One for the Country

October 4, 2006 at 3:05 am (Uncategorized)

Our Treasurer, Peter Costello, has tried to single-handedly reverse the alarming fall in Australia’s birth rate by imploring Australians to procreate thrice: one for the mum, one for the dad, and one for the country. Llew and I are lagging a little behind, given we haven’t had one for anyone, and it’s only a matter of time before being childless is ruled a treasonable offence, and we are mistakenly thrown in a concentration-style detention centre for illegal immigrants. So much to look forward to.

Anyway, as I was enjoying my soon-to-be-restricted freedom a little earlier, walking home from my local shops along the beachfront, I realised I was ambling along behind a model citizen. This woman was pushing a pram that ran almost the entire width of the boardwalk; in it, her three kids (twins and a loose third, by my calculations) variously slept, lolled and looked about, all in a row. Three kids. All at once. In the one pram. And I wasn’t the only one who was riveted. Everyone we passed (I was trailing her by only several feet by this time, so it felt cosy enough for the royal ‘we’) stared after her contraption like it was flying. There was a long line of little old ladies sitting along the beach wall eating icecream, and their dentures nearly landed in their waffle cones their mouths were opened so wide. Seeing them all turn their heads at precisely the same moment to stare after Peter Costello’s dream girl made me realise I wasn’t the only one who was gob-smacked by this spectacle of three under three.

Teens – who are SO JADED about absolutely everything these days, in Australia, anyway – were also rooted to the spot, agape, and after the mum was safely past, the animated baby chatter started in earnest. “Did you see that?” (hard not to) “Oh my god!!” (indeed).

In the interest of research for this blog, I power walked past her just before I arrived home so I could get a gander at all that reproduction sitting up front. Of course, I looked strange overtaking her simply to turn around and stare, so I said in what I hoped was both a kindly and duly impressed manner “Wow, that looks like a handful!” She smiled a tired smile like it was the most unoriginal thing anyone has ever said to her (I know, I know, I bet she gets it all the time, but I only had a few seconds, give me a break!), and said “They’re pretty good, actually.”

And with that, I knew I’d found one. It’s a new breed I only heard of for the first time at lunch on Monday. Whilst we were at Young Alfred’s eating pizza, Soph relayed a story of someone talking to her about a mother of three, and at the end of the tale, this person had sighed and said “Yep, she’s a total over-achiever.” I was struck, as Soph had been at the time, by the fact that you never hear that about women who give birth multiple times. It makes my paternal grandmother, who SOMEHOW pumped out ten kids, suddenly look like an over-achiever par excellence. We normally associate the term ‘over-achiever’ with academic or professional or sporting success, but never before had I heard it in relation to someone who successfully breeds. And for my money, it’s not just the number of children, but the manner in which the mother manages them. My mother on the beachfront didn’t concede a point. She didn’t make a joke like, say, “Do you want ’em?” She didn’t roll her eyes and say “What I wouldn’t give for an uninterrupted night’s sleep.” She didn’t burst into tears and say “You’re the first adult to speak to me in nine days.” No, she didn’t say any of those things. She just took those three under three kids of hers totally in her stride – she was clean, they were clean, she looked healthy, the kids looked healthy, everyone looked well-fed, well-rested, and all up pretty content and together – now THAT’S what I call an achievement.

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