Our kids came to us in dribs and drabs. Our eldest (18 years old) is our only biological child. It irked me for some years that we couldn’t spontaneously produce the kind of sizable brood that holds up Fast and Testimony meeting each month. But when our boy was 10 we kind of got into a rhythm and figured we should just exploit our unique advantage. We were living in Taiwan at the time and were about to head off to the UK for Nathan to finish his PhD. Our family was portable and manageable, and we had a kind of ease between us that we put down to our eldest being a really neat kid who seemed the perfect blend of us both. Then a phone call came from NZ asking us to adopt a baby due to be born to a young family member. We didn’t think twice about it and wee Squawky joined our family. This impish little thing, who didn’t come with an off button, could be an angel one minute and demon child the next. Any doubts I had ever had about the efficacy of astrology was dispatched as our Gemini burst in on our lives with all of his contradictory colours and shades. A couple of years later we were asked to take a sibling group (more of Nathan’s family- not mine) including infant twins and a toddler. Two years after that we added the eldest brother of that sibling group. I’ve since put up the ‘Closed for further business’ sign.
I often think back to what could have been. This week we farewelled our eldest (notice I don’t use his name for fear of reprisals), who, with backpack in hand set out for a three week holiday around Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan with his mate Tom. When he comes back he embarks on his first year of University and at the end of the year plans to go on his mission. It almost makes me cry when I think about what we have given up for a household of crazy. We’d get to keep most of our money for one; Saturday mornings would be leisurely and peaceful; There would be quiet; The washing pile would be modest; Dinners would involve engaging banter rather than threats and punishments for ponderous and reluctant eating and illegal encroachments into other people’s personal space respectively. The list of benefits that we have relinquished is so exhaustive that sometimes I experience shudders of grief at an inestimable personal loss.
And therein lies the problem of praying to a male God for guidance and direction, particularly one with a ‘She’ll be right’ attitude. I’m sure the God of our modern understanding was a New Zealander in a previous life, because that’s the kind of disposition I think he has, without the Speights and the Swanndri. ‘She’ll be right’ (for those of you reading this from across the seas) is probably akin to saying ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ or, ‘It will all turn out OK in the end’. I’m inclined to think that on the subject of children he may need to take some advisement. Because it might just not ‘be right’. It might be all wrong. This emphasis on the glories of motherhood and the wonders of family that we Mormon girls have all been subject to throughout our lives is a ruse that needs to be cracked wide open because I do believe the feminisation of that colloquialism is no mistake. Women tend to be at the very heart of getting things right – and its no picnic.
Look, I can’t deny the fact that there was a significant amount of spiritual input from on high which gave us an undeniable nudge as we pondered whether on not we would go down this road of excessive parenthood, but all of those warm fuzzies, and ‘yes my child’ promptings kind of ended when each child showed up. Its like they all came with a tag saying, ‘Good on ya for taking this wee fulla. He’s yours for a bit – she’ll be right, have a good one, Love God (PS: No instructions, guarantees or returns)’. And that’s the rub – in order to get to the ‘she’ll be right’ there’s a hellava lot of thinking, strategizing, wondering, worrying, planning, sacrificing, organizing, reorganizing, rethinking, that has to take place. What’s more, I don’t really see the level of activity in getting everything ‘right’ to be equally shared across both genders in my observations of heterosexual relationships. The men in our lives seem to have adopted God’s, ‘She’ll be right” attitude and have really run with it.
Take for instance last night. We were at Finn’s school BBQ and were chatting to Michael. Who it turns out has 4 boys and looks like a lawyer. When I asked him who his son’s teacher was last year he looked a bit cornered. There was absolutely nothing there, not even a first syllable or a phonetic sound. He cast his eyes around the milling crowd of eager mothers displaying their familial diligence with an assortment of well constructed salads, and on his second sweep his eyes fell on the woman right in front of us. With relief he burst out eagerly, ‘That one. Her!!’, as he stabbed the air. (This was the same fellow who asked in the ‘meet the teacher’ phase of the evening whether or not it was better to read to children or wait till they can read to you – so I expect there was an intellectual limitation which I’m not really contextualizing). I imagine that if you asked his wife, she could have written a biography about all of her son’s past teachers and included a commentary from the 20 or so other mothers she had canvassed on the subject.
I just feel sometimes we mothers get ‘landed in it’ with all the best intentions in the world, only to look around to find our ‘eternal companions’ with the proverbial TV remote in their hand – occupied by yet something else that only concerns them. Sure, they come alive with interest when one of their children is doing something that reminds them of themselves, or fills the gap that failure left in their own childhood. But in between there’s a lot of ‘she’ll be right’ or backhanded comments that our motherly interest in getting our children ‘right’ might be a bit OTT.
I don’t think its helped a great deal by the set up at church. Nathan is now inoculated from the vicissitudes of parenthood at church by the requirement for him to be seated on the stand in sacrament meetings with the understanding that his children will only join them under exceptional circumstances, as having children with him might diminish his authority in some way. Men never have to run the gauntlet of being called as the Primary President, and while women are running RS and YW meetings with children swirling around their feet, men don’t often manage the competing demands of adult and child interactions to make combining the two efficacious.
And so we women are left to deal with the fiddly middle bits. The detail. Might I say, there is scant regard in masculine circles for the task of working out detail. The beginning part of parenthood is taken as a sign of male virility while the end bit, as son becomes man, and enters successfully upon the world is taken as a sign of his own masculine superiority. But the work of the between seems to be the unacknowledged terrain of motherhood. To be honest, its a bit of a burden that makes that image of shining, glorious motherhood more of a romantic fantasy than a genuine account of the feminine condition. I’m tired of being told by men at church that there is glory in motherhood. I’m done with the effusive accounts of home cooked meals and ‘she was always there for me’ stories from the pulpit. I just wish blokes would get real (including God) and offer on the platter of our parental experience some glimmer of recognition that burdening women with the primary task of figuring out the details does little else than clog the phone lines with the rumble of woman to woman marital discontent.
A final story. Back to last night at Finn’s school BBQ. One of our five year old twins decided to take a dump in the playground. We were assailed by a couple of the older boys who announced, “Xander has pooed on the ground and he’s got it all up his arm”. I turned to Nathan and said; ‘Can you take care of it please?” Knowing in my heart of hearts that it was really me that needed to deal with this appalling fecal mishap I disengaged from a delightful conversation to investigate. I came upon Nathan emerging from the forest playground shaking his head with incredulity. I hopefully took this as a sign of ‘tattle tales’ and sibling story telling. But no. Xander was indeed standing beside a steaming pile of personal dung, with crap up the waazoo and a large group of diminutive male commentators remarking with enthusiasm on the texture, shape and smell of said anal extrusion. I looked around to find any sign whatsoever of Nathan having ‘dealt’ with the situation but was once again disappointed. So I took Xander by the scruff of the neck, cleaned him up in the bathroom, piled him into the car and took him home in a fit of rage that I’m astounded now didn’t make me veer off the road to the cadence of my voluminous rantings. I showered him and sent him to bed. When I asked him why he shouldn’t poo in the garden his reply was, ‘Cause, I might get told off’.
When Nathan got home I asked him, ‘Did you get rid of the poo so the other kids don’t stand in it’. He looked at me with bewilderment, “Ew, yuck no, I didn’t want to go near that stuff…. By the way, did you clean Xander up before you put him in my Mini? I don’t want crap all over the seat.”
I rest my case.