I’m panting from the effort of the last ninety minutes, stuffing the appropriate items into the boys’ bags and a bead of sweat snakes its way down my temple to trigger a profound insight: women live longer than men not because of any genetic or hormonal disposition but because they’re the traditional custodians of the school morning ‘routine’ which requires the elite fitness and concentration of a marathon runner.
The clock tells me it’s eight and because I have no reason to distrust it I start jogging a little faster on the spot as I survey the landscape. To get Tyson to kindergarten in time we need to be running for the door by eight fifteen. Archie is half-dressed, Lewis only has one shoe on, and Tyson needs a jumper and is dawdling over his breakfast bowl while encouraging the still onesie-clad Maki to spoon his cereal on to the table.
‘Tyson, eat your breakfast right now,’ I bellow, channelling Martin Luther King.
He makes frown lines you could sow wheat in and dismisses my six foot frame of wannabe scary dadness with, ‘No. I don’t like it.’
Maki the mimicking toddler screams, ‘No! I un lark it!’ which is both frustrating and cute.
I have the inkling of an error occurring as I down a large mouthful of coffee but it’s not until I feel a torturous morgue-like chill rushing towards my stomach that I remember I poured it for myself when I first sloth-rolled from bed almost two hours ago. I feel like I’ve just consumed a dead body in liquid form and as I repulse around that horrible image I stop Maki from emptying more cereal onto the table by catching his wrist and redirecting it towards his mouth.
‘Your other shoe, Lewis. Get… it … on,’ I say, for the fifth time already, as Maki continues to breakfast-block me with lip-pursing proficiency and then there’s the sound of a football being bounced on the floorboards and when I turn to see that Archie is still in his PJs I speak in a hiss, like a venom-spitting snake, ‘Get dressed now.
We’ve got twelve minutes, seriously, until we have to be out the door.’
Tyson says ‘I’m not eating it’ in a tone that would be more suited to the school-yard classic ‘You’re a loser’ but then contradicts himself by looking at me with ‘told you so’ eyes while spooning a large portion of cereal into his mouth, and so I manage to ignore my need to engage in a word fight and instead focus on Maki by saying, ‘Here comes another mouthful… oh look… it’s a little rabbit running away from the scary bear…. quick Maki, open your mouth… let the rabbit get into his burrow before the bear eats him… quick… quick!’
Maki laughs and opens his mouth but turns his head right at the point of entry so the cereal tips from the spoon onto his onesie and as I rush to the sink for a cloth I notice Lewis is still on the couch with only one shoe on, and for some reason I think of leprosy and have to remind myself that he’s actually able-bodied and in no way deserving of pity, but the clock is ticking. Luckily Archie comes in to redirect my panic and frustration towards a different item of clothing.
‘What do you mean you don’t know where your pants are?’ I say, striking up a conversation with Archie’s shrugging shoulders. ‘What did we do last night?’ Shrug. ‘Oh, swimming lessons.’ Shrug. ‘But didn’t you wear them home?’ Shrug. ‘I’m sure you did.’ Shrug, shrug. ‘We had showers last night too, didn’t we?’ Shrug-nod. ‘Yes. We did. Your pants are in the bathroom. Go!’
By some kind of hyper-miracle Tyson has finished his breakfast and is holding up the empty bowl and so I heap praise on him (probably too much by calling him my favourite) as a way of encouraging Maki to do the same. It’s going well until I remind myself to get Tyson in a jumper and then start mentally crossing off all the items that are meant to be in the kinder and school bags – hats and lunch boxes and water bottles and school readers and homework and show-and-tell and swimming forms—and then all of a sudden Maki yells ‘No. I unlark it’ again because I’ve broken the consistent conveyer-belt-styled delivery of food to his mouth. He drops from his chair and sprints his onesie-clad self down the hall as I leap for the jumper hanging from the kitchen stool.
Tyson says something to me but I can’t make out the words because I’m jog-shuffling towards him, like a farmer trying to corner a wild-eyed calf, staring at him through the head hole of his jumper. When he walks backwards, away from me, just out of reach, I say, ‘Stop, I just want to put your jumper on’ but he keeps saying something and walking backwards and saying something and walking backwards until I get frantic and reach out several times in a row trying to lasso him, saying, ‘What are you doing walking away from me? Stop, stop … stop!’ until I finally noose him and then leave him there to work the arms out himself while I turn my attention back to Lewis.
