In the laundromat a young man was sitting in a plastic chair in front of my machine, reading a backlist Hilary Mantel novel. I had stepped out to run some other errands, in the twenty minutes of sloshing and spinning. His presence annoyed me — who does he think he is, the King of the Laundromat, on his plastic throne? — but the annoyance was tempered by recognition of my former young self, a person who would curate her laundromat reading because she felt like it made her look like she was an interesting person.
I hoped that someone who also liked Hilary Mantel (or whomever) would admire me in the flickering fluorescent light. ‘I see you also like Hilary Mantel’, they would say, a thing that absolutely never happened to me in my whole life, not in probably twenty years of hopeful performative public reading! And yet I persisted.
Now that I am living my best mom life, which I love, I find that what I long for most from the past is not popping corks and dancing on tables. Perhaps I’d been mostly over that for a while. No, what I miss are the long stretches of empty time that I had, when I could sit on Sunday mornings reading impressive books in the laundromat.
This is unexpected. Back then, it was time that sometimes felt like a hallmark of my solitude. Loneliness, even. Not a glut of opportunity that I’d never get back to read a book or go for a walk or watch enough episodes of a derivative medical show on Netflix that the app would serve me that screen that asks if you’re still watching, as even Netflix itself thinks you should go outside and get some fresh air. Then, there were always things to be done around the apartment and so forth, but there so much future time in which to do them. Even when I met E and the shape of my life changed into something that accommodated a second person, I could put things off.
Now, if they’re not done — if, for example, I do not go to the supermarket when I need to — there are consequences. At a party this weekend I discussed the measure of a good mother with some expectant parents and remarked, as an example, that the standards of mothering are so extreme that ‘if I feed my son peanut butter toast for two meals in a row I feel like I’m a bad mother!’ and one of them said, ‘I suppose all that matters is that he’s fed.’
And that’s true, but I also felt that maybe they said it in a tone that was dubious, that maybe they were horrified by my peanut butter confession, that maybe I should have kept it to myself.
(You see what I mean about consequences.)
Like many parents I am currently preoccupied with the question of what we will do if we end up quarantined from coronavirus. To quell my fears, after I finished doing the laundry, while B took a long nap, I reorganized the pantry. I cleared out marshmallows that were older than he is, a jar of maple syrup that we purchased on our honeymoon. In the pantry I uncovered a great many dried beans and this was interesting, but not surprising, because I would like to be the kind of person who cooks dried beans but I also have never cooked dried beans in my life.
I kept them, however, I put them in jars, because I felt like they made it look like I am a competent parent, someone prepared to reconstitute pulses in a crisis. This was somewhat calming. It’s a different kind of performance from the ones I used to do, when I was younger, and with more time alone. But it’s still hopeful.
My friend Ellena’s book Blueberries is coming in Australia and the UK and America, and you should pre-order it because she’s just so smart and good!