Emma M.Murray spent her twenties with a rucksack on her back travelling extensively around the world. She returned to her native Donegal three years ago to raise her children. She has a Bachelor of Education (DCU), passion for Gaeilge and teaches the language. She dances well and sings badly.
By Emma M.Murray
The miniature tropical fish swims aimlessly, feigning purpose and intent. Replicating all my actions of the late. Convinced I knew what I was doing. Doing the right thing. Pride bursting in my parents eyes as they’d boast to the neighbours. Smug from my success.
The fish tank isn’t small. Not adequate though, how could it ever be? And its occupied by others. No space to call his own. Fighting for every corner he roams. The more I stare the more I notice his rhythmic boring routine.
Over and over, the same. 9 to 5.
I hear Peruvian panpipes somewhere in the distance, attempting to sooth my nervousness. Lulling me into a false sense of security. As if I’m in a spa, waiting for a good looking therapist to ask me to follow her dreamily into a lavender scented treatment room.
No Joe Duffy. Too real. Aquas Calientes, that’s it, that’s where I first heard this sound. The town we stayed in after a gruelling three day trek through glaciers and mountains in Peru to the famed ancient city of the Incas. Shockingly there were tour bus options available. Unfathomable to us. The crassness of it. Standing amidst the powerful historical ruins feeling calm, alive, inspired.
I notice my left foot is rapidly, repeatedly, tapping my son’s car seat. It’s one of those trendy ones that clicks straight into the isofix in the back of the car. Like everyone who’s anyone has. Top of the range. No need to disturb him if he’s sleeping. Which he is, cosily wrapped under a knitted blanket his Granny had made for him. Personalised with his name written inside the belly of a blue teddy bear and his date of birth beneath it. Showy. Information strangers don’t need, and shouldn’t have.
I stare at my foot, marvelling at its methodical movement. How is it doing that! I’m certainly not in control of it. I’m frozen, rooted to this chair.
My son’s lips twitch into a smile while he sleeps. Trying to encourage me. Reassuring me that this is OK with him. It’ll be fine Mama. He can’t fool me though, I know he’s passing wind.
The double panelled, electrical security doors do little to ease my tension. In fact they do the opposite. The toddlers coat’s are all neatly lined on coat hangers on the other side of the door. I expect most mother’s would view them as cute. The pink fake fur hoods and rain jackets stamped with yellow diggers or dinosaurs. I don’t. They’re colossal to me. Monstrous. Mirroring my view of everything.
I look lovingly upon my beautiful baby boy. I dressed him this morning in clothes sized 3-6months.
The sound of a door opening stirs me from my thoughts, bringing me back to my dream. A middle aged plump lady comes towards me, inviting me into the office. I registered my son for this creche when I was 3months pregnant. I didn’t even know who he was back then. A work colleague advised it. She has three kids, she must know. It seemed ludicrous to me at the time but of course I’m glad now. Amn’t I?
Today I’m filling in the rest of the forms,properly, now that he’s here. He has a name, a gender. He’ll be starting here in April, my maternity leave over, in eight weeks time. Six months off to care for my new baby. It took my body 9 months to make him, to create his organs, for him to develop and grow. But apparently he only needs his mother for six.
Then anyone can take over. Piece of cake.
He’ll be exactly six months old by then though. A big boy surely. He stirs in his chair. Unsure.
She tells me how cute he is. Of course I know that, but I also know that she says this to everyone who’s ever been in my position. I think I smiled at her.
I begin writing. Baby’s Name. Parent’s names. Contact numbers. Birth history. Any allergies, illnesses.
She keeps chatting, about what I couldn’t tell you.
- What will sooth your baby if she/he is upset?….Are they serious? .. Me.
- What makes your child happy?… Eh duh!…Me.
- What makes your child laugh? …. Ehm as above, obviously! …Me.
- What is your child’s favourite food?….Oh for crying out loud!.. Me.
Were these trick questions? Where had the panpipes gone? I can’t hear them anymore.
I look down, he’s dreaming. A scowl. I look back up at the woman in front of me, perplexed. Deep laughter lines surround her eyes, I hadn’t noticed before but maybe I hadn’t looked at her until now?
‘How many babies are in here?’
Where was my precious boy going to be and who was he going to be with, while I sat in a third floor, grey office calling uncaring and unappreciative customers about their car insurance renewals.
‘Well we have four baby rooms at the moment. There are five babies in each room. With three permanent staff in each room. When the babies get older we move them to the toddler room.’
