I close the front door behind us. I notice it is off square; another problem to fix. They are mounting. But the kids have been awake since daybreak, and we all need to get out. The shops are open and I may as well get the shopping done now as later. I shut the front gate behind us – no need to give people ideas the place might be empty – and turn the pusher down the street.
Alice sits up front, ready for the day. I haven’t quite got the knack of her hair yet; the ponytail is off to one side, and the back bit is hanging loose. Still, she doesn’t seem to mind and I know I don’t. Matt is sitting up at the back because his sister is doing the same at the front. I think it will be like that for quite a while.
The shops are about 15 minutes away. It’s flat, so the pusher goes pretty easily. The doc said I needed to walk and to lose weight if I wanted to hang around for these two. I reckon I’ll need another 15 to 20 to see them fly the nest. Not long, really. Funny, I thought the ache in my hip would worsen if I pushed it, but it shows you never know till you try. After just four or five months I can get to the shops and back without stopping. The shop owners know us pretty well; it’s become a routine. I guess that means we’re regulars.
“Grandpa, can I have a brioche this morning, please?” asks Alice, sitting straight, eyes fixed ahead.
“Bubba,” says Matt. It’s all he ever wants.
“Let’s wait and see, kids,” I say. “They might have sold out.” As if. Sometimes it’s like they wait for us to arrive. Something about little kids, I reckon.
By the time we get home, tray under the pusher fuller than I wanted, Matt smells. It must be bad; I can’t smell cat’s piss these days. We’ve worked out a good routine, though. Alice carries the clean nappy to the laundry, and I fill the trough with warm water and soap. It’s just a matter of lifting him out of his old nappy, and dropping him in the water. He loves it. Alice looks on, holding her nose. I used to try it in the bath, but my back started to complain, particularly as he got bigger. He’s grown more than I would have believed possible this past six months. Amazing things, kids.
I lift him out of the trough and place him on the washing machine. Alice has put a towel down under the clean nappy. Matt gets that look on his face and, growling, I smother the stream from his doodle just as it starts.
“Little scallywag,” says Alice, looking up.
“Little scallywag,” I say, and we smile.
I always have trouble with nappies. Plastic tabs: not meant for a bloke with big thumbs. If I came back again, I’d make sure I had smaller thumbs. Even Marg used to comment about my thumbs, God rest her.
I put Matt down for his sleep after lunch. He doesn’t like it at first, but settles as usual. Alice never needed a sleep, even when she and Matt first arrived. She barely gets more than I do. I never noticed that about kids before: brother and sister can be so different. I switch on a movie for her and fold the washing. Third time this week she’s wanted Aladdin. I clean up the kitchen, have a shave, and decide the shower can wait until tomorrow.
Young Matt wakes. He needs a change and a drink. I am glad when Jeannie from next door arrives; I need to do a couple of things in the city. I tell her I’ll be back by six. Alice holds my hand from the bedroom to the front door and waves to me through the wire screen.
Things don’t go quite as expected. Some clown at Centrelink tells me I cannot get single parent support as, officially, I am a grandparent. He gives me another form twenty pages long, says to post it in and they’ll consider it. I used to meet his sort in ‘Nam. They waste everyone’s time.
On the way home, a Prado zooms past the tram. It makes me think about my boy. Him and Libby. Bloody tragedy that. Still doesn’t seem real. I’m glad at least Marg wasn’t around when it happened. She didn’t deserve that. The tram driver almost accelerates past my stop before I pull the cord again. I glare at his face in the side mirror as I get off. Young bucks. Think it’s all about them. Someone’s got to make them realise.
When I get home, Alice is sitting up at the table, legs crossed. Jeannie is feeding Matt in the highchair. Triumphantly, he holds up a grape in his pudgy fingers.
“Bubba!” he says.
Jeannie smiles. “Alice knew what he wanted,” she says.
“He thinks they’re bubbles,” I say.
“How was your day, Grandpa?” asks Alice.
Her question takes me by surprise. A bloke doesn’t expect a four-year old to ask him a question like that. I take off my glasses and wipe them. It is a few moments before I respond.
“Terrific,” I say. “Tomorrow will be even better. We’ve got your preschool interview. What do you reckon?”
She laughs and claps her hands.
“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