We’re smack bang in the middle of the mad morning rush and Reservoir Mum is dressed in her corporate garb and pursing her lips at me for a goodbye kiss and its as our mouths press together to combine my undiluted hell-pit morning breath with her world-ready minty breath that I remember she won’t be back home till all four boys are in bed tonight. The bath/dinner/bedtime routine rears up in my mind like a cow being artificially inseminated by an anatomically confused vet wearing a metal wrist watch. Ouch.
As I pull away to leave hell-pit and minty lingering between us for dominance and chase Tyson around with a pair of school pants, I shout, just a little cheekily, ‘Have a great fun dinner tonight… at my expense.’
‘That’s okay,’ she says with such an obvious pre-joke tone that I turn around to look at her. ‘I think I can afford to pay for this one.’
I’m sliding Tyson metres across the floorboards as I try to get his foot through the hem of his pants and I know that Maki’s asking for Weetbix even though he’s shouting nothing but DAD over and over again and Archie’s skateboarding around the kitchen telling me something about ‘tic-tacs’ while Lewis is lazing shirtless on the couch staring at the ceiling like a rock star on magic mushrooms but despite all this I can only laugh at RM’s counter-jest.
She’s turned my use of the word expense around on me, the sexy minx, to imply that she has financial control because I’m the stay at home parent who doesn’t make any money and she’s the working parent who makes all the money. We don’t think like that but there are plenty of people out there who do and we get a kick out of using each other to mock them sometimes.
‘I get it. You win,’ I say, as RM snaps her finger and heads towards the door. ‘But hey, don’t come home frisky tonight,’ I continue, a little louder. ‘I’ve got so much housework to do… and kinder duty… and loads and loads of washing. I’ll be picking fluff off your slacks till midnight…. you’ll be lucky to get a cuddle…’
Tyson’s up and off and about to start a fight with his plethora of brothers and I’m riding RM’s swagger right down the hall until I hear the door click shut and its then that I feel something like grief underneath my hurried but happy mood.
I’m not sure what it is until I think about turning on the radio and anticipate it with sense of gloom. Within an instant I’m bracing myself for the next domestic violence fatality and remembering the executions that kept me awake most of Tuesday night and the unfolding horror of the Nepal earthquake.
The radio remains mute but my mind replays a story I read in the paper about a woman in Nepal who managed to push her child to safety as a building collapsed and killed her and with it comes the echo of the door clicking inside my head and for one maddening second there’s the fear we may never see RM again.
Tyson’s finally dressed and Maki’s rejecting his Weetbix in favour of searching for lost domino’s and Lewis is remaining stubbornly shirtless as he tackles homework and asks me how to spell participant and despite all this I am unable to shake that story free.
I know we’re not immune to disaster in Australia but we’ve found ourselves in a part of the world that’s safer and more affluent than most and we can’t deny that much of our success and happiness comes from that simple fact. I feel guilty and helpless and motivated to keep doing what little I can in the wake of such disaster but I am also simply bewildered by our luck: the space for humour and laughter in our lives; the choices we’ve had available to us.
RM and I made this choice way back in the year 2008 and I remember waving her goodbye with six month old Lewis in one arm and two year old Archie attached to my thigh as she headed in to her first day as the full time worker for our family. We didn’t believe we were doing a ‘role reversal’ because we didn’t see what either of us were doing as men or women’s work, but that didn’t mean we were immune to the pressure that’s out there to conform.
There were the normal risks involved in the decision besides all that and periods where we both struggled and wondered if it would work out but I have this feeling of triumph inside me right now because RM’s business is booming and her reputation in her field is world class and we’ve centred ourselves around our four boys and I can say, with as much certainty as I have available to me, that my wife and our children are happy.
As it stands, at this moment, thirty minutes before the morning school run, Thursday 30 April, 2015, as the world turns to reveal our insignificance among eight billion people as much as our significance to each other, I can say that we made the right choice.
Soon the boys will be clothed and fed and corralled in front of the TV and the school bags will be packed and lined up for a quick grab and run and I may even get to load the washing machine before I give the call to rush the Tarago and I’m even pretty sure that I’ll have more than enough energy to offer RM something a little more vigorous than a cuddle when she gets home tonight.
And yes, at some point during the day the radio will go on and another reality will meet with mine to keep my perspective true and to reveal again – through all our apparent risks and worries and concerns – the true magnitude of our privilege.