‘An institution of sorts’ I say. She thinks I’m joking. I pretend I am.
‘The toddler rooms are split into ages groups so the children are mostly along with children their own age. We even have an after school facility for when they start school. We pick them up and take them here, most parents don’t finish work til 4 or 5,’ she explains proudly.
I’m sure she’s a lovely lady. I never want to see her again.
The first time I saw my husband I knew he’d be my husband. How? I don’t know and I know it sounds like one those pathetic clichés you see in over budgeted Hollywood movies but its true. He was kicking a football around a sunny beach in Melbourne with a few others. A cool box nearby, half empty.
My outrageous friend, Lucy, decided to sit as near as possible to them to gawk at their shirtless tanned physiques while we ate our ridiculously priced ice cream. My husband was by far the finest of the group but he was also the happiest looking. Smiling, laughing, messing about. Unknowingly drawing everyone to him. The nucleus of the game. I was mesmerised.
The ball was accidentally, I think, kicked in our direction and the ever confident Lucy jumped up to grab it. She began to circle it around her waist, teasing its return, enticing her prey. Usually I’d scold her for such antics but I didn’t on this occasion.
They joined us for ‘the craic’ and that’s what it was, as surprisingly they all had Irish accents. A welcome discovery. The tan’s had tricked us into thinking they were Italian. Hints of the Spanish Armada in their blood. Well my luck was in that day and we quickly became inseparable. The same ambitions, the same outlook on life, the same steely determination. It brought us together and kept us together. Sometimes we’re just where we’re meant to be, the right place at the right time….and sometimes we’re not.
We left Australia together a year later. We climbed the highest peak in Africa, dived with sharks in Fiji, abseiled down the highest cliffs in New Zealand. With his arms wrapped around my waist we stared, enchanted by the glowworms illuminating the roof of the Waitomo caves. We promised it would always be this way. Making life an adventure and living how we wanted to.
When the time came, the right decision seemed to be to come home to Ireland to ‘settle’. Back to our roots, to lay some more. Where does that idea come from? Is it ingrained in us from birth, I’m not sure.
Both sets of parents were so proud of us. We had a huge wedding ceremony on New Years Eve. Close to 300 people in a lavish hotel. Glittering dance floor. It snowed that morning. The photographs are stunning. They’ll be on the walls of our family homes forever. They invited all their friends, colleagues, cousins they hadn’t seen in over twenty years and great aunts I’d never heard of. But who they reassured me had on at least one occasion changed my nappy.
It was the highlight of many people’s Christmas season, or so we were told. ‘Magical.’
We were delighted to be married. This was the start of the dream wasn’t it? What everyone strives towards. What’s important.
The honeymoon we enjoyed much more. A three week hiking trip through Central America. My mother’s nose had turned up when I’d announced those plans. Don’t tell the guests that darling, it’s not very..Classy!
No, it’s not, thank God!
Camping in the Guatemalan rainforest. Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize. Drinking local beer with other like minded souls as the sun set across the Caribbean sea. Deep conversations, solving the world’s problems.
Our son was conceived somewhere along the way.
The parents and in-laws whooped with excitement when we sent the pictures of the twelve week scan. Unaware we were already beginning to fall into society’s pitfalls.
Wait until your 12 week scan before you tell, God forbid you’d miscarry and have to tell people, that would never do.
The first grandchild on both sides. Imagine that. And so soon after they got married. I could hear her tell the neighbours. Smug that my ovaries were as perfect as the wedding.
My husband came home early three weeks ago. Beaming. I was nursing. Snuggled on our L-shaped Ikea couch, in our rented home in a pretentious Dublin suburb. Proud of our address. Were we?
‘I have something to tell you.’ This had been obvious from the way he nearly tripped over the door and himself on his way in. I wait.
‘We got the house! The estate agent just rang me. Can you believe it! We got the house!’ he’s quickly removing his filthy work boots and hi-vis vest before he comes to embrace me. Careful not to disturb our baby. Our perfect creation.
We excitedly pushed the pram past our new house the next day. Only three streets away. There’s an eye catching Sale Agreed sticker plastered sideways across the weathered ‘For Sale’ notice that had sat unloved for sometime now.
That’s us. We agreed. We agreed to pay €495,000 for this three bed semi detached house with mediocre back garden. Space for one car to park, street parking available for the second. But what an impressive address we’d have. It would look good when we wrote it on important documents in the future. Oh yes we’d enjoy filling in mundane forms now wouldn’t we!
