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‘Always have napoli in the freezer and penne in the cupboard,’ was my mum’s advice on parenting. ‘You can’t prevent things going wrong. Your job is to hold it together when they do.’

I remember the times as a child that she reached for those red bricks from the back of our freezer. The phone would be wedged between her ear and shoulder for hours, cord stretched straight as she moved from the freezer to the stove. Those nights I was shushed and ushered to bed, hours earlier than usual, and I’d lie awake listening to her voice muted through the walls.

The bad news dish. To have it in the freezer almost feels like taunting ill will—come at me, give it your best shot! When really, I live these days with a baseline of anxiety always thrumming, please nothing go wrong. But it is true that a quick and easy dinner, that passes as far more nutritious than is actually the case, is a godsend for parents. Even during pregnancy, I came to see the act of making the sauce useful in quelling anxieties.

Things I’ve worried about as I’ve nudged caramelising tomato skins across a pan:

Can I afford this?

What will I do if there’s another outbreak at day care next week?

Does he need his biological father?

Does he need any father?


All I know of his father is itemised. Blonde. 5′11″. No diabetes. No heart disease. Under reason for donating, he noted that he’d observed friends who struggled to have children and wanted to help others to become parents.

Did he help his friends, though?

Was he polite to the nurses at the bank?

Or overly kind to the point of condescension?

What porn, if any, did he watch?

Mum and I joked about the donor-as-father in the beginning.

‘Do you think he looks like his dad?’ I asked her when we were still in the birthing suite, Rupert furious and red on my chest.

A few times in those foggy first weeks she said, ‘He must get that from his father.’

The nights when he wouldn’t sleep longer than forty minutes straight: ‘Men are fussy sleepers—a good night’s rest is the best thing about divorce.’

Or when he wouldn’t take a bottle: ‘It’s so hard to get men to try new things.’

One day Rupert cried for two hours straight. Mum and I were in the car, stopped at a red on the way to the doctor—it was an earache, in the end. I whispered, not looking at her in the driver’s seat but staring through the windscreen to the road ahead of us, ‘You don’t think he knows, do you?’

‘What’s that, Janey?’

‘That there’s no dad. Maybe I’m not enough.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

And neither of us ever made reference to a father again, because Rupert didn’t have one. It was Mum and me. That was the deal.


My friend Amy gave me the idea. She’d been in a long, bad relationship in her twenties, which ended when she was thirty-one. ‘If I don’t meet someone by thirty-four, it’s straight to the sperm bank,’ she said the day after the breakup, and repeated it just about every day from then on. She never wasted the nights that I did swiping—left, right—on potential dates or scrolling through photos of my exes with their new partners. The squashed faces of their babies, wrapped in pale, fuzzy blankets, prized in their arms.

At thirty-four, Amy asked her parents if she could move back home, if they could help her take care of a baby. They told her, ‘We’ve already been parents. We don’t want to do it again.’

She quoted their words back to me saying she’d put the idea to bed. ‘It must really be that bad, the way they spoke about it.’

Aren’t they still parents?

I told Amy I was thinking of going to the sperm bank the same way I told her at thirteen that I had a crush on Tim Baker and then Aaron Park when we were fifteen. I spoke slowly, an upward inflection, like I was asking her permission, as though insemination was something she’d put dibs on.

‘You can’t ask your mum to help, she’s on her own!’ Amy’s eyes bulged big and brazen.

As did Mum’s when I asked her. ‘Oh Janey! We’re gunna have a baby.’

‘Will people think we’re strange?’

‘All families look nuts from the outside.’

I moved to a small flat two blocks from her, and even before my first fertility test, she had tomato sauce simmering on the stove.


When Rupert was born, I worried I’d break him just by looking at him. Pink crepe-paper skin. He weighed 3.2 kilos. More than a bottle of milk or a bag of flour, but without any of the heft—he felt lighter than a tennis ball. ‘You hold him,’ I’d say to Mum. Or, if I’d used that one too much, ‘Can you pick him up and pass him to me?’

She could tell right away what I was doing and I wondered when that sixth sense would set in for me. I still couldn’t tell nappy cries from bottle cries.

‘You won’t break him, Janey. Kids are as strong as concrete.’ I watched as she handled him like delicate china.

Support the head, but be mindful of the soft spot; sleep him on his back, no loose blankets, don’t let him choke. As he grew, tall and robust, I came to see him as permanent as stone. He transformed from delicate china to being the bull in the shop. Grabbing, pulling and charging around the house, the park, a restaurant. Mum teared after him. ‘Careful there, Rupey. Rupert, put that down. Here, Rupe, give that to Nanny.’

‘He really is as strong as concrete,’ I’d say to her as she tried to pull him back from thundering ahead of us down the street.


She’d been walking home from the shops, stocked up to make a napoli, which is why there was red everywhere. Passers-by mistook it for blood, understandably, because she was dead.

The bus driver maintained she’d tripped. Not that he’d seen it—his eyes were focused on the road, of course—but it was the way he saw her falling into his path, top-heavy, really going over. He was under the speed limit, but a bus is a bus no matter how slow it hits you.

‘You reach a certain age and a fall is all it takes.’ The police officer nudged the box of tissues he’d bought to my house towards me.

She wasn’t that old yet, I wanted to say. ‘She was my mother,’ was what came out.