‘If you don’t get your shoe on right now,’ I say, ‘I am going to asphyxiate!‘
‘I can’t,’ he says, with the indifference of a late-60s rock star, ‘because the other one is lost.’
‘What?’ I say, as I sprint around the couch searching for it. ‘You wait until now? With five minutes to go? Before you tell me that the other one is lost? Get up and start looking for it right now. Inside and outside! Don’t stop moving! Keep going until you find it.
When I complete the second lap of the couch I see Maki’s clothes on the arm of the couch and pick the bundle up in one sweep, and as I set off down the hall I realise that women also live longer because they have to develop the strength and power of hundred-meter sprinters, and after a mini blackout – which I attribute mainly to stress – Maki’s fully dressed and running behind me as I race back to the living area.
‘Dad,’ Archie says. ‘I wish we had a really huge house so that we could have a trampoline inside and jump on it even when it was raining,’ which causes me to glance through the window to our trampoline.
Tyson and Maki are jumping on its bouncy sinful wetness and I could give in right now, I really could; I could just stay home and watch DVDs and eat vegemite scrolls and maybe start growing some marijuana plants as the first step to raising four career criminals.
‘Archie, help Lewis find his shoe,’ I yell, and I’m throwing open the sliding doors and leaping from the porch and bounding on to the trampoline and women live longer than men because they have been trained to respond to situations like this with the flexibility and dexterity of a semi-professional decathlete.
After accidentally double-bouncing Maki so that he yells, ‘I unlark it!’ for the third time, I manage to collect both him and Tyson, and as I’m bouncing back to the ladder my leg rebounds and I almost knee myself in the chin but there’s just no time to wallow in the relief of that near-miss because I see Lewis’s shoe by the dog kennel on the porch and because Tyson and Maki are hardly wet enough to require fresh clothes, we’re still a chance to get onto the road only slightly late.
‘Chuck this on,’ I yell, throwing the shoe to Lewis on my way to the main bedroom, forgoing light switches and curtain opening and clean underwear to scrounge around in the darkness for a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.
‘Archie, Lewis, Tyson!’ I yell as I open the front door and pick up the keys from the key table and check my phone to see that it’s eight-sixteen. ‘Grab your bags. Let’s go!
Tyson rounds the corner, screaming, ‘I’m going to be first,’ and Archie’s not far behind and here comes Maki yelling, ‘I unlark it,’ and Lewis is wandering along laconically, checking for something in his bag and as I hold up my hands for the slap of four high-fives I wonder if the life spans of the genders might start to synchronise now that more men are taking up the morning school run and claiming ground at kindergarten pick-ups and charging the supermarkets and vaccination halls with trolleys and prams and baby bags, and some even claiming the tools of domesticity – once wielded only by women – to hold the beast of housework at bay.
The boys scramble for their places in the eight-seater Tarago which resembles a food processor whipping up a child and school bag smoothie – there are knees and elbows flying everywhere – but then the engine is purring and the rear-vision mirror confirms there are four young boys buckled up and locked in. As I prepare to hit the streets of Reservoir I go eyeball to eyeball with myself and am gifted one of those rare moments of self-assurance that appear unexpectedly between the helter and the skelter of home life.
Your skills are not only perceptive and sound, I think to myself. But they are profound. You are Reservoir’s answer to Deepak Chopra. You are the bogan Anthony Robbins.
As I back out of the driveway I’m giggling like a man released from the straight-jacket for a short reprieve working in the Laundromat and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing once I get home because there’s enough washing waiting for me to clothe an entire asylum, but I’m feeling okay, I really am, because seven years ago the previous twenty minutes of child-lassoing and shoe prospecting and kid corralling would have floored me, but I’ve now spent 2,556 days as a stay at home parent. That’s on the job training of the highest intensity.
I know what has to be done and, occasionally, if the Gods and the lurgies are willing, I even manage to do it.