Baby. Cot. Back.

2.38am
Her little blue eyes had turned black.
In the dark, I could see them wide open and staring at me.
Her legs had finally stopped jerking, her tiny fists rested loosely up next to her ears, and her breathing had slowed.
Even the hiccup hangover from crying had stopped.
I stared back at her, sending imploring messages to her eyelids.
‘Close, close, close,’ I thought.
Behind me, Learner Dad was face down on a mattress he’d desperately dragged into the nursery.
I heard snoring.
It seemed my message had gone to the wrong eyelids.
She watched me as I stood up, my creaking knees excruciatingly loud in the silence.
I backed out of the room, breaking the rules by maintaining eye contact.
She moved her hand slightly.
But she had nothing left.
I slipped out the door and back in to bed.

1.14am
“It’s not working, what’s your plan B?” Learner Dad asked, turning his head but keeping his hands firmly pressed on his wriggling daughter.
“I don’t have one, this is it,” I spat back.
“She’s not going to sleep. What if she’s up all night?”
“I’m not pulling the pin now!” I said. “What a waste this all will have been.”
“Why is she still bloody awake? I don’t get it.”
“She’s waiting to be picked up, that’s why!” I was as exasperated as him.
Fairy Floss watched with amusement as her father and I exchanged heated words above her.
“You go to bed,” I hissed, knowing every angry word we uttered was undoing all our good work.
He left the room.
I couldn’t believe it.
Now I’d have to see this through all by myse…
Oh wait, he was back.
With a mattress.
He sighed loudly as he tried to clear space for it, bumping furniture, knocking things over, before it landed with a huge ‘thwack’ on the floor.
We both looked at Floss.
She threw back her head and began to cry.

12.22am
“It says on Google it could take an hour and a half,” I sang to Learner Dad, to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.
“That could take us to 1am,” was his ‘how I wonder what you are’.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have decided-to-do-this so late at night,” I sang back. “I’m just over it, she’s a li-ttle shi-it.”
We both smiled.
It’d be ok, she couldn’t stay awake much longer.

11.46pm
“Right, change of tactic, don’t pick her up,” I instructed Learner Dad as I entered the nursery.
At eight months old, Fairy Floss was sending me grey.
She’d spent her whole little life either feeding to sleep, or being rocked.
She was our last baby.
We wanted to enjoy her, to do what came instinctively, what felt right.
I loved watching her little eyes roll back in her head as she suckled to sleep.
And Learner Dad took pride in the fact that all he had to do was pick her up and she’d nod off.
But evenings had become a nightmare of hourly wakes.
Which meant hourly cuddles, or feeds, or both.
It wasn’t improving.
“Just let her cry it out,” my mum had said.
“Mum, we’re told not to do it that way these days,” I’d answered.
“Didn’t do you kids any harm.”
Another reason we’d rushed to her every time she cried was because her big brother, Lil Fatty, was slumbering next door.
And he was a light sleeper.
We had actually hatched a plan prior to this – to let her cry it out, but with one of us sitting beside her, so she’d not be alone or scared.
We’d made a couple of half-hearted attempts but tiredness – and TV shows – had been our excuse to jump ship.
We’d never seen it through.
After the usual three or four wakes on this particular night, I’d finally gone to bed at 11pm.
I was drifting beautifully down into deep sleep when her little cry drifted down after me, circling me round the neck and hoisting me back up.
I’d had enough.
And so, at a quarter to midnight, I told Learner Dad to start patting her padded bum while I pulled out my phone for advice – and assurance.

9.13pm
“You’re such a little ratbag, yes you are,” I said, tickling Fairy Floss’ ribs. “Why won’t you stay in bed?”
Her four tiny teeth grinned back at me, before she turned to munch down on my boob.
“Up again?” Learner Dad groaned, coming in to the lounge room.
“Yep. Why are you surprised?”
She’d dramatically turned her head at the sound of her father’s voice, dragging her teeth along my nipple as she did.
“Here, you take her, she likes being rocked by daddy,” I said, passing her over.
Within seconds, our dear little baby was lightly snoring.
“Something feels different about her,” Learner Dad said, gazing down at his little girl. “I’ve got a really good feeling about tonight.”

Two’s company, three’s insane

It’s 2006.
After a busy morning picking Weetbix out of the carpet, holding the shaky feet of a toddler trying to climb a small fort and rock-a-byeing a bear on repeat, Master One is finally down for his afternoon nap.
I sit down with a toasted sandwich and a cup of tea and start the fifth season of the West Wing. He’ll be down at least two hours and nobody deserves the break more than me.
I give myself a pat on the back.

