I'm not in thinking mode yet, but this early morning is meant to provide the opportunity.
I let the tap run at the bathroom sink until warm water makes its way through the pipes. Face cloth, no soap. Just warmth and then coolness over my skin as dry air hits residual moisture. Lotion to seal it in, then downstairs to a borrowed laptop. Mine is hopelessly slow, with a space bar that sticks and a finicky charger. This won't do if I'm going to make these early mornings a habit.
Recipe for lemon curd. I've been craving this since before our fridge died, but only two months later am I finally getting to this just-for-me experiment. I've selected a few potential winners (gluten-, dairy-, and egg-free); all that's left is to pick one to try. I scan the instructions, looking for the most appealing candidate -- this is what I've decided to do with the half-hour that remains before getting O. up for the day. I choose the recipe with the least sugar. Corn starch into a small sauce pot, fresh lemon zest. This is as far as I get before breakfast can't be put off any longer.
I'm fine with the interruption. The lemon curd is what I would have spent O.'s morning nap researching instead of doing what I've really wanted to for months: writing. Really writing. Sitting-in-front-of-a-blank-page writing, the uncomfortable sort where the work is hard but the process is purifying and the lies and truths you tell yourself finally get separated because no one else but you is wrestling with the words on the page. I've needed that. This motherhood thing is wild and strange and moving ever faster and setting sentences down steadies me. Except having a very mobile nine-month-old makes doing that impossible while he's awake. And I want that curd too.
O. goes down as expected, three hours later, and I reopen the laptop. My brain is awake now, and the erratic static of synapses coming out of hibernation has given way to slightly more organized flashes of thought. Fuzzy still, but thought with language attached. The muscles that were once poised to translate these impulses into text on a page are stiff and tight with disuse. It actually hurts to make them rise to attention again. This isn't going to work, a voice says, infused with all the authority of the practical, no-nonsense persona I usually inhabit.
But I keep typing, even though the first words that appear make me cringe. You've really let yourself go, a second voice chimes in, its imaginary eye looking my writing up and down as if it might embody its writer.
So you admit there was a self to let go, I counter. That there is a self worth getting back.
At the end of an hour, I've dogged my way through three paragraphs, and the voices are quiet.
I expect not to return to the work once O. wakes again. The curd needs curding and I'm hungry enough to quit for lunch before O. starts to make noise in his crib. It's okay, I tell myself as I look at the scant progress on the page. This isn't a race. I add almond milk to the pot, set it on a low flame, and begin to stir. I'll come back to the writing tomorrow.
But even as I make my way through the afternoon with O. -- handing him junk mail to tear and wrinkle as I set aside statements and bills, reading from tooth-marked board books, stealing away for a few seconds to whisk the cooling curd -- my mind returns to the tangle of sentences I've left behind. It's happening. The writing sinews are twitching, demanding time and space to flex and uncramp. So is O. He seems to sense I'm not giving him my complete attention, and my offering the latest grocery coupons is not a substitute for play. He circles the living room aimlessly, shrieking his protests at the papers in his hands, and finally starts to cry. I pick him up. This isn't good enough. He wants a game, to tumble and tussle with me, but now he's too tired yet not ready to nap.
I snuggle him and let him finger the zipper of my fleece jacket, apologizing into the fine, silky hair on the top of his head. This is the part I don't yet know how to manage. Writing is immersive, a state nearly as hard to step out of, once I will myself in, as the bed I left this morning. Alert writer, groggy parent.
This is only the first day, though. O. eventually stuffs his fingers in his mouth and snuggles back, his way of telling me he's getting sleepy at last. I think back to the early weeks when naps had no pattern or predictability, and even learning to hold his flailing limbs to lull him into slumber felt awkward. My arms know his shape and heft now, and not from anything more than lifting, cradling, moving with him daily. I remind myself that the day's routine, too, will make space for new habits as long as I start treating them as parts of me again. With tussles reserved for play, not attention.
O. goes down readily, lower lip tucked up tightly under the top one, the rest of his body limp. I head back to the kitchen. Spoon. Sauce pot. The curd looks thinner than I'd expected, but it coats the sides of its container with promise. I taste.
The brightness of lemon dances on my tongue. Its tart zing is everything I'd been hoping for.
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