Friday, October 21, 2011

The easy part

Disclaimer: this is part three: very long and erm, laborious.

After the walk Xoli puts on her rubber gloves again and I try not to punch her lights out while she fiddles around in the heart of the storm. Eye of the storm is what they say though, isn’t it? Still not, she tells my sinking heart. Then, she’s frowning…Sorry…her fingers probe my depths and I want to cry. She looks at me. She’s released something. There was a clench. Or something. I just went from 0 to 3 in under a second. They give racing drivers medals for stuff like that.

The next hours are a blur. Images through smeared glass. Some vomiting, some walking. Some squatting. And then: you have only progressed one cm in three hours. The world flattens out when I hear this. It’s truly discouraging. Everything is through thick sheets of glass. Underwater.

These are your options, she is saying. We can wait, walk some more, keep active. Or break the membranes … put you on an oxytocin drip to speed up the contractions. I don’t want to do that but you may have to. Something about Dr Mia and the length of time you are “allowed” to labour before they want to intervene.

They call in Elizabeth, she’s a doula. Her touch is angelic. Hands on my sacrum. Feathery stroking of hair and shoulders. Ntombi is here now. Angel. Music, sitting on the ball. Light touch brings relief, endorphins. How do you feel, asks the gentle Elizabeth. I feel like I’m on drugs. Good, she says. Beautiful, these amazing women. Bernd is relieved too, I’m aware of his unclenching. Elizabeth says I’m holding it in my shoulders each time (Of course I’m fucking holding it in my shoulders). On the ball, leaning forward. Easy. Oh, this is good, can I stay here….


This sitting business. On the ball, on the stool, leaning forward, the contractions ease off. It feels good. But, um…its not bringing the baby any bloody closer is it? I’ve got to walk again.

Bernd walks me with the patience and humour required to support a doddering geriatric. From the white wall to the hedge with yellow flowers. From the hedge with yellow flowers to the metal pole of the washing line. Step. Grind of bowlingball on pelvis. Step. Surge. Lean. Breathe. Or round the jungle gym outside, sunlight braai-ing my eyeballs. Walking around a jungle gym the size of a small bathroom feels like the Otter Trail.

Writing this now, looking at the notes I wrote a few days after, the writer in me is asking me to edit, cut, package, put in sub-headings. But the teacher in me wants you to feel it – how boring and protracted this birthing business can be.

When they check me again I’m about 5cm. We’re trying to get to ten, remember. And my waters still haven’t broken. But always, every time they check, the baby’s heartbeat steady as it was in all the weekly check-ups. Patient fellow. Another walk to Zoo Lake with the gentle Ntombi. Dimly aware of how this must appear – this strange slow animal presence, a woman squatting on the side of the road. I feel invisible though, like I’m in another dimension.

Back in the cool dark of the Genesis room (I’m hot, then cold, then thirsty then hungry then vomiting. And very very tired.) I squat. And suddenly there’s a gush. Waters breaking at last. But I’m still only five cm and only one layer of membranes has broken. Ntombi’s voice is serious now. We have to get these contractions to progress. She has to break the second layer. And the oxytocin drip. She’s worried I won’t have enough energy for the push. The push? What’s this push everyone keeps talking about? Oh yeah, I remember now. There’s a baby coming. I’m going to have to push a baby out of me.

She says to have a sleep. An afternoon nap, as it were. Bernd suggests the rainbow relaxation CD. Good idea. I sleep, dimly aware of the tickticktick of Bernd playing Quadrapop on his phone. When I wake I am determined, fresh, clear. I am going to walk around that jungle gym one more time, dammit.

Actually my sequence is totally out. I don’t know in what order this happened: sleeping, walking, Ntombi breaking the membranes, Bernd’s tense voice saying I must walk when all I can do is lie there and moo like a buffalo. Hushed voices around me. Deep in my sleep remembering Ntombi saying I must get my head in the right place for the next phase.

Yes, that’s it – that echoes in my sleep and when I wake I go walking, on my own this time. Get back to the room and the clouds part in my head. Of course. There’s a next phase. I have to do this. No one else can do this. The drip. I need the drip. Lets do it.

