We’ve all heard it before.
“When I was your age I had three grown up children, a decades old marriage, the one job, and I’d only ever lived in two houses.”
It’s the line the generation before us trots out at every opportunity.
In my mum’s case, at my age she had a teenage daughter, two sons, aged 11 and 8, a 15-year marriage, still going strong, and a hairdressing career spanning almost two decades.
I’m a 35-year-old mother of two, one under a year old, unmarried, career on hold, and still undecided on whether I’ll have another baby.
Just the thought of it is a little tiring.
Mum had me, her first baby, at 22, right after her second wedding anniversary.
At 22, I was just breaking up with the first of many boyfriends.
I was about to invest in my first property and I’d moved into the first of half a dozen rentals.
I was saving like mad to head overseas to one of the dozens of countries I ended up visiting.
And I’d only just finished studying to enter the real world of work.
Women these days have a lot more opportunities.
We study, we live and party with friends and flatmates, we travel, we become young professionals, we fall in love several times, we have sex with more than one person, and we draw on a lot of life experience by the time we have children.
I’m happy with the life I’ve been able to lead.
But sometimes I wonder if we’re really the lucky ones.
By the time my mum turned 40, her eldest (me) had become an adult.
By the time I turn 40, I could be still changing nappies.
By 50, all Mum’s kids had moved out, leaving her free to focus on her career, travel, marriage or social life.
(She chose the latter by the way.)
By the time I’m 50, Li’l Fatty will be an unemployed, alcohol-testing teen who still needs to be driven around and hides in his room with computers and/or teenage girls.
While Mum turned her empty nest into a mixture of craft, computer or guest rooms, our house will be littered with smelly socks and pasted with posters for years to come.
As for study?
Where would we find the time?
Where would we find the money?
Ok, we still have to work…
If a woman of my generation was contemplating having children in her early twenties, she’d be told she should ‘live a little’ first.
Heck, even the ones that get married young these days wait a decade to have children.
But I believe there’s something to be said for what our mothers did.
Having kids young and living a little LATER.
You’re likely to be a fit and active mum and a reasonably youthful grandmother.
There’s a greater possibility you’ll one day meet your great-grandchildren.
And surely there’s something to be said for joining a silver haired tea-and-scone tour of Europe in retirement rather than a Contiki drinkathon in your twenties?
Or is that just my age showing?
Maybe it’s all simply a case of the grass looking greener on the other side.
And I must say it does.
Because, with all the kids gone, my mum actually has the time to get out there and water it.
He stood there nervously, moving from one foot to the next as he waited.
He smiled and joked with the people around him until, suddenly, everything went quiet.
She was here.
As she walked down the long aisle towards him, his eyes filled with tears.
People began nudging each other, whispering, crying themselves.
They were crying inside the cathedral and outside the cathedral.
And in loungerooms around the world.
I am of course talking about the wedding of Prince Frederik to our formerly-known-as-and-now-princess Mary Donaldson.
It was the day tears became mandatory for grooms – across Australia and Denmark at least.
There was never a more romantic moment, one brides across the globe wanted their spouses to emulate the moment they appeared, in their own mists of lace and flowers.
A long-time reporter of the royal affair, I went into my own friend’s lounge to watch the wedding a bit of a cynic.
‘Once a playboy, always a playboy,’ I’d thought of the dashing prince.
But the moment his eyes welled up for Our Mary, well I fell a bit in love with him too.
I mean, this was better than Cinderella.
Never mind that Prince Frederik may have actually been sadly weeping his playboy ways goodbye, his tears became the benchmark.
Learner Dad realised this himself at a wedding we attended recently.
“Look, he’s crying,” guests started whispering as the bride began her journey towards the groom.
The whispers made their way to Learner Dad, who turned to look at the groom himself.
Along with just about everyone else.
Emotional groom was stealing bride’s thunder.
It didn’t seem to matter though, as they were both in a world that included only each other.
“Wow, what if I don’t feel the need to cry? Is that bad?” Learner Dad asked me afterward. “Did you hear everyone whispering about it?”
“Oh I reckon you will,” I answered, thinking of his full emotional breakdown on our loungeroom floor the night he proposed.
I prayed it didn’t go that far this time.
“Would you care if I didn’t?” he said.
I thought about it and you know what?
Despite my gushing about Prince Frederik’s royal salty tears, that was all before I’d met my own prince.
If Learner Dad simply beamed happily at me during my long walk to becoming his wife, I’d be just as touched.
Besides, with Li’l Fatty in his size two tux, four insanely spunky bridesmaids, and my dad, who’ll no doubt be tearing up himself having waited 36 years to walk me down the aisle… I’m not sure either of us will be the centre of attention for too long.
I walked into the kitchen.
The bench was littered with the remnants of dinner.
Li’l Fatty’s high chair was covered in globs of sweet mashed potato.
Master Seven’s school uniform was a crumpled mess nearby in the loungeroom.
Downstairs the bathroom floor was a chaotic mixture of used nappies and wet towels.
