Monday, July 25, 2005

Ooooh Matron!

FIVE YEARS ago I developed a dangerous and overdraft-threatening obsession with wedding magazines. As I planned my big day our spare room literally overflowed with every magazine on the market as I struggled to decide on dresses, flowers, cars, favours and all those little details which make your big day one to remember.

There was nothing I liked more than to sink into a luxurious bubble bath, candles everywhere and look at all the pictures of stunning dresses, amazing floral arrangements and glitzy accessories. It was sheer bliss.
As my wedding day passed, however, I had to reluctantly resign myself to the fact that I no longer had a legitimate reason to bulk buy all those glossy magazines in Eason and, after a painful grieving period, I finally declared myself cured of of my addiction.
My husband breathed a sigh of relief, as did the bank manager and the creaking floorboards of our spare room when I donated my tomes to a friend who was getting married and life returned to a semi-normality.
Four years on from my wedding, I thought I was totally cured but I have to admit I'm on the slippery slope again. You see my sister (known in our house has Yaya) announced her engagement to the lovely Paul last weekend.
She also made the somewhat questionable decision to ask me to play the role of Matron of Honour (though being young, hip and happening I prefer the term Chief Bridesmaid) on their big day- planned for the summer of 2007. Suddenly my wedding radar has been switched back on and my husband is afraid, very afraid. He has caught me flicking through wedding websites and is aware that the magazines are calling me to pick them up again. (Purely in the interest of research, of course).
I've never been a bridesmaid before, let alone a chief one. I've never even been a flowergirl! (I must have been a boot ugly wain!) My experience of walking up the aisle is limited to being the nervous bride- and certainly not the person who is is supposed to stay cool calm and collected.
I'm told the duties of a Chief Bridesmaid include helping the bride organise her big day- and keeping her calm in the run up to the festivities, and as anyone planning a wedding in Derry will know you have to book these things at least two years in advance so my duties have already started.
Fortunately planning my wedding turned me into the organised person I had always hoped to be. I researched every angle of the big day, designed the bridesmaid's frocks myself, chose every piece of music for the service and went to great lengths to order the perfect personalised bubbles for the end of the ceremony (this was back when wedding bubbles were not available in every card shop and market stall in Derry).
If Yaya wants a low down on cars to suit meringue style frocks, or corkage charges in hotels then I'm your gal. I can tell you anything you want to know about balloons, favours and disposable cameras.
Unfortunately planning the big day also turned me into a certified loony tune. I remember with a great sense of shame the hysterical crying I did when a problem occurred with my wedding cake and the hyperventilation which surrounded the revelation that men's suits had been double booked.
Of course the wedding cake turned out fabulous in the end (chocolate, hmmmm!) and the suits were fine but that did not stop my temporary insanity.

I was, I now admit in the fruition of time, a Bridezilla, the definition of which being a woman who has lost the power of rational thought and becomes more of a screaming banshee day by day as her wedding approaches.
I don't know if the above credentials actually make me the most suitable person for the role of keeping the bride calm; but in all fairness to Yaya she did stop me from losing it totally as my own day approached. (Even though she made the cardinal sin of forgetting to straighten the train of my dress just before I walked down the aisle).
I remember at the time trying to remind myself time and time again that the wedding was not as important as the marriage which would follow it. Those are indeed wise and prophetic words; but when you think that the average woman plans her big day from the minute she can walk around the living room in her mammy's high heels with a net curtain on her head preparing to marry Action Man- they tend to fall on deaf ears during the planning process.
The marriage is, of course, more important- but the day should be the best day of your life and it's the one day you get what you want. On what other day can you prance about wearing a tiara and a ballgown showing off your new jewellery? Or ride is a Rolls Royce with a gaggle of servants (bridesmaids) tending to your every need? On what other day can you get the average Derry man to stand up in front of a crowded room and tell the world why he thinks you are wonderful and just how much he loves you?
Is it any wonder we all go a bit doolally when our time comes?
As Chief Bridesmaid (or Matron of Dishonour!) it's hard not to get caught up in that sense of excitement too. Let's just hope I don't bankrupt myself in the process.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Our day at the beach

Been feeling stupidly sorry for myself today for some reason.

