So here's something obvious if only I'd stopped to think about it: an overnight trip with a 4 month old is a bit brutal.
This weekend, Squawk, the pterosaur and I tripped up to Sydney for the Aurealis Awards. We went partly because "First They Came…" was shortlisted, and mostly because I wanted to be part of the scene. To prove to myself that having a child hadn't fundamentally changed my commitment to my writing (even if it has shifted around my writing process, available time, sleep levels, patience, general location, living arrangements, diet, tea addiction, slavish devotion to twitter and all things internet related, ability to think, and just, you know, everything).
I still can't decide whether going was a mistake.
I had a truly fabulous time, and got to catch up with friends I haven't seen in years, and even to meet new friends and to connect in person with people I've only known via the internet before now. After the isolation of the first months of motherhood, being able to frock up and play with the grown-ups was reinvigorating.
But at the same time, the whole experience has left me riddled with guilt. First for disrupting poor Squawk, whose four month old brain hasn't yet learnt the soothing patterns of predictability. For her, nothing is familiar, and sleep is hard to come by because her brain is constantly being bombarded. I mean, a plastic giraffe that squeaks when you happen to push its stomach the right way is brain-bending to a baby. You should see what cellophane does to her ability to control her limbs. The other night I showed her that you could take two cups and tap them together to make a noise, and that revelation was so alarming and world-enlarging that she damn near thrashed herself right out of the bath.
My brain knows how to filter out information it doesn't need, such as the way light bounces off lino, or background babble. Being in an unfamiliar room is no problem, because I know how I got there and how long I'm staying and that I can leave when it all gets too much. I know what's roughly going to happen each day — but Squawk's "days" are usually only 2 or so hours long and they're all pretty varied. Sometimes it's light when she wakes up, sometimes it's not. Sometimes she feeds straight away, sometimes she feeds just before sleep, and sometimes she doesn't feed at all.
She's so little that she's quite simply lost in the detail of this world and its adult-sized patterns.
And this weekend I took her out of her comforting home, threw away all her familiar routines, and dumped her in the middle of a raucous party. One that was four days long, by her reckoning of days, and came straight after a trip that was also four of her days long.
I spent most of the awards ceremony itself mentally kicking myself for what I'd done to her.
To give credit where it's due, Squawk behaved with admirable aplomb. She never once got stroppy with her sleep deprivation, didn't panic at strangers plucking her out of my arms, and she sat through the ceremony without real protest. She did maintain a fairly constant low-grade eerie moaning mutter that had those nearby turning to check whether they were about to die — which promptly had me feeling anxious about spoiling everyone else's ceremony experience into the bargain.
So after the ceremony I left her tucked up in a hotel room with her Nanna, safely away from all the noise. And promptly felt guilty for abandoning her. There she was, needing to tell me what the day had done to her synapses and wanting only something as simple as a cuddle from me or the pterosaur to help her get to sleep, and she had neither. I was downstairs, so worried about her, and so tired myself, that I barely managed a coherent sentence, stuffed up pretty much every conversation I attempted, and didn't manage to find the courage to talk to even half as many people as I'd have liked.
I comforted myself with the thought that I'd be able to catch up with everyone I'd missed at breakfast. But I spent pretty much all of the night comforting poor Squawk, who was so wired that she spent every second of her sleep moaning. Breakfast therefore found me so tired (and hungry — in looking after Squawk I forgot to eat any dinner myself) that I forgot to say hello to people, forgot to say goodbye, I even forgot how to manage my utensils.
I took her because I wanted to be normal, and present.1 To be both a writer and a mother. And mostly, I feel I achieved only an effed-up version of each of them. So busy being a mother I couldn't interact with the writers on a normal level, and so busy being a writer I couldn't be a proper mother.
To everyone who took the time to chat with me, and to put up with my laggy responses as if they were normal, my sincere thanks. To everyone I missed, my apologies. (Or should that be the other way around?) I can see I'm going to have to work on this balance thing.
- And because we're both using my breasts. Where I go, she goes. [↩]