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.
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 HotPotato, 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.
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.
• 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…
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.
“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.
His name was Chris.
He had grey hair, a beard and kind eyes.
He was my midwife.
Besides Learner Dad, he was the most important person around when Li’l Fatty was born.
I’m not talking about labour.
I went straight from induction to caesarean so the doctor was the only person I really remembered from that experience.
I’m talking about recovery.
Some women can’t get out of hospital fast enough after having a baby.
Others are literally sent packing, dragging their dummies and diapers behind them.
I was kind of in between.
I quite liked being taken care of yet, having been a patient only in the public system (with its shared rooms and average food), I went home a bit sooner than I needed to.
One of my reasons for almost staying was Chris.
You think of midwives, you think of babies.
But, when it comes down to it, the midwife is really there for you.
Baby’s out, baby’s breathing, baby’s fine.
In my experience, the midwife is all about mummy.
When your room is full of visitors, all eyes on bub as he or she is passed around the room, it’s the midwife who is all eyes on you.
He’s the one who can tell you’re in pain.
Or needing to be left alone.
It’s an intimacy unlike any you’ve experienced: not even your own hubby will regularly poke around the pads in your undies checking for blood loss; or help wash your naked, war-torn body in the shower; or regularly remind you you really need to poo.
Then there are the nightingales.
They’re the midwives who glide around your hospital bed at night, gently checking your vital signs while you peek at them through the slits in your eyes.
They lower your bed, slip you painkillers and gently take bub from the crook of your arm to pop back in his crib.
And then, sorry to break the spell here, there’s the early morning midwife bitch.
She’s the one who strolls in and moves the crib (with baby inside) up against the wall, as far away from you as possible.
She’s the one wanting you to get out of bed to get him.
The bitch who’s trying to stop you getting a blood clot.
You’ve heard of the baby blues?
The floods of tears that come three or four days after you’ve delivered your baby?
Mine came the moment I left the hospital.
The moment I stopped being nursed so I could go home and nurse someone else.
Admittedly the tears only lasted the short ride home, whereupon I happily and eagerly re-entered the real world.
A world that now included Li’l Fatty.
But although mine was one of the dozens of tired and teary new mum faces Chris must see every day, I’m not sure I’ll ever forget his.
“It’s like nobody even lives here,” I breathed, looking around the living room.
It was two years ago and I was visiting Learner Dad’s house for the first time.
And what a fantastic surprise!
The bed was made impeccably, the tables dusted clean, and the kitchen and bathroom were spotless.
He seemed to be the cleanest man I’d ever met.
It didn’t change when we moved in together.
“Watch your feet,” he’d say, as he vacuumed around them, before loading the dishwasher.
I’d happily soap my pregnant belly in the sparkling shower, secure in the knowledge I’d found THE perfect man.
Sure, he didn’t change the sheets very often and, besides sensational roasts, his cooking only extended to Honey Mustard Chicken Tonight.
But I loved washing and cooking, so we made the perfect team.
Then something happened.
Two things actually.
I went on maternity leave.
And Learner Dad gave up housework.
“Oh yes, they give all that up when you have a baby,” a married friend told me recently over dinner.
“I think, because you’re home all day, they just let it go to you.”
But when Learner Dad recently asked if there was anything he could do to help, I took him up on his offer.
“I’ve cleaned every room but the bathroom,” I replied (I HATE cleaning the bathroom).
“Right,” he said. “Leave that to me to do on my day off.”
His day off came and went.
“I’ve done everything but the shower basin in the bathroom,” I said, as his next day off approached.
“No worries, I’ll take care of it,” he said.
But that day came and went too.
To be fair, Learner Dad’s free time isn’t spent playing golf.
He doesn’t go out to the pub or on a day-long bike ride.
No, he spends almost all of his spare time with his children.
He might not clean the bathroom but he gives Li’l Fatty baths.
He doesn’t vacuum the carpet but he rolls around on it with Master Seven.
And he’s always happy to cook dinner if it can be thrown on a barbecue.
And then clean up afterwards.
To be honest, I have plenty of time for housework.
I just don’t like it very much.
My mother once told me her biggest regret was worrying about it too much.
That you don’t end up remembering all the dust on the coffee table.
What you do remember is the little strolls you took around the garden with your babies.
The first time he saw a butterfly, or sat on a swing.
I’m sure the same applies for Learner Dad.
But, when my maternity leave is up, perhaps then it’ll be time to clean up his act.
A milestone for me today – this is my 50th blog.
So I thought I’d celebrate with a recap.
It was a flurry of activity on my first post, which introduced an imperfect but hopefully realistic version of the modern day tribe.
Throughout the past two months, I’ve exposed my gorgeous fiancé, Learner Dad, as an iPhone addict, potential strip club fan and a poor imitation of the Tooth Fairy.
I’ve revealed his secret baby names list and his distaste for green vegies (earning him the nickname ‘Ol’ Nine Beans Costelloe’).
I’ve forever scarred his sister by mentioning her brother and the word ‘sex’ on the same page.
And I’ve forever changed his gift giving habits with my rampage against men and ‘pink Kmart crap’.
But there are two other littler men in my life.
I’ve exposed Master Seven as a fan of the ‘f’ bomb and Li’l Fatty as a Baby Bomber.
And I’ve been told I’ve brought tears to eyes with my ramblings on Master Seven’s relationship with his new dad.
Lilfatty.com has got a mention on Learner Dad’s Saturday morning radio show.
And Li’l Fatty himself had his nappy changed live on air – yes you read that right, ‘nappy changed on radio’, hmmm.
Then there’s me.
I’ve shared my own embarrassing history of being dumped.
I’ve admitted to leaving my baby in the car.
And I’ve admitted to re-gifting (at the expense of every present I’ve handed out since).
I’ve shocked readers by continuing to see a doctor who likes to talk about dying babies.
And I’ve turned many female readers off ever getting an IUD.
I’ve unwittingly spoken ill of the dead by writing about self-professed ‘baby whisperers’, using a made up rellie I called ‘Great Aunt Beryl’, only to find out, on Learner Dad’s side, there really was a Great Aunt Beryl.
My more serious spiels on pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding have generated a surprising and usually touching response.
I’ve plagiarised a bunch of quotes from a book called Yummy Mummy and I’ve sent readers constantly over to blog hero Mia Freedman.
I therefore thank her for filling any silences.
Thanks also to my regular Facebook sharers – Audrey, Alice, Jan, Gerrarda, Alysia, to name a few.
Regular commentators – Janelle, Kerri, Amy, Hanna, Jo, again just a few.
And my subscribers – I’m pleased to say there are now too many to mention.
A little thanks to Evie for her initial encouragement (and her book Blogging For Dummies).
To Master Seven and Li’l Fatty for being great little muses.
But mostly thanks to Learner Dad – for saying stupid things, and for putting his pride aside to share my blog every single day.