Offspring by Emylia Hall
07 April 2015
These days my time is cleaved in two. Every morning I look after my son, and every afternoon I write. At lunchtime my husband and I swap shifts, baby for book, book for baby. Our boy is a little over one now, and we’ve been working it this way since he was three months old. It’s a tidy arrangement, on paper, but I’ve come to learn that in practice it’s anything but. My two charges rarely keep to their own portions of the day. Neither one is that obedient. I’m frequently powerless in the face of both. Perhaps a delightful, infuriating mishmash is what it’s all about. Or maybe writing a novel isn’t so different to raising a child anyway.
In the beginning you imagine them, and they’re perfect. Even just thinking about them seems to lend your own existence a new kind of meaning. Around other people you’re cautious of talking too much because they’re still so delicate, so unformed, but you still walk around with hope in your heart, and something of a glow about you. They gestate, they gestate, and then they come into existence. From that moment on you’re into a whole new world. So much of them is incomprehensible, so much of them is familiar. Their very newness is intoxicating. For a while they take over everything, and everything seems to be about them. The song on the radio. The picture in a gallery. It’s all them. And while they demand much – sometimes, more than you feel you have - you give yourself to them happily, because they are you and you are them. People are free with their advice, often bewilderingly so, but it’s your own instincts you must follow. You are the only one who really knows them. Little by little, they grow. They develop, different parts at different speeds. Maybe dialogue needs some work, but the action’s good. Or the other way round. A distinct character begins to emerge. And even though they’re your own creation, they frequently surprise you. As time goes on, you might glance about you, to see how others in a similar position are getting on. Not to be competitive but just out of interest, curiosity, solidarity. Even though you claim not to be a joiner, every so often you find yourself gravitating towards your peers. You talk about aspects of your creation that others would find entirely boring, but to you seem ceaselessly fascinating.
At home you work hard to create conditions in which they can thrive. You establish a routine and a rhythm, or you try to, anyway. You’re finding your feet, but, secretly, you never feel less than a novice. There are still days that are tiresome from start to finish. You’re tearing your hair out. They can make you a little crazy. But sometimes you find yourself just gazing, amazed that you have made this thing. And you know full well that, where they are concerned, no one else but you will ever feel this precise blend of pride and joy and fear.
You also know that the day will come when you will have to let them go, when they’ll need to stand on their own. When that moment comes, you hope you’ll have done your best by them, because that’s all you can ever do. You know that from time to time they won’t be able to avoid falling into the hands of people who won’t care how precious they are to you. The knocks are waiting. The falls. But you hope the world will by and large be kind to them, that people will understand where they’re coming from, and that their own impact will be a good and honest one.
At some point you begin to wonder if you could ever bring yourself to do it all again. Perhaps it might be easier the next time round. Even if it isn’t, at least now you know what’s required of you. At least you know how to push. Sometimes, in a quiet moment, you muse on what drives this act of creation (after all, it’s not like there’s not enough of them already in the world). Maybe it’s to leave something meaningful behind, something of ourselves. Or maybe it’s just a distraction. Whatever the answer, all you know is that their existence brings you incomparable happiness. And for that alone, it’s worth it.