When I first started making sweet potato crisps it was 7.30am and now it’s 8.15am and almost time to take Archie to school and Lewis to kinder and when Reservoir Mum appears from the bedroom holding Maki to her spew-protected shoulder to say, ‘Tyson is weeing on the kitchen chair again!’ I lift my gaze from the cutting board and say, robotically, ‘The bags under my eyes look like they come from the blackened crusty creases of an obese woman’s leg.’
(I am not exaggerating. In fact, I have saved you from the true horror under my eyeballs by replacing the body part I was really thinking of with the word ‘leg’. Since we moved in with the In-laws – some five months ago now – I have been getting up to the three boys myself every night. Initially so that pregnant Reservoir Mum could get some quality sleep, and recently so newborn Maki could get some quality sleep with her. See The Womb Series for all the traumatic details)
‘You do look shithouse,’ she says, as she leans in closer. ‘How did Tyson sleep?’
‘I get it,’ she says. ‘So, you’re really struggling?’
I don’t answer her because I’m watching her face morph into a lampshade and then a swinging lampshade and then the flicky bunch of hair on the end of a cow’s tail. It’s only when she says, ‘Why are you biting at the air like that?’ that I refocus and see her face in front of me again.
Reservoir Mother-In-Law, who is busying around the house and appearing regularly in the kitchen, says, ‘When you two were in Queensland Tyson slept right through for us one night.’
‘Yes,’ I shout, and then while travelling the length of the kitchen with Michael Jackson’s much imitated Moonwalk, say, ‘and I’ve ordered you a custom made guillotine for Christmas.’
‘What?’ she asks.
‘I said Merry Christmas.’
‘Yeah, right,’ she says.
She couldn’t hear me because she’s stirring her coffee madly, frantically. I’ve watched her do this about one hundred times since we moved in but it still freaks me out. The spoon hitting the china sounds like a helicopter trying to fight its way out of a wheat silo. One morning the vibration she created caused me to lose a filling. On another occasion I credit it for curing my constipation.
‘Oh no! Gutspit!’ RM says, as a boob-full of milk leaves Maki’s stomach, runs down her back and pools on the kitchen floor.
‘I’ll get that, my sweet poet,’ I say, falling to my hands and knees with a Christmas colored tea towel. ‘I’ll just follow the spew trail over to the pool of wee under the table and then I’ll…’
‘Throw the towel in the wash basket when you’re done?’ Reservoir Mother-In-Law says, interrupting.
‘… use it later to preserve your mother’s severed head,’ I finish.
When the tea towel is heavy with excrement I crawl backwards from under the table and RM – who has taken a seat to refill Maki – kicks me in the arse and says, ‘How were the boys this morning?’
‘Remember the movie Gremlins?’ I say, taking the option of sitting on the floor over the chore of standing up. ‘That’s what they were like: three cute Mogwais who ate a few minutes after midnight and turned into svelte green little psychopaths before dipping themselves in water to multiply their madness by a thousand.’
‘I love that movie,’ she says.
