Sons and Daughters

So many people asked me when I was expecting Li’l Fatty whether I was hoping for a girl.
When he came along, it didn’t feel like I’d disappointed people but like they thought I must be disappointed.
I suspected I was having a boy for most of my pregnancy – I won’t claim psychic ability, just a li’l pair of Maltesers floating in the middle of our 20 week scan.
When I saw it, I wasn’t disappointed at all.
I knew I adored my little Master Seven.
And boys just seemed so uncomplicated.
I’d heard many a friend wail about the increasing sassiness of her daughter.
“She just rolls her eyes at me now,” one would say of her five-year-old. “Such attitude.”
Or: “She refuses to cuddle me or say she loves me. Her brother is the complete opposite, such a mummy’s boy.”
Then there were the school mums.
“I’ve had to ask the principal to put Stella and Monica in separate classes next year,” one mum said of her daughter and her daughter’s best friend.
“They just fight all the time now. It’s affecting her sleep.”
These girls are in prep.
Master Seven and his mates are too busy playing footy to fight.
If they do, it’s over sooner than you can say ‘kick it to me’.
As for the attitude: Master Seven often stops me in my tracks to tell me how beautiful I am.
He loves me loudly, cuddles me constantly and still doesn’t understand why he can’t marry me.
He doesn’t seem to have discovered the opposite sex (unless you count Princess Peach).
And he won’t grow up dressing like Miley Cyrus (no longer a good thing) or starving himself down to Taylor Swift-size.
And sure, I’ll worry about both my teenage boys having sex, using Facebook and getting into friends’ cars but, I suspect, not as much as I’d worry about my teenage daughter.
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to knock girls.
I am a girl.
That’s how I know what complicated creatures we can be.
And raising one in the 21st century just seems challenging compared to boys.
But, in fairness to daughters worldwide, let’s balance this.
There’s an old saying: “A son is your son until he takes a wife. A daughter will stay yours for the rest of your life.”
And let’s face it mums-of-sons, we know it’s true.
Once your son accepts the fact he can’t marry mummy and finds solace in the bosom of an unrelated woman his own age, he’ll be quickly swallowed into her family.
In fact, if he finds room for anything or anyone else, it’ll be for a round of golf with his dad.
Your daughter, on the other hand, will find getting married is when she needs her mother most.
And it won’t end after the nuptials, because she’ll be having a baby soon enough and you’ll become her most valuable tool.
Forget secret diaries, nasty fob-you-off text messages and the all-too-familiar rolling of the eyes.
That was your teenage daughter.
Your adult daughter is a different story.
You’ll go from wanting to know anything about her life to knowing absolutely everything.
This new mummy will need her mummy.
Finally.
And forever.
Am I disappointed I have two boys?
Not at all.
Would I be disappointed if I had a girl?
No way.
Because by the time my boys jump ship, she’ll be almost ready to step up as first mate.

The naked truth

“You didn’t make Li’l Fatty, Mummy did,” Master Seven declared to Learner Dad as they played Yahtzee in the lounge room.
“I beg your pardon? I helped make him,” Learner Dad protested.
I stopped stacking the dishwasher and listened.
This was going to be hilarious.
Any second now Master Seven would ask Learner Dad exactly how he had ‘helped make’ Li’l Fatty.
But he didn’t, only going on to say: “No you didn’t. Mummy has eggs inside her and one of them hatched into her tummy and that was Li’l Fatty. Same way I was made.”
Now I have never lied to Master Seven about where he came from.
He’s just never asked.
So this theory that I basically functioned like a chook, he’d either deduced himself or had been told by someone else.
The conversation was promptly dropped, much to my mix of relief and disappointment.
“So, what would you have told him?” I asked Learner Dad later that night.
“The truth,” he answered.
I looked at him, agape.
“What? The whole penis vagina story?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, though he now looked far less sure of himself. “We have to tell them how babies are made some time, don’t we?”
“Surely not when they’re seven!” I said.
“Well, they have sex ed at school really young now, don’t they?” Learner Dad asked.
“He’s only grade two. They just teach them body awareness-type stuff at that age,” I replied.
I thought about it.
I’d had this conversation with my mother.
She said Master Seven had once asked her where Li’l Fatty had come from, to which she’d replied: “your mum and dad made him with a whole lot of love”.
But how long is a kid of this generation going to be satisfied with that?
When do we give them the right answers?
“Won’t he start looking at everything differently when we tell him the truth?” I asked Learner Dad.
Girls, his body – it would all take on new meaning.
It had been a big enough deal when he’d come home from prep to inform me he no longer had a ‘willy’, it was a ‘penis’.
(It’s since become a ‘doodle’ but that’s beside the point.)
For now we’ve been granted a reprieve.
But when the questions are asked again, and they will be, should I point Master Seven in Learner Dad’s direction to be told what will no doubt come across a horror story to an innocent little boy?
Or should I feed him the soft version: ‘special cuddles between mummies and daddies who love each other very much’?
Maybe I’ll just stick with his chicken theory.
And hope I’m not about to get clucky.