Fast-forward to 2013.
It goes pretty much the same, except this time it’s Lil Fatty.
And Breaking Bad.
The now-Master Seven is at school so I have to cap Lil Fatty’s sleep at two hours to go and pick him up.
I get back home with my two boys and take a coffee break.
Nobody deserves it more than me.
I give myself a pat on the back.

Fast-forward to 2015.
My morning is spent being dragged around by one child, while trying not to drop another.
That’s after I’ve taken the third to school.
I pick Weetbix out of the carpet, wipe pureed fruit off the lino and scrub poo off the couch.
I hold the shaky feet of a toddler trying to get on to the trampoline while a baby tries desperately to sleep in my arms.
Baby sucks furiously on my boob while I hold the potty under the bum of toddler.
I bath baby and make my bed, only to have toddler wee on baby – on my bed.
Toddler rolls out of towel while I try to put a nappy on baby.
Baby rolls out of nappy while I try to re wrap blue-lipped toddler.
I do the Hot Potato, mashing potato.
Mashed Banana, peeling bananas.
And desperately eat what’s left of their Cold Spaghetti for lunch.
Before a visitor arrives, I clean the toilet.
Then find a half-filled potty under the coffee table after they’ve left.
I put one child down for a nap only to hear the other wake up.
Right on cue.
Every day.
I was standing at the back door talking to my 70-year-old neighbour recently.
With Fairy Floss dribbling down my arm and Lil Fatty holding my free hand (and, with his free hand, his doodle), I moaned as I described the giant leap from two to three children.
But she already knew.
She had three herself.
“And I had to have the house clean, dinner cooked, and the kids bathed and ready for bed by the time my husband came home.”
That’s how it was done in her day.
I get one out of three.
Learner Dad invariably comes home to a hot dinner.
He also comes home to wet towels on the floor.
To kids that smell like poo, or wee, or spew, or all three.
To a bench strewn with carrot peel, blobs of ice-cream, stripped corn cobs.
His wife may or may not have washed her hair that day.
Whichever the case, it’s in a ‘mun’ (mum-bun).
And she’s most certainly wearing the same track pants her baby vomited on three days ago.
It’s not that mums of today are less capable than our predecessors.
It’s that the emphasis has been tipped from ‘good wife’ to ‘good mother’.
Instead of ironing hubby’s shirts, we watch our kids play on the trampoline.
We fuss over cupcakes rather than rump steaks.
And we make Lego cities that render vacuuming simply impossible.
If our husbands dare complain, they are quickly put in their place.
Which, in Learner Dad’s case, is eating his rapidly cooling dinner while balancing one child on his lap and reading a story between mouthfuls to another.
While mummy sits down to anything not on ABC4Kids.
And gives herself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Am I a bad mother if…

• I stick my finger up at a smartarse Master Eight when he’s not looking?
• I let him sleep on a towel when he’s had an accident at 3am?
• I steal money from his piggy bank to ‘loan’ to the Tooth Fairy?
• I dress Master Eight as the same book character every single year (even though his size 4 Superman outfit is now ridiculously tight [and Superman isn’t really a book character])?
• I occasionally make him wear shorts in winter because I haven’t learned to patch trousers?
• I eat most of the lollies from his party bag after he’s gone to bed?
• I offer to read every second page of his book so I can get back to doing nothing on the couch?
• I hide Li’l Fatty’s favourite book because I’ve simply had enough of ‘green sheep’?
• I often give him finger food, forgetting he had his fingers in his own poo earlier that day?
• I once pretended not to notice when he weed on the floor and rubbed his hand in it?
• I give my children fruit buns, convincing myself the word ‘fruit’ means it’s healthy?
• I am almost out the driveway before Master Eight has his seatbelt on?
• He occasionally goes to school with a sandwich that has nothing in it?
• I tell him Santa’s elves are watching even though it’s only April?
• I ‘accidentally’ vacuum up the teeny tiny Lego pieces that plague his bedroom floor?
• Wine o’clock sometimes starts well before their bedtime?
• I had the occasional wine during pregnancy?
• I tell Master Eight I’ll tape the rest of Big Brother – but don’t?
• I let him watch Big Brother in the first place?
• I time him to run and fetch the newspaper of a morning?
• I tell him he can barrack for whichever team he likes but keep buying him Collingwood pyjamas?
• I give Li’l Fatty Baby Panadol after convincing myself his bad mood is definitely ‘teething’?
• I let him play with the DVD player when his dad’s not home?
• I sometimes serve Master Eight two minute noodles for lunch AND dinner on a Saturday?
• I sometimes serve Li’l Fatty a tub of yoghurt for lunch AND dinner on any day?
• I consistently throw their ‘lost tooth’ and ‘new tooth’ photos up on Facebook? And still have Master Eight’s bloody first tooth hidden in my cupboard?
• I stalk them at night, sitting in the dark by their beds, listening to them breathe?
• I’d kill, steal or starve for them if absolutely necessary?

