December 26, Letter To Reader
Christmas is such a bizarre time. This year I’ve scarcely noticed it. We got our big present in October, so besides an extravagant family dinner and some phone calls, we did nothing to celebrate. Gourmand that I am, I have to say the meal was extraordinary, made by my chef brother-in-law, John Chang. Six courses with different wines: Portuguese brandade, crab bisque, duck breast, roast pistachio salad, cheese from the Pyrenees, and some extraordinary mousse cakes . . .
Our big October present was Timo Chang, our son, who is now just over two months old. The last time I wrote here, in October, I was still waiting for him to come out. But now the birth—after 34 hours of labour with the baby in difficult transverse position--is distant, enormous and distant, like a mountain range you climbed a long time ago. The child, in all his realness, is here, and extraordinary, and daily, and constant. Which leads to the more pertinent question of, How am I finding time to write this?
He’s sleeping. Which is not his favourite thing—he seems to prefer the world awake, in all its variety and colour.
Oh. It’s hard to write about motherhood because it is so utterly transformative. And so domestic, so mundane. Like writing about falling in love, it’s hard not to slide into cliches. Still, it's true: becoming a parent is like suddenly being exposed to the other 180 degrees of human existence.
The sensuality of motherhood is not much talked of, but it’s the saving grace of an experience that is extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. To sleep with a baby, to nurse a baby to sleep; to wake beside that small life that has become the centre of the world. In the realm of regular old daily life, there is nothing as tough and as intense as taking care of a small infant. I’ve never been so tired in my life, and the new parents we know agree. It’s like having malaria in the jungle, sleeping on bamboo—another difficult thing I’ve done, except then I actually slept . . .
But beside that exhaustion (and what holds even after the exhaustion, wonderfully, begins to lift) is also the delicious animalness of the infant, and the immensity of need in such a small body: need that his father and his mother can attend to. Such weight in this, such responsibility, and such relief to calm him, to feed him, to give him contentment.
Those first days after birth, the three of us were raw, new, shocked by what we’d come through—a growing, shaking trinity. Crying sometimes as he cried, unable to appease him, exhausted, I kept thinking that I was born with him, what I had been was gone (though it is still here) and now I was this, an extension of a new human, his mouth opening at the first touch of my flesh, sucking at my neck, the open skin of my chest, finally the breast. A raw squalling creature, little storm, the life in him was already there, apparent, the newborn arms in motion, waving, the legs kicking. It seemed to me that he was born trying to walk and speak, and furious that he could do neither.
We had read of sleepy babies, the newborn pattern, of sleeping for six or eight hours after birth, and long hours thereafter, making their mothers fear they’ve stopped breathing. But Timo had not read those books and he was awake more than he was asleep in the beginning.
And now the rest continues, miraculously, as it has and does for billions of people. For us, it is blessedly healthy and dear and sweet and wearying, life with a child in a peaceful country in a precarious world. I will try to write about it sometimes, try to remember what we go through. I think of the poem by Jack Gilbert, from The Great Fires, in which he describes wanting to hold and remember all of life, especially the daily, the mundane, the breakfasts—not just the emergencies—because it is the daily, la vida cotidiana, that is life. Life is this overwhelming, unwashed, uncombed devotion, this enormous love. I have lived so much, seen so many things, learned languages and the streets of other cities, other countries, had adventures. And I have also loved my adventures. Such various and brilliant memories! I think so much these days of Spain, and my time in Avignon, and the other lives that go on without me in Thailand and Greece. And I wonder how life will expand and alter, so that I can hold the world I know along with the child and the man I love.
We’re going to Britain in January, to do some promotion for the English edition of The Lizard Cage. Hmm. Travel with a three and half month old baby . . . And hopefully to Greece in the late spring, to clear the mice out of Musa and tidy up the garden, water the olive trees. After that, we’ll see, we’ll see. I have to go. The baby’s waking up . . .
p.s. AND HE IS SOOOOOOOO CUUUUUUUUUTE! (sorry, I couldn't help myself. as soon as I figure out how to do it, I'm going to post a photo of him in the photo gallery. of course.)