It’s going to be our 5th wedding anniversary soon. Romance! Also, how time flies, etc.
We have some celebrations planned. I’ve written some ideas down on scraps of paper at work – court appearance slips, old commerce-list actions (they’re the scraps of paper, not the ideas. Obviously. I’m not THAT romantic but I hope I can do a bit better than economic torts and Plaintiff/Defendant tickboxes.)
A couple of years ago when my husband turned 30, I went all-out and created a planning spreadsheet. It was about the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done, but it was so worth it. Every tab’s, nay every cell’s, idea came off and I – and more importantly, I guess, he – had the best day. Of all the plans, the most surprising consummation was the dinner I made. Oh sure you all probably cook dinner every night like it’s not even a thing, but I really did need a spreadsheet, three months’ planning, and my mum to do 92% of the work to get this on the table:
rolled shoulder of lamb with balsamic marinade
green beans with vinegar and almonds
garlic asparagus and bok choy
roast potatoes and pumpkin
homemade dips and turkish bread
The thing was like the UN of dinners, what! If I’d had an extra few weeks, I might’ve ensured slightly less global divergence at the menu planning stage.
It being such a rare occurrence that I cook an edible meal, we weren’t going to let it go cold. There wasn’t a minute to be wasted in setting up the self-timer on the camera so we could all get in the photo.
For dessert, in keeping with the international incongruity of the meal, I made, all on my own and from scratch, Joel’s favourite Greek cake – galaktoboureko. The first time you make custard should not be as part of a complex Hellenic cake-making enterprise, and without the use of a mixer, but by some miracle that absolutely cannot be explained, except possibly by the intervention of a Byzantine saint, I pulled it off.
The presents were a successful realisation of educated guesswork and blatant requests. High on the list was some sort of Navy watch from Audemars Piguet, just slightly out of my budget at around $5,000. I thriftily found this similar Tissot for a tenth of the price. I hope that doesn’t make me a fisharse.
I’m never spending $5,000 on a Navy watch, even if I had $5,000 to spend. Unless and until he actually becomes a SEAL, or at a minimum expresses an interest in recreational scuba-ing. Among other small gifts was this taxidermied crocodile, just the right size for displaying in the bedroom. You can tell it’s an amateur job because the eyes are tiny rotating green marbles.
You can also tell he’s spent the last half a century sitting on a bar somewhere because he smells like 3,000 ciggies. When you hold him upside down, his top jaw dislocates. As the dealer told me, he’s a fliptop. He’s supersweet. I should have had him gift-wrapped – trying to cut the right size piece of wrapping paper off the roll for an inflexible reptile is a challenge probably even Martha Stewart would turn down. The scales! The teeth! The flipping jaw!
On his actual birthday, we organised a night in a bar with lots of friends. My mum volunteered to stay over and mind the kids for us. Take note of that v-word. She wasn’t begged or implored or even asked. Many months prior I had mentioned hiring a babysitter to stay overnight and she wouldn’t hear of it. The thing with my mum is, she is generous to a fault. She will literally give $500 to any stranger who has a sad story. She will give up whole days of her annual leave to help any other stranger. She will drive yet more strangers from her coastal hometown to Melbourne because they missed the bus. She does shit like this constantly. She’s in the Lions Club, she’s a paramedic, she organises fundraisers for African burns victims, she makes dinners for poor people, all that. She’s like the ultimate community lady. But with family, this unbelievable generosity comes at a cost. As with most mothers, offers of help are riddled with caveats and guilt-tripping.
She had offered to mind the kids but only after she’d informed me that she had to sleep in our bed because our spare bed is the WORST bed in the WORLD, and the couches are probably RIDDEN with FLEAS because we let the CATS sleep on them. It was just so tedious, I was like “La la la okay you can sleep in our bed!” “But where will you sleep?” “We won’t, we’ll stay out all night.” “ALL NIGHT!!” “Yes.” “ALL night?” “YES!!” “What will you do?” “Drink.” “Where?” “I don’t know.” “..all night?” “(so help me…)” “Who’s going?” “Friends.” “What friends?” (At what age do you have to stop telling your mum who you’re going out with, and where?) “Just, you know, Lucy, Katy, Teres…” “How’s Teresa’s mum? Didn’t she have a hysterectomy? I should’ve had that at the first sign of menopause! It’s meant to relieve the symptoms. I’ve had shocking [insert menopausal symptom here that I'm actually too embarrassed to write].” “MUM!!!! THE FUCK!!!” “Well, it’s YOUR medical legacy! You’ll need to know this one day!” “I’ll read a book! GOD!!” “Suit yourself. I’m just saying…” I’m nearly crying by now. Someone just please make her stop. “So, you’ll be home about 2 then?” “No mum. All night. 6 or 7.” “Well. That’s just ridiculous.”
Anyway, it was eventually established that, [menopausal symptom] notwithstanding, she would stay in our bed and we would be permitted to venture out for the whole night. With a final warning to “be VERY careful…there’s lots of people in the city tonight…”. Just keeping on never stopping. Despite Joel’s party starting at 8, I said I’d stay home and put the kids to bed before heading in there. Who is two hours late for their own husband’s 30th! But I decided I’d rather give Zadie a good feed and get them both into bed following our normal routines than endure all the text messages if they wouldn’t go down for mum. I booked a taxi for 9.45pm. Got Rufus in bed, gave Zadie a last breastfeed and chucked her in the cot, and checked the time. 9.39pm. Perfect. We all know six minutes is enough time to get dressed and do makeup. Dude it takes me four minutes just to take my hair elastic out. But I had expected to be cutting it fine so I’d laid out a kind of production line in my bedroom. It went underwear, skirt, singlet, earrings, purse, cotton socks. The socks were so I could slide into the bathroom instead of walk. Saved 12 seconds there.
