“Is there any fresh bread for sandwiches?”
“Is it Library Day today?”
All questions yelled out in my house this morning. And answered by the person who, despite there being two working parents in this home, almost always ends up responsible for remembering if it’s gym class, and whether we’ve signed that permission slip for the end-of-term walkathon.
The parent who’s been checking in with the teacher about Matilda’s reading level, the one who knows the names of all the kids in the class, the one who will take her to that afternoon birthday party next Tuesday, and the one who will know what’s for dinner tonight.
There’s one of those in every house.
And, in my house, it’s not me.
Listen to Holly telling Andrew Daddo her big parenting fail for the week. (Post continues after audio.)
Statistically, that makes me a freak. If there’s such a thing as a “Lead Parent” – a term coined by commentator Anne-Marie Slaughter to define who makes the parenting decisions and manages domestic logistics – then more than 70 per cent of them are women.
Anecdotally, it makes me a freak, too. This week, on email, I received a message from the ‘Class Parent’ of my oldest child’s form. It was a contact list for all the carers of the kids in the class. It’s passed around so we can contact each other should our kids become friends, if we’re trying to organise some sort of get-together, in case of head-lice emergency, etc.
The list is divided into column CARER NUMBER ONE and column CARER NUMBER TWO.
What’s the difference? Here’s a clue: There are 22 kids in my daughter’s class. The Carer Number One column contains all female names, bar two. Carer Number Two column contains all male names, bar four.
It’s official. I am on the Carer Number Two list. I am Parent Number Two. I am the Non-Lead Parent.
Annabel Crabb: "Women need wives and men need lives." I'm with you, Annabel. I'm with you.
How did I get there, on that list with all the men? I got there because Brent, my partner, filled out the forms. Which is the very telling definition of carer status - Carer Number One always fills out the forms.
This, people, is a tiny triumph. A step in the right direction. We need to shake those lists up, we need them to be a jumble of genders, we need to throw off the deeply old-fashioned idea of "mother knows best" and all its restrictive connotations. I am Carer Number Two, and proud. Women need wives, and men need lives, as the incomparable Annabel Crabb would say. Hells, yes.
So why then, when I looked at that list, scarfing coffee at my work desk early in the morning, did I feel a little 'thump' in my stomach. The tight ping of a tiny knot of panic?
Is it because sometimes, when I sit with a group of mums in mum-territory (like, the playground), I feel like the fish at a frog party? I kind of fit in, because we all live in the pond, but I can't truly join in, because I don't eat flies and I can't leap a lily pad.
I kind of fit in, because I have two gorgeous little children whom I love madly, but I can't truly join in, because I don't have mini-boxes of sultanas in my handbag and I can't talk knowledgeably about the pros and cons of junior karate vs soccer joeys.
I'm not in the trenches of the P&C. I don't make dinner with my kids every night. I can't remember when the last time Billy went to the dentist or which one of the local kid posse can't eat nuts and won't wear pink.
That's my Brent, far left. JKS. Image: House Husbands/Nine Network.
Is that why the Carer Number Two feels like an awkward hat to wear? Because it's different, and it's always a bit uncomfortable being different?
Or maybe it's deeper than that? Is "Mother Knows Best" so engrained that to admit that you don't makes you feel like you're failing at the job universally acknowledged as the Most Important in the World?
For eons, men have been running away from the Most Important Job In The World, perhaps because they sense that's just a title given to a position that really, is undervalued by society, unpaid and entirely relentless.
The very definition of a good mother in popular culture is someone who will put their needs last. Who will eat the burnt chop, who will get up at 4am to drive the kids to swimming but never dip in the pool, who will do anything for her children but nothing for herself. The cruelest insult you can sling at a mother in tabloid speak is to call her selfish.
Kids. Excellent photographic props. Image: supplied.
The modern martyr mum is Breadwinner Number Two AND Carer Number One. She does everything, and almost kills herself trying. Anxiety chases her through her whirlwind of endless activity, nipping at her worn heels.
So isn't it preferable to say no, I can't do my job and still also be a domestic goddess, so stop trying to trick me into trying. I'll just be over here being Carer Number Two, okay?
I don't know why I was so shocked to see my name on that list. I don't know why I care. I don't know why I don't feel more proud that my partner, Carer Number One, seems to harbour no such qualms about being a unicorn on a list of horses.
Maybe it's because men, whatever list they're on, will assume that it's their god-given right to be there. And women will still squirm a little in the seat, wondering if they got the right invite.
It's time to own it.
Hello. I'm Holly, and I'm Carer Number Two. Come and join me. There's lots of room for the ladies over here.
Who's the 'Lead Parent' in your house?
You can follow Holly on Facebook, here. And you can listen to the full episode of This Glorious Mess, co-hosted by the excellent Andrew Daddo, here:
OMO tackles tough stains from your clothes, so that you can give your children the freedom to get dirty and experience life through real, unstructured play. We believe that dirt shouldn’t be a dirty word as it helps our kids prepare better for tomorrow.
Discover exclusive real play ideas at www.omo.com.au/realplay