But we went out to view a hotel for the upcoming wedding of my sister YaYa (as she is known to the babies) and then went on to the beach.

I had a fab mammy day. It all knitted together perfectly. We laughed, joked, cuddled and I put suncream on Joseph and said things like : "Don't eat the sand, it will make your poo scratchy" a lot.

I felt like a proper grown up. (Why it still surprises me to feel like a proper grown up at 29 is a mystery- but nonetheless it's a rare occurance.)

But I felt sad too- because I don't get to do things like this every day with Joseph. Usually I'm sat a desk- not being a mammy. While my job serves the purpose of keeping me sane (ish) and paying the bills, its not quite as fulfilling as eating chips out of the paper with an 18 month old on the beach.

On the way home in the car we sang our usual medley of songs: including the Goodbye Song from Bear in the Big Blue House.

Perhaps when I go to work tomorrow I'll remind myself of the line: "Oh when we have to go away, it's kind of sad but's nice to know that it won't be long, til we get see each other again.."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Oh what a lovely family!

It is with great shame that I have to admit that myself, Himself and the wee man have very rarely sat down for a meal together that has been prepared by my own fair hands.

We have eaten out quite a bit but, to be honest, dinner usually involves Himself getting a snack at work (usually works evenings), me shovelling something into Joseph at 6 and the sitting down to enjoy my own meal in peace after Joseph is tucked up in bed.

Taking advantage of the fact that himself is off work with a neck injury however I came home early from my mums today and started cooking for my family enmasse.

It's bizarre how something so seemingly silly gave me joy. I had myself locked in the kitchen singing along to the Lyrics Board (dodgy Irish TV) while himself bathed Joseph and then brought him down for a play before dinner.

We all sat at the table- I even insisted the TV be switched off!- and enjoyed my lovely Cottage Pie, with loads of fresh veg.

After we played with the wee man in the living room for an hour before bed and I felt so content I wondered if my heart might just bust.

A year ago the thought of being with my son for three hours without the distraction of his granny, his cousin and all the rest of the extended family would have had me out in a cold sweat.

But today we were our family- our unique wee unit and it was amazing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Oh dear- one may be broody...

Oh, I'm just so confused at the moment. Basically I had a wee pregnancy scare on this month which admittedly was probably just me being over dramatic and silly but I had a lot of symptoms (boobs on fire, bloating, sickness, exhaustion) and my cycle is all weird- so I just wondered..
Anyway, the old hag arrived last night and the thing is I was no way ready physically, financially etc to have a baby but if it happened we would have coped- we would have struggled- but I think secretly I would have been delighted. (My doctor probably would have run screaming for the hills but that's another story.)
Now tho, I know its not happened and I'm gutted, even though it is so for the best.
I know that I'll not really be in a position to ttc til summer 2007 (after my sister's wedding) and that just seems like so long to go. (Means J would be 4.5 by the time a new baby came along by which stage I would have my life back and would I really be ready for the nappies/ bottles/ baby boke madness again?)
So I guess I sort of hoped for a happy accident.
Anyway, I'm all confused now about what I want. Part of me wants to through caution to the wind and TTC now- even tho we are financially in a shit position and I stil want to lose weight before embarking on another pregnancy. (Still 1.5 stone heavier than my pre preg weight with J).
Oh, I'm so hormonal I just want to cry or snap at people and I've surprised myself with my reaction to all this.

I may need to eat chocolate today...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Let me entertain you!

IT'S NO secret that when it comes to singing, dancing or acting I fall short of the mark, but what I lack in talent I make up for in enthusiasm.