‘They told me they hated the same breakfast meal they wolfed down yesterday morning and it took half an hour of unarmed tyranny to finally force it inside them and then Lewis and Tyson had a screaming argue-athon because Tyson was saying raspberry movie instead of raspberry smoothie and your mother appeared as I was yelling ‘it doesn’t matter what you call it, eat your movie!’ and then I remembered I wanted to clean our child’s wee off the toilet floor before she saw it but she greeted me with ‘Someone’s pissed all over the toilet floor again’… and I still haven’t cleaned it. Archie took twenty minutes to put on one sock and then ten seconds to put on the other and when I pointed out that he could have had both socks on in twenty seconds or less he asked me if he could play with his Pokemon cards… and I really need to finish those potato crisps… and when I drive past the house today I’m almost certain the bricklayers won’t be there even though all the bricks are… and what if someone trespasses on our block over Christmas and smashes all the windows? What then? We may never move out of here, RM. Never! And I’ll become the Quasimodo your mother owns to sort her laundry. And do you know I have your Dad’s underwear on? Do you know that? Next time you’re admiring my buttocks just consider the fact that you’ll have to tear off your own Dad’s undies to get to them. Why? Because I dress myself in the dark, out of washing baskets full of laundry I should have sorted days ago… instead of writing blog posts… and because Tyson thinks waking at 5am is hilarious, RM. He does. And as I sprint down the hallway whisper-screaming, ‘Shh Tyson, you’ll wake everybody up!’ he just laughs louder and says ‘More?’ And there I am, all freaked out in the lounge room with adrenalin and sleep-induced fuckheaded-ness, holding an armful of clothes I’ve selected in a panic-stricken kind of lucky dip… and then, strangely, out of the madness comes inspiration because the way I’m dressed has stirred a great new creative idea which I’m really passionate about; I’m going to start a new clothing line called Frankenstein’s Fashion… so instead of using disembodied arms and legs and ears to make monsters I use the random garments of other people’s wardrobes and make enviable outfits that all the stars will wear, and to model it I’ll be dressed exactly as I am now; wearing your Dad’s underwear, your mother’s floral blouse, a single doona cover as a kilt and Maki’s zoo animal jumpsuit as a Beret… it’ll be beautiful and horrific and I’m confident it’ll be a success. Oh, and I think we’re out of Omo. And while I was making the lunches Tyson stole some blueberries from the fridge and squashed them into the carpet in the lounge… but I think it’ll be okay… I moved the TV cabinet forward an inch to hide the stain…’
Reservoir Mother-In-Law re-enters the kitchen and says, ‘I can drop the boys at school and kinder for you if you want.’
‘Oh?’ I say. ‘That would be really lovely…’
‘No worries mate,’ she says.
15 Minutes Later (Post Breakdown)
I’m sitting on the porch as Reservoir Mother-In-Law heads out of the driveway with the boys. I feel clearer now, but sadder. RM comes out, puts a blanket over my shoulders and hands me a warm cup of cocoa. ‘How are you feeling?’ she asks.
‘Hot,’ I say, ‘It’s twenty degrees out here. It would have been more appropriate to bring me a hand-fan and an icy-pole.’
‘You’ve been carrying on like a pork chop so…’
‘You thought you’d treat me like one?’
Even though I do feel a tad hot, the cocoa is tasty and when RM rubs both my shoulders and leans against me I feel safe. I take a moment to stop my lip wobbling before saying, ‘I really had a freak out. Total freak out. I usually run okay on just a little sleep… but today… and not having my own space…’
‘It’s tough, I know. It’s tough on everyone.’
‘And the smallest things, the most mundane repetitions… they just drive me loco. Like the way your Mum stirs her coffee in the morning.’
‘It’s pretty loud…
‘It sounds like she’s pushed a woodpecker’s head into the cup and shoved a finger up it’s arse…’
‘Stop. You’ve described the sound to me in a million different ways already…’
I nod sympathetically. ‘I’m surprised she’s not drinking shards of china with every sip.’
‘Don’t get any ideas, you know Mum and Dad have the means to make you disappear,’ she says. ‘You’ve got to stop thinking you have to drive yourself into the ground. Here’s what you’re going to do today. You’re going to meet the builder at the house as planned. Then you’re going to come back here and sleep for a few hours while I look after Maki and Tyson…’
‘But I have to make potato crisps…’
RM stands up and rips the blanket from me. ‘If you say potato crisps one more time I’ll slug you one.’
‘You will,’ I say, ‘Hey, what did you mean it’s hard on everyone?’
‘Well, don’t you think Mum might find some of the things you do annoying?’
‘Maybe… if she’s annoyed by charm and wit and cool dance moves and… delicious potato crisps.’
After she punches me in the arm she says, ‘She’d be biting her tongue every day. A dozen times a day.’
‘Bullshit,’ I say.
‘Okay, I’ll ask her and we’ll see.’
‘Ha! Brilliant. Do it. And film it. I’ll put it on the website to show you up.’
‘You promise you’ll put it on the website? No matter what?’
‘I promise. No matter what.’
*Part 2 Next Week