When I was in grade 1, I tried to rub out an error in my handwriting by licking my finger and rubbing the paper until all that was left was a small, dirty hole. My teacher, Mrs Rogers, glanced over her shoulder and reeled in horror at the ugly mark in the middle of my story. The rubbing out made the mistake so much worse. There was no way of patching the hole. After chastising me, she explained that all I needed to do was mark a line through the mistake, and try again.
I did as I was told, as good girls do, but it set the tone for a life where my finger is poised to rub out any mistakes, despite the irreparable holes that may leave. In year 7, I ended a toxic friendship by moving schools and no longer speaking to anyone who I knew before, even though we had been friends since early primary school. At university I dealt with social anxiety in lectures by avoiding classes altogether, then enrolling in film subjects because it was the only class where the lights were (for the most part) switched off. I further went on to choose subjects that only assessed through essays or exams. I do not do oral presentations. At 31 and ¾ years, avoidance has now become my trademark, my modus operandi.
For the sake of my word count, I’m just going to file this under ‘inappropriate coping mechanisms’.
I was supposed to start my writing course last week after spending the whole summer in a state of indecision over whether or not I should go ahead with it. It’s one thing to apply, it’s another thing to show up. The issue was compounded by a crumby timetable, and my first day of classes being only 2 days after First Born’s first day at school, leaving no time for him to adjust before I whisked myself away from him. It would be hard to gauge if my ducks were in a row if I weren’t actually there to check.
Last week, when First Born had his first day of school, I decided it was his year and I would defer, or, if this were not possible, I would withdraw from the writing program entirely. I needed to be around for the boys, to be available, to be the contingency we will most likely need when winter comes and we’re all sick and we need one parent available to ride the merry-go-round of childhood illnesses. Historically this parent has been me, because Mr Karen is The Earner. Letting go of this mantel has proven harder than I imagined in the heady days of filling out tertiary admission forms.
My consolation to staying at home was that if I could find the time, I would attempt to write a book (though in the back of my mind I was already talking this down to anything longer than 1000 words).
That night, with my decision made, I lay down on the couch, put my head on Mr Karen’s lap and mourned my future. I cried. I felt bruised and sad and completely lost. I was staying at home in spite of myself. I realised that while I might have the reserves to work hard at writing a book, I am not a person with natural reserves of confidence and buoyancy in times of doubt. I am the freak up the back of the lifeboat, screaming “We’re sinking!!! We’re going to die!” In short, my plan was to stay at home, and not write.
Please, feel free to hit me with your oar.
So much of life has transpired and still, when faced with a big life decision, I ruminate until I become exhausted and emotional and wear my nerves down to a point where starting again seems like the most simple way to proceed.
I can’t tell you how I ended up on the city train on Friday morning. It had nothing to do with the overthinking that happened between Christmas and the day before my first class. It had everything to do with a gut feeling that I would regret not having tried to make this work. It had everything to do with a supportive mum and husband, a car full of petrol, a packed lunch, and legs that propelled me from the carpark to the ticket machine to the train platform. Legs that propelled me, despite my worried mind. Legs that knew better than my brain.
It was a pleasure to sit in classes at the end of my mothering week. I met more new friends in one day than I have in my entire time as a stay at home mum. And they all speak fluent book nerd. I found I didn’t have to edit my ramblings to avoid boring the pants off anyone. The program is populated by like-minded people, though we all come from different parts of the country, and differ in age, background and history.
Never mind the 2-hour commute, the parking at Frankston station, the childcare, and the silent treatment First Born dealt me when I finally arrived home after 12 hours away. I’ve made the right decision. It’s not the prettiest, but it’s better than rubbing out this whole chapter with my finger.