Pigs were flying, the moon was blue and the gods were smiling on me. An until-then unheard-of combination of an interstate business trip, scout camp and birthday party sleepover meant that husband, son (10) and daughter (12) would all be away, overnight, at the same time, and my personal space, defined for the past 13 years as wife, mother, chauffer, chef, tutor, referee, purchasing officer, etc, etc was to be my own for 20 glorious, selfish hours.
I love my kids and husband, and love being with them, but sometimes, just now and again, I fantasise about being on my own and just being me again.
I did a last check of their backpacks and added underwear and toothbrush to my son's. The drop-off began; a trip to the airport, one farewell, then the camp ground, via the friend's house. I issued last minute instructions that I knew would be ignored even if they had been heard, and suddenly the car was quiet. Too quiet. I tuned to ABC Classic FM and wound down the window. I could listen to whatever I wanted, as loud as I wanted.
I stopped at a coffee shop and bought a paper and a coffee. I sat in the sun, reading and sipping for far longer than any pre-teenager would have been able to bear. I decided to indulge in cake as well. I chose a matchstick, a favourite from my childhood, and ate it all without having to share, swap or eat the tail-ends of anyone else’s.
I drove home, still to Classic FM. From the carport I didn't have to race to the front door to let in children who wanted to get out of the sun, or needed to go to the toilet. I spent some time pottering in the garden. I filled the birdbath and sat quietly, watching insects. Then I went inside and finished reading the newspaper.
I decided to clear out the spare room wardrobe and managed to put all the discards into plastic bags without anyone souveniring them. Then I phoned my mother. We spoke for half an hour without any interruptions. No one wanted me to hang up so they could use the internet, call a friend, or ask what was for dinner. Ahh, dinner. In thinking about this weekend, it was dinner that excited me most. Would I cook risotto that no one else in the family liked, and I had all but given up trying to force on them? Or perhaps try something new from a cookbook and not have to hear any complaints if it didn’t turn out as expected? A really flash, slap-up dinner for one? Or a takeaway in front of the TV watching a movie I'd chosen, art-house, of perhaps foreign language? Perhaps revert to my single days and cook a big pot of mashed potatoes, nothing else. No need to demonstrate the benefits of a balanced diet to anyone.
In the end I ate when I had finished in the spare room . at 10.00pm. That was when I was hungry and so that was when I ate, not when anyone else started complaining they were hungry, or that they needed to get to cricket practice on time. And what did I cook? Poached egg on Vegemite toast. Yum. And no one told me it wasn't a real meal. After that I watched a movie till late, and laughed out loud without anyone complaining I was embarrassing them.
Sunday morning. I slept in, woke automatically at weekday time, and allowed myself the luxury of drifting off to sleep again. An hour or so later I woke again, got up, made a cup of tea, and returned to bed with mug and a book. I sat propped up in bed. There were no extra bodies wriggling, squirming and hogging the blankets until I spilt the tea, or lost my place in the book. There were no quarrels to arbitrate, no TV on too loud, no socks to be found, or breakfast recipes to be deciphered. And when I finally decided to get up, no queue for the shower, or crumbs on kitchen benches.
Again, I put on the music I liked and decided to take a bath. No one needed me. No one would interrupt me. I turned on the hot tap as far as it would go, no one would complain if I used all the hot water. As I soaked in the steam, I marvelled at the luxury of having time to myself. I calculated the time left to me. One hour before I had to collect daughter from party, hear her stories, then drive to campsite to pick up son at lunchtime. Two hours before driving to airport to meet husband and then return home, load washing machine and prepare dinner.
I languished a little more in the bath, then got out, dried myself and reached for the toothbrush. Hand outstretched, I stopped, riveted to the spot. What a mournful sight I saw. In the toothbrush holder normally stuffed with four brushes and equal number of different types of toothpaste, was just one lonely toothbrush and daughter's discarded toothpaste tube that I was economically emptying before buying myself any more.
And it suddenly hit me with a force I couldn't explain; I was alone in the house. I didn't know for certain what any of my family was doing, whether they had slept well, woken happy, eaten an adequate breakfast, argued with their best friend, or were missing me. I missed them desperately and in only an hour would have them back.
Had I enjoyed my time alone? Yes. Would I do it again? Definitely! But would I be pleased to see them all again and uncomplainingly slot back into the various roles I play for them? You bet.
Parenting . a full-time, lifelong commitment. So intense that I often wish for a break, I certainly relish the break if and when it comes, but all said and done, I wouldn't swap it for anything, because, it’s simple, they’re my kids and I’m their mum.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem