Sparrow has had a feed, a vegemite sandwich, and a sleep. All in the Atrium. This means I’m out of tricks. He’s next to me in the pram while I kneel on the floor and type. We’re at The Family Laundry and I’m hoping that if there’s anywhere baby noise will be tolerated it will be here. I find a tiny green striped maraca in the bottom of the nappy bag and for now, he’s happy. There’s a woman with a baby in a sling walking up and down behind me, then standing still and rocking; the baby dance. Sometimes I do this dance in supermarket lines, even when there’s no baby on my back.
Ann Patchett reads from her new novel, State of Wonder, and I take Sparrow to the back of the theatre to do a nappy change. There is a thin flap that unzips from the nappy bag, the only thing between his body and the slate floor. He squeals and kicks and I try to be as fast and as clean as I can. State of Wonder sounds thick with gorgeous writing but it slips over and past me. The nappy change is done and I lie Sparrow down on the strip of wood flooring that cuts through the slate, to type with both hands, to try to pull words from the air and get them onto this page. Maile Meloy is reading and then Georgia Blain. Sparrow has rolled nearly onto the slate. He bangs the maraca and tries to sit. I am momentarily jealous of the baby dancing woman who could type right now if she wanted to. I try a breastfeed even though he’s not due. I hope that a nipple will create enough quiet for me to at least hear, even if I can’t write. I try to type one handed. It’s excruciating. Sparrow keeps lurching away from my breast and swiping at the keyboard. He’s making so much noise I feel sick. I give up. We go out to the Atrium and I drink coffee, and breathe, and decide to try again at the next session.
A young woman with an Equal Love t-shirt and forearms crisscrossed with cuts stops and smiles at Sparrow and reaches carefully to touch his hand. He grins at her with his gappy teeth, spit dripping from his chin. We talk. I try not to look at her sad arms. Sparrow, I think, has made her afternoon sweet.
The friend that I’m with comes to find me and we make our way to Missing Women. I put Sparrow in the ergo and try to be present. Carpeted floor. That’s good. A wide escape stretching out behind me. Good too. I bounce and rock and listen to the recorded intro. Sparrow makes noise, but I hope that he will sleep. Chris Gordon, who’s chairing the session, asks why, with so many women in publishing, do most non-fiction books and biographies feature the lives of men? Katie Holmes stands behind a lectern and says she is staggered by the stories of grief and the stories of hope that she hears from women. Sparrow squawks. Chris smiles at me (he’s out of the ergo and I’m trying to breastfeed him again – he’s so full of milk that it’s spilling from the corners of his mouth but I want to stay and so I keep trying to keep him quiet), a warm smile, a smile that says I understand. But there’s someone else in the audience who glares, a few times. I put him back in the ergo and try to get him to sleep. Please. Sleep. I fail. The cranky woman is psyching me out. I bail.
Sparrow sleeps on the peak hour train and then on the walk home. By the time I open the front door it has been a five hour round trip and I feel defeated. What I know is that I tried. And what I want to say is this: mothers, take your babies. Stretch these adult spaces. Require them to open up for you. And if you, out there, see one of us with a pram or a sling and a small squawking thing, trying to do something more, trying to make the world a bigger place, at the very least, hide your disapproval.
This is my last MWF post. Last week I watched Monkey reach a bubbler in the park in our street that he’s never been able to reach before. He pushed himself onto tip toes and pressed the button until a small trickle emerged. He had to poke his tongue out to get any water, but he did it without needing to be picked up. I feel like I had to do something similar to get to this festival. I had to push and stretch and do something that I didn’t think I’d be able to, and I’m glad that I did. Tired, but glad. Thank you for reading.
- MWF here I come (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)
- Don’t feed the artists (but give me lemon tart) (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)
- The Glue of Good Fiction (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)
- Festival, not freakout (and the glacial PhD) (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)
- The morning read (and a Weetbix smear) (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)
- In conversation: William Powers (and a lightening fast breastfeed) (karinaquinn.wordpress.com)