Sunday, October 30, 2005

A stranger is a friend you've never met!

I HAVE a very sordid secret to reveal to you all. I have a sad addiction to the internet (or t'internet as I choose to call it) and spend a disproportionate amount of my evenings surfing the web, chatting on MSN or logging in to a support forum for mums.

I don't really have any other vices (apart from the obvious Chunky Kit Kat/ Galaxy chocolate obsession). I don't drink more than my recommended weekly amount (well, not often really) and I don't smoke for fear my mammy would bat the head clean off my shoulders should I ever so much as be seen with a cigarette on my person.
So t'internet is my sole vice. It all started some three years when the big man whom I am married too presented me with a computer as a Christmas present. (It was presented on the understanding I would now work my not-so-little arse off to become the new Queen Marian of Keyes- needless to say he is still waiting for the first draft!).
For the first month or so I footered about with Microsoft Word and surfed the net on a very occasional basis. But soon, as we made the momentous decision to try to become parents I started researching the rights and wrongs of pregnancy and how best to get one's self up the proverbial duff. (No this does not mean I looked for hints on the actual conception process- just advice on the best things to do when hoping for a healthy pregnancy- There is no dirt on my home pc!)
It was then I came across a website where women who were TTC (trying to conceive- see I know all the lingo and everything) talked together and so I shared my trials and tribulations with them as I got my BFP (Big Fat Positive) and throughout my PG (pregnancy) until I eventually gave birth to my DS (Darling Son). (Yes, I know the language is terribly twee and American, but it makes typing a little easier for lazy minded folk like myself).
Himself used to look on with a mixture of wonder and pity as I regaled stories of these anonymous people who I shared my pregnancy experience with. 'Spacedust' had an irritable uterus which got her into all sorts of trouble. 'Amber19' flashed her knickers in the car park of Asda when her maternity trousers fell down, 'Webgirl' had a rather unfortunate experience during labour after eating a curry to bring on her contractions. (Not for the faint hearted, I can assure you!)
I sobbed like a mad woman the day 'Helcatt' revealed to us that her little girl had been stillborn and I whooped with joy when 'Frogslie' delivered a healthy baby boy after months of genetic testing.
(Of course, I do have a sad internet user name too which I could tell you- but then I would have to kill you!)
As the months passed I found that some of the women who I spoke with thanks to the wonders of broadband technology and I shared a special bond. I had to admit to myself (if not the rest of the world for fear of being branded a total geek) that I had made friends over t'internet.
So, we moved away from typing our anonymous messages and found out everyone's real names and started talking on the telephone. I remember the first time I phoned one of my new friends. I had to drink two Bacardi Breezers first before plucking up the courage to do so. It was all a bit ridiculous given this woman knew all about the triumph of my first post baby poop along with all other kinds of deeply personal and embarrassing information.

Meeting my friends
Last weekend I took my addiction one step further and met up with 10 of these 'friends' in real life. That involved me, the wee man and the big man travelling to deepest, darkest Lancashire. I safely deposited my two 'men' at the inlaws while I travelled on alone to meet up with my online buddies.
My daddy had the wherewithal to ask me was I sure they were real and not just pretending to be frazzled new mums so they could groom me into their cult and I was able to reassure him they were all perfectly normal(ish).
And so we met. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Here we were, 10 of us, sans babies (our usual icebreakers), all together in a living room in a quaint little village trying to remember who was who and break away from calling each other our sometimes dodgy internet names. (The poor lassie who is known as 'Lois Lane' online got called Lois all weekend though - and no, it's not me!)
We walked, en masse like a modern day suffragette movement, to a local beauty salon where we were pampered and preened and served cool crisp wine and enough 'chips'n'dips' to feed a small army and we chatted about all sorts of nonsense- just as i would with my oldest and dearest school friends.
The only dodgy moment of the whole weekend involved my own embarrassing experience while getting a facial. As the therapist explained the fancy gel she put on my face would turn to a watery consistency within two minutes as it cleared away the dead skin, I was red-faced (literally- I think she took a couple of layers off) when it took a good 10 minutes to reach said watery consistency.
"Do you not exfoliate then?" she asked- obviously already knowing the answer- and when I replied that my skincare routine largely consisted of a quick swipe of a baby wipe and a wee rub of moisturiser she gasped with horror and gave me a lecture on my skin is one step away from a elephant hide.
Thankfully my new 'friends' were there to console me with a top of my wine, a visit to the Chinese and a never ending supply of chocolate.
So, at last, my addiction is out in the open- and you can take it from from me, the internet is not completely full of weirdoes. Some of us are quite nice actually- even if we do talk like twee Americans.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Going back to my roots

I'M NOT a person who generally handles change well. I like to find something I like and stick with it.

