Edit: Beg my pardon, I was just crying through words on the internet again.
Ten years ago, when I was 20, I had a baby.
I’m not sure whose idea that was exactly. It definitely wasn’t my mum’s idea. I remember the way her voice broke when I told her I was pregnant. I’d known the man who would become my husband for three months.
I know this post is a little (lot) self-indulgent, but it was hard. At times it was really, really hard.
Mum bought me two pairs of maternity pants and the t-shirt you see in that photo. That was all I had to wear. I couldn’t afford maternity clothes. I couldn’t afford rent. When I went to the supermarket, women stared at me, at where my wedding ring should have been. They felt it necessary to comment on how hard it would all be. I looked them in the eye and told them everything would be fine, but in reality I had the least idea anyone has ever had about anything.
This is an excerpt from the journal I kept at the time.
We got our eviction notice for our flat yesterday because we couldn’t make our rent payment this month (they’ll evict you if rent is 14 days late), which gives us 2 weeks to get all of our stuff out. We couldn’t make our rent because we had to pay for repairs on the car after it broke down (meaning Michael couldn’t get to work). I told my parents this last night and they YELLED at me. Then, and this was the clincher, he had the audacity to say that “poor Michael, you got him into this situation and now he has to put up with you”. When I asked him what he was talking about, he said “well, you got pregnant”, as if I did it all by myself. He said I’d been waiting for a guy who was gullible enough to knock me up so that they couldn’t leave me.
I thought I was so clever, being a pretend grown up with my round belly, buying Target onesies in packs of three and hoping I could keep my baby in them for a couple of days in a row. Michael and I moved into a shitty unit and I was so scared that I made him drop me at my parents’ house at 5am on his way to work, every morning, and then sat, waiting, hoping I would figure it out in time.
And then I had this little baby. When we brought her home, I put her down on the bed and she looked at me like, “Oh come on!” and I looked at her like, “Now what?” and we sat like that for the better part of 9 months. Post-natal depression held on to me with its rough hands, waiting for me to break. And I did break. I pulled this little girl inside my cocoon and cried into her soft skin. What was I doing? Why did I think I could do this?
And then she became a person. She grew upwards and she teetered on her skinny legs. She didn’t say anything–and she wouldn’t say anything until she was nearly 3 years old–but she looked. She looked at everything. She touched and she smelled and she grabbed and she held. She had an incredible naivety about her, a way of watching things for the first time, every time. She was always fascinated.
She was never still. I couldn’t take my eyes off her for a second, though I often did. She used to take all of her clothes off and piss on my parents’ hearth. I taped her pants on with duct tape and we just sat there, staring at each other, me daring her to do it again, her daring me to admit defeat. That pretty much sums up our relationship now, just egging each other on, daring the other to be more awesome at life. She is winning. She is amazing.
Tomorrow, Georgia will be 10. She has become the beautiful person she is because of and in spite of what I’ve done for her. I was clueless and hopeless, and she was perfection. She is a good person. She is selfless and generous. She is clever beyond comprehension. She is so much like me and also nothing like me, and for both of those reasons I still get frustrated by and anxious about being her mother. I don’t know if I’m fully equipped. I don’t know if any of this is even true, or whether she is the unfortunate recipient of all of my first-time-idiot-teenager-parent projections.
I might have done Georgia a disservice by being young and stupid. Maybe she would have been better off with 30-something parents with jobs and mortgages and gym memberships and Labradors.
But I love her with my whole heart, and that is the best tool I can offer.
Happy birthday, Georgia Cait. It feels like no time at all since I wasn’t sure I’d make it through your babyhood, and now it’s gone.
We had some Big Dramz at my place last night. If you’ve ever wondered why you might need an ex-husband, one of the reasons is that he will occasionally come to your house, sit on your couch and then accidentally elbow your mutual child in her wobbly tooth.
I was having a relaxing sit in my study when I heard the wailing. Dear God! I went, What horrors have befallen my daughter? When I rushed out to the living room, Lily was howling and flailing and her mouth was full of blood, so in the usual rational way I thought she had been bitten–in the mouth–by a spider. Georgia continued to sit and play Lego Harry Potter, because she’s cool in a crisis, but Lily looked and sounded like she was being quartered.
‘Nrfff!’ she yelled, pointing at Michael. ‘Bllrt pssht mm foo!’