Rupert asked for her about forty times a day, even before she died. There’s a pre-recorded video that I used to play when he asked, ‘Where’s Nanny?’ In the weeks following the funeral we watched the video of her all day, every day. ‘Where’s my nanny?’ he eventually started demanding.

‘She’s not here,’ I’d say in the mornings. By the afternoons, it was, ‘We’ll see her tomorrow.’ I took the books about pets and grandparents dying out of rotation. I started watching the video on my own after he’d gone to bed. Hi Rupey boy, Nanny misses you. Are you being a good boy for Mummy?

I want my own video. One where she tells me I’m a good mother. Or complains about the woman down the street who doesn’t adjust her automatic sprinklers for the rain.

Things I wish I’d asked my mother when she was alive:

What do I do when he’s a teenager?

What were you like when you were a teenager?

Where did the saying about the napoli come from?

I know it wasn’t passed down from her own mother whom I never met and I’m inclined to think didn’t know what napoli was. When Mum spoke of her cooking, it was with shudders. ‘It was all lamb’s fry and boiled vegetables back then.’

What even is lamb’s fry?


Like prior obsessions with favourite toys and TV shows, Rupert goes from asking for her all day, every day, to never asking for her. Like many things as a parent—breastfeeding, holding him until he finally falls asleep—I switch from cursing the ceaselessness of it to longing for it back.

‘Remember when Nanny took you to the beach, Rupey?’

‘We made sandcastles!’

‘Remember when we went to the aquarium with Nanny?’

‘Nanny likes the seahorses.’

I hear his tone become more rehearsed. As though he’s recalling lines, not memories. I try to remember anything about this stage of my own life and I can’t.

‘What’s wrong, Mummy?’ His small voice yanks me from the reverie of grief back to my messy lounge.

‘I miss Nanny.’

‘I miss her too.’

He slumps his shoulders and takes a few slow, sad steps.

An exaggerated frown on his face. Acting like a character from one of his cartoons. Mimicking sadness the same way he’s learned how to smile and stand still when a phone is held before him or to say ‘Ta’ when a waitress hands him a babycino.

‘Okay Pinocchio,’ I joke to no one. His sadness is nothing like the tantrums he throws if he doesn’t want to get out of the car, or in the car, or when he parks his bum on the ground and squeals as loud, and as red in the face, as a fire engine. Kids are as sturdy as concrete, I think, as I watch people walk around him on the footpath.

‘What’s wrong, Rupey?’ I’ve tried asking him. He can never tell me what. Or if he does, it’s just, ‘I don’t want to get out of the car.’

What the hell am I meant to do when he does this?

Did I ever lose it in public like this?

Did you ask me why?

Do you remember anything about this stage in your life?


People glare at me at the supermarket as I stack the packets of pasta in my trolley. Cases have started ticking up again. There’s that feeling in the air, that we’re two press conferences away from another lockdown. I glare back—you try shopping with a toddler and see how many trips here you can handle—probably strengthening their belief that I’m hoarding. Bottles of vinegar and weighty bags of sugar down one end. Tomatoes and brown onions rolling down the other. Rupert is in there too. Today he refused to be hooked into the little seat at the front of the trolley.

As I make our way to the checkout an onion falls from the cart.

‘Rupert, no.’

I place it back in the trolley and he immediately throws it out again. He throws the same onion, repeatedly, until I simply place it in my coat pocket.

‘No Bluey for you tonight.’ I push faster.

A woman passes me down the aisle. ‘It’s so hard when you’ve got them on your own.’ Her face scrunches, ugly. Head tilts in pity.

Once we’ve made it through the check-out, I load two bulging bags of shopping over my shoulders. I feel the onion in my pocket, unintentionally shoplifted. I hold my arms out to lift Rupert from the trolley. ‘Here sweetie, time to go home.’

His small fists grip tight on the bars. Colour drains from his knuckles and flushes in his face. I place the bags back down in the trolley just as he erupts. I push him towards a bench outside the shopping plaza, against which I prop myself to wait this out. I rock the cart back and forth a little, like I did with the pram when he was younger. Knowing it won’t soothe him, maybe just trying to be seen to be doing something by the people passing in and out of the automatic doors. ‘Shh, shh,’ I say for their benefit.

Have you tried shopping with a toddler without any help?

I can’t even shower some days. I have nobody.

After several loud minutes, his wailing becomes not one continual siren but a few short alarms interrupted by big gulping breaths. I rub my hand over his back as he decelerates.

‘Rupey, do you want to go home to watch some Bluey?’

He takes a tomato from one of the shopping bags and throws it from the trolley. I look to it, soft and still on the concrete. Passers-by will expect me to pick it up. It would be littering to leave it there. An important lesson to teach children. But the fruit is likely ruined now. I imagine its underside—squashed flesh, bleeding juice.

Had you had a good morning that day?

Did you realise what was happening when you tripped?

Did you think of us?

Rupert is silent, looking to me. Waiting for my reaction.

People jump away at the sound of my voice, unleashed and wild like a toddler’s. Not words, only sound. Blaring and cathartic. Rupert joins in screaming—in fear or solidarity, I’m not sure. Shoppers, who moments before were giving sympathetic nods, hurry past us.

After several furious minutes, I spot three men in security uniforms approaching our scene calmly. I lift Rupert from the trolley, without asking this time, and he doesn’t object. I hold him tight against my body. Our chests heaving against one another.

Please Mummy, please.