real life

"I know my place and I am happy to be in it".

Richard Marles MP.

In the division of labour that occurs within any long term relationship, there is a quiet but brutal skills assessment of each partner.

In our case, tasks involving organisation, intelligence and finesse are allocated to my wife Rachel, while jobs which could otherwise be performed by a poorly trained labrador are entrusted to me.

Together, we arrived at this allocation naturally and organically based on a need for our partnership to put its best foot forward, and for our lives to be mostly functional.

But occasionally, circumstances conspire to keep your best player off the field, and the loyal foot soldier is allowed to dream of, amounting to something greater.

So it was that on one weekend work pressure took Rachel from the family and I decided, uninvited, to attempt the fortnightly family shop. With unbridled enthusiasm and unreasonable confidence, I took three of the kids, entered the supermarket and began shopping. I carried no list, instead picking items from the shelves by instinct.

As every choice of product was made, my sense of empowerment grew. As every packet landed in the trolley, I could feel a shackle break from my soul. The next 90 minutes became a heady skip through a brave new world of quick-fire decision-making amidst an intoxicating sea of retail brands that represent the greatest achievement of modern advertising.

As we unloaded our trolley at the check-out, there was flavoured milk and Coco Pops, blue cheese and cabana, patterned toilet rolls and squeaky toys for the dogs. We even purchased a giant birdseed bell for the parrots we didn’t own because none of us had ever seen anything like it.

In the certain belief of having completed a feat that all viewed as being beyond me, I was in a transcendental state of ecstasy.

The cost of this expedition was breathtaking, yielding a bottom line figure that I was surprised could be calculated without the aid of a super-computer. I swore my children to secrecy, arguing that revealing this information to mum could be very counter-productive. As they scoffed their Milky Bars, they readily agreed.

Only Bella retained an air of concern. Like the other kids, she was enjoying the lack of restraint combined with the sugar. Yet at the same time, her nine-year-old brain knew that something was very wrong and that this endeavour would likely end in tears.

How do you divide tasks in your marriage?

We returned home, put away our bounty, and I collapsed on the couch hoping that the relief of an onerous chore having been lifted from my beloved’s shoulders would distract her from a closer inspection of the details.

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I was wrong.

The shocking idea of me being responsible for the household’s supplies and our children’s nutrition rendered Rachel almost speechless.

An inspection of our cupboards made matters worse. There was white bread instead of wholemeal, fat milk instead of skim, potato chips instead of potatoes.

Rachel was not happy. She reminded me that Plato had argued government should be left in the hands of a talented elite for a good reason. Putting out the rubbish and feeding the dogs were my responsibilities because it’s hard to stuff them up. I was forever banned from doing the shopping. Bella stood by her mother’s side, nodding her head in wise agreement.

But recently circumstances conspired again. Supplies were low, an emergency shop was needed, and Rachel was required at work.

While I was pretending to do the morning’s crossword, I wondered how Rachel would navigate this dilemma. Surveying the field of options, Rachel called out for Bella. She carefully wrote out a list and talked through with Bella the precise varietal of yoghurt. They jointly assessed quantities of mince and workshopped an array of seasonal fruit. Here at work was the master and the apprentice.

At last, Rachel called for me. “My love, could you please drive Bella to the supermarket?” This was something I could do.

“In all of this I have learnt that to be really smart it is important to know your limitations.”

As I walked with Bella through the aisles, she was awesome. Packages were inspected for sugar and fat content. Choices were made with precision. And as I tried to sneak a white chocolate Easter bunny into the trolley, I was detected immediately and roundly admonished.

We unloaded our produce, received a modest bill, and Bella then asked me to pay. With total obedience, I obliged.

Rachel is brilliant and Bella is not far behind.

In all of this, I have learnt that to be really smart it is important to know your limitations.

And I know that I’m good at dealing with the rubbish. The dogs are excited when I pick up their bowls to feed them. And I have the skills to clear the garden of their poop.

I know my place and I am happy to be in it.

Richard Marles was elected to Federal Parliament as the Member for Corio in November 2007. He lives in Geelong with his wife Rachel and has four children, Sam, Isabella, Harvey and Georgia.