Maid to choose

At first, I didn’t plan to have bridesmaids.
I suggested to Learner Dad we simply employ our two children as attendants.
Master Seven could stand up one end with him, and Li’l Fatty could accompany Poppy Pete and I down the aisle.
Master Seven and Li’l Fatty probably wouldn’t throw the wildest Hen’s do.
But I liked the simplicity of this.
I also liked the idea of not having to choose bridesmaids.
Learner Dad often teases me about the number of close girlfriends I have.
They’re scattered around the world – London, New Zealand, America.
Around Australia too – Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne.
They even stretch to both ends of Tasmania (hey Brig!)
If I could afford 12 bouquets, 12 sets of shoes and jewellery, and a whole fleet of wedding cars, I would gladly ask a dozen of them to line up beside me.
That and if Learner Dad had that many friends himself!
In picking my bridesmaids, I quickly narrowed it down to eight… to six… to four… before moving quickly back up to six again… and then finally settling on four…
They are four of my closest gal pals – school friends, flatmates, work colleagues, girls I’d done bridesmaid duty for myself and girls I kept in close contact with.
I knew I’d picked the right team.
But I was still worried.
What about the once close friends I’d lost contact with?
Or those I’d recently reconnected with?
There were also newer friends I suspected I would only become closer to as life went on.
When I confided my concerns to Learner Dad, he frowned, suggesting that being my bridesmaid probably wasn’t anyone’s main goal in life.
And I quickly realised he was right.
Many of my friends, mid-30s and already no stranger to the pastel chiffon, would be glad they’d avoided another run as bridesmaid.
They’d be relieved to not have to worry about speeches, uncomfortable shoes and dancing with strange, often shorter, men.
So, on that note, to the four who got stuck with the role and all that comes with it, my beautiful brunette bridesmaids, let the fun begin.
As for me, it’s time now to turn my selection criteria elsewhere – the guest list.

Learner Dad’s match fixing

I looked at the calendar on the wall.
Saturday February 16, ‘Learner Dad busy’, it read.
Underneath were the words ‘West Coast play’.
‘Poor bugger,’ I thought. ‘He’ll hate having something on the same night his Eagles kick off their season.’
“What you got on Saturday the 16th?” I asked, walking back into the kitchen.
“West Coast are back. Night game,” he answered quickly.
I paused.
“So you’re busy because…”
“Because they’re back. Night game,” he said again.
“So you’ve made yourself unavailable that night?” I asked.
“Yes, why? Have you got something on?”
“No.”
“Good.”
“So you’re going to write yourself up as ‘unavailable’ for at least one Friday or Saturday night every week from now on then?” I pursued.
“Well, no. They play afternoons sometimes too,” he said, standing his ground.
I was confused.
He hadn’t done this on last year’s calendar.
Now honestly, I’m a fairly good girlfriend.
He watches footy at home. He watches it at his dad’s. Sometimes he even watches it at the MCG.
I know how things work.
The more free time I give him, the more he gives me in return.
We scratch each other’s backs and it works.
“But what if we had something on that night?” I asked.
“Like what?” he said. “Do we have something on?”
“No, but what if we did? Now I feel like I couldn’t possibly ask you. You’ve made this your priority above all else.”
“Well, it kind of is,” he said warily.
“But what if we had something to go to that was important to me? Have you really made yourself completely unavailable?”
“It depends. How important?”
“Important’s important. Do we really need to establish a scale?”
He looked confused.
I felt confused.
This was the guy who’d always seemed ready to drop everything at the slightest hint I might need anything, no matter how trivial.
A few days later, struggling to find a babysitter for a Valentine’s Day dinner, I suggested we go out the following night instead.
“Can’t. Collingwood’s playing. You’ll want to watch them,” he said, referring to the team I supported.
“Nah, it’s ok,” I replied honestly. “I don’t care about NAB Cup.”
“I do,” he said, staring me down.
So a pre-season game that didn’t involve his team came before a rare romantic night out?
Ok, now I definitely felt misled.
Learner Dad had hidden this from me.
He hadn’t warned me prior to our getting engaged that footy came first, above all else.
But then, this was also the guy who’d assured me he loved doing two hour foot rubs while watching America’s Next Top Model, only to admit a year after living together that actually, he didn’t.
That’s ok.
Engaged isn’t married.
I still have time.
I’ll just test him once more.
I’ll schedule something with some level of importance for next month, say Saturday March the 23rd at 4.40pm.
So Learner Dad, honey, are you available?