As she’s getting needles and tubes lined up I say, I’m scared. I have some fear.
Ok, she says. What is the fear?
That it will get too intense for me to handle.
The pain?
Yes, the pain. (yes, I will use the word. The Pain)
She tells me my Plan A pain relief is the bath: getting in the water helps.
Plan B – I can ask for Pethedine. But remember, you need to welcome the pain. You have to have the intense contractions, that’s what you need.
Ok. Ok. Lets do it.

I waddle to where Bernd is sitting outside. I’m going to do the drip, I say.
Good, he says. Everyone is concerned. I’m concerned.
Its ok, I say. Its going to be ok.

Ntombi tells me I am surfing very close to Dr Mia’s cut-off point. Or, his cut point, as it were. I don't want to be cut. Lets have tried everything, she said. I’m prepared to push it a little past that point because I know this is what you want.
Yes. This is what I want. And always, the baby’s heartbeat, so steady.

Within minutes of having the needle in the back of my hand the waves come thick and fast. Yes, its intense, but I realise that what was wrong before was that they were so irregular. Now each one lasts for exactly three breaths: the first is the gathering swell, the middle one is the peak, the third helps to ebb it away. Its just me and my breath now. No sightseeing on this heavy weather surf. Ntombi’s voice saying you need this pain its helping you. Welcome the pain. My voice, at some point, saying everyone switch off your phones. Now.

In no time, I get that need-to-poo feeling they spoke of. I want to push. And waiting for them to bustle around and fill the bath seems to take longer than the whole labour so far. I need to push Now guys, like really Now. Hurry the fuck up.

I don’t know how I got into the water but I’m here now. Candles. Cool. Yoga CD. id I ask for that? Oh look that’s weird, there’s Monica from the health store, what’s she doing here? Doula on duty. She has a night job. Hi Monica. Bernd and I touch fingertips, lock eyes. Here’s another one. In out in out in out. Done. And again.

Ok, work with the contractions, use all your energy to push as if you are going to do a poo. I hear Miranda’s voice in my head: chin into your chest and puuuuush. I breathe in and make a kind of grunty rattle sound. Ntombi says that one was in your throat. Push right down into your bum.

I’m getting it now. Three pushes per contraction and a tiny rest in between. Actually, no rest in between. Just enough time to refuel on oxygen before the next ten-footer comes bearing down on me. Bernd keeps shoving the straw in my dry mouth. I want to drink but need the air first. It takes about ten rounds before I manage to make the words: breathe first then drink.

Ntombi’s voice my anchor: “brilliant Tamara, you’re doing so well. Keep going.” The repetition bouys me along.

Change to a squat. Sometimes the wave knocks a sob out of me as it comes. Push push push, breathe, sip – and again.

Eventually a new feeling – stinging, burning. Baby’s coming says Xoli. Ntombi: Push past the ring of fire. Push past that burning ring. I know what she means but that burning ring doesn’t feel like it has a beyond. At some point I feel sure that I have done enough and can stop. Someone else must please finish up for me. I’ve done my best.

Xoli says, I can feel his head. Next time, put your fingers here and feel his head. I expect to feel more than the puny 50c coin size that I can feel. Am I only that far?

Now its serious business pushing. Ntombi’s voice, the music – the yoga CD. Long Time Sun. Ah well, so he won’t be born to that song…..

Push Tamara you're doing so well push past the burning ring you're doing so well baby’s coming.

I PUSH and I push and I push. Now I can really feel him coming. I’ve never worked so hard or wanted anything so so much. I push as if my life depends on it. My life does depend on it. So does his. Two lives. Lets go.

At some point, I know, this is it, its coming. When that round is finished, I gasp – oh no he’s gone back in!
Its ok, you’ve stretched, next time he’ll come further.
Its true. Next time he does.
And the time after that a tiny bit more.
And then many times when its just in one place. Then more.
And then they’re telling me to pant like a dog. And I do.
I push – the biggest one, like I’m trying to get an overland truck up the hill all by myself. Still not.
And then it happens. He is out. And the rest of him slithers out like a slippery fish and now they’re putting him on my chest all pink and white and yellow and red and I’m behind three layers of glass but there he is. I have done it.
Now Xoli vacuums his little nose.

