My hypothetical children have impeccable manners, always do as they’re told, and sleep a solid eight hours every night. They get me up for a cooked breakfast and after I’ve disciplined them, they thank me for the salutary influence I have on their young lives. They are good, but there’s still room for improvement.
I once listened as a toddler negotiated a family block of chocolate into his mum’s shopping trolley. It took him a solid ten minutes (probably not a personal best judging by his mid-section) but he did it in the end. The mother had started out so strong, too, which was what made his eventual victory even more disappointing. The first few minutes of eavesdropping were incidental – we were both in the fruit and veg section – but as the conversation progressed, I began snooping in earnest.
She remained calm in dairy, shaken but resolute in toiletries. By the time we rounded the corner into the pet food aisle, though, the balance was starting to tip in his favour. No way, I thought, looking back and forth between his ruddy face and her beleaguered one. He’s gonna crack her.
“You can do it,” I whispered, trailing them. Stay strong, I thought, as he shoved a fatty fist into the air in defiance.
A minute later, she was done for. She and her squeaky trolley headed towards the aisle that that kid knew like the back of his porcine hand. “Here you go,” she said, chucking a block of Top Deck into the cart. He was elated. Elated and morbidly obese.
I was disappointed, and so were my hypothetical kids. “Mama, why did that mother give in to that annoying, disobedient brat?” my youngest said.
“Sssh, Charity Grace,” I said, taking her cherubic face in my hands. “Love the sinner, not the sin.”
It came as a nasty surprise for me, then, to realise that while I’m an exceptional mother in theory, my IRL skills are somewhat lacking. I would have remained blissfully unware for my whole life, too, had I not been asked to do an overnight stint at my sister’s house a few months ago when she went into labour.
I was really pushing for a water birth which would theoretically leave her free to look after the children between dilations. She said it wouldn’t work, which is ridiculous because you could even get your baby daddy and the kids in there with you and make a real day of it. Pitch it to them as a family pass to Wet ‘n’ Wild.
In the past, my aunty duties have been mainly confined to short day trips or babysitting at night when the kids are already in bed and I’m essentially doing what I do at home with dinner and snacks thrown in. Occasionally one of the children will interrupt my Netflix-viewing to go to the toilet or ask for a drink of water, but the trauma of the incident is short-lived. They must do something about that insolent child, I’ll think, foraging through my sibling’s cupboard for more snacks. It’s getting a bit out of control.
Should I ever procreate, I would run a tight ship. I would always make my kids eat every scrap of their dinner, I would reprimand them in a timely and appropriate manner, and most importantly, I would never, under ANY circumstances, resort to bribery.
All that nice hypothesizing changes at 2am in the morning when you’re trying to get a screaming child to stop screaming. My niece Pepper, upon waking in the middle of the night and sensing there were no adults in the house, began a surprisingly faithful rendition of Slipknot’s 2001 album, Iowa. It was probably an appropriate response, but at the time it was all very inconvenient for me. I require a minimum of ten hours uninterrupted sleep in order to maintain my youthful looks.
Oh, for the days when children were seen and not heard, I thought, throwing off my doona cover and swinging my legs over the side of the bed.
“There there, chook,” I said, opening her door, and trying to sound as similar to my sister as I possibly could. This meant raising my voice about an octave, because in the middle of the night I sound like Alan Rickman. The sobbing stopped for a moment, but as her eyes adjusted to the light and she became certain that it was actually Aunty Megs, she started up again.
“Pepper. Mummy’s not here right now,” I said, sitting on the edge of her bed and patting her head. Now that I think about it, that’s probably not the best line to use on a child. Mummy’s Not Here Right Now sounds like the title of Stephen King’s latest novel, which would be followed up a few years later by the sequel Mummy Was Never Here: Atonement Day.
“She’s actually at hospital right now,” I said, thinking Pepper might appreciate the extra narrative detail, but she just cried even louder. “B..b…but I want mummyyyyyyyy,” she wailed in response to my claim that I was just like mummy, only younger and more attractive.
People say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a child to raze a village. How something with that small a set of lungs can produce that amount of noise will always remain a mystery to me.
I attempted to calm her through a series of assurances, threats, appeals to logic and a dash of gaslighting.
“She’ll be home soon.”
“She’s actually next door.”
“I’m her, you need to go to SpecSavers.”
“This is a bit childish, really, isn’t it.”
“Somone’s getting coal in their stocking this year.”
“What if everybody just cried when their mum wasn’t home?”
“Mum’s dead. There’s a new sheriff in town.”
None of these tactics worked. The decibels just increased. After several more degrading attempts involving me pretending to be a pony and a human telephone, I cracked. “Name your price,” I said, finally, hanging up on myself and slumping back onto her bed. “Whatever you want. Aunty Megs will get it for you.”
The crying stopped immediately. Two small eyes blinked in the darkness. That’s all it takes, I thought, you just have to bribe them. I would write a bestseller and make so much money off it that I could pay someone else to look after my nieces and nephews. It would be called Hush Money: Greasing Palms and Keeping Calm.
“Freddo Frog,” my niece said after a few moments of consideration.
“Ok, I said, I’ll get you a Freddo Frog tomorrow.” As I left the room, an additional clause was added.
“Freddo Frog for breakfast.”
“Sure,” I sighed.
I returned to my room and fell into a glorious slumber. In it, I dreamt of my perfect future family. Of my super hot husband, and my impeccably-mannered, docile, compliant children. Like a modern day Von Trapp family, we were, minus the one with the great eyebrows that almost joined the Third Reich at the end.
I’m looking at you, Liesel.