[An entry for Scribbit's March Write-Away Contest]
"Never leave child unattended."
"Not to be used without adult supervision."
The same warning (or is it a threat?) is emblazoned on every utilitarian object in Wombat's environment. To a childless person it seems obviously necessary, and easy to comply with. Once you are in the midst of the actual baby-wrangling, however, the grey shades start to leap out at you. I am lucky that Wombat has a very vigilant guardian angel, or he wouldn't have made it through his first week, let alone his first year (touch wood, the year's not up yet).
Does turning away to fold a fresh nappy count as lack of supervision while baby is sitting on his potty?
It does if baby decides to practice standing up and somersaulting into his bed. (Thank goodness he was smart enough not to go sideways, headfirst onto the wooden floor.)
He's taken top-heavy dives off our bed so often that we bought him a king-single mattress and built a fortress of padded rails around it, allowing me to still co-sleep with him to some extent (ie. when I don't manage to sneak away after feeding him).
Now he is getting more mobile, I sit on the toilet with the door open, dreading the day when I shall have to dive out and tackle him before he lunges head first down the steep stairs onto the concrete pavers. I have left him untethered in the pram for a moment while carrying the washing basket up those same stairs, certain that he is too tired and lethargic to attempt escape, only to see him gleefully clinging to the hood and bouncing with all his might. (I think I flew down the stairs that time, as the pram lurched at a sickening angle.)
If there is a way for him to make his mother's heart pound, her throat to close, and her nerves to go into overtime prayer-drive, he will find it... and use it.
I have been thinking quite a lot lately about how we filter our memories - and the stories we tell and are told about our lives - through our present day experiences. Around the time of my wedding,* I realised I was carrying a lot of unexpressed angst from my childhood. My first forays into blogdom involved a lot of "unpacking suitcases" (unloading my emotional baggage into an online journal for the amusement of strangers - and my sister.**) I was quite angry at my mother at the time, and busy discarding my childish perception that she could do no wrong in favour of the opposite extreme. The more time I spend with Wombat, the more appreciation I develop for a middle ground between those two views!
(*Our third anniversary is three days before Wombat's birthday.)
(**But that was on another site... and besides, the wench is dead. (TS Eliot quoting a quote which I quote because in writing those entries I exorcised the self who needed to write them, so they are now erased... if that makes any sense to anyone but me))
Two and a half,
mother busy with a baby,
I went walking
through Canberra's suburbs,
stray dog for company-
shaggy breath in my hair.
Cops took turns
driving me home.
Outside Latham shops
the pharmacist grabbed me.
As a bribe to sit still
while she phoned my folks
she chose from a spinning rack
the cheapest, I s'pose.
I still remember,
sliding from cellophane,
a naked, stiff-limbed
plasticperfect female form,
brunette like my mother
I kept Chemist Dolly for many years,
took her everywhere.
She never wore clothes.
Mum remembers Chemist Dolly's nakedness being the result of her unyielding figure, but I still cherish a romantic fondness for her, preferring to imagine her sometimes as my scapegoat effigy of sibling rivalry, and sometimes as my Boudicca of unfettered freedom. She was eventually relegated to the bottom of a toybox, and from there, I assume, she and her head probably took separate trips to the tip.
Mum also admitted that the cops got to know me, and brought me home so often that she was embarrassed. I can get no more details, though, as more recently it is a memory she prefers not to recall.
I have quite a few clear memories of the time before I was six... before the divorce (which is not the subject of this entry, being a whole jumbo-jet of misplaced luggage in its own right)... and the strongest ones all revolve around my solitary
About a year after the Chemist Dolly incident, I remember being at the park, by myself, glorying in the flight of my swing, head back, arms outstretched, hair sweeping in the breeze. The park was a good ten minutes walk from our home. What was I doing there alone?
I toppled backwards off the swing and sat up, just in time for it to hit me in the face on its return - solidly enough to break my front tooth. Mum's comment was that she didn't recognise me when she saw me running down the path to our house, my face was so distorted by my tears.
As an adult I know what she meant, but little statements like that fester in the soul of a child. Unrecognised = unwanted? At one stage this line of thought would have been a cloud of black misery, but these days I look at it with intellectual curiosity, wishing I could be a fly on the wall that day, to understand what actually occurred, and how. Not for my own gratuituous ego-feeding so much as to avoid repeating the pattern with my son.
Another year, another memory... whispering in conspirational togetherness, I strap my trusting two-year-old little sister into her stroller. My days of solitary wandering are over. She is my companion. I will take her with me to share my adventures. Again, as an adult, I wondered where Mum was... and now as a mother myself, I answer... she was probably fixing lunch in the kitchen, putting on a load of washing, making beds, having a shower - any number of essential daily tasks - confident that her angelic daughters were playing quietly and in perfect safety.
Having accomplished my task, and with my sister firmly strapped into her stroller, I carefully open the child-proof latch on the verandah, and begin to push her down the concrete steps as I have seen my parents do. One step. Two steps. The stroller is heavier than I ever imagined and my four-year-old arms cannot hold it. With agonizing clarity I feel it slip from my grasp as my sister tumbles, screaming, onto the driveway. She hits her head, but no permanent damage is done. Mum comes running, and the episode joins the family mythology - the day I pushed my sister down the stairs. For years I felt guilty, believing that it had been an attempt to deliberately harm her. I was so relieved when the full memory finally surfaced and I recovered that sense of excitement and anticipation - the desire to share my freedom with her.
The question for me now is, how do I
- nurture my son's independence and imagination
- without exposing him to the feelings of anxiety and aloneness I have carried since those early beginnings
- while still getting something done... occasionally...
I have no answers yet, and I know in many ways I am as bad at mothering as my own mother... and that he will adore me in spite of that, just as I adore my wonderful, frustrating, impossible Mum. The mistakes I make will be different from hers, and with God's help, Wombat will survive to adulthood without too many scars (physical or emotional). Perhaps I should pay more serious attention to the clear labels, like those at the start of this entry, instead of still looking for answers in the wind.
Six years old,
walking solitary to school,
I swept clean the sand
under trailing limbs of wattle
Returning hours later,
I tried to read
what the trees
Since it has taken nearly two hours to write this and it is now 4am, I should also probably remember that my sleep is more important to Wombat than my blogging ;P