Now she says “I’m not quite happy” and the world swims away from me. There’s a pause the length of the entire day. What?

The cord is around his foot, tightly wrapped three times. She unwraps it, he kicks like a foal. My baby is here. He’s on me, so quick. That was so easy, I think. Someone says what’s the time. 9.55.
Bernd cuts the cord. Red and blue gristle, like electrical wire.

Now they’ve taken him already, he’s being measured and weighed.
He’s with Bernd while they help me deliver the placenta. Its such a rich dark velvety colour, its veins like embroidered seams. I want to thank it. I understand why people worship it – it seems alive. No calcification. My date of the 17th was correct, in spite of what the gynae said.

I’m in the shower now. They check me. I haven’t torn. I stink like a beer-drinking pheromone sipping dock worker. There’s a mushy substance between my legs. I realise its my vagina. Numb. Still underwater in that glassy world. I am being taken to the bed now, where Bernd has my son. They put him on my breast.

I have nothing. No feeling no emotion no tiredness no elation no sadness no flatness. The glassy world. Bernd is in love, this I see and I know this is good. But I feel as if I have also pushed myself out into the bathwater.

Nothing will ever be the same again. I suppose I sleep. I know I phoned my mother, but when I couldn't say. When I wake my shoulders are frozen cold. I close the window. The 4 am glassy light coats the glass. I go back to bed and lie next to my baby. I am also born. I will love this child forever. A neat line divides my life into what was before, and what is now.

I have a child.

And now, a year later I know that that was the easy part.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A piece of cake

It's never taken me this long to make a cake. Every time I remember where I am in the process another contraction sweeps me away. I am also repacking the bag I packed last week because I don't trust anything that I did last week. Anything I felt before this morning must have been wrong. That phrase, take the rug out beneath your feet? Yeah, like that, except its the deserted wilderness and the whole ground is being pulled out from under me as I walk.

Everything is changing.

But I must make this cake.

Where was I?

Gluten free flour. Sugar. Butter. Where's the recipe gone? Woah. Steady now. Breathe. Did you write that one down? Its 20 minutes now in between. Or is it still 25? Did you write that last one down? Is it ten actually? Oh sod it. 150 g of butter. How much is that in Tablespoons? Where's the recipe gone? Do I have enough juice in my bag? Will I be thirsty? Am I thirsty now? Where the hell is my husband? Why isn't he writing down the contractions? I still need to make a group on my Blackberry of people to sms when .... woah. Ok. breathe. breathe. breathe.

Dammit I must finish this cake. The phone, the phone. Who gets a new phone the day before they go into labour? How does this damn thing work anyway? The timer. Time your contractions on the timer. Is that the timer or the stopwatch? What the hell is the difference? Oh shit, I'm getting stressy. Don't get stressy, be in the moment. be in the moment. Make the cake. Make the cake.

In my notebook for the 18th October 2010, it says:
"Beautiful crazy day. Blood/birth/mucus show at 9ish.
Music. baking.
Surges mostly 40 minutes apart then 30.
Sex! good sex.
Bit more blood. Is that ok?
Cake. Trying to make a bloody cake. Bernd funny and wonderful and hilarious."

There's a stringy list of times that get closer together, some in Bernd's handwriting some in mine. Then at about 6:30 they are 5 minutes apart and I write that I'm going to sms the midwife. Also: the cake is done. The cake that I started at 11 o'clock that morning. Put the cake under foil. Put the icing in the fridge. I want to be in one place now. I want to be settled. Ok Bernd, take me to Genesis.

This was a bad idea.

Note to first time birthers: do not sit. Sitting is bad. Do not sit in the front. Be on all fours on the back seat. Your baby car seat does not need to be in place yet. I guess I thought I was bringing home a baby at midnight. Or something. I guess I thought it would be a piece of cake. Car is bad. Motion is bad.

