A very spiteful giant standing outside our house with an almighty mallet, treating our colorbond roof as his personal gong, could not match the foundation-shattering noise my children are making right now but because I have been exposed to it for so long I’ve developed a kind of resistance, like industrial deafness, which allows me to vague out for a while.
While they holler and laugh and scream up and down the hallway and through the living room, branding each other with a plastic blue ball, I lose a few moments staring into the frypan – as I prepare fish and vegies for dinner – and remember a conversation from my very recent past.
‘Oh, most nights he’ll sit there and eat all his dinner,’ one Mother said to another Mother at kinder pick-up.
‘Yeah,’ the other Mother said, nodding seriously. ‘Lachlan’s exactly the same. He’s such a good eater.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, also nodding seriously, trying to find a way into the conversation as I thought about a typical dinnertime at our house with Tyson and Lewis gyrating on and around their chairs and fighting constantly, Archie approaching every evening meal with the body language of a regurgitating bird, and Maki banging the table with his fork and screaming in a way that honestly sounds like he’s having his fingernails pulled out at the entrance of cave. ‘Yeah…’ I said, for a second time, ‘…Tyson really likes steamed pees.’
When a drop of fat leaps from the pan and scolds my wrist I am suddenly back on the domestic frontline staring at my reflection in the kitchen splashback.
‘Okay,’ I scream, using the searing pain in my wrist to lift my voice to the appropriate volume. ‘Up to the table. Right away.’
Although I haven’t served dinner yet I know that on most occasions it will take at least a dozen requests and coercions and threats to get Archie and Lewis and Tyson and Maki to their seats all together and so I flip the fish to the plates and pile on the vegies as I rumble along with, ‘Dinner’s ready! Let’s go. Are you listening? I’ll burn all your toys! Everyone! To the table. Boys! I feel like hurting myself. Come on! Now!’
‘I am,’ Archie says, shaking his head in disbelief, dawdling as I transfer the plates to the table, clearly taking no responsibility for the mess he and his brothers have made of me.
‘If I didn’t have to repeat myself all the time, Archie, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself… all the time… Archie,’ I say, fighting a sudden desire to punch myself in the face.
‘Huh?’ Archie says, before looking at his plate and saying. ‘I hate fish. I’m not eating fish.’
We both stop to watch Tyson jump onto his chair only to fall off the other side with all the grace of a newborn gazelle.
‘Oh, you’ll be eating that fish,’ I say, forcefully, holding my wrist out. ‘Because I had to suffer third degree burns to get it to your plate.’
As Tyson climbs back on his seat and says, ‘Dad, I fell off the chair’ Archie leans heavily into the table and pokes at a single piece of corn which I can only assume is a symbolic act of defiance – the piece of corn representing me – and so I shift the piece of corn back to its original position and walk around the table to push Tyson’s chair in, only to find that it’s empty.
When I bend over to search for him under the table Maki slaps me on the bum saying, ‘Daddy Daddy’ and then toddles away laughing.
I am aware of an urge to play with him – to catch him and tickle him and nuzzle into his neck – when he turns to face me again with his cheeky grin but it’s quickly snuffed out as the bouncy blue ball rockets out of the hallway’s entrance.
‘No more balls!’ I say, as I catch Maki and wrestle him into his high chair restraints. ‘Don’t touch the ball!’
Lewis leads Tyson on a mad sprint into the living room, dives on the ball and yells, ‘You lose!’ which causes Tyson to fall dramatically to his knees so that he can slap at the floorboards with both hands, out of control.
‘Fucken!’ he yells.
‘Tyson!’ I yell back, lifting him from the floor as he rages against me, to rush him to the naughty corner, as the sound of Maki’s spoon banging rhythmically into his bowl threatens to push me towards mindlessness. ‘You’re not allowed to swear. You have to stay here for…’
I seriously consider the possibility that I might be a mime when he ignores everything I’ve said, yells ‘Fucken!’ again, and points behind me. Lewis is there, jutting his hips from side to side, mouthing I got the ball and waving it over his head with his eyes closed.
I am a human spring. I manage to snatch the ball from him with one hand and point to his chair with the other which causes him to jump a little and say, ‘Aw, Daddy’s gone coconuts,’ and all of a sudden Tyson’s laughing, hysterically, and while I’m processing that emotional back-flip I notice Maki’s smeared almost an entire piece of fish in his hair, which Archie thinks is hilarious, and I realise something’s going on here because I have never been more frazzled in such a short space of time.
When Tyson taps me on the bum, still laughing, and repeats, ‘Daddy’s gone coconuts’ I get the urge to drop to the floor, spread-legged, so that I can drag my ass across the ground like a worm-riddled dog because, well, dogs really seem to enjoy it and I would kill for the mental distraction that comes from something that appears so physically satisfying, but instead I’m remembering the kindergarten women again.
There is no question that I am reacting so angrily tonight because I have carried a feeling of insecurity back home with me, and realising that I have to shake it free somehow, I follow my instinct and loop the blue ball into the air in such a perfect way that it lands on Tyson’s head as he’s running back to the naughty corner.
‘Yeah,’ I scream. ‘Gotcha!’
Tyson stops and turns around as the ball bounces back to me and so I loop it again, striking him in the face this time.
‘Woohoo,’ I say.
‘Haha,’ Tyson laughs, jumping on the spot. ‘Again?’
Before I know it Lewis has lined up with Tyson and they’re running down the hall and I’m chasing them, heaving the ball with everything I have, and then Archie’s peeking down from the living room with Maki next to him and I duck into the bathroom and wait as my four boys creep slowly from opposite ends of the house; my arm is poised and primed for a direct hit and we’re all giggling as quietly as possible, until Archie peeks in again to cop a direct hit to the face.
Twenty minutes of insane-crazy joy passes by and we cover the entire house, switching lights on and off and slamming doors and I’m thrilled by the ear-splitting requests of, ‘Dad! Dad! Get me!’ and rejoicing in the sweet sound of laughter that follows the smack and echo of plastic meeting skin, and I even get to catch Maki and tickle him and nuzzle into his neck and yes, it is as noisy as pre-dinner and even more hectic than dinner-time itself, but it’s okay, for now, because I’m seeing the world a little differently.
The regular laws are skewed for fun down here and if you can manage to let the expectations and insecurities go, for a just a little while, it all makes sense.