How impressive we’d look on paper. That was surely something to celebrate, wasn’t it?
It was practically turn key. Very little to be done. Decorate it to suit our style. My travel paintings would look splendid across the plain white fireplace and narrow hallway, wouldn’t they. Parallel universes clashing.
We have a reasonable deposit, savings that we’ve been working on for a while so we might only need to borrow around €460k. And it’ll only take 30 years to pay it back. Sure that’s nothing.
I celebrated my 30th last year.
The lady is looking at me bemused. I don’t know when she stopped talking. ‘Are you OK dear?’ she asked, a caring tone to her voice. Yes, I’m sure she would be a lovely lady if I got to know her. I cling to the hope that most people who look after babies are. But this is MY baby and she’s a stranger.
‘I’m going to quit,’ I say defiantly, purposefully.
‘Thank you for seeing me today and I’m very sorry for wasting your time but we won’t be needing your services’ I say, confident, for the first time since stepping back on Irish soil.
‘Oh I see, your nervous aren’t you? I understand dear. Many first time mothers find it very hard to think about leaving their babies and going back to work. I know its difficult but I promise you it will do you both the world of good,” she smiles as she rehash’s lines she’s spoken hundreds of times. There’s probably a script in the drawer.
I know I’m no Hera, no awards for mother of the year here but my baby is still only a baby. My baby. Maybe the others who accepted the script were stronger in mind than me. But my strength had always been in swimming against the tide. My son had been ripped from my body after 9months. I reached for him, to no avail. They needed him first. Nothing I could do. Crushed.
How can I allow him be ripped from my arms, from my bosom after six? He needs me and I need him. I’ll write my own script, thank you very much!
I smile at her. She doesn’t know me. And never will. He wakes. Eyes bright, alarmed. I smile. He smiles back. We’re out of here. He knows.
‘If you leave I cannot hold your place,’ a word of warning. ‘There’s a waiting list as long as my arm for a spot in the baby room, are you sure you know what your doing?’ she asks anxiously as I lift my boy, still snug in his car seat.
‘No I’m not sure, but I am sure that this is what I’m NOT doing.’
She nods, impressed? ‘Good for you.’
The fish is still swimming, same pace. He doesn’t see us leave.
There’s a thick line of muck across his forehead as he barrels in the back door of the house, nearly taking it off its hinges. ‘I need a pee pee’ he announces as he runs past me at the sink and into the toilet without closing the door. I hear him humming to himself before flushing. He doesn’t have time to even speak on his way back outside, too busy, too much work to be done. There’s dirt on his hands. A small scratch above his lip that wasn’t there when he woke this morning. His knees are always grazed.
He’s gone before I have a chance to ask him what they’re up to. I lift his baby sister up to the window and we watch as he runs back towards Daddy and our new, old neighbour Paddy. Paddy’s been helping us take the turf home with his tractor. The shed is nearly full. We’re ready for winter.
A pot of hot vegetable soup simmers on the stove. Freshly made scones and homemade jam, from the blackberries we picked on our lazy stroll by the lake yesterday evening.
Ready and waiting for them when they take a break. Real food. Earthy.
My son owns two pairs of wellies. No jeans. His wetsuit is already getting too small. A recent growth spurt. He has his old man’s sallow skin. His cheeks have a year round healthy glow. Smiling. He swims with his Daddy in the sea every Saturday morning. Ritualistic. Divine.
He can name of most of the birds in the sky and the trees around him. He uses his own trowel when the vegetables are ready.
At his recent developmental check-up, the nurse was astounded by his fine motor skills. Incomparable to other four year old’s. Amazing.
He can’t swipe.
We owe some money. A quarter, maybe less, of what we would’ve had we stayed where we were. In the big smoke.
Daddy works hours that suit him. I do a little from home.
Our shoulders sit low, relaxed. I sleep soundly. There’s space to roam and run, play and park more cars than we could ever own. No traffic lights.
Our address is not pretty to most, on paper. But they don’t see the way the morning sun,
shines directly into our home,
flooding it with long days free from stress.
Warming our faces.
‘We don’t know what came over them, they had it all sorted. Their mortgage was guaranteed, sale agreed on a beautiful house and now they’re living out in the sticks like hippies…or even worse, culchies!’
‘It’s madness. But they’ve always been a bit like that haven’t they. Could never do things the way they should be done. The normal way. The right way. Always had to be different!’
‘The poor children.’