I wonder when I will stop measuring my life in Time Since and Time Until. Does it ever stop?
It’s funny, on quiet mornings I find myself sifting through these dates, these collection of times where the clock stopped and it becomes marked forever in my mind as “the time when…”
These moments are it, you know? These are the moments when everything changes. Sometimes you’re aware of the meaning even as it’s happening, other times you can only begin to grasp the significance in retrospect.
A few weeks ago it would have been my sixth wedding anniversary. Nine months ago my marriage fell apart. I return to this every so often, the number of months since, because it is necessary. I am still so in it. My divorce isn’t final, working out the details of everything is profoundly stressful and sometimes it seem like it will never end. So I have to do this, to count and revisit and remind myself of where I was then, and how far I have come to be here.
It’s no small thing- it’s like months sober. Months free. The numbers mean something, you know?
I have spent these last nine months gathering myself up and growing. When you spend your whole adult life staked to someone and then have the stake abruptly removed it is a profoundly unsettling feeling. There’s no way of knowing what was you and what was him and how much of what you were together was your doing, bad or good. I remember being abjectly terrified in the early months of this year. I wasn’t a dumb little housewife by any means, I was educated, intelligent, and had a lot of support around me. Yet I have a deep, visceral memory of sitting in bed, looking out our bedroom window into the cold and the snow unable to sleep (for weeks it seemed), staring ahead into the upcoming months and having literally no idea what would fill them. I didn’t know where I would live, what I would do to support myself, how (or if) I could take care of Olive on my own. I didn’t know if I would share my life with someone again, or how capable I would be of doing this, all of this. Life.
It doesn’t feel like I lost a support any more. It feels like I lost an anchor, or a cage. Everything broke and something better came out, something more truthful was set free. On November 20 it will be a year since the night when I sat crying and shaking in my living room, trying to make my head and my heart understand. One year. I don’t know that I will ever stop counting Time Since that date. It was transformative. Regenerative. It brought me here.
Almost three years ago they laid Olive on my chest while my insides were still open on an operating table, and I became a mother. I cried so hard from joy and surprise and gratitude that I thought I would burst. Just simply combust, and disintegrate. And I would have been happy to do so. In that moment I had done it — I had done it. I had written a book and had a baby and that’s all I’d ever wanted from this world and I had both and no one should ever be that lucky but I was, lying there with that tiny dark haired baby in the cozy warmth of our hospital room.
Are you wondering what’s inspired this latest bout of date collecting and reminiscing? Well, yesterday that baby, no longer a baby and no longer dark haired, walked into her first day of preschool.
I had butterflies in my stomach but she marched right up to her teacher and said, “Hello, Ms. Moore!” bold as can be. She wandered around the classroom whispering “What is this place?!” for the first five minutes we were there, and during circle time, after successfully following instructions, it was as though the significance of the moment began to sink in for her, too, even if she didn’t quite understand it.
She looked up to where I was sitting with the other parents and met my eyes across the brightly coloured carpet. She looked at me for a few seconds and then a big grin spread across her face. “Mummy!” she cried, “I’m doing it!” and flashed me two big thumbs up. I burst out laughing, and the other parents did, too. As her attention returned to her teacher again I watched her, this whip-smart, kind, thoughtful child of mine, and I felt that bursting feeling again. I know how she feels. I know exactly how it feels.
In early spring I stood outside a faceless building in the wind, while someone looked me right in the eye and told me I would never be able to support myself with my writing. I’m not a particularly ambitious person, but in that moment I felt something galvanize inside me. All I could think from that new, cold, steely place of resolve, was “Fucking watch me.”
I’m not there yet, and likely won’t be until Olive is in school full-time, because until that point she is my most important job, but it’s coming together. I have been working my ass off collecting copywriting clients and pitching stories to various sites, all while trying to carry on a conversation with various hedgehogs, dinosaurs and shrill-voiced toddlers. When I landed this Guardian gig, all I could think of was exactly what Olive felt yesterday. I’m doing it! I’m really doing it!
I’ve always been witness to this annual parade of mothers sobbing as their children go off to school, and I’ve never really understood it (because how could I?Motherhood isn’t something you understand from the outside). But now that I am here, tiptoeing into this world, the knowledge of it has settled around my shoulders. This is it. This is one of those moments. This is when she begins to grow away from me. I’m gently removing the stake she’s grown alongside for her whole short life thus far, and trusting that she will grow straight and tall and strong without its support.
This is where it starts.
We’re doing it.