A last word

The man and I fell into step with one another on Macquarie Street.
He was heading east and had just crossed at the traffic lights.
I was walking north and had just hit the T junction.
Neither of us had any other way to go.
So we walked awkwardly alongside each other, each slowing to let the other pull out in front.
But neither of us did.
At least we had a talking point.
In my arms I was carrying a crying, jerking, off-her-face Fairy Floss.
“We’re just out at dinner,” I explained over the wailing. “Thought I’d take her for a walk and try to calm her down.”
“My daughter’s 19 now,” the man said, gazing at the thrashing pink jumpsuit in my arms. “I’d give anything to have her be that little again.”
He gave a small wave and disappeared through a doorway.
The ball of anxiety in my chest began to unwind.
I walked along the lit city street, singing ‘Li-ila, Li-ila’ to the tune of ‘Daisy, Daisy (give me your answer do)’ and felt her warm little body relax against mine.
She gave a little sigh, banged her head one last time into my collar bone, and then suddenly dropped into sleep.
My last baby.
Every woman, every parent, must realise at some stage that they’ve had, or are about to have, their last little bundle of joy.
You don’t think of an end point when you have your first.
You’re too caught up in the wonder, the awe, the exhaustion, the hot heart-exploding surges of love love love.
For me, it was just my little Master Baby every day – a teeny bit longer, a smidgen less vulnerable.
I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
But it didn’t matter, because the ‘tunnel’ was so beautifully lit by him.
But every day with Fairy Floss carries with it a little ‘last’.
And suddenly everything that’s tough about babies becomes precious.
Any night could be the last Learner Dad and I sit together in her darkened room, one patting her chubby thighs while the other scrolls aimlessly through Twitter.
Any night could be the last I stare at the perfect little ‘0’ of her mouth, her four white picket teeth, the yodelling pink tongue screaming out that wailing midnight song dedicated just to me.
Any day now we’ll be unable to squeeze her fat arms under the capsule straps.
Any day we’ll have to turn her round to seek out green lights and fire engines, instead of passing out under retreating clouds.
We’ve had our last slippery soak in the baby bath.
Our last non-solid poo.
Our last first smile.
We won’t have a last first rolling over.
She did that when we were out of the room.
And now she’s crawling.
So I’ve pulled the last baby rug up off the floor.
And moved the glassware a final time.
I dread the day I’ll have to put her down in the shower.
The day she refuses to get in with me.
The moment I realise it’s been days since she wanted me to pick her up at all.
This morning I showered without her.
But I wasn’t alone.
Lil Fatty was balancing on a stool, desperately trying to fill the sink before Master Nine got to the plug.
Master Nine was straddling the bath, supposedly cleaning his teeth.
And Fairy Floss was jolly jumping on her fat little legs in the doorway, squealing with delight at us all.
As I stood under the fluctuating hot and cold water, I felt exhausted.
Exhausted yet humbled.
These three little creatures are mine.
And I am their universe.
I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll shower with only the steam for company.
Life will have pulled my babies in other directions.
We can’t dwell on their growth.
It will happen anyway.
The only thing we can do, should do, is try to enjoy them.
Photograph them, sure, immortalise them in frames, albums, online.
But mostly, watch them.
Smile at them, smile with them, sing to them, listen to them, kiss them, cuddle them.
Even when their warm soft bodies have been replaced with long cold gangly ones.
Treasure them.
For at the end of this ‘tunnel’, this insular world that is parenthood, other roads stretch ahead.
Travelling, re-claiming careers, making new friends, bonding anew with old ones.
Loud music, clean kitchens, spare rooms, long lunches, movie nights, hobbies.
One day, grandchildren.
I’ll pack up my precious kaleidoscope of mummy memories and take it with me wherever I go.
Look back into it often.
And remember that incredibly intensely exquisitely sweet time that I was the sun to three little planets.


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… 

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.

The Naked Truth

“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.

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.