Nope, I have a feeling I’m pretty much the norm… 

Our modern miracles

I love seeing my friends create little versions of themselves.
While I was the first to have children out of my circle of friends, they’ve arrived in abundance since.
There’s the curly-haired ball of energy who tormented Master Seven to the point where he’d tense at the sound of her name and then turned out to be one of his favourite playdates.
The three-year-old tot who took a stack at my house, froze as he landed (upside down) and calmly squeaked out: “Um, cuddles…”, taking me back to a drunken night on the town with his mum.
There’s the little boy who has his mother’s eyes.
And the girl with her daddy’s charm.
But, as lovely as it sounds, it’s not always been that simple.
Many of my closest friends really had to battle their kids into existence.
There was unexplained infertility.
And explained infertility.
There were miscarriages.
And curettes.
Premmies who made it, premmies who didn’t.
There were hormone injections, Chinese herbs, acupuncture and, ultimately, IVF.
Most went through their conception woes in the years between my having Master Seven and Li’l Fatty.
Having conceived Master Seven fair near immaculately, I tried not to feel self-conscious around them.
As they prattled on hopefully about positive pregnancy tests, I reminded myself not to talk about the awful day I did mine.
I’d barely been near the man who fathered my baby – and yet here they were pulling their bodies apart.
To their credit, there was no resentment.
Or if there was, they didn’t let it show.
And for all of them determination – along with modern science – eventually paid off.
Fortunately their successes came before Li’l Fatty.
Which was good because Learner Dad barely kissed me to conceive him.
I wondered once how some of them would go explaining to their kids how they were made.
Then quickly realised my own explanations were going to be no easier.
The fact is they’re here.
How we explain that to them is our own story.
Let’s hope there are many to tell.

New age mums

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.
Me?
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.
It’s simple.
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?
Travel?
Where would we find the money?
Work?
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.

Working through the guilt

“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.
Shit.
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.

Driven to despair

Li’l Fatty rubbed his eyes and put his head on my shoulder.
After a busy morning laughing, bathing, playing and pooing (unfortunately in that order), he was exhausted.
It was time for his morning sleep.
I carried him into the kitchen to look for his dummy.
And then I saw it.
Sitting on the bench, completely out of place at this time of day – Master Seven’s lunchbox.
I desperately tried to call Learner Dad but he wasn’t answering.
I knew he’d be covering the cricket that day anyway and could hardly leave just to deliver his son’s lunchbox.
“Bugger it,” I muttered, grabbing the lunchbox and keys and heading for the car.
“You stay awake,” I ordered Li’l Fatty as I strapped him in.
Every parent knows how important this is.
Keeping your baby awake until you get home for his proper nap.
Should he or she drop off for even five minutes, he or she’ll wake believing sleep time’s over and spend the rest of the day cranky as hell.
We got Master Seven’s lunchbox to school without issue but, by the time we were headed home again, Li’l Fatty was struggling.
“Peekaboo!” I yelled, swinging my head round to look at him.
He smiled tiredly.
So I did it again.
After about five ‘peekaboos’, I checked myself.
What the hell was I doing?
I was playing this game while driving.
How long would my baby stay awake if I crashed head on into a garbage truck?
So I pressed the buttons to open both front windows and cranked the music up.
But it only made him more sleepy.
I was losing him.
I began singing hysterically – The Wiggles, Metallica, One Direction, whatever it took.
Pulled over at a red light, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye.
I looked over to see a woman in the driver’s seat of the car next to me.
She was waving her arms about like mad and I could hear her yelling as she glanced desperately in the rearview mirror.
I glanced behind her.
Yep, there was a car seat.
She was trying to keep her baby awake too.
As the light turned green, we two mothers lurched forward, doing our crazy driving dances and singing our stupid desperate songs.
Risking our lives and the lives of others on the road, all to keep our babies from dropping off.
I got Li’l Fatty home just in time.
Straight on the boob and out for the count.
What if I’d failed, you ask?
If he’d fallen asleep in the car?
Well that’s easy.
I would have accepted defeat.
And then driven to Launceston.