For the first time it feels like pain. Deep, knock the breath out soreness. Stop the car you fucker let me get out and walk. Wait for it to pass, this universe expanding sensation of... how to you describe a contraction? The words we have are puny: "a tightening"..."a hardening".

As the uterus moves through a surge your whole consciousness turns inwards like a sock folding itself inside out, folding in on itself. Breathe, focus, visualise. Expand.

Walking into Genesis I pause to lean at the counter before politely explaining that I am in labour and Xoli is on her way. Being the experienced midwife she is, Xoli is of course not on her way, or not immediately anyway. She had said I must only call her when the contractions are a minute or two apart. I am early. Woess. And also, the beastly car ride has slowed things down considerably. For a minute I wonder if its all true. Maybe I'd just imagined it. Maybe I can go home and eat that cake.

Instead I submit to the kindly doula on duty, who shows me where to press on the inside of my calf to help dilate the cervix. Which is of course, what we are trying to do here. But when Xoli comes with her snappy rubber gloves I hear the impossible words, "you are not dilated at all. Maybe, like your sister, you will have a slow dilation and a long labour. It could be that it's genetic. You can stay here if you want, but perhaps you should rather go home and get some sleep. I'll check you again at about 2am."

I didn't want the car. Again. But did it. With many many stop and let me get outs. At home I lay on the futon with my new Blackberry in hand and tried to time contractions. And dozed off. There is a snaky list. It seems they were about three minutes apart, sometimes more, sometimes less. They lasted 30 seconds. Or 45 seconds. or 20 seconds. Never the same.

At 2 am (after another murderous drive) she says the same thing. At 6 am the same. How is it possible that after a full night of at least as many waves as Dungeons* gets on a gnarly Sunday I have NO DILATION AT ALL?

Walking down the 200m road from Genesis to Zoo lake at 6.30 am. Leaning up against the lamp posts for contractions while commuters start their day alongside us. I say to Xoli how many do you want between here and the end of the road? She says, three. Big slow surges that I breathe through. I don't know how long or how far apart. In between I talk to her. How does it work with Notmbi, your partner, do you take shifts or work at the same time? We do both she says. I feel badly calling her because you don't have a relationship with her. But I like her, I say. It would be fine if you called her. I know Xoli is tired. She didn't sleep after 2. Didn't go home again. I am concerned about her.

Call Ntombi, I say. Apparently I will be doing this all day.

All day. In retrospect, that night was a piece of cake.

*Dungeons is a surf spot in Cape Town

An intense feeling that requires your full attention

Exactly one year ago as I write this I was soaking in the bath, observing my body start to prepare for the long haul ahead. I didn't know quite what a long haul it was going to be. I was excited. The first heady endorphins were flushing through me. I had waited long enough, I thought. I wanted to drop the fat, heavy, wriggly pawpaw I had been heaving along inside me.

A week earlier, sitting in the garden with my husband's niece, we were fantasizing about dates. The gynae's prediction of the 10th of the 10th 2010 had a great ring to it, but that date had passed without event. My calculation was the 17th. But 20.10.2010 would have been nice and symmetrical too. she's a kinaesiologist. I'll muscle test him, she said. She went through the days... 'It's the 18th', she said. I smiled and remarked that he would come when he was ready.

But still, on the night of the 17th I had had enough. I made a hot fragrant curry. I put on Johnny Clegg maskandi tunes and wiggled til midnight, bringing some euphoria into my weary bones. Early the next morning the (look away squeamish readers) mucus plug announced itself, dull period pain ache in my pelvis, endorphins making me giddy. I remembered what my yoga teacher had said: get in the bath for exactly one hour. The water will either bring the contractions along nicely or ease them off if its a false alarm.

