episode unfolds over several years. The host returns every few months to check in.
I thrive on the cathartic ending; the couple showing off their completed project. The bones of the house fortified with steel and fresh paint; modern twists added but historic features preserved or recreated like the Victorian lace flanking the porch; the cloudy old whisky bottles unearthed in the house’s foundations now gleaming and displayed along the front hallway wall.
Maybe I can relate to these old run-down houses, transformed into something new while retaining their original structure.
Motherhood has changed me in ways I’m yet to articulate.
‘She has been made into a mother like a factory is made into lofts, a church into a concert hall, a barn into a house. The beams or bricks may be the same but the interior energy is distinct, reprogrammed: new shafts of light, walls, nooks, conduits of movement’ — Sarah Menkedick
When I write of motherhood, I want to bend the narrative to fit my fantasy: a story of transformation; the arrival of the child heralding the transcendence of self and selfishness, grounded more presently in the physical world with new layers of empathy and complexity as I become Mother Earth, vivid to the world within me.
Perhaps this is a hand-me-down from a society which buys into the myth of progress, that we’re constantly building a better world: ‘We have inherited the faith that as the world becomes more modern it will become more reasonable, more enlightened and more balanced.’ — John Gray
The tech boom has brought with it, not just advances our ancestors could only dream of, but a host of mental health issues and the abhorrent cesspool of the dark web.
Human nature is inescapable and history repeats itself.
Describing motherhood feels frivolous when pressing matters present, such as the red-faced toddler in a shop, or the revolving baskets of laundry and dirty nappies. As pointless as ‘stopping for a cupcake in a hurricane’ (Sarah Menkedick)
Whether motherhood will reinvent and improve me or draw out my deepest flaws is yet to be seen. Will my children even like me when they’re old enough to fly the nest? Will I lean into the sacrifices necessary to raise my children or resent them?
Is the answer different from one day to the next?
I can only grasp at straggling strands of story and weave together what I have, like working with the foundations of a house that’s seen a hundred winters.
I write this to remind myself that motherhood is not ‘trivial, tangential to main issues of life, irrelevant to the great themes of literature’ as Alicia Ostriker puts it, but the very lifeblood pumping through my veins.
I write to build, or perhaps, reconstruct a house around me in which to live happily ever after; to make sense of the disorienting changes which arrive with a child and compel me to document the boring, the bad and the beautiful.
And whether there is an upward trajectory or not, I will continue to write because I must, and perhaps in doing so I’ll discover some long-lost relics, waiting in dusty foundations below.
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