Dear Oxford, I am sometimes afraid of you

I wish I could Venn-diagram my Oxford, place its attributes into circles of “like”, “dislike”, and “both”. But my feelings are so conflicted, so kaleidoscopic, caffeinated and extreme that no easy edge will cradle them.

I’m sitting, like so many Sundays, with my arms digging into a café table. My cheeks are still sticky from earlier, when I cried my way home and asked my equally exhausted partner to take our daughter so I could work for yet another deadline.

So often, I place my life on the lines of a tutor’s expression, live from essay to essay, stake my sense of self on a scrawled comment. Yes, it’s unhealthy, but where, in days which consume my wakefulness to make their eight airtight weeks am I to find the resilience with which to bounce back? We’ve all got a well of strength, but how far into dredging up its bricks and handing over the last shards of myself is someone going to say ‘enough’?

My tutor told me, empathetically, that Oxford terms don’t suit having kids. She’s right. I don’t think Oxford terms suit anyone. The pace and intensity might be briefly exciting, the busyness one bears, sword-like, but when you lean over your child’s cot, cringing at each cough, praying she’s well enough for nursery because your skimpy deadline just can’t take another bite, you start to wonder why. Why it’s necessary to slice time into such unmanageable proportions. Why, though your tutors are sympathetic, you’re inevitably punished for your parenthood by a system which churns out work regardless of nursery closures, regardless of your weekend-less weeks. Although support is available, it inevitably deals in moulding your situation to a structure you want to pull up at the roots, expand into a room for all your reality.

I have many Oxfords.

BAM, I am mother, I drag toys up off the floor, tumble books away whose titles taunt me, slop milk over the tops of bottles, kick objects out from under me and I am student, BAM, I scrape minutes off the day, attend to myself along the way, have too much coffee, too much of me, assemble my person against a clock which consumes me and BAM, I am mother once more, I am kissing my daughter’s hair as she fists me in the face, and I have to say, no, no, no, don’t hit, when all I want to say is, gosh, aren’t you lovely, your impish giggle, your sweet smile, I want to inhale you, keep you by me for all time, but you’re not small enough for that, and neither am I.

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