It seems that most of Melbourne is beleaguered by flus, colds, and hacking coughs at the moment. Our family has had two bouts of lurgies in quick succession, with a spontaneous vomit in the car on the weekend. Mopping up the car, post-vomit, was not how I’d ever envisaged spending my Sundays…ever. The day was spent at the health clinic, finding out our daughter’s ear was “bulging” with infection (lovely), our son was feverish, and acquiring another (luckily, rare) prescription for antibiotics.
I was planning on going to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival that day, as I’d been invited to a book launch by a lovely author who was celebrating her second book. I’d been looking forward to it for ages, and had my appetite for MWF whet by a Saturday afternoon session that addressed “Poetic Citizenship”.
MWF and the book launch did not happen on Sunday. The demands of being there for clingy ill children meant that I spent Sunday afternoon watching animated movies (of which How to train your dragon was one, thankfully) and lamenting the fact that I had missed out on something – once again – because of domestic commitments.
I have to say that I don’t often feel like I’ve ‘missed out’ because of domestic commitments. An old friend of mine, who had an unhappy road to travel in early parenthood, once told me in very bald terms that she felt cheated of her young adult life because she’d had a baby. I was, unhelpfully perhaps, swanning around the world finishing up my PhD and attending conferences in Hawai’i; it was a time when none of our gang of girlfriends had children. Except her. With the shame of 20/20 hindsight, I realise that I was fairly dismissive of her parental angst and misgivings about motherhood (“she was the one who wanted to have a baby, wasn’t she?”). I was in a vehemently childfree phase for most of my 20s, and this led to a permanent gap in our friendship. It wasn’t always a resentful or painful gap, but one that opened up wider than we’d realised when it happened to matter.
The 180-degree turn I’ve done about babies and parenthood is something I’ll always have to laugh at myself about. My second (and last) child is past two years old now. He’s still got that delicious chubby toddler manner, the chattiness, and infectious laugh, but I know how fleeting this stage is now. He’ll become gangly and wiser, canny and necessarily less simple. I’m already missing baby-him, and getting nostalgic about both the kids’ earliest years.
I’ve become one of those people who gazes at stranger’s babies and toddlers on public transport, an indulgent smile in place. I used to rail against those people. “Idiots!” I thought. “How can you be so indiscriminate in your affections?”
And now I know exactly how. It’s all about missing things.