The other thing she said was to carbo-load. And get some rest. I made pasta. I sat in the garden and giggled, marveling at how glorious the light was, the sunshine, the glowing green grass, the perfect strawberries in the strawberry patch. I smsed my friends and told them the early stage of labour was just like a mild mushroom trip. I started to make a cake. An hour between each gentle contraction, my heart swelling with a strong feeling of preparedness. I can do this. I have done the hypno-birthing course. I have done my kundalini preggie yoga. My body knows what a minute of intensity feels like, from those exercises where you hold your arms up in the air without moving. I've practiced my breathing. I've done the rainbow meditations. I've done my perineal massage and my pelvic floor exercises. I've programmed my mind not to think of the contractions as pain, not to use the word pain at all. Its an intense feeling that requires your full attention. That's what it is. I can do this. I'm ready to have an intense but enjoyable, fully natural vaginal birth without induction and without meds. Aren't I? Sure I am. Now where was I? Oh yes, I was making a cake...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dancer in the Dark

Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to be a writer. She didn't know why she wanted to be a writer but her grandmother had written books and her grandfather had written books and she pretty much knew that this should be her thing too. She thought that books were cool. She read a lot of them. She thought that a book that had her name on it as the author was about cool as it could get.

Except there was something wrong with her wiring. Whenever there was an assignment that was called "Your own composition", or "Free writing" or even just "Open topic essay" she couldn't do it. Couldn't move the pen across the page. Couldn't make the noisy clamour in her head turn into black and white or blue and white or even green and white on the page.

If someone else wrote it, that was ok. So, she dictated to her mother what her account of the Game Viewing story should be like. Her mother wrote it, and that was ok.

She would wander the fields and the pathways between the mielies and stories sprung from her like those weird jumping beans that came in the post once. She couldn't say who it was who took up residence in her and borrowed her vocal chords, but voices chattered through her like weavers at a nest building convention. Her grandmother, the one who had written books, would say of her - "there she goes again, reading, without a book."

"The thing was," she remembered, years later, to her therapist, "as long as no-one was listening, it was fine. And as long as no one was going to read it, it was fine."

It got so bad, even then, that her letters, simple letters to relatives abroad, or letters home to parents, never got sent. Decades later, cleaning out her boxes of paper treasures, she would discover these little notes. Dear Mum and Dad, we are fine, send more pocket money. Or post cards, with a hippo's bum on the back. Dear Mutti and Vati, thank you for your parcel of sweets. We are fine. Yesterday an elephant got into the vegetable garden.

Years later, with Gmail, her drafts folder, always full. Her finger hesitating over the Send button, nausea clutching her throat.

At University, deadlines made her see white. White, white, and nothing but cold, expansive blank whiteness like a dizziness, like the heroines in the 19th century novels she used to read who fainted dead away. That kind of whiteness.

Of course things got handed in. Scrambled pieces of paper - Compositions. She even got FeedBack. And survived. Even quite liked it. Even though at night sometimes her face would heat up as she recalled what an embarrassingly bad metaphor she had chosen there.

When she first heard the phrase "publish or perish" she shuddered, but held firm with the knowledge that for her at least, the phrase was "publish and perish".

Meanwhile, her notebooks filled. Sometimes she wrote in the dark so she couldn't see what she was writing. She quite liked that.

And then, the theatre. She sort of fell into it, really. In the country where she was studying they had a proud tradition of what they called "Workshopped theatre". This meant that everyone had a go at it, scrapped over it, but then one person ended up doing most of the writing and then giving the credit back to everyone else. And the best ideas always got kind of diluted, bullied, led to the chopping block by the worst ideas, Judas goats of the democratic process. She kind of liked that.

Of course she had plays that she was sole author of. Plays written at computers equipped with the delete button. The cut and paste function. The Save As function. It got so bad, that one day she counted 18 versions of the same play. 18 drafts with significant but barely distinguishable differences.

And then there was blogging. By this time she had learned to play the publish-or-perish pendulum, grabbing the vine when it swung towards a to-hell-with-it confessional exhibitionism and learned to regret the metaphors later. When the vertigo got too much she just pressed Save instead. Save. Save. Save.

Save it til later.
Save my soul.
Well saved.
Saving grace
Save me one, will ya?
Saved to drafts.
I saved you one.
Save the last dance for me.
Saving all my love for you.
Save now.
For later.