‘Oh, dad punched your tooth!’ The scene of the tooth punching was grim, but the tooth itself clearly ready to come out. ‘I’ll just finish it off,’ I said, in an hilarious display of incorrectness. About 18 months ago, Lily fell in the school playground and knocked out both of her front teeth. The residual effect of having a dentist sedate her and then yank on her face is that she would sooner let you saw her leg off than put anything near her mouth.
We went through the usual process of pleading (come on just let me do it!), crying (this is really hard for me too!), begging (just let me do it), negotiating (you can have a Frosty Fruit!) before we arrived at the last resort option of pinning her to the table and putting her in lifelong therapy.
I don’t know how to describe the noise to you. It was as if we’d concurrently taken away her favourite toy, killed her cat, stabbed her in the arm, told her there was no such thing as mangoes and laughed about it in her face. I sat on the floor with my hands over my ears while Michael did the hard part. Then I cried. For half an hour.
‘Oh yeah, it feels fine now!’ she said, and I just rocked back and forth.
She set about writing a letter to the Tooth Fairy. After it was all coloured in she narrowed her eyes at me and said, ‘I’ll know if the Tooth Fairy is real, if her handwriting is different from yours.’ Challenge accepted.
The Tooth Fairy wrote her reply with a flourish: ‘i’s dotted with tiny flowers, a border of leaves and beautifulness, and she left behind an extra dollar to make up for the childhood-ending experience.
Lily pocketed her cash with glee and went about her day. An hour ago she came to me with the same narrowed eyes and said, ‘Mum, the Tooth Fairy writes capital ‘A’s just like you do. Isn’t that weird?’
Give me back the two bucks, Lily.
I’m quite introspective at the moment, going through that usual crisis of just your bog standard futility of life. Most nights I go to bed just after eight and sit with my back against the wall and spread out across the huge expanse (I got a king size version for my birthday recently) with laptops and books and notes and pencils. I have pretty good intentions to write, or at least outline, but mostly I end up watching old Red Dwarf episodes. Then I jot down Christmas shopping lists that include things like ‘everything the girls have ever asked for’ and ‘whatever the girls say they want’ because I am caught in a deep mother guilt and am reasonably sure that the reason Georgia doesn’t have any friends is because I didn’t buy her enough things when she was a toddler.
Here she is at her recent school disco. The dress is a fluoro number I bought from Seed, for Lily actually but she cried because she hated it so much, and the rest is Georgia’s creative license in the photo booth. I love this kid so much that the first thing I did when I saw this, before I groaned at her obsession with Gangnam Style (she showed it to me on YouTube) or the fact that she seems to have stolen everyone else’s glow sticks, was cry. A lot. Because all I see in this picture is her aloneness. I see a little girl so excited about being at the disco that she doesn’t know how to push the excitement out and has eyes that are flashing with hysteria. I see a little girl trying to do the things that will make the other kids like her, and I can imagine her asking them to join her in the booth because she knows how cool it is to wear feather hair pieces and them looking at her like they can’t even hear the words she’s saying.
I’ve started taking the time to finish my afternoon’s work early so that I can pick her up from school. Yesterday I saw her walking towards me with another girl, and my heart lurched clean out of my chest because I thought she might have a person to confide in and to feel good about it, and my brain in denial took all that time to realise it was just Lily. While Lily informed me that she had outgrown the nickname she’s had since infancy, Georgia held my hand and said that she thought a girl in her class had invited her to visit their farm, but now it turned out that she didn’t want her to come after all. ‘Maybe she hadn’t checked with her mum, and she’s not allowed to take people to the farm,’ I said, but Georgia told me that she knew it was because this girl didn’t like her anymore and maybe never had liked her.
Now I crumble with every step of my day of parenting this girl, my first born baby so blonde and soft and bleating inside a tiny body like a kidney bean; my mirror and my friend. I don’t know how to punish her when she misbehaves, because what can I take away from her that could be worse than being on her own? and what if this was the day she would meet her new friend at the pool and I stopped her because she hadn’t cleaned her room? and what if she doesn’t know how to talk to other people because she uses her brain spaces to remember how to pack the dishwasher? This morning she read a book of science experiments instead of getting dressed for school, and for a moment I yelled at her to Get Dressed, and You Can’t Take Your Book To School, but later I gave her the book anyway because maybe the other kids would like to do science experiments with her.
