“Tuesday ugh,” I groan preparing for the challenge from my two year old as we fight to get out the door to day care.
“No! Mum, no. I want to stay here. I don’t want to go to day care. Don’t like it there,” he pouts, desperate for me to stay home and play with him.
Happily I begin, “It”s nice playing with your friends. It’s fun at day care.”
Stamping his foot in disapproval he sulks. “No, don’t like the kids. It’s yukky! Want to stay home, with you.”
Shrugging, I agree. “Me too, but I have to work today. I promise we will play tonight.”
“No, I want to play here with my toys,” he whines. “Right now!”
I deploy a distraction. “Austin, can you please help me find my boots. I could really use your help, seeing you’re so good at playing hide-and seek.” Relishing a challenge, he happily takes my hand and leads me into the bedroom. Enjoying the game, it doesn’t take him long to find them.
“You”re a great treasure hunter. Can you please grab my keys and turn off the television.”
“Yeh!” he shouts running proudly down the hall. Grabbing his bag, he waits at the door, the keys pressing into his clenched fist.
“Bang, brrrrrrrrr,” a strange sound starts up outside.
“What”s that sound? Can I see it? I want to see it. Mum.”
His little fingers fumble with the keys at the door. Across the road units are being built. Austin runs to the edge of the driveway squealing loudly.
“A digger. Look Mum, come and see it. I want to watch it. Just five minutes,” he pleads holding up an open palm.
More squeals, “Aah! A truck. Look Mum. The digger’s putting dirt on the truck.”
Thankfully after a few minutes we continue on our way without too much argument. Securely buckled into the car and backing out the driveway, I turn on the CD to mask his insistent moans.
“No, want to go that way,” he screams, pointing in the opposite direction. “Want to go to Alicia’s house. Don’t want to go to Mary’s. Don’t like it there. It’s not fun.”
Singing louder, ignoring the whines, Austin interrupts me. “Stop, you don’t like this song. You don’t sing it. It’s mine.”
A garbage truck offers some relief as Austin yells loudly, “Mum look .See, a bin truck. Wow!”
He points to the bins being lifted high above the truck. Then spotting a car with a spoiler, he cheers.
“It”s a race Mummy. Go fast like a race car, broom.”
Toy cars in his hand zoom around in the air, on a pretend racetrack.
Turning into the car park I sneak a look in the rear vision mirror only to see arms and legs flaying around like an octopus treading water.
“No, not this way. Mummy. Want to go to the beach, the shops, Nana’s…”
The list is endless. His words flow anxiously into each other, desperate to change the direction of the car. Bracing myself for the next battle, I park the car and listen as his wailing increases.
Unfastening the seatbelt, his hands grab frantically at the straps. Tiny fingers try to place them back in the buckle. I stand my ground, nodding apologetically to the other parents in the car park. Inside the car the skirmish continues: fists clenched, legs kicking, head shaking, tears flowing, lungs greedily sucking in the air, screaming like a siren.
“Let’s go inside and see what we can play with today,” I suggest.
“I want my ball,” Austin says, seeing it in the car.
“You don’t need your ball,” I assure him. “There are lots of balls to play with outside.”
“This one?” he asks innocently, hoping to win me over. Pointing to the ball he sweetly says, “Can I take this one? Yeh! Yeh!”
“No, you can carry your Roary bag,” I suggest firmly.
“No. Don’t need the bag. Leave it here. Carry me,” he insists.
“Okay, I’ll carry you,” I concede hoping to loosen his vice like grip on the seatbelt strap.
“I don’t want to go inside. Want to go home. Please Mummy, you play with me for 10 minutes.” He begs, holding up two palms with fingers spread wide, tears streaming down his red cheeks.
Grabbing a flannel I reach deep inside the eye of the tornado, wrestling his ferocity in an attempt to wipe his face. “I will play with you inside for 10 minutes I promise.” Eager to get him out of the car I ask, “What would you like to do?”
“Ride my scooter,” he screams excitedly.
“Okay let’s go inside and find a scooter,” I agree.
“No, want my Cars one. They don’t have it. Don’t like their scooters,” he whines.
“Let’s go inside and find something else fun to do.”
Desperate to pry his hands open to lift him out, I bribe him with a story. “We can read a book. You like Hairy Maclary. I know they have that one.”
“Don’t like Scar Face Claw. He’s scary.” Austin hisses and spits imitating the cat in the story.
“What book would you like me to read,” I ask.
“Tiddler the fish,” he shouts enthusiastically.
“Okay let’s read that,” I announce.
Catching him off guard, I swiftly snatch him free. Refusing to let go of me, his arms and knees wrap around me tightly like a boa constrictor eating its lunch. His grip suffocating me, I hurry for the door. Once inside, we search for Tiddler.
“Oh no! We can”t find Tiddler.”
On any other day, I might have let this episode defeat me, but thankfully, today I was able to keep my composure and empathise with my son’s emotional expulsion. The next day was better and they usually are. I ear mark this memory as the day my baby found his voice. He has been exercising it ever since, challenging me endlessly.
“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