I guess that is the reason I'm still wearing worn out house slippers and tatty old pyjamas. They mightn't look good, but they are the comfiest things in my wardrobe.
Likewise, the big man to whom I am married has been trying to persuade me to up sticks and move to a bigger house- one that actually has a garden instead of the lovely plot of concrete outside the front door that we currently sport.
But I'm comfy in my current surroundings. Yes, I would love a shiny new kitchen and a plumbing system from the 21st century. I would like the wee man to have a patch of grass to kick his football around on, but the one thing I can't escape from is that I like that my house feels like a home.
It always did feel like home- from the first time we viewed it- so, for now, it is going to stay home for a few years yet. I'm much too comfortable in it to think about trying to find somewhere else with a similar feel good factor. And if I'm honest, I couldn't be bothered with the whole house hunting/ making offers/ packing/ unpacking nonsense- it would be enough to earn me a one way ticket to Gransha.
But prone as I am to sticking my head in the mud and denying any inevitable changes in my life, there are times when even I get fed up with the status quo and decide to add a little excitement into my life.
So last week, armed with my copy of "Tik a Brik" (Take a Break to the uninitiated) I sauntered into my local hairdressers and announced in a falsely confident voice that I wanted a change.
"Get rid of the blonde," I said, "Turn me back into the brunette I really am."
I suppose if I'm honest I half expected the hairdresser to laugh me out of the place. After all, it's not really the done thing to be 29 in Derry and not have blondey bits streaked through your hair. It's an unwritten rule we should all adhere too- right up there with drinking WKD and wearing pointy boots.
But I knew I had to feel the fear and do it anyway. My hair was a split-ended, dried out, rat's nest mess of multi-tonal streaks and highlights (see, I know the hair dressing lingo) and I longed for a sleak, glossy look to see me through the winter months. (Anyone who suggests I would have been better fixed eating a couple of meals of Pedigree Chum should prepare to feel my wrath!).
I know it sounds hopelessly vain to admit that changing a hair style can have an effect on how you feel about yourself, but the change back to my natural hue has been quite an experience.

Gentlemen prefer blondes?
I'm not sure I've ever been a big believer in the adage that "Blondes have more fun", but I had got used to dealing with the golden tones over the last three years. At times, they made me look glam and sun-kissed. At other times they made me look like a weird combination of Vanessa Feltz and Miss Piggy- but for the most part I had gotten used to my lighter hues. I even bought a slogan T-shirt in the summer emblazoned with "Blondes are Best".
But then I realised I didn't actually really like my hair any more. I was just staying blonde because it saved the hassle of growing it out or trying to find a colour that suited. I had fallen into a comfort zone with my hair and just like my tatty old pyjamas or ramshackle house I was letting myself carry on as things were just because, quite frankly, I couldn't have been footered to change.
So I let my hairdresser decide what to do with my bonce. And she whacked on the dye quicker than I could read all my True Life Tales and Tightwad Tips in Tik a Brik.
She then lopped huge great chunks off, leaving me sitting in a semi-gibbering state wondering if it was now inevitable I would leave the salon looking like the fat one with the bowl haircut out of "Birds of a Feather".
In all honesty though, it looks ok. I need to adjust my make up and ditch the 'Blondes Are Best' T-shirt but apart from that I'm adjusting to my new serious grown up look. The wee man took a wee while to adjust to mammy's new hair and my niece informed me she wanted me to go back to being a "blondey bear" like her- but generally the response has been positive.
But what has impacted on me more than all the comments and strange looks has been how I've felt in my self. You see I'm not a vain person. I'm not a person who usually spends time thinking, let alone writing, about my appearance. (Well occasionally, to go on and on and on about how mind blowingly fat I am- but that is another column!)
So to realise the thing that has consumed most of my waking thoughts this week has been the fact that my new shampoo (just for brunette hair, how fancy!) smells like chocolate and that I have had to reacquaint myself with my straighteners and fancy dan serums is a bit worrying.
Sadly I've become a hair twiddler- running my fingers through my shorter locks and thinking about nice wee clips i could buy it dress it up a bit. I have refused to go the shop because it was raining and I didn't want to ruin the do and I've even spent an inordinate amount of time wandering round the town looking at new clothes which match my new colours.
Dare I say it, I am embracing the change and looking to do more to improve myself. I'm still pretty sure I won't be buying any new houses in the near future though. After all, the song does say "One dye at a time...."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sleepless in Altnagelvin

Sleepless in Altnagelvin
AS ANY one who has read this column more than once will know- I love, and I mean LOVE, my bed.

