11a.m Sunday. My daughter has spent the past two weeks writing a research proposal on gender sex-typing. Now, the morning after its completion, she is sitting on the sofa, liberated.
“It’s such a fantastic feeling,” she says, “my brain feels so light.”
“Every cell in my brain feels like it’s carrying a sack of coal,” I say.
“Thanks for reading it through Mum,” she says.
“I found the content very hard to follow. I think my brain is slowly disintegrating. Maybe I’ve had a little stroke.”
“Don’t joke,” my husband says.
“Yeah don’t say that, Mum,” my youngest says.
My husband lowers his newspaper and looks at me hard over its top.
“You’d make a terrible stroke patient,” he says,
“I need to start doing crossword puzzles,” I say.
“This is so nice,” my daughter says, “just being able to have a normal conversation instead of thinking about my research proposal.”
“There’s a thickness to my thoughts,” I say.
“Rubbish,” my husband says from behind the paper.
My daughter picks up a National Geographic magazine. “Where did that come from?” my husband says.
“Dentist’s waiting room,” my daughter says, “Mum asked the receptionist if she could borrow it for my research proposal. It’s a special issue on gender.”
“Is there a crossword puzzle in it?” I say.
11.15am. An article in National Geographic has sparked a conversation about contraception; how the different methods are all unsatisfactory for women. It is becoming quite convoluted. I follow it as best as a brain can when it is weighed-down with coal/disintegrating/had a little stroke.
The conversation broadens and narrows, finally tapering to a point: “What did you do about contraception, Mum. Were you ever on the pill?”
“For two weeks,” I say, “I didn’t fancy the idea of my hormones being turned upside down. They cause more than enough hassle when they’re standing the right way up. Playing with fire, I felt, but that’s just me.”
“So what did you do for contraception?” my eldest says, “I mean condoms are hardly a solution long-term.”
“Dad had his bollocks chopped off,” my youngest says.
“It’s called vasectomy,” my husband says, “not castration.”
“What do they actually do in a vasectomy?” my youngest says, “do they cut...”
“Christ,” my husband says, shifting in his chair, “do we have to talk about this?”
“Every single method of contraception is shit for a woman,” my daughter says, “and unless your partner has his bollocks chopped off…”
“Can you stop calling it that,” my husband says, “and by the way, a vasectomy is pretty shit too, especially when it’s done under a local.”
“… you are stuck, as a woman, with the pill, which messes your hormones up, which you have to remember to take every day, and pay for the privilege.”
“There’s the bar,” my youngest says, “that lasts for three years.”
“That’s just hormones on slow-release,” my eldest says, “I mean, none of the methods are appealing and the responsibility for it lies with the woman. Like I said, unless your partner has his…”
“A vasectomy,” my husband says, “it’s called a vasectomy.”
“I mean, it’s an issue that’s so on-going. Basically, right up until their fifties - women have to arse around with the pill or the coil or the cap or the bar. What’s the other option - crossing your fingers and hoping for the best? Men get off so lightly.”
“Now I come to think of it,” I say, “when it comes to contraception, I think I’ve got off quite lightly.”
“What do you mean “quite lightly?” my daughters say.
“I never had my hormones turned upside down,” I say, “I got off lightly.”
A small silence falls. “Except,” my eldest says, speaking slowly, “you got pregnant with dad when you hardly knew him.”
“An unplanned pregnancy at 20,” she says.
“With Joe,” my husband says more slowly, “our eldest son?”
“Oh,” I say, “yes, there is that.”
Another small silence falls.
“I think you should start doing the crossword,” my husband says.
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