“That’s it!” I shouted. “I’m not taking this anymore. I’m reclaiming my garage! My telly! And I’m taking my life back!”
It was early, I hadn’t had a first cup of coffee and I had to let it out. You see, my son Max, who has just turned five, decided last night he’d venture into bed with his mother and me. And I wouldn’t have minded, except he brought every toy he owns with him –Teddy, Dinosaur, Dragon and Monkey to name a few. After several minutes of elbows, knees and feet flying in all directions, Max and his buddies had settled and were sleeping sound – one was even snoring – while I clung for dear-life to the last thread of doona on the edge of the bed. And, I had a tiny foot tunnelling into my backbone.
I thought of sitting up and just moving the foot, or better yet, moving Max back to his own bed. But truth told, I didn’t want to wake him, he needed sleep. He had kinder in a few hours. Plus, there’s a massive part of me that loves having Max so close. So I clung to the edge of the bed wondering if I’d ever get back to sleep. Wondering if I’d be able to block out the pain of that foot jabbing deeper into my back? But mostly I wondered how this had become my life?
The last five years have gone so fast, and the only thing I knew for sure was that I was no longer king of my castle – as the foot in my back attested to. If anything I’m a personal chauffer to an endless parade of birthday parties, swimming lessons, softball, kindergarten play-dates and school orientation events. Toys have invaded my living room, bathroom and bedroom. My garage is full of old prams, cots, bassinettes, old baby clothes and what I think are breast pumps. My car is nothing more than a Wiggles CD on wheels and my once mighty 68cm cricket emitting fantasy box now only runs Ben 10 cartoons. Over and flippin’ over. And that foot in my back was excruciating. I tried to wriggle free, but the foot dug deeper into the bone. Ouch!
I wasn’t going to be able to take the pain much longer without waking Max. I wriggled again and the foot actually moved to a softer spot on my upper back. “Bliss!” But now I was wide awake, and my restless mind had to reassure me of all the happy and wonderful moments of parenthood. I remembered back to that amazing little person rolling on a blanket in the lounge room, and the hours spent watching him, amazed at how perfect he was.
And I recalled his first steps, and the days we spent in the park playing, laughing and discovering the world, and what a world! And I remembered seeing his joyous little face light up as he headed off to kinder for the first time – to discover new friends and conquer new worlds – his bag almost bigger than him hurled over his shoulder, and then coming home with artwork to stick on the fridge. Suddenly I had nothing to complain about.
I wouldn’t swap this life for the world. Foot in my back or not, I realised being Max’s dad is the most fulfilling and rewarding experience of my life. I wriggled again and the foot trundled back down onto my backbone. Double Ouch!
Around five o’clock I closed my eyes. Six o’clock my alarm shook me into a stupor. A beam of light burst through the curtains onto my pillow, and that little foot was still in my back! It hurt like crazy. That’s it! I was going to have to move the foot and wake Max. It was time to get up anyway. So I leaned forward, looked across and saw Max curled up comfy with his mum way over the other side of the bed. And right there I realised that the foot in my back didn’t belong to Max at all. I turned around completely and saw Teddy looking all smug and well-rested – and why wouldn’t he? He’d been using my backbone as a foot stool all night.
“That’s it!” I shouted. “No more flippin’ toys! Everybody sleeps in their own beds! I’m not taking this anymore. I’m reclaiming my garage! My telly! And taking my life back!”
There it was – my rant. I felt a little bad that I’d used such strong language first thing in the morning, and I was sorry that I’d put my foot down with such force, but deep-down I knew my family would understand. They’d understand my pain. They’d understand the sleepless night I’d endured and they’d sympathise with me.
My wife opened one eye, gazed at the clock and mumbled something I don’t care to repeat, while Max gave a, “What-everr, Dad!” And they both rolled over and back to sleep.
But I was serious, darn it! I’d made a life-changing declaration. And now, in the hours that have followed, I’ve decided I’m sticking to my guns. Starting this weekend, I am officially reclaiming my life … just as soon as we get home from gymnastics.
“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