I always feel like
somebody’s watching me
Who’s playing tricks on me?
~ Rockwell, Somebody’s Watching Me
It’s only after I’ve turned my back on the breathtaking view of the Gold Coast’s sun-sparkled beach – summoned from the 25th floor balcony and into the holiday apartment by my crying toddler – that I realise this three day trip to the Problogger Conference may not be as child-free and mentally recuperative as I’d expected.
The cry I heard might have come from the floor above or the floor below, or even from inside my own braincase but the truth is undeniable; I have been programmed to respond feverishly to anything that sounds like a child in distress, real or imagined, and it’s as I check my iPhone for any messages from Reservoir Mum that I remember the time I jumped from bed and did an Usain Bolt down the hall to Lewis’s room because of the distant cry of a nesting Plover bird.
‘Chill, RD,’ I say out loud, removing my jeans with the intention of replacing them with board shorts before taking the top off the complimentary bottle of wine and deciding to free-ball for a while as I neck my way to a head-bopping strut, circle-working around the table, ‘You’ve got three child-free days! Relax. Refresh! Go back home a better man.’
I’m only half way through the bottle, an hour later, sitting on the toilet with a good book, ready to release my bowels in a way that – compared to the previous eight years of offspring-hurried toileting experiences – will seem like an ecstasy tablet inspired session of transcendental meditation when I look to my right and mistake a complimentary bar of soap for a tiny hand reaching under the closed bathroom door, and because my body has been trained to respond as quickly as possible to that particular visual cue, I fire like a rocket – before I even have the chance to brace myself by gripping the edge of the toilet seat – and the session is over. Its swiftness leaves me blinking tears from my eyes.
After another pep talk with myself where I repeat, ‘You’re on you own. There are no children here,’ I pull on the previously discarded board shorts and leave the apartment carrying my mobile phone, wallet and apartment keys only.
When the door clicks shut behind me I have to shrug away the feeling that I’ve forgotten something, because this movement from one space to another is coming too easy, it’s unnatural.
Almost a minute passes by as I stand in front of the elevator like a heavily medicated dullard before realising that childless men don’t have several mini-humans bull-rushing the Up and Down buttons for the glory of the first push, and so I reach out and press Down tentatively, but it feels weird to only hear it beep once – its neon glare is like an eyeball, watching me – so I reach out and poke it again, and again and again and again, until the elevator doors open and I run in to do the same to the button labelled G; poking at it, poking at it, poking at it… all the way to the ground floor.
The sea breeze is a kind of relief and although I’m not a fan of the beach and have avoided it – for the most part – my entire life I eventually ease into a languid-ish walk, staying just beyond the lapping waves, actually smiling for about five hundred meters, but any thought that my central nervous system had released me from its routine-derived twitches and ticks and visions is quickly dismissed when I realise that the kind scenery I’m responding to is far different to the average Gold Coast rubbernecker.
It’s not the gentle white-tipped waves or the wide open beaches under the dome of blue sky that I see but the Dad skimming a ball across the water to his son; the mother applying sunscreen to her daughter; the two kids digging a tunnel from either side of a sandcastle to link hands at its centre. In all these scenes I see Archie or Lewis or Tyson or Maki, and when I notice the couple dry-rooting under the beach umbrella, I immediately think of RM; and take a sneaky photo so that I can send it, along with a flirty text, to connect with her later tonight.
‘Holy shit,’ I whisper dramatically to the salty wind, deeply aware that I have developed an inability to be on my own. ‘I’m a dead-set family man… inexplicably linked to five people forever, no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I am,’ but the true panic doesn’t come until I turn my head to the cityscape and realise that I’m not admiring the appropriately designed, coastal-coloured buildings there, but mentally recording the accessible ‘high-points’ I would rush my children to in case of a Tsunami.
This attempt at an idle walk is over and so I duck-waddle my way through the sand to the footpath of The Esplanade and go straight for a coffee shop to dose up on something that seems a little bit more Victorian, but after the woman in front of me has finished ordering she turns with an expression of enraged inquisitiveness which alerts me to the fact that I’ve taken hold of the handle of her pram and that I’m pushing it back and forth to soothe the gurgling baby inside. ‘I…have… four… kids,’ I stammer, giving in, backing away and walking without direction, only stopping when I come to a pedestrian crossing.
It’s not until everyone else is halfway to the other side that I realise I’m standing motionless with both arms extended by my side waiting, mindlessly, to take my children by the hand and then I’m beyond spooked, fast-walking like the Tinman from The Wizard Of Oz, weaving through the crowd, not willing to trust my mind or my instincts or my senses.
I may look semi-composed to those around me when I enter the hotel but on the inside I‘m actually considering the possibility that my children are skilled astral-travellers playing tricks on me. The elevator beeps over and over again on its way to the twenty-fifth floor.
I stumble to the apartment and I’m fumbling, rushed, unable to get the key in the door because I have Maki in one arm and the nappy bag over my shoulder, and my back is aching as I look behind me to referee the brotherly fight between Archie and Lewis and look; Tyson’s pushing all the buttons now and the elevator doors are opening and closing and I have to hurry even faster than I was hurrying before because if he gets inside it’ll be a hell of a task trying to find which floor he’s gone to, and just as I’m wondering how I’m going to hold the apartment door open, to get the pram through, my mobile phone rings and I see it’s RM. The key turns and I enter the hotel room with the phone to my ear, alone.
Because I have never taken, or even needed, an anti-psychotic drug before I have not bothered to bring any along with me and so I can only consider RM’s phone call to be both timely and therapeutic; her soft familiar voice is my Prozac.
I’m lying on the bed, reflecting on our conversation and preparing to take an afternoon nap so that I can soar from sleep deprivation and recover my senses because – as RM said – it really is only that; the accumulative hours of lost slumber that have fuelled this strange psychosis. Once I’ve slept I may still respond internally to a baby’s cry but without the insanity and hopefully with a clearer perspective because knowing you’re never really away from your family is, well, kinda nice
As I drift off, arms around a pillow, I promise myself I’ll sleep like a bear for as long as I need, so that I can hear the plover in the plover bird’s cry, access the slow release in my trigger-happy bowels and rediscover the idle walk.
I’ve been drooling into the pillow, all dopey with bliss, for only ten minutes when the phone rings again and jerks me to a seated position on the bed.
‘Hey,’ RM says. ‘I just got another bill from the electrical company. The solar panels haven’t been connected to the grid. Can you believe it…? Oh, shit… were you sleeping?’
‘No,’ I say.
‘Cool. They’re saying the electrician hasn’t given them all the documents they need. Could you ring him and tell him to get on to it?’
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘Why are you whispering?’
‘I just don’t want to wake Tyson,’ I say, as I reach over to rub the pillow’s back, scream a little, and drop the phone.