Olivia is four months old today. The fact that it's taken me four months to sit down to this blog is some testament to my experience of motherhood so far. As many others before me have found, it's an experience of profound rapture; of quietude, solitude, some drudgery, and ceaseless wonder. She's beautiful. Especially in sleep. Even when she's sticky or dirty or damp, she's immaculate.
At four months she is smiling, laughing, screeching and crowing, holding up her head, kicking her legs, stuffing her tiny fingers in her mouth. She cries when I leave the room. She looks with wide eyes at the pages of her picture books. She likes to chew on a rubber giraffe.
Having her challenges my idea of time. Everything has slowed right down. So how can four months already have gone by? The days are long but the years are short, goes the saying. I spend many hours a day sitting in a chair, but I feel breathlessly busy. I've found that mothering and keeping house are not the same thing; in fact they're often inimical to each other. I've had an easy baby and lots of help and I've still found it exhausting. I have new respect for anyone who does it on their own, indeed for anyone who does it. I repent of any opinion I've ever held about parenting. It's much harder than it looks. And it looks hard.
If housekeeping and mothering are antithetical to one another, how much more seem both to writing. Hence the lapse of four months before I took up this pen. In the early weeks I read novel after novel (mostly George Eliot), but barely opened my laptop. My hands were always full. You've probably read that piece of chauvinist bombast, poet laureate Robert Southey's advice to Charlotte Bronte in 1837:
Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.
Horrifying, but the second sentence (if you take out 'proper') feels true. Again, I have lots of help, and a husband who's doing at least half, but I can't help but feel resentful of the male half of creation, who've found it convenient from the beginning to consign the tasks of both parenting and keeping house to women, thus freeing themselves up enormously. And I can't help but wonder if Mary (whom I wrote about here) treasured things in her heart because her hands were too full to write them down.