Oh fuck it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


“You must show him, sister! You mustn't take this nonsense from him!”
My sister and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Its going to be a long journey. The women behind us in the bus are irritating us. Loud relationship counselling. Laughter. We're trying to sleep. But Musa's not irritated. He leans across from his aisle seat and starts to chat and join in the advice free-for-all.
“Just make peace with him,” he says. “All relationships are difficult. Life is too short for fighting.”

They get chatting and ask him what he does.
“I have the best job in the world,” he says. “I'm an actor. I'm so lucky. I really really love my job.” His positivity is infectious, as always. We forgive the vocal girl with the big hair and the nasal vowels behind us. We remember: we are so, so, lucky.

Its already been a long journey. From Lusaka we meandered in a borrowed car. From Livingstone we crossed the bridge at dawn and left the borrowed car at the Vic Falls hotel. Then we took the train to Bulawayo. Musa was like a kid. He was so excited. Those cool wooden cabins with all the colonial trimmings still intact, and he pulled the light cord on and off, lowered the beds and raised them again a couple of times, opened and closed the doors, checked the running water in the little basin under the fold-out table. He was so stoked. It reminded me of when Miranda took his son George game viewing and George, standing up in the back of the Landrover with a huge grin on his face, said “Ninjoya”. I'm enjoying.

We're heading to Joburg. We'll overnight in Bulawayo and then take the bus, where the irritating girls will keep us awake into the night. Then we'll spend a few days in a weird little mining theme park in the Magaliesberg. The three of us and the rest of the Report-back Africa team: two actors from each SADC country, the Theatre for Africa core team and the community conservation people from Africa Resources Trust, from Zim.

In a few months time these people will be one big family to me, but for now I'm the new joiner. My sister and Musa have already been working together for two years, making plays in dusty villages, creating images and props from thin air, funny, cheeky, provocative plays about wildlife conservation and communities that must have their share of the tourism spoils. CBNRM rolls off their tongues along with all the other fancy acronyms – Community Based Natural Resource Management. Musa and Miranda are a joyful, effective, affectionate team. I'm enjoying this time with them. Ninjoya. I want to be part of their mojo. And soon I will be.

But now its August 2000 and I could do with some relationship counselling of my own, time is speeding up like the spin cycle in the washing machine. I don't really know what lies ahead but I know it's exciting and important and I have to do it, even though it means leaving my fracturing relationship behind me for now. Its just the start. In a couple of months I will be in a small Karoo town with this crazy crew, making masks from paper tape and mobiles with dangling forests, zebras and gemsbok. We'll take great delight in pissing off the conservative locals by going to their church, a motley mixture of dark skins, light skins and coffeemelt skins, holding hands in the street and embracing outside the corner store. Soon my head will be awash with images – how to translate thorny issues, acronyms and political rhetoric into visuals that will communicate the plight of dusty villagers to men in suits in governments.

I'm just entering the Theatre for Africa fold. For Musa, its been a journey that started in 1996 when he auditioned for them in Chipata for Guardians of Eden. He can play a baboon, a lion, a feminine village beauty or a chief, all with great aplomb. There's something about him. His eyes blaze on stage, his presence sucks you in. He's one of those actors, the one you watch in the chorus line. You want to know him. Be around him. People did. Be around him. He loved it. He knew. He was lucky, and loving it. And just never arrogant.

He plays the President in A Light in the Night of President Khaya Afrikha. I forget what I make him to wear. Probably something garish in blue velvet. It doesn't matter. His eyes carry that show, and his knotted eyebrows, which make him look like he's being a great and concerned leader. But really, it's because he's trying to remember all those damn lines.

Two years later I'm living in Cape Town and he and Miranda are back home, and we're doing a show for the WSSD over email. The World Summit on Sustainable Development. Joburg. I'm sending them bits of script, scene by scene, while they're in the bush, turning it into magic. They play their hearts out to an audience of technocrats from across the world. I remember that line, the one that made people cry:
“What am I then? Am I an indigenous persons also? I thought I was the poorest of the poor.” Again those blazing eyes. As he played a hapless villager who travels to the big city to take his message to the big shots of the world.

Musa. This is not an obituary. This will never do him justice. I need a whole book. He deserves a whole book.