I've come to realise that while a couple of years ago I could hide in a corner and refuse to sing or act the eejit, spending a considerable amount of time in the company of children means that crushing shyness and embarrassment is no longer an excuse I'm allowed to use.
I've taken to singing, a lot, in every possible situation- be it walking round Tesco to do the weekly shop or leading a rousing chorus of "The Wheels on the Bus" on the Altnagelvin bus.
That's not to say I'm suddenly busting with a burning desire to get up and stage and sing along with the Karaoke. My one shameful experience singing backing for "Mustang Sally" in the Strand Tavern on my 20th birthday was enough to put me off that notion (Having seen The Commitments it is impossible not to get the urge to sign "ride Sally ride" in a heavy Dublin accent- singing in a Derry tone sounds like you have sucked the air out of one too many helium balloons).
Both my niece and my son love singing and anything musical. It's impossible to get in the car with the wee man these days without hearing shouts of "Ah want jingles", meaning he wants to listen to his Jo Jingles CD- which necessitates mammy singing, and doing all the gestures along with the songs. I'm pretty sure the people in the cars travelling behind us think I'm mental as I dance along to "Wind the Bobbin Up" at half eight in the morning.
And for Miss Abby and her acting antics, well you can't enter her house without being forced into playing a part in her productions of either Cinderella, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or, more bizarrely, Chicago.
Generally I get lumbered with the part of Ugly Sister Archie (Abby preferring to re-enact the Balamory version of the Brothers Grimm classic) and it's my task to destroy Cinderella's (played by Abby) invitation to the ball before she gets to meet the handsome prince (played by either my mum or occasionally Joseph who acts as an oblivious understudy to all the main roles).
Alternatively we have Abby playing the part of Maria in Joseph (Maria being the name of the woman who plays the Narrator in the Donny Osmond film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic). While she sings with a deep sincerity in her voice that "a man who can intergrit (Abby for interpret) could go far", her cousin bounces around the floor dizzy with the excitement of just hearing the classic "Go Go Joe".
The innocence of their play and their fun is infectious and I can't help but join in. Admittedly it gets a little tired after the 50th time of laughing evilly and telling Cinders she can't go to the ball, but more times than not you can't help but get a glimpse of the joy of childhood through their actions and before you know it you are acting a looney with them.

High pitched and squeaky
I've always been stupidly ashamed of my singing voice. It really is dreadful. I'm all high pitched and squeaky and while generally speaking I can get all the notes right, I just don't necessarily get them all in the right order.
I have annoyed my family, all talented in the vocal department, with not only my obvious lack of talent, but also my reluctance to share my dulcet tones with them. For a recent birthday my siblings recorded a version of John Denver's "Poems, Prayers and Promises" for my daddy, each singing a little part of the song. Even Abby, then seven months, added the contribution of a wee gurgle at the end. I did nothing. I would have happily played the Triangle as an accompaniment if they asked me, but there was not a chance in heaven they were going to hear me sing!
It would have been one humiliation too far for me. I know family are forgiving at the best of times, but some things are unforgivable and ruining their efforts to record my father's favourite song would have been pretty much at the top of that list.
But oh, how things have changed. Two weekends ago the wee man took ill with yet another chest infection so off we went to the hospital to get checked out. While we sat in the Casualty waiting room, our son sickly, wheezing and needing loads of cuddles, I was surprised to find myself bellowing out "See Saw Marjory Daw" and "Twinkle Twinkle" while rocking the wee man back and forth on my knee.
Some young girls across the waiting room were in fits of giggles. It could have been at me, or it could have been a private joke- but regardless it wasn't enough to stop me soothing my child. If anything it made me sing a little louder to drown them out.
Yes, I was still aware my singing voice was never going to get me to number one or win me a place on the new series of Musicality- but it was enough for Joseph and it's enough for Abby as we sing our special rendition of "Any Dream Will Do".
And I've found it quite freeing to let go of my inhibitions and belt out a tune when the notion takes me. I still have no desire to record my voice for posterity- but I'm going to keep singing- at least until Joseph is old enough to be embarrassed by his tuneless mammy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The answer my friends...

WRITTEN 7/7/05

I DON'T think the world has ever been such a scary place. I find it funny (that's funny peculiar, not funny ha ha) that in almost 30 years of living in N. Ireland through some of the toughest days of the Troubles, I've never felt as vulnerable as I do now.

