Two and a Half Weeks: Notes on Memory, Stasis, Change and a Rather New Baby

About 18 days ago, I had a baby.

This one.

Oscar was one week overcooked and propelled himself out of me in barely two hours, emerging with a full head of mod hair, complete with side burns and enough hair over the hypothetical collar to get him kicked out of several elite schools.

He looks like a ridiculously cute alien, with massive eyes straight out of an Area 51 secret file, except when he turns purple, scrunches up his face and actually bellows out the fully articulated comic book wail, ‘waah’. Seriously, he actually cries ‘waaah’. I thought that was like the Batman punches, all those bif! pow! wham! sound effects neatly contained in irregularly angled speech balloons.  Dogs say woof, cats say meow, explosions go bang and babies cry waaah. Apparently it’s true.

 

waah

 

But enough about him.

Let’s talk about the unexpected side effects of his arrival, beyond the usual sleeplessness and sore bosom and milk-enhanced wardrobe. Those are all true but they aren’t exactly newsworthy.

I’m remembering things.

Unexpected, mundane things.

I should preface this by noting that I have a terrible memory. Most of my life and experience resembles a vague haze somewhere at the back of my brain. I rely on my journals, blogs, friends and family to keep the details straight. And most of the usual fog is still there- I’m stupidly underslept (as noted and expected) so I’m not at my sharpest in general right now. However, I’m also experiencing the oddest, strongest, most vivid flashes of random details, places, impressions, moods.

The past few weeks have been, in some ways, a bit like a meditation retreat, except with a lot more cartoonish bellowing (see: waaah above) and infantile bodily fluids all over everything. Lots of hours spent nearly immobile with the baby in my increasingly toned arms,  staring at one bare wall, then the next time another wall, equally unadorned, feeling like my old Turkish cat, Lola Kedi,  on my last balcony in Istanbul, balanced on the wrought iron railing, staring at a blank wall for hours.

 

Lola

 

Memories are popping up as I sit, wildly precise and detailed and vivid and oddly tangible, unlike my usual vague foggy mind mess. Many are strongly tinged with an inexplicable sense of loss or sadness. Flashes of re-walking old paths, familiar but long unthought of lanes, well trodden streets, metro stations, rooms, corners. Old friends and long forgotten colleagues. In Shanghai. In Istanbul. In Cape Town and London and Canada. Old places, old details, old homes, old jobs, old haunts. Finished bits of my old lives.

The grey faux suede of the dining room chairs in my abandoned flat in Shanghai. The orange cupboards and the clicker of the gas burners in the kitchen. The cold water sink out on the utility balcony, with ceiling paint chunks flaking down into it. The zigzag pattern of roads between my last flat and the CaoBao Lu metro station, dripping in the heat with cicadas bellowing. The dark, grimy concrete staircase up to our top floor flat. The lady who sold radish cakes on Xiangyang lu. A certain corner in Istanbul. And another. Paving stones. A cup of tea, a simit, a ridiculously steep hill. A rose bush on a hill on the Asian side and a stolen rose sitting on my coffee table until it disintegrates; the sunlight pouring through the massive open windows in my first flat in Kayseri. The view from the roof top of that Kayseri flat at dusk, looking out onto the Anatolian plateau, with a cold beer and solid book to read after the chaos of a day spent teaching too many kids.

 

 

Those are all long past but they are hitting me like they were yesterday. Hell, even yesterday’s memories are more ephemeral and foggy.

I’m not sure where these memories are coming from or what to do with them.

Is this another one of those post-natal things that no one tells you about but which happens to everyone?

 

On standing still

I’m unusually still these days. For the first time in my adult life, I’m neither working nor travelling nor studying.

I’m very still. Many days, I don’t even leave the house.

And it’s disconcertingly okay.

I first started hibernating in my third trimester. I was happy to curl up into an enormous, ungainly ball and just read and bake bread and look at the outside through window panes. It was winter and I just wasn’t feeling particularly drawn to the outside world. Sometimes we went for walks around the park up the street; sometimes we went to see family for birthday dinners and pub lunches.

Mostly, however, I stayed still and kept my world nice and small.

And now, with the new baby, I’m feeling much the same way (though significantly less ungainly, thanks to somehow losing all 18 kg of baby weight in a ridiculously speedy 2 weeks).

The outside world is looking a lot better now that winter is receding. Crocuses and daffodils are out and the trees are blossoming and the skies are increasingly blue and gorgeously bright. I can see all this through the windows but have to give myself pep talks to actually go outside.

It’s not hibernation based on fear or stress. There’s no agoraphobia involved. I’m fine when I’m out. I really enjoy walking with the baby all wrapped up in his sling, attached to my front. We’ve been on long walks into town, to cafes, through parks. But my gut instinct is to be inside, to stand still. This compulsion is compounded by the fact that grocery stores here deliver and the NHS sends midwives, doctors and health workers to your house for all post natal care, and family and friends all want to come to you to meet the baby. You don’t have to go anywhere.

Where is my wanderlust? Where is my compulsion to hop on a train? Why am I not applying for Thwacky McKickerson’s first passport and buying Eurostar tickets to France? I love France. I love trains. I love movement and change.  I’m somewhat baffled by all this.

 

The bit about change

Hell, y’all- everything is kind of different (holy crap, there’s a baby here!), but not so different that it’s even remotely unmanageable or baffling or overwhelming.

I’m actually glad I spent my entire adult life doing things that scared me or confused me or challenged me physically, mentally and emotionally. Things that limited my options or presented me with choices I never knew existed. Having a baby is pretty much just a continuation of a theme I’d already been working on and that is a huge relief.

When I was pregnant, people kept telling me to enjoy the last part of my life without responsibility- as if in my nearly 40 years I hadn’t already shouldered that weight many times before. As if I’d spent 20 years in a state of perpetual hangovers and late-morning lie-ins, in constant holiday mode, beholden to no one and nothing.

I was told to sleep because I’d never be rested again- as if I’d never had jobs or obligations that kept me debilitatingly exhausted for months or years at a time (I’m looking at you, 5:30am 2-hour commute out to Shanghai Ocean University and you, 12 hour night shifts in the Alzheimer’s wing of that North Kensington nursing home, and you, ADoS job in Istanbul where I was also acting DoS and Head Teacher and putting in 70 hour workweeks to the point where I was sick for months on end but still coming to work because I had three jobs to fill and no one to cover me…). As if kids didn’t grow up and sleep through the night and create their own lives separate from yours.

I was told that after having a baby, my life would no longer be my own- as if the intensive personal care of infancy and early childhood lasted forever and all of my interests and needs had to be forever subsumed, as if all of the things I cared about or was fascinated by or curious about had to be pushed aside indefinitely because, well,  Baby. As if both the kid and I didn’t both have our own lives and characters and needs that could be met in many ways, by many other people and circumstances. As if a huge part of my life wasn’t deeply internal and therefore still very active and very much my own.

I was told that by having a baby, I’d lose my status as that eccentric, curious, adventurous, unconventional woman who was known for her non linear approach to life. As if a baby could undo a person’s whole character. As if I had to haul out the inflatable white picket fence and June Cleaver apron and high waisted mom jeans just because I deigned to get knocked up voluntarily.

Yeah, no.

 

IMG_5826

People who have both bred and travelled, who have maybe come late to this whole baby thing or approached it unconventionally, what was your experience?

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.