Something about my mini-epiphany made me feel productive. That afternoon, I rang one of my editors—the one who’d been the least shirty with me a few months earlier, when I’d said I wouldn’t be available for a while, and no it wasn’t anything I needed to talk about—and told her I’d like to do a piece on maternity ‘fashion’. In spite of my wreathing the word in onion-sharp layers of sarcasm, I could hear the sceptical tone of her voice when she gave me a tentative okay; my solution was to write a piece that was even more scathing than I’d originally planned, and it went down so well, I spent the next 3 weeks writing follow-ups. I wound up being the magazine’s weekly columnist for a month, writing about my experiences as a ‘birthing partner’ to ‘a close friend’ and taking the piss out of most of the aspects of pregnancy, labour, and especially, maternity wear (all women’s magazines, if not primarily about fashion, have plenty of room for the subject). If anyone suspected that I’d actually had a child myself, they knew better than to say it to me; the way I mocked, among other apparel, the classic smock-top and under-bump jeans combo, it would’ve taken some kind of balls to suggest, to my face, that I’d ever worn either of those items of clothing.
Which was terribly unfair, actually. I had 2 pairs of under-the-bump jeans and half a dozen smock tops still sitting in my closet, and I was still wearing the jersey-soft, wraparound maternity dresses (on days when I could even be bothered to change out of the nightgowns). Fashion, though—especially women’s fashion—is mostly hypocrisy and ridiculous expectations. The highlight of the month was when I suggested that, if you really MUST wear actual maternity clothes, the least you can do is buy the nicer stuff, and wear your outfits with a pair of kitten heels. Ah, it’s enough to make you chortle, the crap that women will believe… to date, that series of articles is the most popular I’ve ever penned, and it secured my return to the fickle world of light journalism without anyone really hassling me for taking a lengthy, secretive break.
I just want to make the point; I wasn’t worried about returning to work. I work largely from home (aside from rare occasions when I storm into an office wearing, usually, a blazingly-bright suit with as short a skirt as I can get away with) so there were no post-baby-return-to-the-office jitters; and the idea that no one would be willing to publish me was laughable. I have a first, from an excellent university, and I’ve been writing professionally (as in, getting paid, though not living off my efforts) since my first year at said university. And 6 months isn’t that long a break… which was all I’d actually been away, in total. I’d obviously been on holiday when I’d conceived Rilla, and if I spent most of the last week of my holiday crying on the couch and watching black and white movies, it hadn’t stopped me from jotting down several ideas for articles which were written, sent off, and joyfully received by a couple of my editors, by the time I started taking work-related calls again.
And before you ask how I get holiday pay, if I’m freelance—I don’t. Nevertheless, I go on holiday 3 or 4 (or 5) times a year, leaving my phone on voicemail and sometimes forgetting to notify editors and such that I’m going away, and no one cares. I work on my own terms, I’ve been freelance almost as long as I’ve been a graduate, and after all, my nan left me a 3-bedroom house in Dublin. I’ve owned my own home since before I got my degree. Even if I HAD pissed off all my editors that much, it’s not like I’d have been destitute; I’d have just gone to Dublin, not accepted any tourists for a few months, and lived in Nan’s old house, until I figured out what my degree would be useful for, and got myself a job in PR or something.
Well not PR, obviously. Not with my attitude. But you get the point. I had no pressing need to go back to work straight away—it was a matter of principle (insofar as I have any). Of making sure I hadn’t lost my incisive, bitchy touch (the way women always do, in books, when they have babies). Of getting my own way (no parentheses-based explanation needed for that statement) and continuing to make money, because while I didn’t urgently need it, well, more money never hurts, does it?
While I was masterfully orchestrating my comeback, I was also planning Rilla’s… christening? Richard was helping, by which I mean, doing all the actual work; and because of his attention to detail and knack for organization, we were ready to go in what seemed an unbelievably short space of time. All I had to do was buy a dress for myself—as he had the last time I attended a ‘nice’ formal affair, Rich came with me, and helped me select a dress that was something like appropriate—and a smaller one, for Rilla, which was much easier because they don’t make slutty clothes for 0-3-month-olds, and anything with ribbons and lace and things was probably suitable. Then, as long as we showed up on time, we were grand.
At Richard’s request, we were doing this in the village where his parents lived, which had 2 handy outcomes: the first, we’d be sleeping over at the elder Ashbrookes’ the night before, which would help to ensure we were there on time; and the second, we’d be going back to Rich’s parents’ afterwards, because his mum was putting on ‘a little spread’ which is old-lady-speak for ‘veritable feast of finger food, some naff-looking, all tasty’ and so I didn’t even have to bother about refreshments.
Not that I would’ve made much effort anyway. I’d have passed around take-away menus and opened half a dozen bottles of wine, and left people to get as drunk as they liked, while keeping myself to under 2 glasses, and waiting resentfully for the day Rilla started eating baby food. But, however, no need for that—Mummy and Daddy Ashbrooke would feed everyone, and they’d never let a large group of people get drunk in their house, and I wouldn’t have to be jealous of all the delightful squiffiness around me.
And so, we were all set. After only a few weeks of planning, we had Rilla’s christening, for lack of a better word, in Richard’s village, with me, Rich, Rich’s parents, Da, and the little guest of honour, Rilla herself. There was a quiet, brief ceremony in a very nice register office with royal blue carpet and shockingly white walls, and a blonde lady registrar read a few lines of Auden’s ‘Lullabye’ (Rich had chosen it, and if we’d had the service even a month earlier, I’d have cried… again…) and, all in all, it was a moving and ceremonious occasion.
I’d spoken to a solicitor, as well, to ensure that the ceremony wasn’t just for show. If I died—I know you’re meant to use silly euphemisms here, but really, for what purpose?—if I died, and Rilla was still young enough to need looking after, and my wishes were taken into account, she would live with Richard. And she already had a trust fund, and as trustee of it, Richard would be entitled to move into our flat in the city, and Rilla wouldn’t have to change schools or move house or do any of the other life-changing things that sometimes go along with losing a parent.
I know I don’t seem like the planning-ahead-organizational-guru type—probably, that’s because I’m not. But when my mother died, I was 15; and my da, in his infinite wisdom, sent me to spend the summer with my nan, almost as soon as my mother was in the ground. With his typical flair for the dramatic, he got a little tipsy at her wake, and made some grandiloquent statement about me being better off not breathing ‘the reek of death’ in the house.
The house didn’t smell of death. It smelled of my mother… a combination of foreign cigarettes and overly-floral perfume, with a faint hint of pure oxygen underneath, but even so. I missed it. As I missed both of my parents, every single day of that long, dull summer.
If something happens to me, Rilla can stay in her own house, with both my own smell, and also the man she sees most often and is most inclined to view as a father figure. She will certainly not be shipped off to Ireland, on the basis of some dim-witted idea that the house ‘smells like death’ or that ‘horses are comforting’ or any other stupid bullshit that men tell themselves because they can’t handle it when their tiny world implodes.
Rich’ll do better than that, if the time comes. He’s been looking after me since we met at a drunken New Year’s Eve party, years ago (which isn’t a story I particularly need to get into now; but I’m still not sure how I got SO drunk I couldn’t handle that arrogant little shit that kept pawing at me). The point is, I know he’ll do as good a job looking after my daughter, as he’s done looking after me.
Of course, I suppose that’s exactly the reason I don’t want my da looking after Rilla.