As the news broke yesterday morning I immediately set about texting friends and family in London just to make sure they were okay. I soon found out one lady I knew from an online antenatal support group was in a panic as her son- the same age as mine- was with the childminder close to the scene of one of the blasts.
She waited almost three hours before she found out they were safe and my heart was in my mouth with her for almost all of those three hours. Her sense of panic was palpable, as was her sense of confusion. Phones weren't working, the news coverage was jumbled: no one seemed to know what had happened.
London may be several hundred miles away, but yesterday it might as well just have been a wee dooter up the road because I could understand the worry or all those waiting for news of loved ones. I sat, waiting for news myself. London may well be a big city but it's all too small when your television screen is filled with images of injured people as you wait for your phone to bleep into life.
Thankfully my cousins were quick to let me know they were fine (one didn't even know about the blasts until I texted her!). It took a little longer for my cousin's girlfriend to get the message across that she is ok, but stuck in her office building in central London over night. There is simply no way to get out of the city centre at the moment.
I sat transfixed to the Internet and to the news reports as they came in. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach because this was a random attack where no one knew where it would start or end, or how many would die and it made me realise once again that life is fragile and you never know how or when it could be snatched away from you.
I felt more sickened and more scared yesterday than I did throughout the course of the Troubles, with the possible exception of the Omagh bombing which was the first big event I covered as a journalist.
I find it amazing that news of the bombs has made such an impact on me. Like all young people of my generation in Northern Ireland we grew up in an age where it was perfectly acceptable to walk out of the door to find a soldier hiding in your pathway, or pointing a gun in your direction as you walked past.
Gunfire didn't startle us, it was something were almost used to and it wasn't a shock to hear of a bomb or a riot. Violence- terrorism- was something that verged on the normal and yet I always felt safe.
My parents made sure we grew up as far removed from the politics of the day as possible. Yes, we lived in Creggan and went to Mass like all good wee Catholics. We knew about Bloody Sunday and the history of our town but we were taught respect for our neighbours- whoever they may be. Tribalism didn't exist in our house, and it still doesn't.
I remember getting a strict telling off from daddy dearest for scoring out in pencil the London from Londonderry on a map. It was a point he wanted to make to us that even though that is not what we called it, scoring names out and vandalising property was not the way to go about making my opinion heard. To this day, I don't know why I had done it in the first place, but i knew I wasn't going to do it again!
As children we were aware bad things happened, but we didn't really let that impact on enjoying our childhoods. We still played out in the street. We still walked alone to the park or the playground and the news was something mammy and daddy watched. We watched She-Ra and trust me, that was more than enough peril for my eight-year-old heart.
But life seems different now. The threat may have moved away from our doorsteps, but somehow it has become more sinister.
Then again, maybe it just becomes scarier when you are an adult and not even the kindest of mammies or daddies in the world can shield you from the reality of a world where fanatical terrorists can strike at any time of the day, without any warning.
And now, it's actually down to me to protect my child from the horrors of the modern world. I can feel fear, but I can't show it; not to a child who thinks life starts and ends with Noddy, Balamory and Fifi and the Flowertots.
It makes me sad that my faith in world politics, my faith in the ultimate goodness of people has been tested once again. It makes me wonder how we can protect our children from the fear factor that inevitably comes with events such as these? On the positive side it makes me really proud too of all those parents who raised a generation of children who still viewed their childhood as "normal" when clearly it was not.
As this column goes to print, we don't know how many people have lost their lives or the full scale of the tragedy. But we do know the world is scarier place, and I just don't know how we deal with that, but I'm willing to listen to all suggestions.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Joseph: The Musical Genius

He may be small....

He may be sweet...

But baby, he knows how to use his feet!

Breaking the final taboo

IF THERE is one piece of advice I can offer all who read this column it would be to never, under any circumstances, bring a book with you to the hairdressers which may reduce you to a sobbing wreck while some poor stylist is trying to sort out your roots.

Take something happy. Something by Queen Marian Keyes (All Hail) or Cathy Kelly is perfect. However "Down Came the Rain"- Brooke Shield's book on her experiences with Post Natal Depression- is not advisable.It's not that it isn't a good book or well written; it is just that any mother who has ever experienced something that wee bit more sinister than just your bog standard "baby blues" will find it moving to see her own experiences echoed by someone in print.

You see, I kind of understand the experience having undergone my own battle with depression both during pregnancy and after the birth of my son.I'll admit that even though I knew people who had experienced similar feelings, I never understood it until I was there myself because there is no way you expect not to feel anything but wonderful when they hand your baby to you.If I'm honest, my primary feeling was exhaustion, seconded by a need to do everything the proper way for this little human being in my care.