And for a bed lover such as myself, this week was to offer me that most holy of grails- a night in my bed BY MYSELF! The big man to whom I am married had cause to travel to England for a few nights and while I was aware the wee man could look for a snuggle in his mammy's bed before the night was out, I was pretty sure there would be a few hours at least of stretching out, rolling over and snuggling into duvets all by myself.
In short, I was in bed-lover heaven and had planned my entire evening around this rare event. I was going to have a soak in the bath- complete with Sanctuary smelly goodies, lit candles and a glass of wine on the side.
Then I was going to dress in nice fresh pyjamas, slather my hands in expensive hand cream (a lovely present from my mammy) and take to my bed for a blissful sleep.
I was almost giddy with excitement at the prospect, especially as the wee man had decided that 4am was a perfect wake up time on Tuesday morning and with the big man being in England, I had been run ragged all day with an over tired toddler with a touch of cold.
My bath and early night seemed like the perfect end to a not so perfect day- but fate had another idea.
Like a lot of toddlers in this area, my wee man is prone to an odd bout of wheezing. Sometimes, a quick use of his "puff puff" (inhaler) is enough to bring him round and sometimes, it doesn't. Tuesday was one such night.
As Tuesday afternoon progressed I noticed Joseph's breathing becoming a little more laboured (think Darth Vadar) so by tea time we decided to go to the Out of Hours services thinking a quick five minutes on the nebuliser would leave him right as rain.
But no, the doctor wanted Joseph to go to hospital and with that my thoughts of my night alone in my bed vanished.
I am lucky in that for the vast majority of the time, my son is in the best of health. He is a one-baby destruction machine- rising at 7.30pm and sitting down for a mere five minutes here and there to grab a bite to eat before recommencing his mad running around again until he eventually falls into a comatose slumber at 7.30pm.
In that time, we will have had to rescue the DVD player from his evil clutches at least 20 times, save his toys from the bin and use a lifetime's supply of kitchen role to clear yoghurt, milk and cheese from the floor. We will have also exhausted each and every nursery rhyme or children's programme theme tune on this earth- at least 10 times- and that will be complete with actions and musical accompaniment if necessary.

Mammy instinct
So to see him sick, and to see him so sick he is no longer interested in singing "Twinkle Twinkle" is hard going. It kicks in that mammy instinct which makes you want to swap places with your child and feel their discomfort or pain for them.
And it also makes you realise just how useless you really can feel in such circumstances. All I could do was make sure he had his Postman Pat pyjamas, a cuddly puppy and a mammy who didn't mind being slabbered on!
So Joseph, his granny and his (by this stage slightly emotional) mammy piled into the car and made our way to Ward 6- where he was hooked up to a nebuliser and given one of those scary little metal cots to sleep in.
And they gave me a fold down chair, a blanket and a pillow and I tried my best to grab a few hours shut eye. It was far from the relaxing evening I had planned . It was in fact both emotionally and physically draining.
As I stood in the hospital, the room we were in almost a mirror image of the room I had spent my first night as a mammy in with my tiny newborn 20 months ago, I felt a wave of emotion hit me.
Scary as it was to have a sick little boy to care for, I knew I was lucky beyond words. I knew Joseph would get better and he would be back to his destructive little self soon. And I promised myself that from now on I would be a better mammy- who didn't complain at having to share a bed, or at the banana mushed over the DVD player or at singing Twinkle Twinkle for the millionth time.
Thankfully he is now well on the road to recovery and despite my sleepless night I'm still here (not quite conscious- but here all the same) and with a different view point on parenthood.
And so this week, I'll finish with someone else's words which I think are appropriate.

