AS PART of my ongoing quest to prove that I am still an individual in my own right and not solely the mammy of a slightly insane 14-month-old, I found myself purchasing a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine this week.
In my early and even mid 20s (as I have realised I am now officially in the late 20s category), Cosmopolitan was a staple part of my monthly reading diet. Plonk me on a sofa, stick a glass of wine and a king-size Galaxy within easy reach and hand me a copy of Cosmo and I was happy as the proverbial pig in poop. Yes, I was the classic Bridget Jones wannabe; the advertiser's dream. I would spend many an hour fantasising about the latest designer looks that would suit neither by budget or my girth. I lived vicariously through the stories of women who worked hard and partied even harder and yes, well I suppose, I found myself following the feminist hard-line the magazine is famous for. I was, after all, a career woman. I was from the generation who played it straight, going from school to uni to post-graduate education and straight into employment determined that, with the help of my monthly magazine, we could collectively break that glass ceiling and be seen on a par with our colleagues. And then I got pregnant. And Cosmopolitan suddenly lost it's relevance. While it claims to represent young women the world over, I have to say I find very little in it's glossy shiny pages that represent me and my life. Cosmopolitan makes certain assumptions about it's readers. Apparently we are all a size 12 (on a fat day), frequent trendy cocktails bars after work every day, are single or in a passionate relationship with a trendy young buck who lives to serve our every whim and have bucketloads of money to spend on the latest designer looks. We don't have children. They are too messy and unpredictable. The reality of my life is that the last time I was a size 12, my age actually corresponded precisely with my size. Trendy bars are no more a feature of my life (unless you count The Del for a chicken toastie and Diet Coke on a Wednesday lunchtime). Forget the passionate young buck.... himself is five years old than me and saves his passion for the golf course. My "bucketloads" of money (not that I ever really had more than a thimble-full) have evaporated into an unending debit of nappies, clothes for the wee (but ever growing) man and Vanish Stain Remover (which despite it's best promises and my best attempts still does not seem to have the power to remove squashed banana). And as for the children aspect, well, just read above about squashed banana to know my stance on that one. "Tik a Brik" So, it had become the norm that I left the glossy magazines on the shelf (with the exception of Practical Parenting, which let's face it, I buy solely to give the appearance of being a good mother) and opted instead for such high brow reads as Take A Break (Tik a Brik as pronounced in Derry) and That's Life. Instead of fantasising about the life I longed for, I instead took to reading tales of utter misery surrounding 16-year-olds who had three wains, another on the way and whose mother was brutally murdered by said 16- year-old's former partner. It made me feel good that at least, even if the latest make-up and fancy shoes were beyond my reach I didn't have have a son called Skywalker and a prison record the length of my (heavily tattooed) left arm. But the thing with That's Life and Tik A Brik is that they are hardly uplifting reads. They convince me that we are all ultimately doomed to either be murdered at the hands of a jealous lover or develop some tragic illness just when we think we are turning a corner in our sad existences. They don't give me anything to aspire too. The women featured in their pages, while brave in their own ways, are not filled with the same hopes, dreams and fears as me. They are not, generally speaking, juggling to break through that glass ceiling at work while trying to squeeze their post pregnancy feet (now I know where that saying "plates of meat" comes from) into dainty pointy shoes and simultaneously trying to make sure their children are raised to be respectful, successful adults who wear sensible shoes to match their sensible names. So I'm stuck between two magazines, neither of which seem suitable for me any more. Maybe it is characteristic of the stage of life I'm at. Yes, I'm a bona-fide adult with mortgage, baby, car and an increasing number of wrinkles, but I'm still not ready for the beige tights, rollers and Cliff Richard CDs just yet. I still like looking at the pretty new fashions and fantasising about having a couple of hundred pounds just to spend on lip gloss and eye shadow. I can still see the glass ceiling and it's still a wee bit beyond my reach, but I no longer have faith that the Cosmo girls with their obsessions with about the in-places to party and the latest gadgets to make your love life buzz back into action are the ones to help me get there. So I'm, proposing that magazine publishers out there take note. Can we find a middle ground that suits the ordinary working mother? Enough of extremes on either side, I want to read about someone who knows exactly what I'm going through (And if you want to pay me a wee fortune to head it up for you, I'm open to offers!).
