Parents often take a great deal of pride in their children’s artwork; a creation of their creation. And some are actually good. My best friend’s son mastered shape and form at an unusually young age, oval shaped-stick figures to be marvelled. But this is not the norm.

My youngest son is three. When he was two he made his first picture, a colourful scribble, gifted to his grandmother. The artwork was held in such high-esteem, by artist and recipient alike, that my son need not ever create another picture. This was his Mona Lisa. In fact, any time I suggested he do another drawing he redirected my attention to the artwork’s viewing area; the fridge.

In hindsight, I should have enjoyed this single imperfect picture, framed by the vast open plains of uncluttered fridge space. Now, I would almost say, this picture ‘sparked joy’ in its unique singularity. 

At the start of the kinder year, somewhere within the information pack was the sentiment that there is a lot of pre-learning going on and so parents should not expect their children to bring home artwork after every session. Settle guys, give them time to build the foundations.

The thing is though, there are no rejects, no quality assurance. Samples, offcuts, everything is prized, nothing is left behind. Large sheets of paper, thick with paint, bundling up faster than junk mail in a neglected mailbox; this burden is real. And you can’t simply throw them away. It’s like Big Brother in your own home. School, kinder, child care or not – they are always watching.

Though it seems, as enforced by the little people who manage our overwhelming intake of arts and crafts, that it is not for you or I to decide what is art, it is true that some artworks are precious, heart-warming keepsakes that should be rightfully treasured. 

Once at school assembly, another parent showed me his child’s artwork captured on his phone. It was with such pride that this father thrust his phone upon me. ‘My son drew me as a penis’ he said, beaming. I looked down. Sure enough, the entire body was one long shaft, two rounded shoes either side, and a line separating the top of the shaft; a knob with a face on it. It was a penis man. This was material that should be shared. And, no doubt, had been, several times over.

Mother of Three

The decision to have three children was a conscious one, but the reality of this decision was not. ‘I have three children, I feel like I have eight’ my husband said just days after the baby and I arrived home from hospital. ‘There are so many of them’ I said to my husband, referring to our beautiful, adored offspring. I could have been talking about a swarm of mosquitoes, their pesky abundance driving us back indoors. 

It was not a matter of just throwing more pasta in the pot, as I had naively thought -‘What’s one more?‘ The addition of another child created a whole new dynamic that left us feeling outnumbered and helpless. It didn’t help that number three did not properly take to feeding straight away, or that all three children were yet to be shipped off to school, or that three months in to this new situation we decided to renovate our home. 

Whatever the case, the enormity of the shift from two children to three is not widely publicised. As with childrearing, all information is geared up to the event, with little pre-warning to the weeks after the birth, no-one took me aside and said ‘Look, what you are about to go through is ridiculous.’ Even when a mum, expecting her third child, recently asked me about life with three children, my response was ‘do you really want to know?’ Because like child birth, you fear what you don’t know and then you fear what you do know. 

Over time, it has become clear that I am part of a secret society. We are the ones who quietly live our lives – going about our business with a baby strapped to our front, pushing a pram, holding a kid’s hand, feeding snacks, buckling and unbuckling, lifting, holding, chasing – we are the ones that know what’s really going on. It’s seldom spoken of, but occasionally I will say to another mum of three, almost in a whisper, ‘so, life with three kids…’

When I finally caught up with my girlfriends, after having our third child, I was asked ‘So, what about you, life with three kids?! It’s full-on but wonderful?’ The group looked and waited for a response. ‘Yeee-eess‘ I replied. These catch-ups serve as a form of escapism. When my friends, mostly yet to have children, get ready to leave, I ask my best friend, who has two children of her own to stay – just long enough for the kids to be asleep. 

There’s no point getting depressed.’ Another mum, with three children, said to me. ‘It is what it is.’ My mum hates that phrase. I don’t know why exactly. It suggests acceptance. 

There is one school mum, in particular, I always notice. I always see her walking her children to school, with one walking ahead, one in the pram and one usually on a scooter. I notice her because she appears to be the only one juggling so many children in this manner, bent over pushing the pram with one hand, while supporting the scooter with the other.

One day I let the boys take their scooter and bike for the walk to school. They are not so steady and go a little too fast. I try to keep up. I do this with my baby strapped to my chest. As I power walk vigorously, my body a human shield between the boys and the road, it dawns on me; I am that mum. 

Struggle Town

Universal between parents is the energy expended in trying to get baby to sleep. Whether it be rocking, bouncing on a ball, playing music, patting and shushing (naturally or via an app.), driving until a sleep-induced state is achieved, we are all aiming for the same end game. I was reminded of this recently when flying 14 hours across the Pacific with my husband, parents, and three young children in tow. (‘Look!’ I said to my husband, while bustling through Melbourne airport, ‘there’s a mum with three kids. It’s not just us!’) 

On board the flight, during the superficially created night-time, along the same row of seats was a Muslim mother rocking a toddler to her own brand of shushing; a cyclical flow of air. The sound was unique to her, in the way that a mother can identify her own baby’s cry. Hour after hour, this mother persisted, rocking and shushing by the window, rocking and shushing by the aisle, that same rise and fall of air like a clothes dryer spinning round and round. I grew accustomed to the sound, it became almost like another natural sound of the plane. I think part of me appreciated this mother’s struggle. It made my struggle easier to endure. Her struggle was my struggle. 

One of my girlfriends, also recently became a mother of three. When we last caught up I told her how hard I was finding things in that joking kind of way people admit hard truths. Her response was ‘Yeah, I’m really sorry to hear that, but…‘ and then proceeded to share her own struggle. There was a definite sense of relief. In that kind of did anyone else not do their homework? illogical self-reassurance, we both felt better about our situation. 

I’ve been reading Lily Brett’s New York. There is a section about women, about how women don’t help other women. ‘…we won’t share anything that might help to put another female ahead of us.’[1]This was published in 2001. I wanted to believe this trend was outdated.

A few months ago, at playgroup a whole wave of new mums came through the door. Although I have grown quite fond of playgroup, I didn’t feel at ease. There were so many new faces. I was introduced to another mum, also a teacher. I explained I was on maternity leave but had picked up some casual-relief teaching. She expressed an interest in this kind of work, having found two days permanent part-time too much. Never had I been able to secure a load of just two days. 

Where have you been doing CRT?’ she asked. ‘Just locally,’ I replied. ‘Any schools in particular?’ she pressed. The conversation went on like this for some time, me like a politician at question time, refusing to give the names of the schools I had managed to forge a relationship with. 

Then it was time for the children to wash their hands before snack.

[1](Brett, 2001)