From 4 ½ to 40, I’ve been sitting at a desk. Almost my entire life. The desk has become my safe place, my sanctuary. It has become me. So when it comes time to pack up my desk and step out into the world as a new mother, I’m completely at sea.
Away from my desk, it’s a different world between 9 and 3. The sounds, the pace, the people. I think the last time I felt like this was way back in primary school. Mum had picked me up just before little lunch for a dentist appointment.
I remember marvelling at how there were no other kids around in town, the shops were full of shopkeepers yakking their heads off to customers who had all day. The elderly were out in force on the footpaths, tired mothers jiggled squawking prams at cafes, while tradies hammered in the distance. Even the traffic was different, slower, more meandering.
But this is me now, I’m in that world. I’m one of the tired mothers. I push my pram through the concrete streets of the Inner West. Only now the tradies hammer has given way to the roar of the jackhammer as mammoth apartment blocks go up. I walk through the streets every morning and every afternoon, spanning time in soft turf playgrounds, the constant gnaw of isolation at my heels. I try and find a rhythm out here. I’d imagined endless playdates and babyccinos. But the reality of conflicting nap times and other people’s childcare days has caught me by surprise.
Two years in and I break my foot. I spend six weeks locked in my tiny million-dollar viewless house with a toddler. After an eternity of kids’ TV, my foot heals enough for me to be allowed out. I grab the pram and hobble up to the local grocer Banana Joes.
“You’re back,” yells the young guy stacking the avocado stand. A round of applause breaks out down the fruit and veggie aisles. “We’ve missed you.”
Smiles and welcomes abound from staff as I make my way around the store. The checkout girl practically hugs me. I am equal parts stunned and exhilarated, my cheeks burn bright pink.
On my way home, the group of old guys who smoke at the bus stop everyday in the morning sun, yell out to me and wave. The local barista runs out from his machine and hands me a coffee on the street. Tears swell up inside of me and threaten to spill.
One of the local fireman stops me out the front of the pork roll shop, while he’s buying his lunch, to ask me what I’ve done to my foot. I tell him that I broke it but that it’s almost better now, and then I wish I hadn’t said anything because all the tears are starting to bust out.
“It’s okay darl, I’ve got two little ones,” he says and pats me on the shoulder. “I broke my hand when they were both in nappies.”