Keep ’em guessing

“I know what you’ve got me, the 2013 sports diary,” Learner Dad said, as we were sitting wrapping presents for the Christmas tree.
“No, I haven’t actually,” I lied.
“Did you really not buy it for me?” Learner Dad asked.
“Nope, I got you something else,” I answered.
“Ok, I better order one then so I have it in time for the new year.”
“You do that.”
“Right, I’ll go and order it right now then.”
Learner Dad got up and left the loungeroom.
I tried to call his bluff but couldn’t do it.
“Ok, ok, stuff you!” I yelled after him. “I got you the damn sports diary. Happy?”
“Did you really?” he grinned, poking his head back in the door.
Every birthday, every Christmas, Learner Dad likes to take an accurate stab at what I’ve bought him and it drives me mad.
The sports diary doesn’t sound much but it was the only present I was giving him from me.
The rest were from the boys and fortunately remained unguessed (I suppose he was too scared to try after the sports diary).
But only three weeks later he’s been at it again.
Today is Learner Dad’s birthday.
And I had three fantastic presents in mind from the outset.
The first, to be from Li’l Fatty, was a brainwave.
Or so I thought.
I spent a whole afternoon dragging the boys around Eastlands looking for a Blu Ray copy of Episodes, season two.
I knew Learner Dad loved the first season, perhaps didn’t even know they’d made another, and would be absolutely rapt.
But that very night, Learner Dad decided for no apparent reason to tell his parents about two TV shows we’d recently watched and enjoyed.
One of them was Episodes.
“And Ali is going to buy me season two for my birthday. Aren’t you?” he asked, nudging me.
I looked away, gutted.
The second present was to be from me.
“I reckon you’ve got us a new bed,” he said, snuggled up to me one night.
“No I haven’t,” I said quickly. “You won’t be getting one of those on your birthday.”
In fact, he’d be getting it three weeks later, due to delivery complications.
I’d symbolically wrapped up a new sheet set for him instead.
Damn him!
The final present was to be from Master Seven.
I was extremely confident Learner Dad wouldn’t guess this one.
It was a legal certificate showing Master Seven now shared the same surname as his dad.
And, judging by the tears in his eyes and the shocked look on his face, I think we got Learner Dad a beauty.
That’ll teach you honey.
Happy birthday x

Oh Christmas Family Tree!

“Mum,” I said bravely.
“This year I will be taking the boys to Learner Dad’s family for Christmas Day lunch.”
I rushed on.
“But we’ll come down Christmas morning and stay for as long as we can and we’ll try and see you Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, I’m sorry, I know how much Christmas means to you, especially with Li’l Fatty here now too…”
“Al, it’s ok,” she interrupted, completely unfussed. “I fully expected this to happen this year.”
Ever wondered who the woman is behind St Nick?
The real Mrs Claus?
Well, it’s my mother.
Think Christmas and, anyone who knows her, thinks of my mum.
For a start, she collects Santas, has hundreds of them.
Friends and relatives bring their kids every year to see Rossie’s Santas.
She was once nearly on The Collectors program with them, but chickened out at the last minute.
Although, as littlies, we’d spent Christmas Day at both my grandparents’ houses, for probably two decades we’d had it at my mother’s house.
Of course news never sleeps so I’d worked my share, covering anything from homeless lunches to drunken sieges.
But I’d bowed out of Christmas Day shifts when I became a mum.
And being a single mother to Master Seven meant I didn’t have to share it with anyone.
Then our family of two became one of four and our Christmas Day options doubled.
With three new babies in the mix on Learner Dad’s side, this year his family was determined to get everyone together.
And with my brother spending Christmas at his in-laws too, it worked out perfectly.
“What will you do when we all leave before lunch though?” I asked Mum, imagining her and Dad, he in his Santa suit and her as the elf, pulling bon-bons and swaying to John Lennon’s Happy Xmas, alone.
“Eat our lunch?” she said, clearly not as fazed as I’d imagined.
We’re lucky living in Hobart that it’s not logistically difficult to make more than one stop on Christmas Day.
I have friends who don’t live near one set of parents, let alone both.
I remember, as a child, loving seeing both sides of the family on Christmas Day.
Once the food ran out, presents dried up and you’d begun fighting with your cousins, you’d be bundled into the car to do it all over again.
Master Seven and Li’l Fatty will now get to experience that too.
And so long as I focus on that, rather than remembering the stressed look on the faces of my exhausted parents as they shuffled us around, then I should be ok.
Spending my first Christmas lunch away from the family home isn’t a case of all good things coming to an end.
My in-law’s house has felt like home for a long time.
It’s simply a case of having too much of a good thing.
For Learner Dad, it’s spending the day with people he’s known and loved all his life.
For Master Seven, well, it’s double the presents, isn’t it?
And for Li’l Fatty?
Well, let’s face it.
It’s really just another day.

Merry Christmas to all and I’ll be back on deck in the new year.