Among the chaos were my three men.
The littlest was perched on the lap of the biggest, arching his back and crying.
The middle one was doing a naked crab dance on the floor, mouth wide open and eyes bulging indicating a state of complete hyperactivity.
“You’re going to struggle next week,” I said to Learner Dad, referring to his upcoming first days of solo parenting.
“What do you mean?” he answered defensively. “They’ve had dinner, had their baths.”
I looked around and sighed.
I go back to work tomorrow.
And Learner Dad becomes house husband, for the two days a week I’m not home.
Make no mistake, he’s had plenty of time alone with his boys.
But the fact I’m the milk supplier has always guaranteed a time limit, a deadline for mummy to come home lest her boobs explode.
On this occasion I’d actually half cooked dinner and run the bath before I left for a one hour jog.
Usually, if I haven’t done this, I’ve at least left instructions – when to feed, what to feed, when to bath, who to bath etc.
So although not physically there, my presence is always felt.
“You’re on your own when I go back,” I said to Learner Dad.
Although it sounded menacing, I actually meant it in a nice way.
I wasn’t going to set out a structure for his time with the boys – he needed to establish his own routine, his own rules.
I knew that by lunchtime he’d be laughing at the simplicity of the job.
Master Seven at school, Li’l Fatty asleep all morning – plenty of time to sit back and relax and enjoy the perks of being an at-home dad.
But then Li’l Fatty would wake up.
He’d be hungry.
Then he’d poo.
As soon as he had a fresh nappy.
Then he’d do it again.
Only this time he’d put his hand in it.
Then it’d be time to hit the shops – because if you haven’t run out of toilet paper, you’ve run out of washing powder.
Then it’s time to pick up Master Seven, who’s always last to leave the classroom, even though you’re the only parent carrying an extremely heavy baby who’s trying to hurl himself out of your arms so he can crawl among the stampede of departing students.
Then, if there’s no after school activity planned, it’s home time.
Li’l Fatty smells again.
Is hungry again.
Fights sleep vigorously by standing up in the cot and screaming.
Poos just as he’s about to go to sleep.
Master Seven starts his hour on the Wii.
Time to start preparing dinner.
Fifteen minutes after he finally passes out, Li’l Fatty’s awake.
Crawling around your legs as you balance pots of boiling water, and eating any bits of raw onion you drop on the floor.
Master Seven’s hour is up.
He starts crying.
The six-year-old neighbour comes over.
He’s always hungry.
You send him home when the wrestling actually turns violent.
You shovel dinner into Li’l Fatty while Master Seven shovels most of his on to the floor.
Then it’s bath time.
“Can I hop in with Li’l Fatty?”
Sure, why not?
After twenty squealing-infused minutes of Li’l Fatty either pulling out the plug or pulling on his penis while Master Seven covers his baby brother’s face in bubbles, bath time’s over.
Then it’s dressing one (who poos the moment his clean and powdered bum is freshly nappied) while urging the other to dress himself (when all he wants to do is jump around giggling and parting his crack at you).
At about this time, Mummy will walk in the door.
Like a magnet, Li’l Fatty will be drawn to her breast.
Then Master Seven will insist Mummy read with him tonight.
And then, while Learner Dad scurries about cleaning up the mess in the bathroom and kitchen, Mummy will have to sit and quietly eat dinner alone, with only a magazine or the television for company…
Bring. It. On.
If Master Seven had come to me first to ask what happens after we die, I might have said: “I don’t know.”
So I was glad when I heard he’d gone to his Nanna and been given the story about Heaven.
While reassuring, it didn’t completely satisfy him, instead opening up a whole lot more questions: ‘Do we all go to the same Heaven?’ ‘What will we do there?’ ‘How old will we look?’ ‘Is it made of chocolate?’
Learner Dad doesn’t believe in Heaven.
He says that when we die, that’s it – hope you had a nice life.
No body, no soul.
But when I asked him what he’d tell Li’l Fatty, he answered straight away: “I’ll tell him he’ll go to Heaven.”
It made me wonder whether that was the right thing to do.
I wasn’t sure whether we should impose our own beliefs, let alone our non-beliefs, on our children.
There was a time in my childhood when I was obsessed with death.
I hadn’t really known anyone who’d died so there was no real reason for it.
But I’d lie in bed at night thinking about it.
My body would literally go cold as I considered the possibility there was nothing after it.
That I’d simply cease to exist.
My mother took my brothers and I to church a few times, not because she was religious, but just to show us it was there.
And for a time after that I went of my own accord.
Because, terrified of death, I needed something.
I’d sit and look at the little red light above the altar, the light that meant God was there, in house.
I’d stare at it, taking comfort from it, willing it to not go out.
I didn’t realise it was symbolic, a light that was always on because, according to the church, God was always with us.
I took it literally, as in: ‘Oh good, he’s here, God’s chosen this church today’.
Eventually I became a teenager and cynicism took over.
I stopped going.
I stopped believing.
Unlike Learner Dad, I don’t believe there’s nothing after death.
