Sitting on my hands, poolside at Brixton Rec, legs dangled in water churned by lunchtime swimmers, I’m deaf to the cacophony all around. Too busy deliberating how best to spend what remains of a(nother) day without Leo. With no decision reached, I’m interrupted by the arrival of an old friend in the lane next to mine. He’s entirely oblivious to recent developments so I furnish him with the new fundamentals, i.e. Leo is among us, we are no longer us, I am moving out, and we’re raising Leo together – the word together taking on an altogether different dimension in this context. Situation taken on board, I hear what has now become the long drawn out (and now standard) reply. “Riiiiiiight.” Long pause. “How does that work, then?” Indeed…
How does this work? How am I even to define myself now? How to box it all up and label it so the world can unpack it? How to make an seemingly inexplicable situation just that bit more accessible? Am I a single parent now? Is that the slot I fit into? I suppose the answer must be yes, though clearly not in the traditional sense. Though on my own, I won’t be parenting alone in time-honoured and heroic fashion. Except I will be. But we’ll be taking shifts, as it were. When I have Leo I’ll be, to all intents and purposes, on my own. Confused? I am.
No, I’ll be co-parenting. So am I a single co-parent now? Or single part-time co-parent, even? I don’t like the part-time part, I’ll be clocking in and clocking out but I’ll always be a parent. But that’s as close as I can get, so that must be it. It hardly trips off the tongue and won’t be an easy sell, though it scores big on novelty value. I doubt I’ll meet many who can nod sagely and say ‘been there’, at least not this early (or prematurely) in the proceedings. Plenty more ‘that’s weird’s’ and ‘that’s unusuals’ and ‘riiiiiight…..’s to come.
No ready answer, then, but despite the conundrum I’m told I look ‘very free’. And there’s the paradox. My friend has not been alone in noting this, and indeed I do feel… free. Much has dropped away, the horrific tension of ‘our’ pregnancy – ours in the technical, official and appointment-at-the-hospital-keeping sense – has long since dissipated. A future once unseeable and unknowable is finally unlocking and all the fears held within have all but evaporated and I am left, despite the endless permutations of a myriad of new complexities, lighter.
I am liberated and focused, and with plenty to focus on. New. What seemed important before, is close to insignificant now. Money worries? Just money worries. Career stalling? What’s new? Sudden impulse to stab the boss? Just a bad day at the office. It’s already difficult to conceive of anything in my life that was of real importance before Leo.
True freedom comes when you’re no longer the star at the centre of your own little planetary system. Once that place is taken by a child your worries are over, because now they radiate from the centre and you’re in orbit around them. And of course those worries are only just beginning, but they won’t paralyse you or leave you staring at the ceiling at 3am like the old before-baby worries. They’re obstacles now, solid impediments to be negotiated and dealt with. And they will be.
Goodbyes and promises of coffee dates exchanged, my friend pushes off from the wall and surges back down the fast lane with a confident front crawl, secure in his path as the water seethes in his wake. I stay moored to the pool’s edge for a moment longer and glance at the clock. There’s no rush to be back. This is the part of the part-time part I don’t like. I let the water smooth itself over and slip back into the slow lane for a few more steady lengths of less than technically perfect breaststroke. Never was much of a swimmer.