‘Oh, three weeks,’ I say breezily when people ask me how long I’ll be away.
‘Three weeks?’ they ask. And then: ‘are you taking your children?’
I shake my head, because it softens the No, which, as you can see, is a much harsher word if you say it with a capital N.
It went like this: meeting in Perth for three days; home for one night, then on a plane to Tasmania where I stayed here as part of this programme; then on a plane (or, as it happens two planes, one of which was terribly, terribly small and a little bit chilly) to Canberra to go in this comedy competition; and then, early the following morning, I got on a bus to drive across the Hay Plain and ended up back in Adelaide.
As my children themselves would say ‘that’s not really for children’.
When I’m away from my children I do feel a kind of disjointedness, a vague restlessness, a need to keep moving forwards to the time when I will see them again. I miss them. I ring them every day and wallow in their voices, long for a cuddle with them, look at their photos for hours at a time. But I also observe of myself, a certain distance from the missing-ness. I’m not sure how to articulate this, and I’ve been trying to put it into words all day. I’m not going to judge how much I love them by how much I miss them. Nor am I going to make any judgement about myself as a mother in relation to others on the basis of how much I miss my children when I’m away, because…well, because it’s pointless and doesn’t help me to answer the questions I’m asking of myself. After a few basics have been covered, there are so many differences in being a mother that you just can’t afford to judge yourself in relation to others. Like the sign on the back of my grandmother’s toilet door said in some kind of rhyming prose ‘there will always be someone better than you and always someone worse’ (there was also a poem about bowls which ended ‘what he could do with kitty, I could do with jack’ and so I think from that you can guess quite a bit about the rest of the house).
So the best I can come up with is the rather obvious observation that we all miss our children in different ways, because so many people, when I tell them I’m about to go away say ‘I could never do that’. This means a whole lot of things I know, including ‘I would miss them too much’ as well as ‘there isn’t anyone else who could look after them for all that time’ as well as ‘that really sounds like a shit way to spend a few weeks why on earth would you take three precious weeks of your life and flush them down the great toilet bowl of the past in such a fashion’.
I can make any number of sensible justifications for trips away. For example: you try starting a new novel when your study has two doors which make a perfect circuit for little boys to run around. Or this one: it’s my trade-off instead of going out to work two or three days a week (two days a week for one year being the equivalent of a few weeks away). But obviously I don’t really need to make the justifications to myself or I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t go away. I mean, I applied for the residency. I accepted it with much excitement. I quarantined the time and protected it ferociously as I thought over and over to myself during the last six months ‘it’s all right, your quiet time is coming, July will be here soon’.
Three weeks was a long time. The longest I’ve been away. And for the first time, I did cry at the airport (in between Perth and Hobart). But it’s been a bit of an emotional year, so I’m not convinced that was all about missing my boys.
In Hobart, I lived by myself. Like, I was the only person in the cottage. The bedrooms, loungeroom, kitchen, bathroom were all for me. Just me. It was pretty strange at first. I met the mister when I was eighteen and we moved in together when I was twenty two, so you can see that I’ve not lived by myself very much at all. Also, there was no television and no internet (I’m thinking of making a t-shirt). And, like I said, it’s been a bit of an emotional time around here. I’m in control of the shadows, but I have to work at it. So I was very glad for the mister’s company when he came to visit for a few nights on his way home from a meeting in Melbourne. And there were some very special uni friends who took good care of me. But mostly, I would say that I liked being by myself.
I’ve always been happy enough with my own company. It comes with the territory of being a bit of a book nerd I guess. I like parties, but I like being by myself too. I like it a lot.
It wasn’t really like living by myself, of course, because it wasn’t real life. What I liked most was that I didn’t have to make any decisions for anyone else. I didn’t have to think about what people were going to wear or to eat. I barely had to make any decisions for myself. It wasn’t my house, so I didn’t have any cluttered cupboards to niggle at me. I had so few clothes that the washing was a simple matter of a load every few days. I had no garden of rampant soursobs to make me think ‘I really must get on to that’.
All there was to do was think and write and delete and think and write some more.
That’s not real life, but it was a lovely, lovely interlude.
The solitude. I liked the solitude.
I was happy to be home. My youngest boy said ‘I’m so excited I’m going to go upside down’ and then did a handstand on the grubby lounge, and it made me laugh and it still makes me smile. It’s been a gorgeous weekend of boys cuddling my legs for no reason at all. It’s good. It’s good to be home.
But being back amongst it all, amongst the races, the jumps and the screams, it makes me know that I really did enjoy the last few weeks. And if I can, I’ll do it again.
It’s probably because I had caesareans.
PS I will write about the guilt another day, because I find that a most fascinating thing.