It has been an interesting week.
V left for Oz on Christmas night. He had once suggested we have a baby because then I wouldn’t miss him so much when he travelled and I said: “Nice try! But I don’t think that would work.” Except it kind of is. Especially with two babies, my day is so crowded, there’s not much time to hanker after anyone and at night, when they’re in bed, I’ve been enjoying the solitude, control of the remote (particularly since I’ve figured out how to operate Apple TV), the freedom to keep reading or to head off to an obscure art exhibition and then walk through pouring rain to eat some Turkish kebab roll.
I’ve also been savouring making decisions that cannot be questioned or criticised. I’ve realised that with kids a lot of our decision-making has become joint (duh!) and this has led to frictions. As a one-person decision-maker, I can make choices more easily as I mainly have to bear the consequences. So on 26th morning, I decided we’d all go to the zoo and we did and it was awesome. On Sunday, I decided we’d go to Sai Kung and it was not so awesome as it was freezing and Sai Kung is on the sea-face and Benji quite possibly got a cold as a result but I am not beating myself too much about it.
I’ve also realised that the mommy guilt is here to stay, and maybe that’s a good thing. Guilt keeps us good, I have to learn to heed its call, turn it around in my head to see if it’s justified and then act or ignore it accordingly. But this is also why it’s easier for me to work outside the home. Every time I leave the babies to do my own thing, I have an alarm bell in my head that goes “selfish mother”. I suspect that if I was at home full-time, I’d be dealing with this every waking minute. Then again, maybe I feel more guilty about leaving the kids to do anything for myself because I am not around them all the time, and nowadays both of them clamour for me. This surprises me because I never flattered myself that my kids would pine for me just because I am their biological mother. The fact is that I am not their primary carer. But they do, and it could be because I was their primary carer when they were wee things, or it could be that I am just fun to be around. Either way, it’s very gratifying, which I know is an odd thing to think, to be honoured that my kids seem to like me, but I never take liking for granted.
On Sunday evening, I headed to a mall to do some shopping. To be exact, what I needed was a pack of socks. I knew exactly what I wanted and where to go. Of course, I got waylaid en route by the Sale signs. I ended up dropping quite a bit of cash in this hip, young shop buying plaid smocks. And then, heart thudding from the exertion of all that spending, I walked quickly, looking neither left or right, to the shop I had originally intended to go to, which turned out to my dismay to also have a lot of trendy plaid clothes for half the price. Of course, I didn’t buy just socks.
For a good five years in college, I was obsessed with checked shirts. I was a stick-figure then, drawn to the clothes of the other gender (read, man-sized shirts). I started out raiding my sister’s cupboard, and then she started raiding my dad’s, and then I found myself in my dad’s shirts which were very very big for more. And now, a decade later, I am drawn back to that aesthetic again, to the comfort of roomy and androgynous drama. As I tried things on, I had a vision of a makeover, one that transported me back to my late teens, except with twice the weight and five times the confidence.
And I began to have this desperate urge to colour my hair, for the daring of it that characterised me in my early 20s. Alas, the salon was closed – to my surprise they work regular hours (10 am to 8.30 pm) – but I wasn’t willing to let go of it. I spent the next day tapping my fingernails on my desk in impatience, willing my boss to let us off early for New Year’s Eve, but alas again, I made it back just in time to hug my babies and let them have a go at my makeup before heading out for a party.
I had been quite excited about this party. I planned to inaugurate my New Old Look (albeit sans dramatic hair) and smoke and drink and make witty conversation. I had arranged to stay over since V was not there to drag us back home. The night held promise.
Unfortunately, I took an almost instant dislike to the first person I sat down next to. In her defence, she had just closed her business for good and was probably a little emotional but she won no points with me by declaring Indians to be stingy (she was Indian herself). And the European lady on the other side of me concurred, leaving me between them with a tight little smile on my face, thinking: “Why am I not in bed? Am I to start the New Year with these people?” I moved on to an Englishwoman who was alternately simpering and snotty, conversing with an Indian man who put on a Brit accent while talking to her. I’ll admit I also once interjecting “apalling!” in the Queen’s diction but I was half taking the piss and the lady in question almost guessed. Then, a guy I’ve known for ages who is always snidely rude to me turned up and seemed distinctly uninterested in talking about his upcoming baby, which could be because he is tired of talking about it or because he wants to play the hapless-male-who-cannot-believe-he-is-embroiled-in-the-business-of-impending-fatherhood. I don’t know why I thought that becoming a father might make him nicer; the barbs came whether intended or not and I was not crushing enough. I found myself liking the boring parents most and the kids in the room next best and being the person who talks about her children a lot, but everyone else’s adult chatter was so vacuous anyway.
Strangely enough, I did have some fun and I found myself liking my friends whose party it was more so it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
In the cab home the next morning, I wondered at my anti-sociability. Like my clothes, I realised, I’m reverting back in time, to when I found almost everybody boring and pretentious. Later in life, I put that down to my insecurities. But I am sure I am not insecure now. I am not hiding behind a veil of disapprobation because I lack confidence that I will be liked. I’m pretty sure I will be liked and I’m not too bothered when I’m not, though I am bothered with people are rude (partly because I am very capable of saying “Fuck you too” right there and then, which might be excessive because half the time people don’t know what they’re saying.) The problem is I find I like very few people.
I wonder if this is the effect of having children. Spending time with individuals who are so pure and spontaneous, where you can see a personality unfurl organically, where words such as “moocow” and “Toto owie” are uttered, makes the contrivance of others stand out in stark relief. And I was always pretty good at spotting the fantasies people weave around themselves and wield at other people. And now I find them not just boring but unbearable. I am crucified not by my own lack of social graces but other people’s uninventive slatherings of them. And I found myself missing my husband, who can be annoyingly boorish (I suspect in retaliation to the same sort of incessant pretentiousness that I am recoiling from) but at least he is more authentic.
In the evening, my pre-invention was complete. I entered the heartbreaking trendiness of the hair salon downstairs – finally realising that advance planning a visit to my usual hairdresser is too much effort when one has babies – and emerged red streaked. In the chair, my hair wrapped in tinfoil, I contemplated that I could be quite pretty if I lost the fat on my face. My hairstylist was very hot but turned out to have a three-month-old and we ended up bonding over babies.
I am reading The Bloggess’s book and have begun to extrapolate her crazy to myself. Like she has an anxiety disorder which makes her panic about random things, and right then I was having a mini-panic attack about having made the wrong decision about not buying a VIP card from the salon, and then about not having enough cash and what if they don’t credit card, and about whether I should ask to go to the toilet or not. I don’t know whether other people have any anxiety about this sort of thing or not but I have actual physical symptoms like heart beating widly and tightening tummy, and I realised, sipping my green tea while ignoring the pain in my bladder, that for me, it’s related to the possibility of not having made the perfect decision and it could well be hereditary because my entire family is like this and it’s a little beyond mere agonising. I think (hope) it does not qualify as mental illness because I have learnt, partly due to my husband, at some point to go “okay stop” and I manage to mostly swallow that feeling of having-got-it-wrong. Having a husband who actually labours when I got it wrong doesn’t help, but to be fair, this was me way before I met him.
And in the part I’m reading just now, she is also a total social misfit but found that she doesn’t have anxiety attacks around bloggers because they’re pretty much the same as her. And so maybe there’s hope for me, and it’s okay to dislike more than 90% of the people you meet in real life.
I wish New Year’s Day hadn’t started with all this negativity, but in my cocoon I like my new hair and plaid wardrobe and babies and helpers and two-and-a-half friends and my parents and my sister and I am beginning to miss my husband and that, I know, is enough.