So, here’s the short of it. I’m seven months pregnant with my second child and – at a time when many women would be gradually winding down their workload – all I can think about are new writing projects I want to get stuck into. Straight away.
For those of you unfamiliar with the human gestational period, being seven months pregnant means that my unborn son – whom for the purposes of this blog we shall call Squeaky – has roughly two months of cooking time left before he will be ready to be removed from the oven and set aside to cool while his mother (me) pours herself a large gin and tonic and ponders how on earth she is going to keep two children alive, every day, for the next eighteen or so years.
That’s two months in which I want to start a blog (well, that was easy. Tick!) and, um, get onto writing the second draft of my novel, a task which will entail pulling apart the 70,000 words of semi-coherent narrative I currently have filed away, restructuring the storyline and addressing a not inconsiderable number of continuity errors, and then putting down on paper somewhere in the region of 100,000 new words. That have to be in the right order, and make some sort of sense. Unless I choose to write Ulysses, in which case I’ll be placing 265,000 words through a cement mixer before pouring them liberally and quite randomly across the page. But I’m not. And I digress.
So, yes, in two short months I will have two young children to look after – my husband and I already have a delightful thirteen-month-old daughter whom we shall hereafter call Bubba – and with a toddler and a newborn on my hands, I realise that it is unlikely that I will find the time to perform the most basic tasks such as brushing my teeth/hair/eyeballs, let alone find a quiet nook and a few spare hours in which to compose beautiful and insightful reams of prose. (In case you are wondering, I am typing this with the Wiggles dancing across the television screen in the background and Bubba shaking the bars of her playpen and screaming at me at a pitch several octaves higher than Dog Whistle.) So why, when I am mere weeks away from going on maternity leave, am I so keen to not only keep on working on my current writing projects, but embark on ambitious new ones as well?
It wasn’t this way first time around. Coming to the pointy end of my first pregnancy fifteen months ago, I could not wait to finish up at work, and in fact used to spend an inordinate amount of my time at work calculating exactly how soon I could pull the plug and still be eligible for the government’s paid parental leave scheme. No doubt, my former employer would be thrilled to learn that they were paying me to daydream about, um, not working for that company. But things were different first time around. For a start, I wasn’t doing something I loved. In fact, I was doing something no sane human being should readily tolerate. That’s right, I was temping. In Recruitment. As anyone who has ever worked in Recruitment will attest, the first rule of Recruitment is, get the hell out of Recruitment. Or something along those lines. I think I may have got my movie references confused. Anyway, you get the gist. I wasn’t really enjoying myself, and couldn’t wait to finish up paid work and get stuck into the whole parenting gig.
I don’t think it helped that at the time I was blissfully unaware of what having a child would actually entail in the day-to-day. Because, let’s face it, nappy commercials are a woefully inaccurate representation of modern parenthood. Wait a minute, those parents on the TV are all smiling. Those mothers have showered, for pity’s sake. I, on the other hand, can safely say that I have never wrapped my daughter in a fluffy white towel, kissed her bare bottom, or watched on blissfully as she toddled butt naked across a parquet floor. Because anyone with kids will know that the moment you try any of these romanticized, advertising department-fabricated scenarios, your little bundle of sweetness will let loose with what is commonly known in the industry as a Poonami. Why take the risk?
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I am not looking forward to meeting the tiny human nestled so delicately against my sciatic nerve, or that I in any way feel disappointed to be putting my writing career on hold in order to be doused in regurgitated breastmilk eight to ten times daily. No way. I love vomit. And poo. Did I mention that babies have really, really, really waxy ears? So, why am I even thinking of commencing such a challenging, long-term project (I expect work on the second draft to take me a full year), when I know full well that in just over eight weeks’ time I will have to put it on hold, perhaps indefinitely? Am I trying to prove something? Is the thought of not being able to write – for however brief a time – so terrifying that I feel the need to plunge myself head first into this same activity while I still can? Or do I just want to give my brain one last good run before it dissolves into a baby-toddler-induced moosh – kind of like that last walk on a favourite beach you would give an infirm pet dog on the way to the vet and the awaiting needle of pentobarbital?
Because, let’s all say it together and then no one has to feel embarrassed: parenting very young children is a brain drain. A frustrating, repetitive, challenging, all-consuming, wonderful, life-affirming brain drain, capable of rendering a moderately intelligent, degree educated, coherent person (me) into a mumbling, bumbling, fumbling puddle of conflicting emotions and slurred words (me, soon). It’s a bit like alcohol, but without the part where you think you’re incredibly attractive and very talented at, oh, everything. And although I love being a parent more than pretty much anything, I do think that as parents we need to retain some part of our identity separate from our kids.
To this end, my plan is to kick-start work on the second draft before I become a sleep-deprived, hormonal zombie barely capable of remembering to put shoes on before leaving the house. Am I insane? Quite possibly. But it is a comforting thought to consider that in a few short weeks, while I am aimlessly pushing a screaming baby in a stroller around our garden, or attempting to extract a booger the size of a walnut out of my toddler’s nostril using my bare fingernail (if you just shuddered, then odds are you not a parent), or feeling the warm trickle of infantile regurgitate down the back of my neck at 3am, at those times, I will be able to remind myself that I am still a writer, and that I made a start on that second draft.