Space: mental, emotional, physical. I used to be someone who needed a lot of space - at least that’s what I thought. A room of my own and lots of time alone in it. Whole days, preferably several at a time. However, since becoming a mother six years ago I have had none of this. I feel lucky at present if I get a chance to visit the loo unaccompanied, and invariably, even if I have managed to sneak off unseen, one of my children will come find me or holler to me that they need something urgently when I am still mid-pee. I am still somewhat shocked and perplexed by this, by the contrast between my pre-motherhood identity, as someone who required a great deal of space in order to survive, and the reality of my life with children – days and nights of constant company. I have even managed to dispossess myself of a room in our house – at the moment I sleep in the children’s room so that my son refers to the other bedroom as “Daddy’s” – Mummy doesn’t have, or apparently require, a space of her own.
The image that comes to my mind is of Wile E Coyote, that cartoon character famous for running off the edge of cliffs. He keeps running in mid-air and only falls when he looks down and realises the ground is no longer beneath him. I feel like this about motherhood – I ran off the cliff edge and kept running. Six years later I have not yet begun to plummet – I am still running, legs whirring, not daring to look down. The funny thing about this image is that it is of someone hovering mid-air, surrounded by nothing but sky – loads of space. It helps me understand what is perhaps the key to my strange ability to have survived this long with minimal time alone. I realise that what I mean by ‘space’ – a wonderfully vague and overused term- is actually place, ground, earth, and that even though my children have indeed taken away my alone-time, they have given me a keener sense of place than I ever had before.
Perhaps it is because children are so fantastically present. Mine force me to stop and notice the fuchsia growing in the neighbour’s front garden, scarlet flowers waiting to be popped open, the tiny walnuts that have fallen on the pavement, the letters printed on the manhole cover at the end of the street. I have to engage with the places I inhabit far more fully than I did before. The map of everywhere changes on becoming a mother, the landmarks shift forever – the river is now somewhere to stop and see whether we can spy any bubbles coming up from the fish. The parks, cafes, shops, libraries, swimming pool, take on new meanings, become places to head towards, small islands that set our compass for the days.
Mothers Who Make in part began because of my new heightened awareness of the places I was moving through with my son and how they were segregated into child-centred ones (playgrounds, playgroups) and adult-centred ones (rehearsal rooms, meetings) with no children present. Mothers Who Make meetings aim to model a third kind of space –adult-centred but child-friendly. It is still the biggest challenge in setting up a new group – what space can a venue give us? I want a room of our own. I don’t want a public foyer. Suitable spaces are hard to find. And it is of course an issue that comes up again and again within the meetings themselves – the struggle to find space, to create, to dream, to unwind, or, as above, just to have a pee.
Right now I am finding it helpful to ground this ‘spacey’ question through the notion of ‘place’ rather than space. So this is my question for the month: what are your places? What are the particular convergences of time and space that give you a moment to dream? Mine are the landing outside the children’s bedroom before they wake up in the morning, and the cargo trike ride that I do with them along the river. Sometimes the dreaming is only for ten minutes, or even five, or only one – nonetheless it helps. It stops me plummeting off the cliff edge, or rather it enables me to land well, where I am. How about you? Where are your places? The morning shower? The late night kitchen table? The walk to the park? ……post below or come to a meeting to share.