But my feelings were not of overwhelming love. I loved him, yes, I can't deny that- but this was not the most- amazing-feeling- in-the-world experience I had been told about since the moment I held my first Tiny Tears doll as a young child.Motherhood is tough and the induction period is a real baptism of fire. My personal experience was that I was exhausted and sore and very unsure of what to do best for my child. I didn't know if I was feeding him enough, or too little, or not winding him properly, not bathing him enough, cuddling him too much or cuddling him too little.I became obsessed with baby books offering miracle routines and spent so much time trying to be the "perfect" mammy (you know the kind that beams in an earth mother style from the pages of "Practical Parenting") that I actually became the perfect basket case instead.

I remember feeling as if i simply could not manage another feed or another nappy change and while I did everything the wee man needed, I did it mechanically (You should have seen me making up the bottles in the evening- I was a one woman production line). Even hugging came down to doing so because whatever daft routine we were on that week dictated it was hugging time.I ignored whatever maternal instincts I did have if they didn't match the Baby Whisperer's EASY Routine and the result is I never allowed myself to get to know my own baby's personality. And if you don't know someone, how can you fall in love with them?

That said, I know I'm one of the lucky ones. My family are great at spotting when I'm going into a tailspin and they dispatched me off to a very lovely GP who sorted me on the road to recovery and made me realise that that I wasn't mad (well, not totally anyway). All that coupled with throwing away the baby books, dismissing talk of rigid routines and taking a more relaxed attitude to parenting meant that, several months down the line, the all consuming love I'd always heard about started to flood in for our son.And now, I love him with such a fierce pride and protectiveness that I want to breath in his cute babyness and I light up at the end of a day at work when I see his smile. I would challenge anyone who hurt him and I tend to rabbit on incessantly about his achievements.

Yes, there is still a level of guilt there that I didn't just do things my own way and relax more when he was tiny. I have just a vague memory of my eeny baby, having found those early weeks such a struggle that I never realised just how fleeting and precious that early baby stage is.But I've learned that guilt and motherhood go hand in hand and I'm not a bad mammy just because I didn't immediately proclaim my undying devotion to the wee man. Luckily he is happy, healthy and loves his mammy. (Can't seem to say Mammy though- much to my chagrin- he insists on calling me Daddy).

Now I feel, for the most part, happy and healthy in myself. But I've shocked myself by still finding my experiences difficult to admit too. I would be the first to say there should be no taboo around depression, be it the common or garden variety or Post Natal- but the truth is there is.People, generally speaking, don't understand it. They think we should all just "pull ourselves together". Even Tom Cruise, that pinnacle of celebrity, has hit out at Ms. Shields for talking so openly about her experiences in her book.Should we then sweep it under the carpet? Would Mr. Cruise (who is guaranteed never to go through Post Natal Depression himself) prefer we said nothing and let another generation of women feel they have failed themselves and their children in some way by not jumping with joy through the first few months of motherhood?My experience was mild.

Yes, there were unbearably dark days but I was able to find my way through it with some support and a husband who was more than understanding when it came to making sure I got plenty of rest. I have found the light at the end of my tunnel.For the women who are still going through this, however, we have to make sure that people speak up about what they have gone through so that not one person ever feels low and alone again and that everyone, God willing, can eventually fall in love with their baby in the way I have with mine.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Nooo shoooos

I can't believe my little one is growing so fast.
Today we bought his first proper shoes and I'm reminded of that old story about the mother who cried when she bought her child his first shoes because it meant he would be one step closer to walking away from her forever.
But I'm not feeling maudlin (for once, which you will agree is a major achievement for me!). I#'m proud as punch. But to make sure the sad feelings don't creep in, we bought shoes which light up at the heels when he walks can you be sad when Disco Baby is dancing away from you?

TOM CRUISE= Stupid feckwit
As an aside I would just like to publicly say, Tom Cruise you are a feckwit. You've lost a fan and I hope you never have to undergo any kind of mental illness in your life. (That is, of course, if dancing all over Oprah's stage like a midget on heat was not proof enough of your lunacy).
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