Fast forward to March 2010 and I'm getting on a plane to Cape Town when my phone rings. Its Musa.
“Tammy? We're here at the airport in Lusaka but we're not booked on the plane to Joburg.”
“What? But Musa your connecting flight to Cape Town leaves this evening, what's going on?”
They are en route to perform at the Out the Box festival. I'm pregnant and stressed. It seems there was a miscommunication with the funders who were supposed to book our flights. Its always a struggle with the funders these days. Funders based in European countries who cannot possibly understand what a mammoth feat it is to find a working internet connection to send passport details for five actors who have to cross rivers on their bicycles and dodge elephants and travel a whole day just to apply for their passports.

Several phonecalls and borrowed credit cards later and they arrive in Cape Town with an hour to spare for their tech run. The motley Seka crew with their patched together props and too-long bamboo poles and overweight luggage bills that weren't a line-item in the budget. Actors who are mostly farmers these days anyway, who set audiences alight when they perform but can't get food on the table for their families. And dear Musa, whose humour punches its way past the stress, whose hugs are as warm as ever. Who so loves the Q and A after a show – telling schoolkids about life in Mfuwe (yes, there really are elephants, yes, traditionally we hunt for food, but these days there are laws forbidding it, yes we have to look after trees, trees give us so much.) Musa, in front of a crowd. Ninjoya.

Dear Musa, I'm sorry, in so many ways.

That you had to do so much damn admin when you should have been acting the stages of the world. Too much stress, lately. Too much stress and not enough fun. Fun was your nature, your kernel. I'm swamped by memory and emotion. It can't be true. It must be one of your tricks.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I had a dream...and there was chocolate

You can't make this stuff up. Well, you can, apparently. Or at least, my unconscious mind can.

So there was a movie shoot. It was on a field the size of a rugby pitch. Bigger, even. Sir Ian McKellen was there, being a wonderful, inspiring gentleman. We were following him, Pied Piper like. I was shy. His costume was kind of Roman gladiator meets sage.

It was complicated, as these dreams often are. But what I can tell you, is that the "set", if that's what it was, was a giant maze - walls at head height. And it was made of chocolate cake. ENTIRELY of chocolate cake. And some parts, like the cement between the bricks were pure hardened chocolate. That's a chocolate cake maze the size of a rugby pitch, people, and I was - well - harvesting it.

I'm not sure about the rest. I'm not sure exactly what Sir Ian was up to, or why. Normally in these dreams I am supposed to be director or scriptwriter or lead role and I am hopelessly unprepared and floundering. In this one, I was just crew. I had my cake and... wrapped it up in tin foil for later.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that I was shopping for clothes yesterday and feeling a tad depressed at the size of my new waistline?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

breaking wind

Shhhhh. Don't make sudden movements. Don't even exhale too loudly. You might break the spell.

I am blogging.

I am having a moment with my laptop.

If we're very lucky, I may even press publish when I am done.

It has indeed been a while, and the world has shifted on its axis since last we spoke. No really. It was the earthquake.

And the baby.

I have a baby now. I'll say it again, coz I never believe it when I hear myself say it. I have a baby now. Not just any baby mind you. I have Josef, philosopher child of the kind and thoughtful eyes, the wide open bellowing mouth and the gurgling drainpipe appetite. He who is patiently teaching his mother how to mother, sometimes with gentle chiding and sometimes with loud insistence at the top of those ferocious lungs.

Two blogs are not better than one
So about that two blog divide, and blogging about the baby on the baby blog and keeping this space for “me”. Ha.

You see, when pregnant, I maintained this teetering illusion that I could somehow keep a writerly self going, and reserve space in another room for the babytalk. Because not everyone wants to hear about reflux and winds and cuteness and sleeplessness. Not wanting to haemorrhage readers off this blog, I imagined I could neatly cleave the two apart.

The logic behind the two blog strategy was, I think, that I was guarding against that thing that I had heard that happens to new mothers, where their former identity + time + life + self + entire existence gets swamped by the minutiae of the baby's urgent (but, to the outside world, boring) clamours. I think I thought I would be vigilant about defending the space to write as tam the muse-chaser, rather than tam the poo-catcher and not to let the one be totally overrun by the other until I'd learned to edit my rapture.