But unlike Master Seven, I don’t necessarily believe there’s a place called Heaven.
I’m still not sure what I’ll say to either of my boys if they persist with questions on what happens when we die.
‘I don’t know’ has been my answer to all Master Seven’s questions about Heaven.
But we’ve compiled a list of improvements we’d like to make when we get there, should it fail to live up to our expectations.
“Mum, why have you got string hanging between your legs?”
Okay so any male readers I had just shut this post down as quick as you can say: ‘Oh my god, fetch me my toolkit and turn on the footy’.
Probably half my female readers did too because, let’s face it, we know I’m approaching icky territory.
For those of you still here, wondering how the hell I answered this question, read on.
“Well, mummies sometimes have to… we use things called tamp…”
I tried a different tack: “You see, every month mummies… we get things called…”
I gave up: “Can you please get out and give mummy some privacy?”
I remember a friend saying to me, when Master Seven was a toddler, how appalled she was another friend still occasionally showered with her seven-year-old son.
I didn’t see the big deal.
Sure, he might take up a little more room, but seven is still little, innocent.
Back then, I loved having showers and baths with my little man and hated the thought of it ending.
It did end.
A long time ago.
And the nudity would end soon too.
‘Why do girls have hair there?’
‘Mum, you’ve got a funny wrinkle on your bum.’
‘Look! My nose is up to your boobs now!’
A recent survey by Aussie chat show Can of Worms showed a majority of viewers believed our kids should never see us naked.
I was gobsmacked.
Clearly I was in the minority on that one.
And so was my own mum.
Although privacy came in to play at some point, I still remember marvelling at the stretch marks on her tummy when she had a bath and seeing the birth mark on her leg when she got into the shower.
Did I comment too?
Make her feel awkward?
Awkward enough that she one day simply locked the door, ignoring my confused demands to be let in?
Because Master Seven spent his first five years without a father, Learner Dad’s physique is subject to a greater level of scrutiny than mine.
When we first moved in with him, his bits were the focus of many long and curious stares (by Master Seven, not me, for the record).
Luckily Learner Dad didn’t mind.
But I was beginning to.
Our bathroom door has no lock and I’d recently either jump to cover myself up or stand there naked and slightly awkward when Master Seven burst in.
So why didn’t I just drum the whole ‘knocking before you enter’ thing into him?
Well, because I was a bit sad that I was suddenly feeling that way around him.
But I guess privacy was something he was going to have to learn sooner or later.
He still wasn’t seeking it, quite happy to flaunt himself in his gangly, pasty birthday suit on any occasion.
(It really was much cuter when he was two.)
I suppose I should treasure these glimpses of my firstborn in all his naked glory.
Because one day his beautiful little body, that body that I made, will be closed off to me forever.
“What do you mean I have to come back?”
“It’s his second runny poo Alison. I’m sorry but it’s the centre’s policy to call parents to pick up their children if they have had two bouts of diarrhoea.”
I was on the phone to Master Two’s childcare centre.
I’d just got to work.
On my first day.
At the Herald Sun.
It was my first job in Melbourne.
It had been hard to get.
I put down the phone and sighed.
I looked at the clock.
I’d been there less than an hour.
Shit shit shit.
I went into my manager’s office.
“God Tim I’m so sorry to do this but I have to go,” I said. “Master Two’s carers just rang. It seems he has gastro.”
He looked at me like I was crazy, then shook his head quickly and said: “Of course, no worries. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Any working mother has at least one story like this.
I have dozens.
That’s my Herald Sun story.
My Network Ten one is that I was the only producer who’d have to bolt out of the newsroom BEFORE the news even finished to get to a then Master Three’s crèche before it closed.
Because of the train system in Melbourne, I was often late and had to pay by the minute.
And those were actually the easier days at Ten.
Before that I’d lived further away from work and so had hired one of Master Three’s carers to take him home for me when the centre closed and make him dinner.
I’d arrive home just in time to read him a story and put him to bed.
That was living and working in Melbourne as a single mother so things were probably a little more extreme for me then.
But even with a partner, wider family support, and the easy traffic of Hobart, life is still tough for working mums.
The Master began kindy at the same time I began working at Win.
But him being at school didn’t make my working life much easier.
It was then the guilt at leaving work before all of my colleagues, in this case before the news even STARTED, so I could pick Master Five up from After School Care.
That guilt didn’t dissipate after I left the newsroom either.
It increased when I ran into After School Care seconds before six to find he was the only kid left, sitting by his backpack, hungry and tired.
Writing this post actually makes me want to cry.
It’s easy to forget the working mum guilt when you’re blissed up on maternity leave, spending all your time with your baby and as much time as possible with his siblings.
You’ve effectively been given permission to be the best mum you can be for 12 whole months.
I know life won’t be as tough for this working mum as it once was.
I have four eager grandparents on standby.
And, more importantly, I have a partner.
Learner Dad works weekends so can spend my working days looking after our children.
It’ll make he and I ships in the night.
But all we can hope for is a happy harbour.