So hypothetically speaking, let’s say you wanted to write a book.
Really, really wanted to. In fact, it’s something you’ve dreamt about since you were scooting across the floor in nothing but a bulging nappy. Slight exaggeration, perhaps, but you get the idea.
Life goes on, as it does, and before you know it the bulging nappies are a long distant memory, but you find yourself at a point where there’s a good chance they might reappear again any day soon in adult-type form, and still not a single word has been written.
You think, screw it. Now or never.
‘Write what you know,’ you remember hearing someone say. As a stay-at-home mum for the last 10 years, you figure this effectively limits your options to a) the kids, who you think about way too much as it is, b) the husband, who you try not to dwell on as you only end up cranky, and c) the dog. Hmm, that one might actually have potential, you think to yourself (hello Marley & Me and their million plus book sales-slash-movie deal).
You go to Ikea and buy a desk. You recharge the hand-me-down laptop that’s been gathering dust in the back of your son’s cupboard since 2004. You close the door of your study and get butterflies in your tummy every time you think about sharing Fido’s story with the world. You start researching places to buy a holiday home. Barbados looks good. Then, with the iron will of a true auteur, you force yourself offline and get down to business. Only, nothing happens. The same first sentence written a hundred different ways and all of them more rancid than week-old dog poop. Number 101 isn’t much better. You decide to abandon Fido and write something different, something you can really sink your teeth into.
Some weird dystopian fantasy? You’ve heard it’s what all the kids are into, but you’ve never actually read one and don’t fully understand what dystopian means. A serious family drama that delves into the long-term effects of inter-generational conflict? But, really, the day-to-day is depressing enough – why willingly make it worse?
And then it comes to you: playgroup. That sacred space where a bunch of strangers with nothing in common apart from leaking boobs and an aversion to all things Dora-related come together once a week to bitch, cry, moan and cheer each other on in a dirty school hall, while their offspring bash each other over the head with decrepit toys, eat a bunch of sand, and everyone goes home happy. Or happy-ish, at least. It’s where you’ve spent practically the last decade of your life – this world you know.
You start to get excited. Comedy, tragedy, back-stabbing, tales of the unexpected and unutterably embarrassing – it’s got them all. Why haven’t you thought of this before? The butterflies start up in your belly again. You know in your heart of hearts this is the one story you could actually finish.
The writing happens fast, fuelled by a heady mix of shame and fear. These women are some of your closest friends – they’ve shared their innermost secrets with you and you with them, and you’ve survived some of the toughest of times together. While you’re careful not to betray their trust on any of the important issues in their lives, you can’t help but poke fun at some of the funnier ones – the long-running cupcake war; the accidental spiking of the breast milk; the competitive crafting – they’re all there. Plus, of course, your own less-than-stellar moments, of which there are many, like the time you lost your toddler at playgroup and didn’t even notice because you were too busy gossiping in the kitchenette, or the one where you accidentally left said toddler in the shopping trolley at the supermarket carpark and were halfway home before you even realised.
Will they see the joke? And if not, what then? Will you be cast aside by the very friends who have given you the strength and the confidence to start writing in the first place? Or, worse still, will it be your children who are punished; never again invited to a Frozen party or onto that exclusive Minecraft server everyone in the class is talking about?
You push these concerns aside, buckle down, and before long you’re finished. The unthinkable has officially been done; you have broken the Mummy Code.
You decide to tell no-one about the manuscript, shoving it in a drawer and vowing to forget it ever happened. But then on one particularly boring, rainy day when the Foxtel’s playing up, something happens and before you know it you’re clicking Send to a bunch of agents and publishers. Totally unexpectedly, the gods look kindly upon you and before long you have an agent and a publisher and a deadline for a real, edited book. You thank the gods and tell them it’s about bloody time. You ask your very glamorous new publisher whether the manuscript’s a little on the bitchy side, whether you should dial it back a bit. ‘No way!’ she tells you. ‘Bitch it up!’
You know this is going to take years and years of very expensive therapy to fix for all concerned. You wonder if this was part of the gods’ plan all along and they were actually being really mean.
When news gets out that you’ve scored a publishing deal , the mums in your circle are the first to congratulate you. They have tears in their eyes, they throw you a surprise party, they look truly sincere when they say they’re proud. They ask what the story’s about; you squirm and blush; ‘It’s about all of us,’ you mumble, and they look positively delighted. You can see it written across their faces; a tale of love and motherhood and friendship, how utterly charming. With wobbly hand, you buy another bottle of champagne and top up their glasses. Perhaps it will be impossible to even find. Perhaps they’ll never even read it.
But of course, they do. ‘It was about time someone told it like it really is,’ they say, and you can’t help noticing they still have a bit of a tear in the eye, only this time it’s from chuckling. And you’re so relieved that you throw your arms around them, while simultaneously tossing aside all thought of basing your next book on the story of an ill-tempered cat. You thank the gods of all sleep-deprived, first-time mums that you stuck it out in that dingy school hall 10 years ago when you first met this random posse of strangers, these women who you could never in a million years imagine you’d ever get along with. Because as we all grow and move on and the sleepless nights and squelching nappies become nothing but a bad memory, it’s clear they have no plans of abandoning you.