The care factor

“You mean she sends her kids to crèche even though she’s going to be at home all day?” a relative asked me recently.
I’d been talking about one of my friends, who was sending her toddler off to childcare a couple of days a week, even though she was at home with the baby.
Now I could have been talking about one of a dozen of my friends.
Because this is just the done thing.
Kids go to childcare even though they have a parent at home.
Is it right or wrong?
Well, for a start, is it really anyone else’s business?
I guess by putting it out there I’ve made it so, so let’s look at it.
Parents who send their kids to crèche all day every day while they go shopping or try to win big on the pokies?
That’s easy: wrong.
Mums who send their kids because they are tired and stressed with the new baby and simply can’t cope?
“Not in my day,” according to my relative. “If you’re going to be at home, why wouldn’t you look after your own child?”
But was there even a choice in her day?
How about parents who send their child to care because they feel he or she is becoming isolated and bored at home?
Many parents these days seem to enrol their kids in childcare because it has become less about babysitting and more about socialising and educating their children.
While, in the past, it might have been seen as a disadvantage for your little one to have to attend childcare, today many are seen as disadvantaged for NOT going.
Master Seven went to childcare for at least half a day a week from six-months-old.
It wasn’t a difficult decision – I really had no choice.
I’d been working as a freelance journalist and, when he was newborn, would either strap him to my chest or cart him in the capsule to each interview.
But, as time went on, the cute grins and sweet noises he’d charm the subjects with turned into screams and grunts to be put down so he could explore.
So, at six months old, off he went to care, for half a day a week.
I remember one Friday afternoon having all my work done within the first hour and deciding to use the rest of my free time seeing a movie.
I mentioned this to his carer when I went to pick him up and saw a dark cloud cross her eyes.
Was it the wrong thing to do?
He was only a baby after all.
As time went on, my little Master went more and more, varying from one to five days a week, depending on how much work I was getting at the time.
I wasn’t keen on enrolling him full-time and was lucky in my profession that I never had to.
Four centres and four years later, he graduated a well-adjusted, outgoing boy.
Was his behaviour influenced by childcare?
Undoubtedly.
He’d made little friends, tried new foods and picked up important social skills like sharing and packing up.
Because Master Seven started school well before Li’l Fatty came along, I haven’t had to worry about having time alone with the baby.
I’ve got it, six hours a day, five days a week, guilt-free and free of charge.
But would I have sent Master Seven to childcare if he’d actually been a toddler rather than a big kid when Li’l Fatty came along?
It’s hard to say.
On the one hand, I have the easiest baby ever (how else would I be able to write this blog?) so I’m not really sure I’d need to.
But, on the other, those few hours after school when I’m home with both boys… well, let’s just say I listen very intently for the sound of Learner Dad’s car in the driveway.
Will Li’l Fatty go to childcare?
With the end of maternity leave looming, it’s probably time for us to get his name on a waiting list.
There are two nannas with hands up to help out and Learner Dad has weekdays off, so it may not be necessary.
But then, if another Li’l Fatty were to come along, maybe we wouldn’t give it a second thought.

