• 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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THERE IS NO MORE IMPORTANT PARTNERSHIP IN LIFE THAN PARENTING.
LOVE AND APPRECIATE YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER FOR HIS OR HER CONTRIBUTION TO THE FAMILY, WHATEVER FORM IT TAKES.
YOU’RE DOING A BEAUTIFUL JOB LEARNER DAD x
“Mum, has anything really bad ever happened to you?”
Master Seven and I were out for an evening walk when he sprang that ever so serious question on me.
He’d been doing that a bit lately.
I wasn’t sure if it meant he was a particularly solemn boy or if it was just part and parcel of being a seven year old.
I wondered what he meant by ‘bad’?
He’d recently told his Nanna he couldn’t stop thinking about a baby that had been thrown from a bridge by its own mother.
I vaguely remembered the news item on TV but couldn’t remember him being there when it was on.
Having two journalists as parents means reading and watching the news is quite the priority in our home.
But it seemed I’d got a little careless.
Or had I?
To what extent should we shield our children from the realities of the world?
When are they old enough to watch the news?
A friend told me she hadn’t been able to reach her TV in time before her eight-year-old son heard about a mass slaughter of kindergarten students in Connecticut last December.
Try explaining that to a boy who’s old enough to understand it’s happened but too young to understand why.
Especially when you don’t understand yourself.
I’d often glance out of the corner of my eye at Master Seven when certain news items came on TV.
I’d sigh with relief seeing him completely engrossed in his colouring-in, only to have him ask as soon as it’s over: “Mummy, what’s a homicide?”
I thought about Master Seven’s question as we walked.
Had anything really bad happened to me?
Family deaths, a few teenage brushes with the law (yes, me!) and my share of broken hearts.
But no, I’d actually had a very good life and told him so.
“What about you?” I asked back, curious.
“Weeeeelllll,” he said.
I braced myself.
“I have taken a few tumbles, like this,” he said, doing a slow motion commando role on the nearest lawn.
I laughed, but he just stared back at me seriously.
I was relieved.
My little grown up suddenly sounded seven again.
“Yes but even those haven’t been so bad,” I said. “At least you didn’t break any bones.”
“Oh I broke my leg once,” he said matter-of-factly
“You’ve never broken a bone in your body,” I told him.
“Yes, I did,” he asserted. “I was walking like this, remember” (demonstrates bizarre hobble).
The rest of our walk consisted of safer subjects – school, Super Mario and our favourite desserts.
But I had a feeling I had a way to go in answering all of life’s big questions.
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.
“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?”
“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.
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 moment the forceps came out, he fainted, clean on to the floor.
Waking, he stumbled out of the delivery suite and in to the hospital hallway, desperately seeking an exit.
He pushed through a door, hoping to be hit by a blast of fresh air.
Instead, he found himself in the placenta room, slops of afterbirth dotted around the benches.
Vomiting into his own mouth, he made a quick exit from there too.
Where was I while all this was going on?
I sure as heck wasn’t the one with her legs up in stirrups pushing a baby out.
Nope, I was the tiny baby in question, trying to force her way out of her mother’s body.
The man I’m talking about was my dad.
We’ve all heard stories about men during childbirth.
“He was my rock.”
“He passed out and needed his own bed.”
“He was terrified.”
“He hated seeing me in such pain.”
“He couldn’t stop laughing, hysterically.”
“He had no idea what to do.”
“He knew exactly what to do.”
I had no male anecdote of my own from when Master Seven was born.
The moment he emerged, my two hands were being tightly squeezed by my mother and one of my best friends.
And, besides my friend spending my labour nervously gobbling down the whole box of chocolates she’d bought for me, I have no real stories to tell.
They didn’t faint, didn’t seem frightened.
They just did what I’m sure most expectant fathers do in those last moments – watched and waited.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Learner Dad.
I knew he’d worry about the pain I’d experience but that he’d be there every step of the way.
As it turned out, an induction quickly turned into an emergency caesarean so the visions I’d had of him trying to help me through painful contractions quickly dissipated.
Now neither of us knew what to expect.
I was suddenly flat on my back, being stripped of my clothes, the midwife furiously scrubbing nail polish off my toes as a nurse tried to quickly insert a catheter.
Learner Dad was ushered into a bathroom to put on scrubs.
Terrified tears slid out the corners of my eyes as I stared at the bathroom door, willing him to emerge.
Coming out to a panicked partner, distraught at the prospect of having her tummy cut open, he started making jokes.
He wandered over to me, telling all the ladies in the room he looked like George Clooney from ER.
He looked better.
In fact I’ve never found Learner Dad to be more handsome than on the night our Li’l Fatty was born.
You see, I don’t think there’s anything sexier than seeing a man become a father.
Women spend so much time being strong and capable, running a family.
Being a single mother had made me particularly independent.
But that night I’d discovered what it was like to just let go and rely on someone.
With Learner Dad sitting next to me in the operating theatre, I knew he’d make sure everything was ok.
And when Li’l Fatty decided to hold his breath in protest at being born, I didn’t hesitate in telling Learner Dad to ‘follow that humidicrib’.
Sure, I needed him.
But our baby did more.
And so, from the very first second of our new son’s life, I was experiencing what it was like to have a co-parent, someone with an equal share in the human being you just created.
I barely saw Li’l Fatty for the first 24 hours of his life, but you know what?
I slept peacefully.
Because he was with his dad.