In my third year of university my husband, then boyfriend, lived in a house close to a primary school. I practically lived at that house and so I would often walk through the park and along the creek behind the school on my way to and from lectures. On my morning and afternoon walks I would often see mums pushing prams, trailed by one or two children in crisp or dishevelled uniforms, depending on the time of day. I remember on one particular occasion, I passed a mum pushing a pram, with her older child wandering a few metres behind, and she had a tired and vacant look on her face. I remember thinking: I don’t want that. I was in my early twenties and children were far from my mind, but even so the woman behind the pram made child-rearing look soul sucking.
Fast forward ten years and I see that moment very differently. When my baby was first born I often stuggled to make it out of the house. Morning walks were out of the question (too tired—and I often spent most of the morning in my pyjamas) and if I didn’t get out between the early afternoon feed and the four o’clock feed, it was usually too dark and cold to leave the house with the baby. Once the euphoria and tiredness of the first weeks subsided, I actually found quite a bit of time to read and write. I often had a feeding or sleeping baby on me and though I also often felt guilty for not spending that time staring lovingly into her eyes, I would usually read ebooks or write typo-riddled essays on my phone.
When my daughter turned six months, however, that all started to change. She no longer napped on me and once she started eating solid food, those long, sleepy feeds became much shorter and decidedly less sleepy (in fact, she was often more interested in the phone in my hand than the milk on offer, so I had to stop using it while I fed her). My daughter started to explore the world and I seemed to spent a lot of my day watching her as she rolled around and chewed on wooden blocks. I cheered her on and tried to narrate her actions: oh, you’re chewing the red block, oh, now you’re chewing the green block. Though it has been a joy to watch my daughter learn to roll, then sit up, then crawl, then pull herself up to standing and take a few tentative first steps, and now, running wildly around the house, I sometimes long for those early days and the time I had to myself (plus a warm baby) to read and write and think.
So every afternoon, I strap my daughter into her pram and we go for a walk. I should probably be talking to her as we walk, look a tree! a bird! a post box! Instead, I use that time to think. Unlike during my daughters nap times, when I feel the pressure to be productive, this time is just for me and whatever I want to think about. Sometimes I think about the past, sometimes I compose emails to friends and family that I will never have the time to sit down and type out, sometimes I think about the future and my plans for it. A lot of the time, I write. This blog post was composed in my head as I walked the baby one afternoon.
Perhaps the woman I passed that day in St Andrews was writing a novel, or scheming big plans for the future, or working through a complex math problem. Or perhaps she was tired, which is okay too.