I don’t know how to help her make friends because she’s spent 9 years without any, and now when the other kids do show an interest in her she grabs them like a favourite toy and won’t let them go, until they slide out of her grasp like mercury and she says ‘people don’t like me’. I am hard up against a wall that shouts that it’s true, the other kids don’t like her, but it’s not because she’s not clever or funny or pretty or generous or considerate because she is all of those things. How do you look your child in her enormous crazy eyes and try inelegantly to explain that it’s the others who are missing out, not her, when you know from experience that all she wants is to be a normal kid and not give a shit about the needles in her heart and just have one friend – just one – who will cross the road to say hello to her.
On the night of the disco, when she got home, I asked her who she danced with and she said “myself”, but not in the comfortable bohemian way. Just the regular alone way.
Sometimes life calls for a summary post. It’s not always easy to make the words come out in the right order, especially if you’ve been giving them to NaNoWriMo instead.
Six months ago we went to Georgia’s teacher in desperation, to have a go at figuring out why she’s lonely and sad. Last week we got the results of the school’s monitoring and subsequent assessment. Now we have a list of new people to go and see and ask the same questions to. In the meantime, Lily outstrips her in all social and creative endeavours, whilst Georgia’s various neuroses seem to be overwhelming her (and me).
I have some. Now I’m going through the rigmarole of specialists and blood tests and ultrasounds and I don’t recommend it very much at all.
I’ve slowed to a halt on NaNo, but I have 18,000 words I didn’t have before, and now I’m investing that energy into a 10 month intensive first drafting course. Hopefully this time next year I will have something of substance. I think you’ll like my main character. She’s insane.
Sam Simmons on Ramsay Street
I finally launched this! It took a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, and this is the first episode in a series of ten. They get more hilarious and absurd as they go on. I think you’ll like* it.
Now that you’re up to date, go and see what amazing things Eden is doing in India and then make this creme brulee cheesecake because I did and it is like a spiritual awakening disguised as a cake.
Yesterday, Georgia brought home her NAPLAN results.
I don’t know if you can see them, but the black dots are the individual results. In short, she scored off the charts in 4 out of 5 areas, on both the language and maths sides.
To say I’m proud is a huge understatement, but there is something else that I’m even more pleased with today.
We’re currently in the process of having her assessed for spectrum disorders, but while we do that we’ve been working with her as much as we can on the socialising side of things (I am a terrible socialiser with foot in mouth dysentery, so Michael and Gaz have mostly been doing this).
She’s made a friend at basketball. A friend she made on her own. A friend she whispers secrets to and puts her arm around. A friend who rushes to see her every Saturday morning.
And this afternoon they’re going to the movies together.
That’s my real proud mother moment.
When I was 19, I was engaged to a man I had known for less time than it took the kettle to boil. We lived together in a tiny flat that backed against the train line and had a courtyard just big enough for the pair of metal seats we picked out of hard rubbish and sat on with our knees touching.
I had a job I liked, working in an industry I thought would take years to crack. Every day I kissed my 20-year-old fiancee goodbye and hopped on the train with a newspaper and half a rockmelon and then changed to the bus that went to the beach. At lunch times I sat in the sun and thought things about where I was going in my life.
One day I went to the supermarket on my way home because I could not go another minute without Tim Tams. And as I walked around, I noticed women with huge bellies. Hundreds of them. Maybe six. But it seemed like hundreds. Everyone in the store seemed pregnant. I realised I was two weeks late. I put a test in my basket.
Two lines came up and I hadn’t read the packet but somehow I knew that what it meant anyway. I told my sweet blonde man and he didn’t speak for three hours. When I checked in on him, he stared at the television, which was off, and didn’t blink.
“It will be okay,” I said, but I didn’t know for sure.
The next day I called my mum and told her I was pregnant. She started crying.
“Are you going to fix it?” she said.
“No,” I said. “Definitely not.” I put my hand on my newly discovered baby and hung up on her. She didn’t call me back. For three months.
I went to the GP I had been going to for my teenagehood and told him I had done a couple of pregnancy tests and I was pretty sure I was growing a human. “Oh dear,” he said, and pulled out the form for a referral to the clinic.
“No thank you,” I said, and found a new GP.
Being pregnant made me worried and sad and I had a lot of appointments. “I have to go to the doctor again,” I told my boss, and after four weeks she called me into her office and told me I was no longer required.
