Once upon a time, when I read things that were neither directly related to work nor an Agatha Christie novel I'd read forty times before, a friend gave me an article on the geographies of pregnancy. It described the ways in which pregnant women's movements are gradually constrained, partly through the physical difficulties of getting around but also through the social expectations attached to being 'careful' while carrying a baby. I never checked out if there was a sequel. There should be, because however small my life's radius when I was pregnant, it was large compared to what it became with two kids.
Looking back this last year has been hard. When I told me friend Anthony I was having another baby, that I would have two under two he laughed (a little grimly) and told me it would be the hardest year I'd ever had. Which is kind of like saying that labour hurts: it's true enough but no one really believes it will happen that way for them. And anyway, hard - like hurt - isn't something you can describe: happens to you and no words can make it real for others. So Anthony, thanks for the head's up but it wasn't much help.
Hard. Tiring. Confusing. Hurtful. Scary. And inward. I had no idea how inward I had become. I'm a homebody at heart, and I travel mainly for work or because it's good for me to broaden my experience, and not so much because I really enjoy trying to read a timetable in Thai or order a beer in German ('Ein Bier, bitte' - it's not actually too hard). But my movements had fallen into ruts, ones that you can see if you look closely in the right streets. Home - bus - work; the same path each day. Veggie store - deli - Coles; the same path each week. Home - the area; home - the op shops. Not much else as happened. It's because we are tired, and our kids aren't keen on car travel, and we've been trying to establish their sleep patterns, and there's not a lot of time to go anyway in between work and garden and keeping the home fires burning.
But mainly my inwardness comes because motherhood has made me raw. It's peeled away my exo-skeleton of distance and cynicism. I've spent the last year dodging bad news and bad scenes. I read two pages of Dave Egger's book on the Sudanese lost boys and had to leave the shop in tears; I don't watch anything that doesn't have Will Ferrell in it because it will be too emotionally draining. I've ducked friends and family; don't want to speak on the phone; never read the paper or watch the news. I've hunkered this last year, just getting through. Having kids has attached me to the world and its big and little events, and it's made me shy away from those things. I understand why animals crawl away to a dark place when they are hurt or sick - that vulnerability can only be countered through a safe quiet place in which to regain some confidence and balance.
But now, it seems we are beginning to emerge. It's a shock to realise and hard to believe. But I am reading books, lots of them, and have even agreed in principle to watch something that's not from the Scrubs box sets that have filled my nights these past twelve months. And I'm beginning to travel, nowhere glamorous or paricularly fun, but going to places by myself, for work, sure, but with time to fill with things I might like to do, and no kids to think of while I do it. I'm beginning to recognise myself again, even if I still can't describe who that self is. It's a cliche but I feel like I'm opening up again. I'm stretching out of the foetal position in which I've been curled all this past year, beginning to walk in wider circles, and sometimes even breaking the circle. My maps are getting a little bigger again.
I'm not sure why I'm writing this. Just to acknowledge to myself, I guess, that things change, and that Tuesday can be very different from the Sunday before, and this January is not the same as the very dark August, September, October I saw last year.
Anthony told me things would change. But that's kind of like telling someone that labour hurts: it's true enough but no one really believes it will happen that way for them. And anyway, change - like hurt - isn't something you can describe: it just happens to you and no words can make it real for others. But it's very real for myself.