Hey lady, you, lady, cursin’ at your life
You’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife
I’ve no doubt you dream about the things you’ll never do
But I wish someone had a talked to me like I wanna talk to you
Over the last weekend for what was supposedly a quick family trip away, I found myself stuck for an hour in a cramped and dirty McDonald’s toilet cubicle somewhere between Busselton and Dunsborough, with a screaming constipated child and this song in my head. (If you have not heard of the song before it was a 1980’s ballad titled “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene.)
At that point I closed my eyes and imagined what that moment would have been like for me in another lifetime long long ago – when a vacation would have been like a real vacation, and time away would actually be relaxing. Instead of a toilet door that seemed to be closing in on me by the minute, I would have been staring at the ocean which had no end. Instead of the flushing sounds of the next door toilet, I would be listening to the gentle lapping of waves and gawking seagulls. And instead of alternating between standing in a small room and squatting and comforting my child who was on the toilet until my legs and back hurt, I would be lying down with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other.
So Charlene, you were right.
On some days I dream of a life that would never be. When the demands and responsibilities of everyday life take its toll I wonder what it would have been like to just be free. To not have to be stuck in a routine of waking up early, going to work, picking up kids then making dinner, to not have to clean up toys, poo and vomit, to not have to be confined to office space for eight hours a day so that the mortgage and private school fees can be paid off, and to not have to be always concerned about whether your actions and decisions might start a fight with your spouse or someone else in your household of ten.
To travel whenever and wherever I want to and see the world, to meet new people and talk to interesting strangers, to pursue a career and a life that is plagued with uncertainty but full of excitement. To be responsible only for me.
What would my life have been like then? Where would that take me? What kind of person would I have been?
I do not let those thoughts linger for long or otherwise consume me, because I know they are not real and the trade-offs have would been unimaginable. When the mind fog clears and I look into the face of a smiling child (my smiling child), I know that these moments, these so-called hardships, are short-lived and in return for something better. Like good investments. You give up a life free of responsibilities and put in the effort in return for things that you now realise you cannot live without once you have experienced them; for those moments when you pick your children up after work and your heart melts when you see their grubby, smiley faces; for the nights when you lie in your husband’s arms, watch Gogglebox and talk about your day; for the family dinners when you sit around, enjoy good food and exchange life stories; for love; for the genuine laughters.
You do it, usually without question, for the certainty in your own mind and your heart that you have given all you can to the people you love most and that you would have them by your side when you need them and when you get old and lonely and you can no longer run freely.
After all what else could life be about?
So listen to the rest of the song. Charlene would tell you the same.