Learning by heart

As I wind up my blog for the second time, it would be remiss of me not to do a little Learner Dad shaming…

Like the time he complained about having to ‘babysit’ his own children…
Or when he followed it with ‘but then I’ll have three of them’ and had to be reminded he actually has three of them…
The time I was being induced and he thought they were going to put the gel on my tummy…
The time he almost bought a stroller for our newborn, instead of a pram…
Or when he assumed we’d just carry baby home from hospital in the car, on our laps
The time he set up the portacot correctly… oh wait, that didn’t happen…
Then there was the time he thought Lil Fatty sucking his toes might give him foot-and-mouth disease…
The many times he goes out in sympathy when our children actually are sick…
The time he thought the ‘3-6m’ on growsuits meant three to six metres
The time he let Master Nine win at something – pfffft yeah right…
The time he told me my tummy did actually ‘look bigger’ before I took a pregnancy test – it was negative…
The extremely dangerous time he asked me why I didn’t know how to hem trousers…
The time he thought MONA was quoting three-hundred instead of three-thousand dollars for a wedding reception room – he would have booked if bride wasn’t there…
The time he almost took my instruction to teach Lil Fatty how to use the potty literally (talk about making a splash)…
The time he borrowed money from Master Nine’s piggy bank to fund a Tooth Fairy visit – to Master Nine…
And the times, every Thursday night, he’d wander in to the loungeroom to bag out The Bachelor – then sit and watch the whole thing with me…

Despite all of this, Learner Dad is my hero.
Not because he goes to work.
Not because he ‘brings home the bacon’.
He loves going to work.
And the bacon’s just a bonus.
He’s my hero because when he’s not there, he’s here.
Every morning he juggles spoonfuls of lumpy fruit mash with ironing shirts; cling wraps cupcakes while making work calls; and chases kids into and out of showers while washing last night’s dishes.
All while I’m still in bed.
Or at the gym.
Or sometimes even window shopping after the school run (I bet he doesn’t even know that).
And every evening he eats dinner with Fairy Floss sprawled across his lap, Master Nine sprawled across his back, and Lil Fatty sprawled in bed demanding Daddy’s rendition of Dog’s Noisy Day ASAP.
While I’m in the bath.
Or at book club.

So while it would be remiss of me to not do that little bit of Learner Dad shaming, it would also be remiss of me not to thank him.
And to tell him I love him.


Facebook? Or just plain book?

I changed the channel.
I’d been watching Learner Dad gaze at his phone for the past seven minutes.
He clearly wasn’t watching the footy.
Knowing it to be true, he didn’t complain.
When I couldn’t find anything interesting to watch on TV, I picked up my book.
Several minutes later, I noticed Learner Dad staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Can’t seem to get your head out of it,” he replied.
“What? My book? What’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with looking at my phone?”
“Oh come on, a book is different.”
“I’m using my imagination. I’m READING.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing on my phone. I’m imagining what people are doing by READING their tweets.”
I thought about it.
Was he right?
Could a phone possibly count as an intellectual pastime?
I’d always felt far superior curled up in bed with the latest from book club while Learner Dad lay next to me scrolling aimlessly through Facebook.
“I’m not ruining my eyes though,” I blurted out desperately.
“How do you know? People were wearing glasses long before iPhones came along.”
I’ve ranted on here about my disdain for gadgets before.
Many times.
While I still pester Learner Dad about burying his nose in his phone in front of the boys, I’ve become accustomed to his little pocket mistress.
But are smartphones really, well, smart?
Let’s look at it from his perspective:
– He is indeed reading
– He is also socialising
– And he is keeping abreast of world news
Now let’s look at it from mine:
– The ‘reading’ consists of a random string of abbreviations and symbols with no punctuation.
– How can it be ‘social’ when he’s oblivious to the physical goings on around him?
– And does Kim Kardashian’s new baby count as real ‘world news’? (Don’t play dumb Learner Dad, you excitedly told me this bit of news the moment you read it)
Now let’s look at it more deeply:
– Maybe this online lingo isn’t a dumbed down version of English but just a modern one? Isn’t language always changing? And the number of characters to a Tweet may be limited, but then so are the number of lines to a sonnet. Who’s to say tweets aren’t poetry?
– Learner Dad is socialising with dozens of people every night from the comfort of his fluffy socks and disastrous tracksuit. All while I lose myself in trash like Law and Order. Perhaps watching telly and reading books is more antisocial?
– Is the state of affairs in Syria more valid world news than the birth of a celebrity baby? Of course it is but I’d say that and then go bury my face in New Idea.
I’m not sure I’ll ever embrace gadgets.
Because while ever Learner Dad has one, he’s not totally concentrated on me.
He’s reading about and socialising with all the people I compete with on a nightly basis for his attention.
To me, iPhones mean distracted conversation, private jokes and one-handed foot rubs.
But, with a phone fanatic hubby and two young boys, I can’t resist the iTrain forever.
I mean, won’t I be texting, tweeting and cyberstalking my teenage sons in years to come?
Yes, I believe I will be.
And then it’ll be the pot calling the kettle black.
Or the reader telling the Tweeter to get a life.
Having said all this, I still can’t see myself one day smiling fondly around the dinner table at the three men in my life, faces glued to iPhones, as they ‘read’, ‘socialise’ and ‘catch up on the news’ while tucking into the lasagne I spent all afternoon making.
But then maybe I won’t notice.
Because maybe, having long given up on competing with electronic gadgets, I’ll have my own face buried in a damn good book.

