‘Welcome to Your New Life’ book extract
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When you are six weeks old, your grandmother Mariah offers to babysit, so that Nicholas and I can venture out to a restaurant. We discuss this for some days: it is a curiously threatening idea.
“Perhaps we could catch up on some sleep instead,” I suggest.
“Pathetic,” he says, but I can see that he is tempted.
We agree to the restaurant, finally, out of a sense of duty. To bookmark this spot; to stake out a small space of adulthood until we are again ready to occupy it. Before leaving Mariah’s house, we double-check that all phones are charged, that she has memorised the latest SIDS prevention guidelines.
“You do realise I’ve done this before,” she grins. “And he didn’t turn out too badly, did he?”
And so we leave you and drive to a restaurant by the beach, where a waiter seats us next to the open doors and pours champagne.
“Have a happy night, folks.”
Happy. The surprise is that all this love does not quite equate to happiness. It is richer, darker than happiness. Possibly it is better than happiness. And yet. Around us, people clink their glasses and laugh. Is the rest of the world childless? Or is this what will happen one day? That I will again be able to laugh freely, without my mind listing back to you?
“How’s things?” I ask Nicholas.
He takes a sip of champagne. “Good, I suppose.”
“I really like the baby,” he says carefully. “But I’m not sure that I’m quite as obsessed with him as you are.”
I had noticed this. For Nicholas, you have not yet grown into your name, but are still the baby, a thing more than a person, a species more than an individual. A problem to be solved, through expert swaddling and best-practice burping.
“Just wait. It’ll come.”
“Are you sure?”
His uncertainty touches me. “Remember, I had a nine-month head start.”
He nods and finishes his glass. “What about you?”
I am bored by my response, a small word, inadequate to the task.
He flips open the menu, impatiently. “Yes, I know. I’m tired too, but I think we need to stop saying it.”
He is right. It is too loaded: that one-upmanship of fatigue.
“It is the true test of a relationship, isn’t it? Can I love my partner’s rest as much as my own?”
He laughs. “And the answer to that would be no.”
The waiter hovers. We address ourselves to the menu, but the words swim in front of me, refusing to coalesce into meaning. Perhaps this is what language is to a baby: panko-encrusted panfried velouté choux beignet medallions.
“You first,” I whisper.
“I’ll have the risotto, please.”
“Make that two.”
The waiter gives us a condescending nod and withdraws. We had planned not to talk about you tonight, but not talking about you means not talking at all. And so we stare dumbly at each other, dipping bread in olive oil and blotting it in dukkah.
“Perhaps we should rethink our approach to sleep,” he offers.
My mind tracks up and down the netted sides of your portacot, searching for snags. Then it zooms out to the rickety staircase, and to Mariah’s fat ginger cat who could mistake you for a cushion.
“That cat has been known to open doors unassisted,” I announce.
“I’m thinking of a joint sleep account,” he continues, “into which we encourage each other to make deposits.”
As I drink more champagne, the ginger cat retreats slightly. He is still there, but his outlines are blurred.
“There’s no point both of us waking up all night. If you let me sleep more, we’d have a larger sleep investment.”
I struggle to concentrate. Could this be a trick to rob me of yet more rest?
“You’ve obviously given this a lot of thought.”
“Just let me sleep, I’m begging you. Let me sleep! Let me sleep!”
I snort with laughter, inhaling some champagne, and the elderly woman at the next table turns around to watch me cough.
“Would there be compound interest on night feeds?” I ask, once I have recovered.
“Anything at all. Anything you want.”
There is something anaesthetising about this alcohol, about this sea air. It is robbing me of my defences. “OK, then. Let’s open a sleep bank.”
“To the end of tired,” he toasts.
I laugh merrily and drink more, remembering myself. An inner springiness, a previous default state. Hope bobs up somewhere, that old familiar.
Say when! commands the waiter, brandishing an enormous pepper grinder over the risotto that is suddenly before me. I move the phone off the table into my lap, and my fine mood deflates a little. Stay in the moment. This surely is a lesson you are teaching me.
“So if not tired, then what?” asks Nicholas.
The risotto is luscious: leek and rice and butter merging into a single substance of comfort.
“Besotted with our child.”
Outside, a group of young people clusters around a brazier. I can smell the sea, see the twinkling fantasy of the city in the distance. We used to come down here when we first knew each other, but I cannot quite find my way back to that time. What did I used to worry about?
“And terrified. In approximately equal measure.”
“You’ve got to stop that, you know.”
It is foolish to squander your precious first months in worry. Every evening I wish you a tearful goodnight as if sending you off to war. What sort of message can that be sending?
I reach for my wine glass, and the phone clatters off my lap on to the ground. As I pick it up, I surreptitiously check for messages. Nothing. But I might just text Mariah to let her know we arrived safely.
“At least wait until after we’ve eaten,” he says wearily.
“I’ll just let her know we got here OK.”
Having a lovely time, I type, as he folds his arms and looks out to sea. How are things on the home front?
What is the fear, exactly? That if I relax my mind’s vice-like grip, even for a moment, you will no longer be safe. That for this critical lapse into leisure we will all be punished. I wait for a text to ricochet back, but none comes.
“She’s probably just dozing on the sofa,” he suggests.
“Apparently they’re attracted to the milk on the baby’s breath.”
“Stop. Please. Just stop.”
Yes. And I will. Just as soon as I make this phone call.
In the car on the way home, I hold the phone aloft in order to maximise reception. “It’s probably better that we didn’t have dessert,” I offer. “More healthy.”
Nicholas stares at the road ahead. Only when the beach is far behind us does the phone vibrate in my hand.
All fine here. Take your time.
This is an edited extract from Welcome to Your New Life (Black Inc.), out now.
Anna Goldsworthy is a writer and a pianist. Her most recent book is Melting Moments, and her most recent album is Trio Through Time.