“But I’m pregnant,” I said.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” she said. “Are you going to keep it?”
“Obviously,” I said.
My very small baby was born in May, and I had no job, no money, no house and no idea. But I had a daughter, and I knew we were a team.
When I was 26, I had a new boyfriend, an ex-husband, a job I hated and money in the bank. I dragged my feet to work every morning without kissing anyone goodbye, driving my car with the windows up and yelling at other commuters with my middle finger. I sat at a desk in a government building and listened to the jerk next to me say things like, “She has great tits; we should hire her.” Every day I looked for an excuse to leave.
When I got home, my boyfriend would sometimes come around, if he wasn’t too angry or tired or happy or busy or sad. We would sit at opposite ends of the couch and watch television until it was time for him to leave and then I would sleep in a big bed on my own and it was so draughty.
One day the same two lines came up and he said, “Are you going to fix it?” And I had nothing to lose, but I crumbled and said, “Yes.” and I knew we weren’t a team.
Apparently we now take both of the children to basketball on Saturday mornings. This is my entree into the world of weekend sport, and you know, I don’t hate it. My Saturdays had become a bit of Me Sitting at My Computer and then a little Me at the Supermarket followed by Me Thinking About But Not Actually Doing Stuff. Now they have an hour of Me Sitting in the Bleachers.
I’ve been surprised by how unshit Georgia is at it. I was a fine basketballer in my time, dribbling the ball with my hands and tossing it into the scoring device. Seriously, I was pretty great. I was like Lauren Jackson, except less people gave me tokenistic roles at Olympic Games. The ex wasn’t a basketballer, but he played state level baseball, which is only a couple of letters different. Even so, I have watched my elder daughter for many years, and she is like an ungraceful dwarf gazelle. She is the kind of child who accidentally kicks herself in the bum when she runs and then falls over.
And yet! She made the ball go up and down while she ran alongside it, ponytail swinging. She came third in DONKEY. She accidentally did a layup! I was the proudest mother in the stands. Well, the only mother. The rest of the kids had been escorted by their dads, who talked to each other about how hot the 16-year-old taking the class was, how much beer they planned to drink later, and why there was a mother in the stands when she should have been home making lunch.
Lily, on the other hand, has all the sophistication and poise of a roast chicken footlong. She had the worst time of anybody doing anything in all of history. “I’m injured!” she cried, and when I called her a filthy stinking liar she tried to throw the ball at my face but didn’t even make it half way. So it came as a great shock to me when, at game end, she told me how excited she was to go back.
And now we are Saturday morning sportspeople. And I kind of like it.
If they decide to become rowers, though, they are going on the first adoption list I can find.
The oak door swung open, and a frantic man charged into the office. ”Jack! Jack! My child is sick! The school just called me, I have to go pick her up immediately!”
Until then, it had just been a normal day. At his desk, Jack head whipped around, flinging papers to the floor.
“Oh Jesus, Simon! Is she okay? What happened?” He could hardly believe his ears.
“It’s … it’s nits!” Simon’s eyes were bloodshot.
Jack’s mouth was agape. “Simon, I couldn’t bear the burden of responsibility if something happened to her. You must go. And here – take this.” Jack reached into his filing cabinet. “I won this when I played for the Under 10s, but now it’s yours.” He slipped the trophy into his employee’s pocket.
“Oh Jack, who knows how long she’s been in the sick bay, waiting for me, a comb in her hand?” He began to sob, loud and wet. “She’s only fourteen.”
Jack inhaled sharply and took Simon’s hand. “Take all the time you need -” He bit his lip to stop the trembling. “- soldier.”
“Thank you, your support means everything to me!”
“Simon, you are her father! It is a duty and a privilege to serve side by side with you. A father. Being there for his child … in her time of need …” Jack wiped a falling tear from his cheek.
“Okay Jack, I’m going. I don’t know when we’ll meet again.” Simon looked ferocious, fierce, determined, Jack thought.
Jack let himself relax into his leather armchair. What a terrible time for all involved. He poured himself a double cognac.
There was a light tapping on the doorjam.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Jack. My son has fallen from the play equipment and been knocked unconscious. I think I should meet the ambulance at the hospital.”
“Fuck off, Nancy.”
P.S. You guys, I really love men. And my employer is always so adorable and supportive if I need to leave for some reason. Just sayin’.