From high up in a cool, weightless place comes a distant sound; a babbling, not of water flowing but of little voices, one unintelligible and the other authoritative and rising and, alas, I am woken from bliss.
My eldest son stands beside the bed, the phone in his outstretched hand. His younger brother and sister stand next to him, arguing apparently in a language only they can understand. I feel absurdly like Goldilocks in an Alice in Wonderland world, as the phone is pushed into my face.
“It's Granny,” my big boy says, six going on thirty.
Mum is already chattering as I bring the phone to my ear. My mouth stretches to a smile even as my eyes still blink grittily to focus.
“Wait Ma, I'm still waking up.”
“You're on high alert, the winds have come up and blown the fire your way!” she shrieks down the line.
“You-are-on-high-alert,” she says loudly in much the same way she speaks to her senile dog. Both my sons now stand at my bedside pantomiming their need for nutrition while I lose patience with their grandmother.
“You need to pack the kids up, you’re on high alert, and don’t forget my books, put those straight in the car. Right now!”
Ahh, now I see the urgency of her call this summer morning. Her books are officially on high alert.
“Hang on a sec Ma… Dave? Dave!” My husband pops his head in the doorway.
“We're on high alert Darl, I’m just going through our paperwork,” he says before disappearing again, just like the White Rabbit. My mother is still chirruping away in my hand and evilly I pass her to our two-year-old who starts a tuneful soliloquy holding the phone to her face upside down. I follow Dave up the hallway.
“So what are we doing?”
“Well, it’s probably nothing, the fire’s a hundred miles away,” says Mr Sensible.
“Yeah, but what are we doing?”
“Just pack a bag for us and the kids and get the things you need. I’ll put the important stuff in the lockbox, it’s fireproof.”
“What important stuff? The passports and birth certificates?” Seems to me he has the easy job once again and I’ve been delegated the rotten one. He looks at me in that way he has that makes me feel twelve.
“Yeah and what about our marriage certificate, our photos, your engagement ring and the other jewellery I got you for birthdays and, I don’t know, the stuff that records our lives together,” he says with a withering look.
I attempt to conjure up an expression of self-righteous dignity, even as I stand there in my pink ruffled pyjamas, and fail miserably. The problem is I know what he is saying is right, but I long to go back to bed and pull the covers up over my head.
Pleeeze just make me a coffee before I murder the lot of you.” I try to say it playfully, I don't want us to start the weekend cranky with each other but I don’t think I’ve pulled it off. The toddler jabbers past me with the phone now beeping under her arm.
“I’ll make you coffee, but can you go and get your stuff?” Dave says through his teeth.
Our three children know which side their bread is buttered; they run after their dad, harassing him for breakfast.
I pull out jewellery boxes from their various hiding places and sort through the mass of plastic, metal and the odd high school love note I can’t bear to part with. I find my engagement ring, my favourite earrings and a cameo given to me by my Godmother. That’s it. That’s all I need. But still…. I paw through the boxes again, the broken chains, leather pendants, junk jewellery. I don’t know what I’m looking for, I have all the precious things.
Halfway through breakfast I’m looking at my hectic little family over lime marmalade toast and my second coffee. The morning, the possible fire, is all so surreal that this already feels like a memory. The phone has rung off the hook, every radio in the house is on and blaring. But something is prickling my brain behind my caffeine fix. I have packed the kids’ stuff, my mother’s books, my notepads, my lucky undies but I’ve missed something.
“I'm going to take the lockbox to your mum’s now,” Sensible Dave says.
“OK,” I collect dishes and brush crumbs off the table and straight onto the floor. Who cares about housework when they’re on high alert?
“Seeya,” he says kissing me as he heaves the lockbox out the door.
“Seeya,” I say to his back. I need another coffee. I get the mug, the Moccona, the sugar: I flick the jug on and open the fridge for the milk. My gappy grinned son smiles at me from his Kindergarten photo on the fridge door. And then it clicks.
“WAITWAITWAIT!” I screech into the street in the ridiculous pink pajamas. I flag down Dave’s car on its way down the street. He reverses back looking at me, his pinkly ruffled nutcase wife, with mild anxiety.
“Wait! Wait here!” I bolt back inside, scoot down the stairs, trip into my room and pull out my underwear drawer. I dig past the favourite faded cotton and the flimsy lace I never wear and pull out an old unassuming green velvet ring box. I shake it to check it’s the right one. The box rattles dryly. I open it and look inside and my head clears, my need for caffeine dissipates.
I count them, touching each with my finger gently. One, two, three, four. Beautiful, irregular, creamy pearls.
Our son’s baby teeth.
“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