I’m writing this in what remains of my lunch hour. Ten minutes of it were spent preparing and serving, five eating, and it’s a sign of how desperate I feel that right now time spent eating lunch feels like my lunch hour is going to waste. The door is locked, the handle rattling with small hands. Faces appear at the window, and press, hungrily, to the glass. They’re like the zombies, I say to myself, and then dismiss the image as absurd. But no, actually, it’s not. They want my body. They want my flesh.
I let the blind down, and in a room that vibrates with the sound of my children, I try to grab a moment of peace.
Me time, they call it. I haven’t had any, not really, not since the pandemic began, and not much before that. Kids don’t respect boundaries. They can’t see them, or, won’t acknowledge their existence. Children are invaders, benign, but invaders nonetheless. As far as they are concerned, every inch of me is theirs, was even before I gave birth. ‘Don’t worry too much about vitamins and things,’ the doctor said, back when I was pregnant. ‘The foetus will take what it needs first and so it’s just you that’ll suffer.’ I think I nodded. I might even have said, ‘Cool.’
And so, my stomach is jabbed, my hair is grabbed, fingers reach into my mouth and faces burrow into my crotch. The word ‘no’ is ignored so cheerily that I would doubt their hearing, if it weren’t for the screams that swiftly follow when I apply it to a posited second round of jelly. And it’s… fine, isn’t it? If anyone were else doing this, literally anyone else, then I’d have cause for complaint. When it’s your kids, though, suck it up. Or spit it out, if that’s more appropriate.
‘I just want you with me forever all of the time,’ said my daughter, draping herself across my torso as the thermostat registered 77 degrees. I’d said I was thinking of going for a bike ride, to try to get just a little time alone before the snap of elastic pulled me home, and she wept.
Truth be told, I want her, too. I want her with me, safe. I would like to carry her in my pocket, maybe even back in my womb if it meant she was happy. And — oh God — but I want space. I want to stand alone on a windswept plain. I want to wake in an empty house with a day stretching ahead that is entirely mine. I want too much, I think. Anyway, I can’t have it. Last night at six I stole upstairs for a twenty minute lie down, only to awaken to screams of, ‘He’s wearing Mummy’s pants as a hat!’
Several weeks into lockdown and they give me everything, every laugh and every smile, and all their rage too (and the rage of a toddler is a terrible thing) and it fills me up. Not like a bucket, that can simply run over onto the floor, more like a skin, so that by the end of the day I’m swollen to bursting, my seams leaking their tears. And then there’s the schoolwork to download and the clothes to wash and the blocks to put away and the resources to hunt down and I think that my mind is like the sitting room floor, I can’t see it because there’s shit everywhere and I can put it away and put it away and tidal flows simply wash it back.
And then, I think, one day, in ten years, maybe not even that, I will call them and they will not answer. The day stretching ahead will be entirely mine. And all I will want is their laughing bodies but when I reach for them they’ll flinch away.
I am inside out with love and rage and resentment and despair.
And now lunchtime is over, and my husband is calling me and when I go to open the door I find that it has been unlocked, all along.