It’s only 6.30am and the room is still dark. The alarm hasn’t gone off yet, but my daughter Alessia is already awake, half an hour before her due time. Like some political protester she is standing in her cot, shaking the bars and loudly demanding to be out and fed.
My half an hour to myself for the morning routine and breakfast evaporates. The shower becomes a record breaking, exemplary water-saving exercise. Alessia hears the noise outside of her room and cranks up the volume. Jumping on one leg with another one in the pajama pant, still half wet, I rush to the nursery. And so the race has begun.
The first challenge of the day is called, ‘Can you get two adults to work and a one-year-old to childcare within record time? The next couple to miss the deadline may be eliminated.’
The baby is picked up, kissed, nappy changed, PJs off, day clothes on, off to be fed.
I nudge my sleepy spouse with my foot on the way to the kitchen. This turns on his morning autopilot which propels him out of bed and into the shower with his eyes still closed. After, still asleep but upright, he joins us in the kitchen to have his breakfast and to fully wake up.
Baby is fed, bib off, face wiped, hands washed. John is now fully awake, showered, dressed and self-fed – all in 17 minutes which is a great result for the first challenge of the day. And I even have fresh underwear on. “This is looking good,” I’m thinking, “We might win this leg of the race.”
But before I even finish thinking this happy thought, I can smell something. And it’s not the smell of success. “Alessia, no! Not now!” A ‘speed bump’. We have to do it all over again!
Back to the changing table – stockings off, nappy off, nose plug on, clean nappy on, stockings back on, baby is released. She crawls off while happily chatting away. At least someone is not stressed. The time it takes Alessia to get to her toy basket is enough for me to put my work shirt on. Inside out and back to front. Glad I notice it before we leave.
John is ready to go, holding the last piece of vegemite toast in his mouth.
Coat goes on, baby to catch, hat goes on the baby, coat is attempted to be put on the wriggling baby. Finally we are all dressed, standing in the hallway breathing heavily, taking a moment before the next task. That’s when I realize I still have my pajama pants on.
The next mini challenge is to get into the car. My partner, looking like the Employee of the Month from some luggage company loads himself with his laptop bag, Alessia’s baby bag, bag with her pram rain cover and my work bag. I’m holding Alessia which beats all the other bags combined in weight. We stumble out of the door and hit the road minutes later. You can almost taste the adrenalin in the air, but we have made it in time.
I am the first one to catapult out of the car on my way to work. A pause in the chilly morning, a breath and a thought to catch. Three, two, one… and I’m off to the next challenge.
It’s called ‘work’. You must fit in a full week of work into your part-time arrangement, appear friendly and sane, find time to chat with colleagues, multitask like crazy and finish on time as you can’t afford to stay back. And so the race continues…
The computer is on, e-mails checked, e-mails sent, phone calls answered, the presentation prepared, meetings held, agenda discussed. Where has the time gone, I just got here and it’s 5.30pm. It must have been a ‘fast forward’ in the race.
Computer is shut down, coat grabbed and I’m out of the door.
In the meantime my partner is performing a ‘roadblock’. This is a task that only one person can do. He’s rushing to childcare to collect Alessia early to beat the peak hour traffic. In a cacophony of noises, surrounded by children crawling around and tagging at his trousers, other parents arriving and leaving, his challenge is to listen to the staff comments, note Alessia’s sleep and food routine for the day, pick up the right items (not to mention the right child), then make it to the car, load all the bits and pieces and drive home in the afternoon traffic.
Finally we are all at home. But it’s too early to relax. On to the evening routine. This is the challenge we perform together.
The baby is fed, undressed, bath filled, bum washed, tiny 8.5 teeth excitedly brushed, PJs prepared, nappy on, breastfed, lullaby sung, baby settled for sleep.
Out of the nursery and into the kitchen. The pit stop is so close yet so far. We now face a detour. The dinner is prepared and eaten; the dishes washed and put away. The bags are packed for tomorrow.
Finally, both exhausted, we arrive at the pit stop – the couch and the TV. This leg of the race is finished. We did all right – we are all home, fed, dressed, the baby is asleep and we still remember each other’s names. Now for the mandatory 24-hour rest period and tomorrow is another day.
We are in a race, the Amazing Race, playing for the prize that I think we have already won. Just like the rest of the family teams around Melbourne.
“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