Without this ring, I thee wed

“I don’t know if I want to wear a wedding ring,” Learner Dad said seriously.
I looked at him.
“Just joking!” he laughed, poking me in the side.
He’d made this joke about eight times now and I was beginning to wonder whether he was actually trying to tell me something.
With five months until our Big Day, it was time to start looking at wedding rings.
Although my groomzilla was across everything – “You get your flowers organised this week please” or “Al, have you booked your hair trial?” – he hadn’t once suggested we pencil in a trip to the jewellers.
And he greeted my own prompting to do so with a shrug and ‘I guess so’.
And then we’d forget about it.
Learner Dad does insist he’s joking about not getting a ring.
But would I care if he chose not to wear one anyway?
I’m not sure I would.
After all, Prince William declined to wear one, a royal aide quoted as saying His Royal Highness ‘…isn’t one for jewellery’.
But is it just jewellery?
Is it not a symbol?
Of love?
Of eternal love (the whole endless circle bit)?
And that you’re now off the market?
With Prince William’s wedding watched by millions of women around the world, I’m disinclined to think he refuses to wear one because he wants to appear ‘single’.
But for some men, that could be the case.
You wear a ring, you become a marked man.
It’s a woman’s elegant way of urinating permanently on her property, leaving a visible ‘scent’ for all the bitches in heat out there.
And wedding rings do come in handy for the single gals, believe me.
I was one for a long time.
But it’s not just women marking their men.
Wedding rings were originally only worn by wives, as a sign that they were ‘owned’ by their husbands.
This can be traced back to ancient Egypt.
They only became popular with men here in Australia during World War II.
Those in service began wearing them as light reminders of their wives and families at home.
I decided to employ a bit of reverse psychology on Learner Dad and suggested we ditch the whole rings idea, told him I wouldn’t wear one either, saving him any discomfort and both of us a little bit of money.
He met me at the jewellers that day.
Then he found out he had to wear a flower on his wedding day.
Do unmarried men really not know this?
Am I marrying the biggest ocker ever?
I shot his complaints down quicker than you can say ring a ring a rosie AND a pocket full of posie
And once he’d googled ‘grooms’ and satisfied himself it was normal and not some weird new thing I was insisting upon in order to embarrass him, he was ok with it.
And if anyone thinks my groom looks remotely feminine on his wedding day, well, I’ll eat my veil.