Here comes the bride(zilla)

“Who wants to say something? Anyone?”
It was open mike at a wedding reception.
I didn’t know the bride or groom but joked to Learner Dad about going up to make a little speech.
“Yes I can see it now,” he said sarcastically, mimicking: “Hi, my name is Alison. It’s 343 days until my wedding…”
I looked at him.
And realised he was right.
I’d chatted about our wedding non-stop all night.
Actually that’s not true.
I’d been chatting about our wedding non-stop for weeks!
But never more than at this wedding.
“The food is fantastic. Maybe we should have considered this place, although I’m not sure I want cocktail style. What do you think about the cash bar? Surely it’ll run out soon. Do you like their registry idea? What about the song they played as she came in? I love the bridesmaid’s dresses. What do you think? Look at the bridesmaids honey. Look at them.”
Forced to perve on the bridesmaids, Learner Dad clearly thought I was going nuts.
Weeks later, I’d got worse.
At this wedding, I didn’t even save my questions for the reception, grilling Learner Dad during the ceremony: “Do you think our celebrant will say that stuff?” “Should we kiss like that?” “Will you cry too?”
It had started out slowly, our own wedding planning I mean.
We picked a venue for the ceremony and a venue for the reception and locked them in.
We started visiting photographers and we booked a celebrant.
I surprised myself by finding ‘The Dress’ at one of the first bridal shops I visited.
All was cool, easy, hunky dory… man.
Then the one year countdown began.
A full year never looked so short.
Table settings, candles, flowers, food, drink, invites, cars, suits, gifts, veils and shoes began swirling around in my mind, accompanied by an array of potential songs and against a backdrop of potential colours.
I began reading and re-reading my wedding planning book, adding things I’d already added and crossing them out again.
I could see this was going to be a consuming year.
Now, with fewer than 300 days to go, the momentum continues to build.
I can see myself mumbling vows in my sleep, designing cakes with my dinner, and googling table decorations while trying to blog.
All for another 292 days.
Forget the year of the snake.
Forget the federal election.
Forget the bloody Duchess’ baby.
2013, my friends, is the year of my wedding.
(Sorry, our wedding).
Anne Hathaway’s run as Fantine will pale in comparison to mine as Bridezilla.
I just hope, if Learner Dad does cry on the day, that they’re not merely tears of relief.

Feeling like a morning after dill

I almost got up to the counter and then bailed.
I’d seen someone I knew getting served.
‘Bugger it,’ I thought and walked up the street to another chemist.
Why was I feeling like this?
I was virtually a married woman, taking responsibility for something that had, in the end, been out of my control.
‘Stuff this,’ I thought.
I marched into the pharmacy, walked up to the counter and slammed my hand (the one displaying my engagement ring) on the counter.
“Can I help you?” asked an assistant.
“Er, I’d like the…” I hesitated as an elderly man moved up beside me.
I inched closer to the counter.
“Can I please have the morning after pill?” I whispered, bravado gone.
“Certainly, just fill out this emergency contraception form,” the assistant replied in full voice, before yelling behind her to the pharmacist: “Morning after pill please Rod!”
I shuffled to the end of the counter, red-faced.
At least filling out a form was less embarrassing than the questions the chemist asked me last time I had to do this: “So when was intercourse?” “And did you use any contraception?” “And what happened to the condom?”
Despite being in the early stages of a relationship with Learner Dad back then, I didn’t have the rock on my finger and so found myself referring to ‘my partner’ in every answer (honestly, he was barely my boyfriend!)
Although it was none of his business, I didn’t want the pharmacist to think I was the irresponsible girl dropping in to the chemist on her ‘walk of shame’ home.
But make no mistake, I’ve been her before.
That time I’d simply written ‘MORNING AFTER PILL’ on a piece of paper and nonchalantly handed it over as though it were a prescription, much to the amusement of the pharmacist on duty.
Despite that incident, I’m really not careless about contraception.
But pills do get forgotten, condoms break and not all IUD’s cooperate (just read about that here).
And I know I’m not the only woman my age occasionally making the cringeworthy contraceptive cruise to the chemist.
One of my friends used to tell her partner the morning after pill cost twice the amount it really did when he went to give her money for it.
She wanted compensation for having to make the trip in the first place.
Another friend I once accompanied to the chemist, to discover she’d concocted a novel request method that avoided any embarrassment.
“I’d like an ECP please,” she’d said at the counter, looking around at the other customers defiantly.
“Sure,” the sales assistant had said, smiling knowingly, before going behind the counter to whisper ‘Emergency Contraceptive Pill’ to the pharmacist.
But you know what, why should there be a stigma?
How can such a responsible action leave you feeling so irresponsible?
If my friend had said ‘morning after pill’ that day, I’d have admired her being so sensible.
The sales assistant would have sent the request back to the pharmacist then moved on with her own life.
The young male customer to her right would have wondered what on earth she was talking about.
And the elderly woman to our left probably wouldn’t have heard a word.
As for the pharmacist?
He would have prepared it for her.
Just as he had for dozens of other women already that morning.