When I became pregnant at 19, I was convinced my baby would save me from myself. I had visions of rose gardens and Baby Bjorns, of receiving this child into my arms like a gift and finally understanding: I would be an enlightened ocean of love. I would sing nursery rhymes by rosy hearth and slowly stir my homemade pumpkin soup. I would radiate beauty with a self-satisfied glow.
Shockingly, the above desired result was not exactly achieved. I found myself alone and broke, with a tiny shrill baby full of reflux hell. I sung ‘Merry Christmas to You’ while my daughter spewed jets of miserable vomit onto my 12-month-old maternity clothes. My friends didn’t know what to do with me, so naturally they stayed far, far away. And I was eating one kilo of MnMs per day: they were not at fault for this.
As one might anticipate, the year that followed was a nightmare. An alarmingly high dosage of anti-depressants. Many homicidal thoughts towards said baby’s father. Living off of scrambled eggs because I couldn’t afford any other sources of protein living on government allowance. Very little contact with family or friends because a) I was a maniac and b) I was a maniac. Oprah became my best friend and MnM’s: my God.
When I finally emerged from my nappy-made fort, I found a job, patched things up with my daughters’ dad, and re-entered society. And heres the thing: I’m much tougher and happier as a result. My daughter is now five years old and a miniature- sized goddess. She’s a smart, popular child, with strong bones and a fondness for the word ‘pardon’. I have a good job now and friends that aren’t afraid of me, I’m back at uni and I can afford to grocery shop freely and even buy something nice every now and then.
Now I can’t claim my life has been that tough. My child doesn’t have any major health problems and I don’t live in a third world country. But I think I‘ve learned a few things. So I would like to indulge in a little Oprah style pep talk. Just a couple of things I’ve learned that other mums might relate to. (Oprah is the Messiah after all.)
I am tough. Tougher than Batman even.
There is nothing more painful than childbirth. Nothing more draining than a screaming newborn baby. Nothing more terrifying than leaving a child in the hands of a brand-new carer. But I can handle all of that: I can handle anything. Without my daughter I would never have known this: I used to scream hysterically at spiders.
Keeping up with the Jones’s might kill you.
I will never have as much money as them. My living area will always be smaller than their pantry. My K-Mart clothes will never be as shiny as their labels. But at the end of the day they aren’t any happier than I am. The weight of their debt is giving them early back problems. And trying to see their BMW and raise them a Chrysler is only going to make me broke and pathetic.
I’m dumb as a post.
Whatever I thought I knew is meaningless. Whatever I learn today, may be useless tomorrow. As long as I trust myself, do what’s right for my daughter, and act with good intentions, no harm will come. And sooner or later I’m going have to learn something.
Romance isn’t dead: it just enjoys sleeping.
Love is a beautiful thing. But let’s face it: for whatever reason, the odds of a relationship surviving are a whole lot lower for us than they were for our grandparents. And if we’re single, we can still have family, friends, children: our life. Single or taken, I am me. That’s the only thing in life that never changes.
Convention is a relic.
My extended family consists of friends, ex-boyfriends, my daughter’s father and his partner, half- siblings, and a sycophancy of people that traditionally, I shouldn’t be close to. But we’re all good people, and expectations of what’s ‘normal’ do nothing but limit you and your family’s potential for happiness.
I’m a must for dinner parties.
Newsflash: people who work 80-hour weeks are really boring. All they do is work. But stay at home mums? On a day to day basis, they’re pretty much making a person. And that’s not the only thing they’re doing. They’re studying, working, volunteering, helping family, contributing to their community, using their brains, doing different things, everyday. Would I rather talk to an advertising executive? Hell no.
I am not the help.
Oh, you’ve dropped something? Pick it up. Oh you’re bored? Go find something to do. I refuse to be summoned by my child from another room in the house. I refuse to acknowledge a request that didn’t end in please. My mum didn’t put up with any crap and I don’t intend to either.
Singles are the new superheroes.
I’ve been a single parent since my daughter was born and I don’t regret a thing. I am no longer shy, no longer intimidated. Managing 12 months with a reflux baby on my own with no support, no car, and no money has made such challenges as meeting new people, public speaking, and job related stress a bit of a non-event.
Laugh or die.
If I don’t laugh when my daughter flushes my new Nokia in the toilet, or when she sweetly informs her teacher that ‘Mummy’s tired cause she was drinking last night’, I may turn into a female version of the Incredible Hulk. Turning just about every horrible experience into an amusing story three months later is probably the only way I’ve avoided being institutionalised.
Strangers can make me cry.
Having a child seems to have opened me up to a whole world of grief. I think it’s only when you reach your full capacity to love somebody that you can truly comprehend another person’s loss. Although it hurts sometimes, the ability to feel other people’s pain reminds me that I’m human. And it’s worth it.
“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