Just for today
Just for this morning, I am going to step over the laundry, and pick you up and take you to the park to play.
Just for this morning, I will leave the dishes in the sink, and let you teach me how to put that puzzle of yours together.
Just for this afternoon, I will unplug the telephone and keep the computer off, and sit with you in the backyard and blow bubbles.
Just for this afternoon, I will not yell once, not even a tiny grumble when you scream and whine for the ice cream truck, and I will buy you one if he comes by.
Just for this afternoon, I won't worry about what you are going to be when you grow up, or second guess every decision I have made where you are concerned.
Just for this afternoon, I will let you help me bake cookies, and I won't stand over you trying to fix them.
Just for this afternoon, I will take us to McDonald's and buy us both a Happy Meal so you can have both toys.
Just for this evening, I will hold you in my arms and tell you a story about how you were born and how much I love you.
Just for this evening, I will let you splash in the tub and not get angry.
Just for this evening, I will let you stay up late while we sit on the porch and count all the stars.
Just for this evening, I will snuggle beside you for hours, and miss my favourite TV shows.
Just for this evening when I run my finger through your hair as you pray, I will simply be grateful that God has given me the greatest gift ever given.
I will think about the mothers and fathers who are searching for their missing children, the mothers and fathers who are visiting their children's graves instead of their bedrooms, and mothers and fathers who are in hospital rooms watching their children suffer senselessly, and screaming inside that they can't handle it anymore.
And when I kiss you good night I will hold you a little tighter, a little longer.
It is then, that I will thank God for you, and ask him for nothing, except one more day.............

Monday, October 10, 2005

Driving in my car

OKAY, I have a confession to make, I am officially the worst driver in the world. That is, I would be, if I could ever actually manage to pass my test.

You see 10 years ago as a confident and exuberant 18-year-old I sent off for my Provisional Licence with high hopes that I would soon be cruising the streets of Derry in my very own set of wheels. A school friend had a car and she was considered to be the coolest of the cool, so I was determined to follow suit.

I never quite bargained on the price of lessons however, and me, as an impoverished student, never got round to booking any until the age of 21 when, the search for work looming, I realised that I needed my licence to stand any chance of getting a job.

Dutifully I started to learn. And while the actual basics of driving are easy enough for me (apart from the dodgy change from third to second gear), I am officially too much of a coward to be safe on the roads. I swear my driving instructor spent most lessons with his head in his hands or trying to assure me it was actually safe to drive at more than 20 miles per hour.

After many (too many to admit without looking like a total eejit) lessons and a few heart stopping moments driving in fifth gear over the New Bridge, I attempted to pass my test. Two failed attempts and five years later, I’m still trying.

Now I’ll admit that I failed the first test in style. I don’t think there was a single box left unticked as I shuddered to a halting stop about half way into the parking space at the test centre. I swear I heard a huge sigh of relief as I got out of the car (from the unlucky soul who had the misfortune to take me out on my test and from half of the Derry driving population).

The second time I failed on my emergency stop, and in that moment it put an emergency stop to me learning how to drive. You see, I don’t fail tests. Never have, so to fail at something so basic as driving was a blow to my over inflated sense of self importance. I mean, 17 year old boy racers pass this test every day!

I have tried on and off again over the years to get back behind the wheel with varying degrees of success. I was doing quite well last year til bouts of morning sickness made the emergency stops unbearable and now, well now I’ve managed to get myself on the insurance of our own car.

However, one thing I have learned is that getting a suitably qualified driver willing to sit in the passenger seat is not as easy I thought it would be.

My mother, God love her, visibly pales when I ask her. She remembers all too well the many heart-stopping sessions she had sat beside me in the bumper cars in Portrush when I was wee. She compares the look that would come across my face as the cars started up to one of demonic possession, therefore getting into a proper car does not appeal all that much to her now.

My daddy, God love him, is willing to give it a go, but I fear his exasperated sighs as I crunch the gears or stall the car for the 500th time in a one hour session.

I have to wonder how driving comes so easy to some people. My other half loves to drive, he fears nothing (not even the multi-storey car park at Foyleside), whereas I shudder with nerves if there is even one other car on the road at the same time as me. And as for roundabouts….pass the valium before you even expect me to tackle one of those bad boys!

I will persevere however, because being able to drive gives you lots more freedom (or so I’m told). I still have my dream of owning my own set of wheels (himself having decided that “our” car is in fact “his” even though I’ve paid for half of it!). I like to think that one day I can jump behind the wheel and head out the road, when the notion takes me.

And, if truth be told, I want to beat the stigma of being 29 and licence-less. Everyone expects you to drive these days so admitting that you are “just going to ring a taxi” is a little embarrassing.

I’m sure with enough effort and the help someone with a strong heart and a death wish I can get over my fear of driving and soon become Queen of the Road.

In the meantime, if you happen to pass a wee black Micra with a terrified looking female driver and an even more terrified looking passenger then be sure to give me a wave.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wanna read the old stuff???

