“Right, I can do this.” I exhale as though blowing out candles on an enormous cake. “Nappies, plastic bags, wipes, bibs, clean outfit, wrap, nappies, keys, mobile…”
My eyes dart from corner to corner and my forehead begins to prickle with perspiration. Is there anything I’ve forgotten?
“Keys, purse, lip balm… Oh Jesus!” I groan.
I race through the house, coming close to rolling my ankle many times as I navigate my way through the chaos. He is still lying there, his eyes closed and face twitching, right where I’d left him.
“I knew there was something I’d forgotten.”
I pick him up out of the cot as carefully as I can, determined not to wake him. It is coming up to the 20 minute mark – he might be about to come out of a sleep cycle. “Please don’t wake up,” I urge him silently.
I feel the strap of my bag slipping from my shoulder, just as I am bringing him up to rest on my chest. My eyes begin to widen. Baby? Bag? Baby? Bag? Shouldn’t these things be instinctive? The bag falls heavily onto the unforgiving floorboards, my keys leaping out of the side pocket. Here we go.
I scoop up the bag and keys. Panic carries me out the front door and luck sees that I leave nothing behind. I bundle him into the hot car as his cat-like protests turn wild and his face grows redder. Just drive. Maybe the motion of the car will make him sleep, or maybe some music?
By the time we get to Tanya’s house he is covered in vomit, induced by the screaming, and I am drenched in an anxious sweat. Unfortunately I haven’t packed a change of clothes for myself - mental note to self for next time.
I ring the doorbell; a fancy metal thing that reflects my smudged eyeliner. I squint as Tanya opens the door. Her hair is swept back carefully, the shine of it catching in the sunlight.
“Come in out of the heat. I’ve got the air conditioner going.”
I bundle through the doorway, praying that Samuel will give me some peace this afternoon. It is my first time at a Mum’s house since the group started at the local maternal and child health centre. I want to be invited back again.
“Oh look at the poor thing!” she gasps, presumably at my son. “Here, come and change him in Sarah’s room. She’s just woken up from a 2 hour nap. It’s great when they sleep like that, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I mumble, forcing the corners of my mouth upward. “Hey, thanks for having us.”
“It’s no trouble. It will be good to sit and chat with someone who’s going through the same thing as me.”
Sarah’s room does not look like a baby’s room. There are no carpet stains, no tubes of creams and lotions on the floor and no damp bath towel hanging over the side of the cot. There is no hint of excrement in the air either. I wonder which air freshener she uses.
“Come down to the lounge when you’re ready, Trish. I’ll put the kettle on.” Tanya glides back down the hallway.
“Okay, Samuel. This is important for mummy. Our first invite.” I’m not sure that he hears me above his own noise. I ease his sticky singlet over his head, sweeping vomit through his hair. “Damn it!” With one hand on his tummy (you hear some awful stories about babies rolling off change tables and dying) I reach down into the nappy bag, feeling around for a fresh singlet. “Here we go. This should feel better.”
Tanya is sitting on the floor beside the bouncer, admiring her peaceful, gurgling daughter.
Sam has fallen asleep on my shoulder. I check my watch. 12:24. Six minutes until he is due for his next feed.
“Tea or coffee, Trish?”
“A strong coffee would be great.”
“Aren’t you still breastfeeding? How about I make you a decaf? I’ve found this new brand and it tastes great!”
My stomach flips, over and over. I can’t stand decaf. Give me vegemite and boiling water any day. “Sounds good, Tanya. Thanks.”
“So how are things going with Sam?”
Shit. I have no idea what I’m doing and all the books say different things. My breasts leak, I can’t sneeze without having to change my undies and my nails are brittle. I think I’ve made a big mistake.
That’s my internal dialogue. What actually escapes my lips is: “Oh, you know, okay I guess. He’s healthy…”
“Well, that’s the main thing, isn’t it? Sarah’s been really difficult lately actually.”
“Oh, really?” I jump in, maybe a little too enthusiastically. “What’s wrong?”
“She wants my attention all the time. I’m glad I bought one of those baby slings, otherwise I’d never get dinner on the table in time for Gary.”
Gary is her husband. He’s one of those hard-working, suited types. He is also really hands-on with Sarah, according to Tanya. Bitch.
“That must be hard. Hey that’s a cool outfit she’s wearing.”
“Yeah, there are some lovely things in Pumpkin Patch right now. You should go there with Sam.”
I stand up. “Do you mind holding him while I go to the bathroom?”
“Sure. Down the corridor, second door on the left.”
The cool tiles are a welcome relief. Leaving the lid down I sit on the loo, holding my head in my hands. I shouldn’t have come. Tanya doesn’t want to have a vomitty child and an incompetent mum in her spotless home. What was I thinking?
The adrenaline that carried me to Tanya’s house has now worn off. I can no longer care whether Samuel sleeps or not, stays clean or vomits, wears Pumpkin Patch or overalls from the second hand shop. I can’t feel jealous of Tanya’s house or hands-on husband. I don't care if I get invited back or not. I just can’t feel a thing. I ponder the possibility of just sitting here for the rest of the day, or perhaps curling up on the cool tiles and drifting off to sleep.
After what seems like hours a gentle knocking on the door slowly enters my awareness. I wonder how long she’s been there.
“You alright, Trish?” she whispers cautiously.
I get to my feet as though someone has flicked the ‘automatic’ switch on my side. “I think I should leave now.”
I’m not sure how, but I’m soon in the car on my way home. I hardly notice Samuel’s hungry screams or the flashing petrol light. As the tears well, blurring my vision, I blink them away, only for my eyes to fill again. I probably shouldn’t be on the road, on this road. How did I get here?
My mobile begins to buzz in the depths of my bag and a muffled, electronic version of “Oh let the sunshine in, face it with a grin...” starts up. I have to laugh as I run the back of my hand across my damp eyes – my Pa used to greet me with this tune in the morning when I was a little girl. Being the responsible mother that I hope I am, I turn in to the next side street.
You have 1 new message. “Hi Trish. I'm just calling to check that you’re okay. You seemed pretty upset at my house. Look, I mightn’t be the best person to talk to about these things, but maybe have a chat to our nurse at the centre. I’ll give you a call later in the week. Take care.”
A deep sigh escapes my lips. I glance in to the rear view mirror as I turn the ignition. Samuel is fast asleep, his little face twitching as he dreams. I wonder what he dreams of? I once dreamed of him and now here he is. My baby. The sun shines in to the car, warming it instantly, and I grin.
“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