My friend had a neat nine to five job. She had no children. She had absolutely no idea. So it was with genuine innocence that the crushing question fell from her lips: "What do you do all day?" I stared into her curious, rosy face, like staring down the barrel of a gun.
Ugh! Sob. How could I explain? Where to start? Did I have the energy to put two words together? Why bother? These were the questions which swamped my weary mind.
Well, you asked. Welcome to my day.
You see, my baby liked Farax and apple last week but this morning she's gone right off it. The mush ends up all over her face, the highchair, my t-shirt, the floor. I'm down on my hands and knees wiping up. She's bopping to Sesame Street and simultaneously filling her pants!
Still fired with enthusiasm for the new day, I muse: "I'll quickly hang out this laundry so I can get on with my work." Intrepid toddler spies the doggy doos and makes a rush for it. "No. No. Dirty. Yuck!" I swoop just in time. I turn my back and she's racing gleefully toward the same canine's food bowl. Straight in the mouth. I scoop it out. Thump on the back. Return to task.
She's suddenly in the garden covered in dirt. Adds water. Covered in mud. Carry her to the bath, scrub all over. Dump pile of muddy clothes in sink. Attempt to get her dressed again. She's thrashing and shrieking in protest. I feel the nervous wreck syndrome setting in.
It must be time for her sleep. I breastfeed for what seems like forever but she refuses to drift sweetly into Teddy Land. I am rocking her, dancing, singing. We say bye-bye to every soft toy 10 times. Two hours later I emerge like a punch-drunk fighter. I trip over a bucket of blocks and crash into the wall.
I pick up a squillion toys. I wipe up a puddle of juice. I glance at the sink. A pile of dishes has mysteriously materialised. I get that sinking feeling.
I have it easy, really, with only one toddler at home. I salute all you Super Mums out there caring for two, three, four or more.
The job of Mother is fraught with frustration. One of the hardest aspects to come to terms with is lack of control. Mothering teaches patience, tolerance and infinite flexibility. If you don't learn patience, you're done for!
It is a basic human need to be creative, to complete a task and see the results of your labour. Yet mothering is revolves around repetition. You no sooner complete a task and it is undone. You wipe up umpteen messes a day, pick up the same toys over and over, continually change the same little bottom.
At the end of the day, it is easy to cast an eye around and ask: "What have I done?" Caring for kids at home can be grotty and unglamorous and the drudgery can assault your self-esteem.
A toddler, aged one to three, is beset with curiosity to explore but lacks a sense of danger. The constant vigilance in protecting the little thrill-seeker is nerve-racking. Ever poised to spring to the rescue, who can relax?
The suburban sprawl is largely to blame in isolating one adult within four walls with one or more toddlers to care for. Often all that is needed is another adult to keep a watchful eye while Mum gets on with it. In other cultures, mothers are surrounded by family members, so child care is less stressful and demanding. Australian mums can ease the pressure by enlisting the support of community services, family, friends and fellow mums.
The job offers no status, no power, no recognition and no money within mainstream society. But don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I freely chose motherhood because, despite the frustrations, the deeper emotional rewards are great: to love and be loved, to have a depth of purpose to one's life and the delight and satisfaction in helping a new human being develop and blossom.
Just don't ask me "What do you do all day?" I'm too exhausted to explain.