Like father, like son

“Look Mummy I’ve made your breakfast,” Master Seven said to me proudly as I walked into the kitchen.
Now you never want to disappoint your child but I simply couldn’t sit down and eat right away.
After the chocolate extravaganza that was Easter, I was back on my health kick, about to head off for some exercise before coming home to a planned bowl of cereal.
I looked at the two pieces of toast – one slathered in vegemite (you just don’t ‘slather’ vegemite) and the other in peanut butter (calories!!!)
I quickly popped them in a lunchbox with promises to chow them down after my run.
Master Seven looked satisfied.
Later that day I caught Master Seven gazing at me while I read the newspaper.
“You’re just so beautiful,” he breathed, before abruptly going back into the Lego land he was building.
Something was going on.
The night before, Master Seven had sat next to me on the couch and asked if he could rub my feet.
Cooking, compliments, foot rubs.
What a dream man.
As if suddenly realising we were hurtling towards the wedding day, Master Seven was making a last ditch effort to stay the main man in my life.
The battle for alpha male in our household has been prolonged and infuriating.
It’s hardly surprising.
When a boy spends the first five years of his life acting like your mini-husband, it’s understandable he’ll try to retain that role.
He had the prime spot at your dinner table.
He had the other side of your bed.
His was the only name besides yours on your Christmas cards.
He was the man of the house.
But only because he was the only man IN the house.
Learner Dad and Master Seven have shared a home for a year and a half now.
Sometimes they’re like brothers, bickering and dobbing on each other (yes grown men do dob sadly).
Often they’re great mates, playing basketball and watching YouTube.
And then there are the times they are actually father and son, barking orders and answering back.
Trouble is, it’s often Master Seven barking the orders.
He loves nothing more than fathering his new father (and it helps that Learner Dad sometimes acts the child).
“I see you’ve got your face glued to the phone again,” Master Seven will mutter at his father, shaking his head on the way past.
Or, sighing: “You always puts the plates where the mugs are meant to go.”
And even: “Don’t forget to wash your hands after playing with Li’l Fatty please. He’s got a cold.”
Learner Dad, to his credit, often just lets the little daddy in Master Seven slide.
I think it’s because he knows he’s his predecessor.
That he was the original man of the house.
That at one time only he ate with, slept beside, picked flowers for and loved me, the woman in both their lives.
And that, even though he’s been made redundant, he did a damn fine job.

My house husband

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.
Or milk.
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.
Needs sleep.
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 hungry.
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?
Sounds cute.
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.
Baby gone.
Then Master Seven will insist Mummy read with him tonight.
Kid gone.
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.

Partners in time

I glanced at my watch.
Where was he?
He’d said he’d finish late but I’d thought he’d be home by now.
I’d done everything – cooked dinner, bathed Li’l Fatty, read with Master Seven, got both boys ready for bed, all after a full DAY of mothering them as well.
And now Learner Dad wasn’t going to be home in time to do the hardest job of all – get them to actually go to bed!
He was at the cricket.
After working a long stretch, we’d been excited at the prospect of him having six whole days off in a row.
Of course he had radio commitments on three of them and had to present the TV sport on two of them but those things were only an hour or so out of each day.
But then he decided to work one of his days off because the last cricket match of the season had come down to the wire.
And of course nobody could cover it as well as him 🙂
And then, on another day off, he picked up two MC gigs.
They’d basically consume another whole day.
I wasn’t angry.
His strong work ethic was a huge part of what I loved about him.
He enjoyed his work.
And I knew he was trying to keep us financially afloat too.
But I missed him.
And, at times, I was jealous.
Sure, cricket wasn’t my thing but how nice to be paid to sit with your reporter mates and watch a game you love.
To not be consumed by nap times, grocery shopping and excursion dates.
To get about in a sharp suit, be given a nice lunch and to actually chat to adults all day.
And then to go back to the office and write about it.
I love writing.
But instead I was writhing.
On the floor with Li’l Fatty.
And reading books about Brown Bears and Green Sheep.
And pulling mashed banana out of my hair.
And washing school clothes.
And, oh hang on that’s right, I was watching cricket too.
School cricket.
And then home to juggle peas and corn and bubble bath and home readers and sleep suits and toothbrushes…
This was getting ridiculous.
Where was he?

He glanced at his watch.
He probably wasn’t going to see his boys tonight.
He felt stressed.
And stretched.
In many directions.
He’d spent the whole day working at the cricket.
An incredible match, fantastic ending.
Now he was on his way back to the newsroom.
Tired and hungry but still with a whole story to write for tomorrow night.
He didn’t know what to do – go home for an hour or so and then come back?
Or realise family time was over and just stay at work until he got it done?
What would she want him to do?
He’d been busy lately.
He felt guilty.
And worried that his absence was why he’d slipped way back into second place at home.
Master Seven lately met his boy’s time suggestions with a shrug and his own suggestion that ‘mummy play too’.
And Li’l Fatty – well he just watched his mother’s every move and grizzled to go to her the moment she walked into the room.
How could he compete when he was at work all the time?
How could any man?
He thought of his future wife, at home in her pajamas watching My Kitchen Rules after a day of trackpants and TV, strolls in the sunshine, coffee with friends and cuddles with kids.
How nice that must be.
To be able to devote so much time to the baby, sunbake or watch TV during his sleep, and be there to pick Master Seven up from school.
Every single day.
In the end, he went home.
A quick goodnight to his two tired and grumpy sons and a cold bowl of pumpkin soup later, he was headed back to work.
All so he wouldn’t have to leave them again tomorrow.


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.