And now for your viewing pleasure...

Please read with caution

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Under my Duvet

I HAD the joyous misfortune this week of being sick as the proverbial pig. It was joyous simply in that it afforded me one glorious day to lie doing my dying swan act under my comfortably warm duvet with no one making any demand on my person.

The wee man was despatched to child care. Usually I am of a belief that mammies are not allowed to take their bed with the lurgy- but as my stomach churned and head thumped I decided to bury that parental guilt deep down and have a care-free day at home.
The big man whom I am married too, looked suitably concerned as I mumbled "aaahm gonny be sick" over and over again, and decided to play the role of the dutiful carer furnishing me with cool glasses of water, diet coke and the occasional Twix (between bouts of feeling truly awful- of course.)
He didn't even complain (too much) when I did the heating hokey cokey. (You know the one- "I'm too cold...put the heat on", "Now I'm too warm...turn the heating off", "Ach, I'm too cold again...put the heating on..." etc etc etc).
Best of all though, he nipped out to Eason and purchased for me the newest book by my most favourite lady in the universe Queen Marian of Keyes. It seemed apt that as I crawled about in my scratcher trying to find a position comfortable enough to appease both the sore head and dodgy stomach that Marian's "Further Under the Duvet" was my companion.
I can't remember the last time (it was certainly pre-baby) that I had a day to myself. Where ideally this would be a day where I could run about the shops or watch a nice movie while gorging myself on Maltesers and chilled white wine- having a baby free day, sick or not, was a relatively pleasant experience for me.
First of all I was able to sleep in. Once the obligatory phone call to work was made, I closed my eyes and fell into a restful sleep. I wasn't doing the typical mammy thing of sleeping with one eye open waiting for the inevitable cry of "Nonny, Nonny. Time for breakfast."
I knew I could sleep as long as I wanted and if I wanted to watch a wee half hour of Trisha, then go back to sleep then I could. I knew that as my tummy rumbled and swirled, I wouldn't have a pint sized ball of energy scream with joy as he bounced up and down on the bed or try to physically pry my eyes open as I tried to sleep.
And I knew I could read my book- the highlight of my literary year- without jammy fingers turning and tearing the pages at a speed of light.

Taken for granted
It's funny that in my pre-baby days such days were taken for granted. Being sick was a pain in the rear end which stopped you from doing all the fun things you wanted to do.
I was never one for lying in my bed all day, sick or not- 10am being the latest you would find me sleeping to. I would be up, housework done, showered, dressed and ready to face the world by 11am latest. I would wonder what exactly to do with my day- never quite appreciating the joy that is doing sweet frig all from morning to night.
But somewhere along the line there has been a sea change in me and now I crave my bed more than anything. Perhaps it really is a case of you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
So now being sick (taking the actual sick feelings out the equation) is a blessed relief from the rush and constant fuss of working, mammying and trying to keep house. And losing yourself in a good book is about as good as it gets for sheer escapism.
So I slept til around 12, waking feeling refreshed as the proverbial daisy for the first time in about two years. The big man to whom I am married was then ordered to provide a light lunch and cooling refreshment while i dabbled between the writings of La Keyes and a rather moving episode of Doctors.
Having discovered, thanks to Queen Marian, that laughter definitely is the best medicine I was able to move from my bed at around 3pm to do that joyous thing from childhood- lie on the sofa continuing my dying swan act in front of the TV.
It reminded me of those infrequent sick days from school where you sat sipping Lucozade and having your mammy come in from time to time to refresh the cool face cloth on your forehead and ask if you were ok.
If you were really lucky, she would plump your pillows and tidy your blanket to make sure you were as comfy as could be and would encourage your recovery by tempting you with lovely chicken soup or ice cream.
Enjoyable as my sick day was, it was all too soon over. The wee man returned just after five demanding his tea and to be played with until he almost puked with excitement. Then the washing had to be done and the floor needed brushed and the tumble drier needed reloading.
It was back to reality with a bang- to a place where mammies don't get sick and taking to your bed is unheard of. The Marian Keyes tome remains half read, the big man to whom I'm married hasn't served me a single cool drink since and the wee man woke the next morning with his cry of "Nonny, nonny. Time for breakfast!" (Well, actually that morning he managed a solitary cry of "Mammy" much to my delight.)
And so I returned to work and to the real world, assured that sometime -probably about two years from now- I'll get another duvet day and appreciate it as much as this one.
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