The compro-mum

by Marie McMillan

Will she love me, love me not...... I agonised, as I confirmed with my employer that I would, indeed, be returning to the work-force, full-time and permanently.

Having spent six blissfully happy months with my infant daughter, the time had come, I felt, to return to gainful employment, to stimulation, continued self-fulfilment and more filthy lucre.

But the decision having been made, I then started to waiver. Fuzzy snippets of child psychology lectures were dredged up from the past. Had not Bowlby advocated years, not months, of cuddling and tactile stimulation between
parent(s) and child? Then it was six-monthly visit to-the-paediatrician-time. Without any prompting, or even a hint of my future plans, said infant expert launched into a lecture on the ‘clinging’ stage, through which my child would soon proceed, and the need, throughout, for my loving and patient presence. By strange coincidence, this was
reiterated the following morning by the local clinic sister, who deplored the insufficient, inferior bonding which ensued when Mum went to work and a swivel-door of minders took over. “She'll need your presence 24 hours a day
until she's at least 15 months old,” Sister sternly warned.

Shortly prior to this my mother had come a-visiting. Then, Shortie II had whimpered whenever I left her in a room alone. Now, whimpers were heard whenever Grandma Murphy left the room. Divided loyalties, affection switching. What next I worried? I didn't wait to find out. Three days after having nominated a return-to-work date, I revoked my decision and, ultimately, resigned. That pall of guilt which had been shrouding my enjoyment of Shortie II vanished.

In the past, I had watched some of my working mum peers in situ, marvelling at some, concerned for others. Initially everything would go ‘splendidly’. Then, as the three-year hurdle approached, some told tales of continued bed-wetting, speech problems which didn't seem to clear up, persistent nail-biting and even symptoms of withdrawal or aggression. These absent-mother-induced afflictions would not befall my daughter, I comforted myself. Nor would I have to race around the office leaving distempered animals in the corridor, swollen-glanded and bespotted children in the garaged car, sprinting through the lunch-time decathlon of shopping, collection of laundry, bill paying etc. I wouldn't have to invent weird and wonderful excuses to explain my late arrivals and early departures or engage in whispered telephone enquiries regarding holiday camps or vocational activities and excursions; in short, anything at all to keep kids kinetic, while mum careered on. The office phone-bill would fall as the need to employ, organise and re-schedule baby-sitters, child-care minders, au pairs, cleaners - all those myriads of supporters so necessary to the working mum – diminished

Now, Shorties I and II – she and I – would relax, TOGETHER, getting to know each other and live as happily, as possible, every after.

So we invited les girls, les mummies and les kids to brunch, lunch and assorted cuppas. We walked together and gooed at each others’ children and paid weekly visits to the clinic, positively glowing from the affirmative
observations and progress. And we cleaned and untidied and cleaned again. Some days Shortie II was like a heaven-sent angel, others... Well, perhaps more like a little demon, with misses and messes.

Then Shortie II metamorphosed into Sydney's number one sleuth. Such heuristic ability did she develop that the entire cast of The Bill must be green with envy. No stone, cupboard, drawer or bag was left untouched.
Then her creativity commenced. No floor, carpet, wall or door was left in its former not-so-pristine state. She plopped and squashed with alacrity and belted, tore and reefed con brio. As I ducked to miss the heavy
bombardments one rainy day, a comforting pal, and experienced mother, suggested future positioning of Gunner Shortie’s high chair (launching pad of so many mushy missiles) on ensuing inclement days, in the hosable
precinct of the shower recess!

Having pronounced words of gratitude at eight months, certain sibilants at twelve and scales on the da, ma, ba, la solfa, Shortie now decided ‘mute was bute’. Indeed, so much so that when her Mum wasn't lacrymating into the
sink with depression, she felt like a babbling ventriloquist. Nor was reading permitted in Shortie’s presence! Pages were for tearing and stripping, crunching and munching, but certainly not perusing.

A compromise was obviously required.

“Casual teacher lists are full. Anyway, there's no demand for your subjects. Try Maths or Physics, if you REALLY want to teach”, was the answer to one query. All likely administrative positions straddled both ends of Shortie’s waking-feeding-washing-changing-sleeping spectrum. I'd simply never see her! But, eventually, I found a position as a casual shift-worker within ‘the media industry’, with before-sunrise starts or post-sunset finishes. A day here, a week there. Absolutely no status but none of its concomitant problems either. Some involvement, some utilisation of skills, some shekels earned and even fewer saved, slight murmurs of independence. And still plenty of time with Shortie.

And what of my diminutive daughter? During my infrequent forays into the work-force, she was minded by a Portuguese neighbour who also cared for two newly-arrived Spanish kids. If the effects of this multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment do not prepare her for ultimate entrée to the United Nations, it certainly won't be the fault of her almost full-time Mum.


© Marie McMillan


P.S. Shortie II is now a beautiful young woman, having completed a B.Sc at Sydney University, majoring in Psychology. This year she put her Masters of Commerce degree ‘on hold’ to embark on a degree in Music. When she was sixteen months old she was diagnosed with a glue ear problems, resulting in some speech problems – all now corrected – which were compounded, I believe, by her, short-term, immersion in a non-English-speaking environment! Too late, I realised that her family day carer, who spoke fluent English, was speaking Portuguese all day. MEA CULPA, MY DARLING.

“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.

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* Gloria Steinem