Got dressed, slid, did a spot of makeup and hair. Grabbed my shoes, slid to the kitchen. Tossed the cotton socks on the bench. Poured myself a 70:30 scotch and coke. Slugged it. Mum lay on the couch watching me. “So, do you think they’ll sleep through?” “No.” “Why not?” “They never do. As you know since we talk about it every day.” “Oh. What if she needs a feed?” (How are we just having this conversation now? This has been organised for EIGHT MONTHS!) “Try the bottle. Cuddle her? Put her in bed with you?” “Can I ring you?” “Sure. But I’ll be drunk and not coming home to feed her.” Hand on the door, desperate to get to the waiting taxi before the driver knocked on the front door and woke the kids up. “Right. Well, you have a good night then. Be careful, there’s lots of people in the city. What time do you think you’ll be home, 2?” What. The fuck.
I strapped up my heels in the taxi by mobile phone light, did a mirrorless lipstick job, and at last I was there. Beer. Beer. Beer, beer. Relevant discussions. VERY PERTINENT DISCOURSE. Cider, cider, beer. Vodka.
Eventually, at the far-more-reasonable-than-anticipated time of 5am, we were in a taxi pulling up to our house. I could see straight into our bedroom and down the hallway. What the fuck was she doing with the bedroom blind right open? How drunk was I? We stumbled in (very nimbly: when you have a baby who doesn’t sleep you can go mountain-goat in an instant regardless of sobriety) and were perplexed to see all the bedroom doors open and mum wandering the house in her underwear. Rufus was awake but easy to resettle. Zadie was crashed out in our bed. I still don’t know why mum was roaming the house. Probably in delighted anticipation of telling us our bedroom blind had just FALLEN DOWN in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! With SUCH a loud BANG that it woke up Zadie! What a terrible fright, she thought there must have been a CAT in the bedroom! I asked mum if she’d touched the blind and she strenuously denied my implication that she had any part in it. Oh sure, after two years of perfectly normal blind behaviour it suddenly randomly develops a horizontal imperative. The very night my curtain-favouring mother stays over. I could actually see her tugging the blind derisively and remarking to any one of the literally hundreds of flea-infested bedroom-resident cats on its lack of lace and unhomeliness mere minutes before the alleged FALLING DOWN with a BANG.
No matter, Joel and I still thought to get some sleep so we made for the spare futon in Zadie’s bedroom. Not an hour later, mum appeared next to our bed – still inappropriately in her underwear – with our crying daughter in hand. “Jade. JADE! She’s hungry! Can you feed her?” Oh, I was so drunk. I should not have been responsible for making decisions about my baby’s sustenance. But I was so agitated, I decided that I would in fact feed her. We stepped into the hallway, closing the door and sealing Joel in a chamber of alcoholic vapours that still lingered a week later. In stage whispers mum announced that she would sleep on the couch so I could feed Zadie in my own bed. I was able to play my part in the charade – “Are you sure, mum?” “Well, I AM tired. I’ve had NO sleep. The kids got up THREE times.” Welcome to my life. Martyrdom assured, she went smiling to the couch.
I took Zadie to bed with me and fed her until she was sated. And smashed. Then I lay there dizzily, sleep an impossibility what with the 6sq.m window completely naked. Birds twittered mockingly outside and leaves wobbled hazily in my vision. It was sunny and squinty. Also the second rule of parenting, apart from don’t breastfeed when drunk, is don’t co-sleep when drunk. And probably especially don’t co-sleep when the BABY is drunk too. So I lay awake, trying to moisten my dry throat and very deliberately and theatrically not smothering Zadie. I spent some time constructing a wall of pillows around her, and regularly assessing her for breathing using both visual and tactile methods.
At 7am, mum came into my room again to announce that she was going on a day trip to Warburton. Rufus had heard her coming up the hallway and came rushing from his room. I would have burst into tears if I wasn’t so dehydrated. It was two hours before his normal wake-up time. I think at last the desperation of my plight became clear and mum volunteered to look after Rufus for some time so I could rest. Gratefully I resumed my throat-moistening until 7.45 until she came back and said she really had to go. SEVEN FORTY-FIVE. Zadie woke up at this time, angry at the constant interruptions and let’s not forget she was entering her very first experience of being blindlingly hungover. That’ll teach her to drink six beers, two vodkas, two ciders and a Long Island iced tea after not drinking at all for nine months.
So mum left and I tried really hard not to vomit. I pushed the two couches together into some sort of boat so the kids would be safely contained while I slept. PARENTING:WIN! Later in the day, much later, the win was completely obliterated by the most bogan thing we’ve ever done. We put our hoodies on. We put our baby in her pram and runners on our Ru, and we took a family walk to Hungry Jack’s. We got our son a kids’ “meal”. We walked back over to our park. We sat under the tree and ate fries while other parents walked by and stared at us, and walked a bit further and then looked back, obviously contemplating whether or not to call the Department of Human Services. I was like “Yeah, judge me. Like you’ve never taken your drunk 9-month-old to the park or given your 3-year-old a cheeseburger for breakfast. At 3pm. Good on you, fuckers.”
And that is why you should never, ever use your mum as a babysitter.
Luckily, for our upcoming anniversary celebrations, we have a live-in helper. Since we pay her, we can tell her what to do. I can assure you that at the very least, the VERY LEAST, there will be a moratorium on discussions of menopause symptoms.
PS I LOVE YOU MUM, PLEASE DON’T HAVE READ THIS xx