Thanks to my in-laws, Thursday night is date night. My beloved and I have a favourite little Italian place that serves the best gnocchi in the world and has the tables squeezed so close together it would be impossible to take the kids. I swear that’s the truth.
Each week on our way to Gino’s, we drive past a share house inhabited by a group of young guys. They have a half-pipe in the backyard. There’s lights and a reasonable set of speakers rigged up. Usually there’s a gathering of about half a dozen, just skating and chilling. Listening to a tune. Having a beer. Sharing a ciggie. Always laughing. Sweet.
From the window of our passing family sedan, I gaze out at what must be a normal night in Share House Heaven.
“How awesome does that place look,” I comment to my husband, himself once the tenant of many an unvacuumed, starving, sticky-floored, student share house. “Don’t you envy those guys?”
Hell, I did. They had spare time; indeed, spare hours to ride skate boards. To stay up late doing nothing in particular, without the threat of a pre-dawn wake-up call from a miniature, bright-eyed, bundle of enthusiasm. To invite a special friend around for an unhurried romp, without that same bright-eyed bundle wandering in and appearing at the bedside mid-proceedings. To party. To do something as unproductive as drinking beer and riding skateboards on a week night. To do whatever the hell they wanted. To just be.
The start of a smile sits at the edge of his lips, and threatens to get away. He has a reflective moment before replying, “A bit. But I have my beautiful family.”
“That sounds like a mantra to me,” I tease.
This time a shared smile of solidarity before we both, I dare say, reminisce about the less pleasant details of those pre-parenting university days. The endless due dates, boring tutorials, empty pantries, take away pizzas and poverty. Of lazy flat-mates, expired leases and bathrooms that qualified to be declared a risk to public safety by Department of Health officials in Hazmat suits. All of that was there, no doubt, hidden away behind the skater dudes’ fence.
But from our booster-seated four-door family sedan we couldn’t see the bitter; just the sweet. The freedom. The music. The laughter. Such frivolity on a school night! Sweet.
Although it was as familiar to me now as living on Mars, the life I glimpsed behind the fence was mine, or at least a version thereof. The me from a previous life, albeit minus the half-pipe and a couple of testicles. The me who didn’t answer to Mummy. The me who couldn’t hear a child’s cry of distress from a handful of suburbs away, à la Horton Hears a Who. The me who hadn’t even heard of Horton Hears a Who. The me before children.
Before our children. Our wonderful children, whose arrival left me torn and bleeding, swollen and stricken. And at the same time, allowed me to witness the purest joy I’d ever known.
The ones who I oftentimes can’t wait to race into bed and then once there, I watch sleeping, and become panicked that they might be whisked away from me when I least expect it.
The ones who tell me my boobs are saggy, my new haircut doesn’t suit me, that Grace’s mum is way funnier than me. The ones who went halves in my stretch marks (all these for me? Really, you shouldn’t have).
The ones whose hair holds the scents of so many sweet memories. Just bathed baby fuzz, sweaty preschool plaits, salty beach curls. The smells capable of making my stomach flip and clench and yearn to hold them closer to me than is physically possible.
The ones whose holiday bags I eagerly pack for two nights at the beach house with their favourite cousins. Without me. The promise of freedom! That night our home, too quiet, too still. Not a home, just a house.
The ones whose mere existence in the world makes me weep during episodes of Oprah. And Dr Phil. And whose presence makes me hide my tears in case my sadness upsets them.
The ones who leave me more exhausted, wrung out and frustrated than I thought possible for the living (and the sane) to be. The ones I love with such ferocity it terrifies me.’
The ones who’ve robbed me of luxuries I’d never thought to categorise as such. Telephone time. Toilet time. Girlfriend time. And in their places, brought treasures to my life that are much, much more precious.
The ones who’ve taught me a new dimension to patience. And guilt. Oh, the guilt (and not just about crying during Dr Phil).
The ones from whom I crave personal space and who, once gone, I miss like breath.
The bitter. The sweet.
“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