THERE ARE certain things I will always remember about my wedding day. The first being the sense of nerves as I stood at the back of the chapel awaiting the string quartet to start up and serenade me down the aisle.
The second being sitting in our reception venue and waiting for the after dinner formalities and wondering just how my father would humiliate me in his speech. I never gave much thought to the other speeches. I had coached my newly-acquired husband on what was appropriate and inappropriate to say and the best man was there with the sole purpose of humiliating my other half, so, with the exception of daddy dearest's wise words, I thought the rest of the speeches would be of no concern to me. But I never counted on my newly-acquired father-in-law speaking up. Being an older gentleman in his 70s he had figured that having already married off two daughters he had done his wedding speech duty. He was a tad surprised then when his beloved only son informed with just a few moments notice that it is customary here in bonny Ireland for the father of the groom to also say a few words. Knowing his reticence to speak up publicly, myself and himself resigned ourselves to the fact he wouldn't say a word and were therefore surprised when he reached for the mic (between my father telling everyone about my embarrassing throwing up in the car story and the best man producing an inflatable sheep to remind my other half of his days in Wales). He proceeded to tell the assembled guests he was "Lucky Dave". He was lucky, he said, because his children were now all happily married and that the sun had shone on each of his children's wedding days. Funny how, in the passage of time, many of the comments of that day and from those speeches (with the exception of the humiliating vomit story) have blurred somewhat. I remember the gist, but not the actual substance, but I think I will always remember what "Lucky Dave" said. This was a man whose wife had recently died leaving him devastated, but who was still able to see that, all in all, he was a lucky bloke. His children were happy, healthy and now settled. That was enough for him to consider himself "lucky". This week those thoughts came back into my head again. Part of my job as a journalist is obviously to meet new people, hear new stories and try and translate those stories onto the page. Like most people, some weeks I find my job easier than others. I can retain my professional detachment and get the job done efficiently. Other weeks, it is harder and, I suppose thankfully, stories still have a way of getting to me. I guess I wouldn't be human if they didn't, but in those weeks a story becomes much more than an interview before returning to my desk to craft a story for publication. Changing attitudes It stays with me, it makes me re-evaluate my life and, perhaps more importantly, my attitude to life. This week I met with 16-months-old Ben Kennedy and his mother Lesley. Ben, just two months older than my own wee man, was born 15 weeks early and subsequently developed MRSA. His parents feared he wouldn't survive, but he has defied the odds. Life isn't easy though, he has had a tracheostomy to help him breathe and requires 24 hour a day care. But Ben's illness isn't what I noticed first of all about him. I noticed he was a gorgeous, happy, delightful little boy as every bit as full as mischief and devilment as my own son. And I realised in that moment, I was lucky. I was lucky that my son is healthy and happy, despite his waking at stupid o'clock in the morning at increasing intervals. I'm lucky that despite his own predisposition for chest infections, he can breathe unaided and tell me "Dove Do" (translation= love you). And I'm lucky that I work in a job where I get to meet such inspiring people like Ben and his mammy. It's hard to believe some times that I get paid to spend an afternoon playing with someone else's precious child while getting told their deepest fears, thoughts and feelings. It's a privilege to be trusted to write their story and reveal to the world details of their personal lives. Sometimes it does me good to get a big kick up the bum to remember that. Since becoming a mammy, and especially since returning to work, I have spent way too much time resenting the time I spend away from my son and not fully embracing the things that used to make this job something I loved, rather than something I did to pay the bills at the end of the month. This week however I got a bit of that old zeal back, that love for the job; that feeling of being privileged to be doing a job others would love; and it felt good. I'm not saying that given the chance I wouldn't rather be devoting my time to my family, watching dodgy daytime TV and making half hearted attempts at becoming the next Marian Keyes, but all in all I'm pretty damned lucky that while I have to work, it's not the worst job in the world (most of the time). It's just a shame it took a 16 month baby to make me realise that, all things considered, I really am "Lucky Lola".
Someone said this week I seem like a very happy mammy.
