I am Mum and Dad

Recently, I have been both Mum and Dad.

Dad was off creating a show to launch the London 2012 Festival, the centrepiece of the Cultural Olympiad associated with the imminent Games. Which meant, that the Cygnet and I passed 8 varied weeks in each other’s company.

We are a fairly reconstructed home. The division of labour is not always drawn down gender lines. But there are tasks that Dad has naturally been persuaded to look after. Like breakfast; I have a genetic predisposition to a continental coffee and toast, nothing more. So Dad’s in charge of cereal, smoothies, porridge or eggs. Dad does the bins, the outside ones at least. Dad does backyard footy, especially the gracious retrieval of errant footballs from the neighbours’ yards. Dad cleans the goldfish tank, squeezes the muck from the filter sponge and realigns the log bridge. Dad clips the lawn edges. By hand. And then he mows. And Dad turns the compost.

None of these things phased me. We are a reconstructed home. And, in fact, I took small pleasure from smoothies that were given the double thumbs up. Small satisfaction from soft yolks on fried eggs, a gleaming tank, an illicit trip over the neighbour’s side fence, a bin full of clippings or the whiff of freshly turned scraps.

But there was one thing that was on my mind from the day Dad hit the tarmac.

Late one Friday night, I checked the parent roster for the Auskick Under 8s canteen, BBQ and timekeeping duties. I’ve done canteen. Piece of cake. I’ve done timekeeping. I was good with the siren. I scanned the spreadsheet, found the row for the Under 8s and there in black and white was Dad’s surname. BBQ. I prayed for July. The top of the column read 23rd June.

Our local footy club is a reconstructed type of place. I help with training on a Wednesday night. I wash the jerseys when it’s my turn. I can stand along the boundary line of any suburban ground and hold up my end of the footy banter. But there is one thing I have never dared partake in.

The BBQ at our club occupies a concrete verandah at the clubhouse. Think of it like a stage. Terraced wooden steps join a grassed hill down to the field. When the siren sounds on the Under 5s, 6s and 7s, a hungry audience queues and demands. They will unfold onto that hill in a cascade of grubby knuckles and grass stained knees, their parents propped on their desire to return to bed, the now high sun condemning them to their day.

The BBQ at our club has its legends, pioneered by a man known only as BBQ Bob. I’m not sure exactly how many years he commanded the hotplate, but they were many. Last year, his retirement imminent, an apprentice, J, was spotted at his side. J had rugged good looks and an apron that matched his flannie.

Dad did time with the pair of them. Dad witnessed J making the hallowed omelette of the Club President. Dad served a sausage to Johnny Longmire the day we played the Pies at Homebush. And one particular Saturday was completely blurred by one of Bob’s ‘special’ morning coffees; Dad didn’t see straight til late on Sunday evening. Dad told tales of territory, of the unique camaraderie that grew between men who knew how to wait for the right time to flip meat. All I’d heard of J was his advice to a kid as tall as my thigh reduced to tears by the presence of unwelcome onion on his sausage: Man up, you little snot.

I approached the platform with false courage. I’ve never worked any BBQ in my life.
‘Morning. I’m here to take over,’ I announced. J raised one eyebrow. ‘The shift,’ I added.
A relieved looking Mum handed me an apron and tongs and disappeared. There were no instructions.

In an effort to give status before it could be commanded, I kitted up and headed straight for J, offering my uncommon name which starts every new encounter with a stumble. ‘The French version of Matilda’, I assuaged. J raised the other eyebrow. A Dad joined us, and J moved slightly sideways, beckoning him without words to the grill.

J keeps an impeccable slab. Mushrooms, onion and diced capsicum down the side, egg rings next, sausages at the back, bacon at the front. And on the Saturday morning I was there, experimentation was afoot, with a vegetarian roll offered for the first time: haloumi and grilled tomato.

The first customers descended and I worked two trays and their lids, a pair of tongs and three different sauces. With a single utensil, I cut eggs into long rolls, sausages into round rolls and piled up ‘the lot’ until small fingers could barely hold it. I worked without stopping, offering complimentary onion, selling the new vegetarian option, returning tickets to the canteen, filling sauce bottles, cutting more tomatoes, dishing out more bacon. And as the stocks were replenished, or the queue waned a moment, J and I began to chat. About the Swans. I’m not interested in football. About sport. Only motorcross. About kids. Got three of them. About junior footy. You won’t catch me out there, setting up the fields, coaching, helping at training. You won’t catch me doing all that. But with three of them playing now, I thought I’d better do something. And they tell me I can cook.

As I watched J at work, it became clear that his 8 hour Saturdays depended on him oscillating between hands-on master and stand-off mentor. And that really he was as soft as his best yolks. An hour down, we’d gotten to know each other. It seemed intentional when he took a step back just as the egg rings were empty. I reached for the carton behind us, and filled a dozen without spillage. When the next Mum came for my apron and tongs, J passed casually in front of the grill. Nice work on the eggs. We shook hands. Look forward to working with you again.

I may have skipped back to the sideline, coated in and smelling like bacon fat. The team was up. The Cygnet made a great second effort in the forward line and finished it with a goal. He won the cards that morning for most improved. I asked him if I might have just one. The Giants’ number 2, Curtly (Curly) Hampton sits on my desk and reminds me of the ways footy improves even a mum’s sense of where her limits lie.

 

About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Brilliant effort Mathilde-with the BBQ and the writing.

  2. Lord Bogan says:

    ‘Man up you little snot’. That’s gold.

  3. craig dodson says:

    going where angels fear to tread – gutsy effort and kudos to you. Very enjoyable read

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