I’m late but I’m early, my kids and I.
I spot another teacher at an outside table and we join her. Soon the others come. Toddlers and babies are long enough ago for them to welcome kids in a coffee shop; it’s a novelty even. Quickly my daughter is relocated to other laps as my son is shy after his sleep. He is hungry so I call out for apple juice and raisin toast like a desperate patient. I’m told to sit and they’ll come for our order, but they don’t know I need this immediately, like a sedative drug, a prop.
But we’re here. We’re in a coffee shop, out to lunch. We made it. We rescheduled the sleep, slid in the swim, and now we’re here. We can enjoy the treat that eating out is.
Conversation whirrs around me and I try to grab it like washing on a windy day. I clutch on to the beginnings of sentences and wonder if I find some endings later could I put them together and have had at least one conversation. Anyway, I’m here.
The toast and juice come and he drinks the juice but doesn’t like the toast. I’ve filled the table with knick knacks from the cafe – an abacus, a puzzle and some dominoes. They get in the way and fall to the ground but he’s distracted. My daughter needs breastfeeding so I heave her onto me between the edge of my boss’ chair one side and my son teetering on a stool on the other. I pride myself for remembering the breastfeeding singlet – perfect under the loose knit top of the same color. I coolly unclip the singlet to let out a breast and the knit top unkindly reveals everything the singlet doesn’t.
But we’re here and I’ve ordered a gourmet chicken burger and a coffee. My son needs to go to the toilet. We shuffle our way down behind the kitchen. The earlier clouds have deceived me and now my jeans are hot, clinging to me as I take awkward steps side to side behind my son. The toilet is equally decorated with vintage knick knacks and my son wants the fluffy dice. I distract him with the posters on the wall as he takes off both shoes, pulls two legs through underpants and then shorts, and then repeats the process in reverse when he’s finished.
Back at the table the conversation has galloped ahead. I’ve no chance of offering anything to the portions of sentences I collected before. Ah, the chicken burger. It’s nothing I would’ve cooked at home and I’m happy. Aioli drips on the other half on the plate. Chicken falls from the bread and, in its pre cut pieces, becomes a healthy alternative to raisin toast and I offer it to my son. But he wants a cupcake. Oh well, we’re here, enjoying lunch.
As I look up between bites my daughter’s gaze tells me she’s tired. She’s being jigged with enthusiasm but I can tell she wants to be upright over the shoulder. The pram’s in the car as is the bag of supplies you carry everywhere with you when you have kids, except when it’s in the car. Only four bites of burger left and I can reassemble the domino box and try for some more sentences.
Sound wafts over and beside me as I lean one way then the next to collect dominoes from the ground below us, while staying seated in my chair. I try moving my mouth as I stretch this way and that, like a swimmer gulping for air. In this position I can participate in the world above the table or scan the world below. I find my son crouched down under the table, a large bulge at the back of his pants telling me we need the toilet again.
Back to the toilets, my jeans as hot as ever and I’m never in more need of the bag of supplies than now. But we’re out to lunch so we’ll get through this and we go back to the table with him wearing shorts and his undies are in my bag. Music now stabs the conversation and I set my son up with a reassembled version of the dominoes. He prefers the handrail bar of the bike stand centimetres from the road and climbs on it with enough enthusiasm to make onlookers nervous and me a bad mother. I tried to breastfeed my daughter off to sleep but she’s jerky and jolts her head up from under my top and regular intervals. I think about another coffee but finish off the bald cupcake my son has discarded like a cat eating scraps.
I collect my son’s pencils, stack my plate and food paraphernalia and pay my share like I’m packing away toys at the end of the day. My son’s missing from the bike stand so I cut short another sentence and swoop the area. He’s crouching again, now at the base of the stand, his shorts wet and smelly.
Lunch is over.
“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