They made this comment to my own mother who then admitted to me that perhaps this person would not have made such a comment having spent a couple of hours in the company of myself and my son.
It was, on my mammy's behalf, a throw-away comment. Sure, I'm always willing to tell anyone who will listen what a dodgy mother I am. But to hear it said, made me wonder.
Am I really failing at the one thing I'm trying hardest at?
Joseph is going through a tough stage at the moment and coupled with problems at work and an over-riding sense of financial doom in our homestead, both himself and I (particularly I) are reaching the end of our proverbial tethers.
It's hard to find the same enthusiasm for the early rises and late night dummy runs when it is hard enough in the first instance to switch your brain off. And believe me, my brain is on overload at the moment.
Having admitted my defeat in round one of the battle of the anti-depressants and gone back on the blighters the ill effects of getting used to them again are kicking in. The panic attacks, the paranoia, the over active imagination. All this does not make for a peaceful existance.
And then, of course, someone has replaced happy smiley Joseph with the demon child; he who wants constant and unending attention and screams for no apparant reason.
I'm feeling low. I'm feeling that I'm not cut out for this motherhood lark and I'm starting to crave a wee space were no one can find me- which is as sure a sign as any that the depression monster is fighting back.
But I'm going to keep trying because I owe it to my son. I dont the legacy of his childhood to be remembering how mummy shouted, or cried or felt inadequate. The least he deserves is happiness and love.
NOTHING IN this world feels better than slipping between the sheets in the evening, resting your head on your pillow and drifting off to dream-land.
I'll admit it may border on pure slatterness on my behalf, but I love my bed. I'm there at any opportunity, be it to curl up under the duvet to read a good book or to take to the pillows and cushions with a cup of hot chocolate to watch Desperate Housewives. My bedroom is my haven and my sanctuary. It's decorated in pale yellows and creams, with large sash windows, a king size bed and some lavender oil permanently burning in the oil burner. My bed has not one but eight pillows, all of varying sizes and different levels of plumpness. For a long time I had a particularly close relationship with a purple cushion which i had to cuddle like a teddy bear while going off to sleep. Now, it's a small cream cushion that has my attention. I cuddle it, curl the duvet up under my feet and up to my neck and lie at the edge of the bed to fall off to sweet dreams. It is bliss. Bedtime is without a doubt my most favourite time of the day.... Or at least, it used to be. You see my bed has become a place for strange manoeuvres in the dark, and I'm not talking about the fun kind! Himself and myself have an interloper into our marital bed. He is about two foot tall, likes to grin and show off his four toothypegs and thinks it is hilariously funny to play "Beep" on mammy's nose at four in the morning.
I'm told that around the year mark (the wee man being 14 months) is a typical time for sleeping to go pear-shaped for the little people. They are learning so much that their wee brains can't switch off at night and so when they wake up at stupid o'clock in the morning they want to try all out all their newly acquired skills. For Joseph this involves sitting up in his cot and singing the Balamory theme tune at full volume ("DAAAA-DA-DAAAAA-DA"). Hubby and I try to ignore it hoping that he will eventually tire of this most annoying of songs and go to sleep. Problem is, while Joseph can sit up no problem, he has not yet quite figured out how to lie back down. So we know we are in trouble. You see, it's all okay until he spots mammy or daddy during the night. But it is impossible to lie the wee man back down without going into his room. So we creep in, trying not to talk, and trying to make Joseph lie down without any fuss. But then the crying starts (Joseph, then me) and we, in the interests of getting any sort of sleep at all, bring the wee man into bed with us. My sanctuary is no more. The plumped pillows are cast to the floor. There is a pack of nappies beside the bed and it's hard to roll over in the night without being impaled on a stray dummy. Toys have even started to creep in and while drifting off to dreamland last night I came face to face with the mankiest, stinkiest vest in the world which my son loves to cuddle as he goes off to sleep. (And they think I'm strange for cuddling a cushion!) The air is not so much fragranced with lavender oil as it is with Eau De PeePee Nappy and instead of beauty sleep I'm assaulted on a frequent basis by a baby who wants to either slap my belly (it wobbles, much to his amusement), or Beep Beep my nose. Somehow he hasn't copped on that this is where mammy and daddy go to sleep. But then I think perhaps he doesn't realise we need any sleep in the first place. And trust me, I'm not good with sleep deprivation. I'm sure my computer in work is ready to fizzle and die with the drool I regularly drop on it as I drift off at my desk. In the past few days I have managed to lose a bunch of cheques received on Joseph's behalf and post a form off without actually remembering to sign it.