That's not gonna happen.

This child is the everyday texture of my life now. Edited or not, the rapture, the babytalk, the tiny (and, to non-parents – boring) details of our emerging selves is all that there is.

And while there is indeed a cleaving, into self and mother, it is not neat, it is not compartmentalised. It is raw and messy.

It's like – there's a train leaving the station right now and you simply must get on it – a matter of extreme and utter urgency. You must get on this train with the baby, that is all you know. And so you do. And it roars off with a deafening clackety clack, while simultaneously slowing to a jagged stop-motion blur. And you look back at the platform and realise that you or someone who looks just like you didn't get on to the train. A ghost husk, hand raised as if to wave, or say stop, or open the door I'm getting on too- there she stands. Getting smaller on the horizon. And you keep wondering if she'll jump on somewhere else or catch a bus or catch up somehow, because you desperately need her, because maybe she knows what to do, how to be a mother, how to – slow down the blur.

No. it's not like that.

It's like - Suddenly you are a giant, a nimble, many limbed ubermom ogre who cannibalizes all other versions of herself in the quest to soothe and feed and wipe and shush.

No, its not like that either.

When I walk around the garden carrying the baby and singing om mani padme hum to get him to sleep, my mind is full of words. Stories I want to tell you, cascading glittering sentences unfurling, alive with poetry and song, jewelled with witty one-liners. If I could just get a moment at the computer, oh the stories I would write...

And then the baby gets to sleep and I am dizzy, frantic with all the possibility of what I could be doing with this entire 45 minutes... I could bath! I could have a hot cup of tea! I could clean the kitchen, blog, reply to emails, with festering growth areas of clutter...

And so I sit, and stare. Mute. Words draining away, thoughts snookering themselves down blind alleys. Aware of the shoulders (ow) the feet (phew). Things people have said to me floating across my awareness like a tacky screensaver: "it gets easier." "You must ask for help"
"You must take time for yourself"
"It does get easier you know. The first six weeks are the hardest."
"After three months it gets easier."
"After six months it gets easier."
"The first eighteen months are the hardest."

Slowly, the fog clears. The kettle boils. The bath fills. I am juuuust about to -

and then the baby cries.

On a good day, I might get to wash my hair. I suppose no writer ever lay on their deathbed and said “I wish my hair had been cleaner” or “I wish I'd done the dishes more.” But the woman who got on the train without me? She reaaaaallly needs clean surfaces, apparently.

But the point is (there was one, I could have sworn there was) is that in those weird segments of warped time which feel like hours but are actually only minutes, when you walk with the crying baby on your shoulder in the garden singing om mani padme hum, when long reels of blogworthy words flicker through the thoughts like home movies, you know you can capture it all - every tender moment. Fully realised characters wink at you through snarls of story begging to be untangled - but alas, without the time or brainpower to actually sit and do the work of stitching and cutting and threading, the words remain in burgeoning clutter areas of my brain, begging to be swept out. Blogging, it turns out, is not a big one on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

When I started this draft of this particular post, he was “15 weeks today.” Today, as I sit and revise it, with husband out of town, I realise that he is 22 weeks. For the six hundred and twenty ninth time since he was born, I realise that no-one is going to give me a medal for this. For weathering the ear-rattling crying that accompanied his first refluxy four months of life, when I could barely put him down, for the heart dropping feeling at the 1.00am wake-up (why, little guy? You just ate two hours ago...) or for the tiny victories - opening a bottle of tissue salts with one hand, crushing the tablet between two teaspoons with the other, salting his tongue with Camomilla, a tongue which is vibrating as loudly as your eardrums. Waiting to see if this does. Working a tiny but treacherous little air bubble out... aah the beautiful silence after a burp breaks.

No. No one will give me a medal.

But thats ok.
Why is it ok?
Because of this.

And this

And this

this boy, who's making me into a mother.

OH – and about the other blog (I knew there was a point – there it is!) this is just me now, ok. Deal with it, or move swiftly along. These are the Poo Diaries. The muses have fled.