Before our children time is marked by hours, by events, by the general busyness of our lives. After our children, time is elastic. Then too they tether us to our physicality. We are the air they breathe, the body they cleave to, and our smiles the warmth they lean into. Author Sarah Manguso evokes this special but disorienting time of parenthood in her lyrical book Ongoingness: The End of a Diary.
I used to coexist against the continuity of time. The I became the abc’s continuity, a background of ongoing. Time for him to live against. Was the warmth and milk that was always there for him, the agent of comfort that was always there for him.
My body, my life, became the landscape of my son’s life. I am no longer merely a thing living in the world; I am a world.”
Our babies allow us to cut back and touch base with our lost pre-verbal selves. They take us back to a time when, if we were lucky, our needs were wordlessly met, when we explored the world with only our bodies and hearts. When we are in the thick of this throw-back it can be overwhelming. Manguso senses that she was whole before her writerly self emerged, but her baby brings this knowledge forth in a powerful way.
“I believed I was trying to remind myself of how it had felt to be wordless, completely of the physical world — that even before my body was an instrument for language it had been an instrument for memory.”
Ongoingness is for all you moms out there holding your babies in the night, sitting on living room floors on long afternoons, and brewing coffee to keep going. These mundane moments are the beating heart of the oldest story.
Or as Manguso writes,
“Let me put it another way: when I am with my son I feel the bracing speed of the one-way journey that guides human experience.”