When I'm trying my damnedest to be professional on the phone I seem instead to talk gobbledegook; my brain being in some weird twilight zone where the Balamory theme tune plays on a loop and I take panic attacks at loud noises. Before, I would have taken solace in the fact that at least if I was having a particularly tired and stressful day it would not be long before I could sink under the duvet and relax...but no more! That experience is long gone. The hardest thing though is that you can't use "I had a bad night's sleep" as an excuse in work when you are feeling rough the next day. It's part of being a responsible grown-up and parent. You know that thousands, if not millions, of women (and a couple of men) have felt like this before. Yet, they have got up the next day and gone on to carry out a full day's work, making important decisions and keeping their world, and their homes, running smoothly. I don't know if I'm just particularly inept at the whole working mother thing or if all these other women are buzzing about due to a diet consistent largely of sugar and caffeine, but I wish I knew their secret. I'd swap at least six of my pillows and my oil burner for the answer.
Of all the God given talents out there, the one I wish I had, but definitely don't is the ability to hold a tune.
I come from a family of where music is in our blood. My granny used to sing in hotels (not in a seedy way mind, in a holy Catholic Ireland way) and my parents have both been in choirs. My sister, the famous YaYa, is renowned as the local wedding singer and my other two siblings can play guitar, write their own music and blast out a good tune.
Me? I play a mean triangle!
One of the images I have always had of being a parent is crooning softly to my sleepy child, my melodic tones gently soothing him off to sleep. The reality is, when tired, Joseph is just as likely to start screeching when mammy sings as anything else. I would like to think he is moved by the pathos of the lyrics, but somehow, when I see the pleading in his eyes, I know he just wants me to shut up.
During the day it's fine. Let's face it, even the tone deaf can roar a good "BAL-A-MOR-Y" at the top of their lungs when required, but trying to actually sing and convey the heartwrenching emotion of a song such as "Case of You" (Joseph's favourite) is hard going for the less musically gifted.
Of course, my family like to make me sing. They say I have "a nice wee voice". Much as the same as calling me a "grand big girl" doesn't feel like a compliment, nor does "nice wee voice". My sister can reduce a room to tears with her rendition of Evergreen, or the wedding classic "Set Your Heart"...I get pitying looks.
Being Irish (bejaysus and begorrah!) any family shindig inevitably ends in a singsong. (Imagine the scene, 30 mad, drunk Irish ones screaming "Lola for a song, Lola for a song" over and over). I break out in a cold sweat. YaYa has already sung "The Rose" and the tears and snotters are still flowing; Uncle Kevin has done his moving rendition of "Fields of Athenry"; mammy has danced her way round the room like a menopausal lapdancer singing "Stupid Cupid" and daddy is deciding which John Denver song to sing. There is no escape.
So I start, me and my wee quiet voice and I start to feel good. I can't look anyone in the face. I just stare at my feet and sing about heaven knowing no frontiers. The room is quiet. I'm focusing on remembering the words (of which there are many, many verses!) and I'm feeling like the combination of 2 bottles of wine and a wee Drambuie might just make me hurl...and then I'm done. I feel I have achieved something.
And then...the next day, someone reveals they videod the whole thing and I know I shouldn't, but I can't help myself. So I watch it, and I cringe....Never again, I promise.
Tonight, DH has gone away to Belfast on a training mission so I'm all alone. It was therefore my job to settle the wee man. Bath and bottle duly done he was no more close to sleep than I was, so I read all 4 books in close proximity to the cot. He was still awake.
So, with his night-time CD playing softly in the background I sang along quietly. I swear there was a look of horror in the wee man's eyes. Fields of Gold will never be the same again.
So if God could grant me one wee wish, please make it that I can sing. I don't need to be Eva Cassidy or Whitney Houston, just let me finish one line without drifting on and inventing some new notes.