Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Not such a desperate housewife

A FRIEND recently asked me to think about all the simple things which make me happy.

I wasn't allowed to come up the obvious, such as pay day (which isn't really that happy an occasion anyway as it's all spent almost as soon as it transfers its merry way into the bank account) or holidays in the sun (which I rarely get). It had to be more subtle than that- just those wee things which can happen quite frequently and make you smile.
It soon became obvious to me that ideally I should be living in 1955. You see the first thing which popped into my head was that I always feel lovely and happy when the wee man is in bed, the dishes are done, floors mopped and hoovered and the tumble drier and washing machine are gently humming in the background. (Or rattling and screeching as the case may be- my washing machine having finally reaching breaking point with the copious amounts of baby sick and poop forced upon it over the last two years.)
Second only to that is cooking a proper dinner (one with spuds and everything) and serving it up to the two men in my life and seeing them devour it. Fair enough, himself would eat food three days out of date so is probably not the best judge of culinary excellence, but nonetheless I like it when he proclaims his dinner was lovely.
In my continuing mission to learn to cook something more complicated that pasta and sauce, this week I even bought a brand-spanking new casserole dish to cook a variety of hearty home cooked meals. (We are officially trying to banish Potato Smilies from our freezer). I felt stupidly happy chopping my carrots, onions, mushrooms and beef to make my delicious (even if I say so myself) stew. All that was missing was a glass or two of wine- an essential ingredient when I'm on a cooking extravaganza.
As I set the table and plonked the wee man in his high chair, I realised that all this fighting for equality in the workplace etc. was really a load of old nonsense.
Perhaps we could all be that little bit happier living out our little lives cooking casseroles, mopping floors and polishing our brasses? (Afterall, as my dad recently asked out much to our smutty minded merriment when was the last time you saw a woman giving her brasses a good polish?).
There would be none of this struggling to fight off the mad advances of a toddler with octopus like arms who wants to play "Hide and Seek" while you get dressed/ change his nappy/ make the breakfast/ do all three at the same time each morning.
We wouldn't have to come in the door from a long day at the office to be greeted with the breakfast dishes still languishing by the sink- the Weetabix now congealed into a substance it takes bleach, acid and a pneumatic drill to shift- and a basket load of washing and ironing waiting for your attention. (Of course those who have actually met me will scoff at such a suggestion that I would ever contemplate ironing in the evening- but you get the general picture.)
Yes, I went to university and got my qualifications and have spent the last seven years building up a career to be that wee bit proud of. But there are times, and I'm yet to meet a working mother who doesn't feel this way, when we want to shout: "I've got stretchmarks, get me out of here!"

Can he fix it?
How lovely would it be to get up at the morning and just play with our children in our jammies until we were ready to get dressed? We could sit and cuddle watching Bob the Builder (or Dod the Duilder as Joseph calls it) for an hour, or read our books together 10 times before getting up and getting on with the housework.
Dinner would always be a home-cooked affair (we may actually succeed in the aforementioned Potato Smiley mission) and bath time (for the baby- not me!) would be more than a five minute dip in the water before being hurled at lightning speed into the cot from the far side of the room so mammy can get on with the washing.
And I would, of course, be a yummy mummy who dressed in floaty, trendy clothes, had sun-kissed hair and who smelled like a mix of home-made perfume and fresh baked cookies. It would be a far cry indeed from the harassed journalist who wades into the office every morning with bags under her eyes and a lump of weetabix or mashed banana stuck to the arse of her trousers and spends the first 10 minutes of her working day just catching her breath from the morning rush.
I am, however, willing to accept that this may simply be a case of thinking that the grass is always greener on the other side. Much as I love my son, and indeed have grown quite fond of Bob the Builder and his crew (I even know most of their names!): spending all day, every day lost in domestic "bliss" may well send me on a one way trip to the mad house.
If I'm honest too, much as I love seeing my house clean and tidy, there is a certain simple happiness in seeing the words I have written appear in print, or even better than that the first smile of the evening when I walk out of the office door to the car to be greeted with that huge smile from my son.
I think what we ideally need to do is wind the clock back a bit and find that happy medium being having it all and doing it all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Daddy was right all along

So here it is, my daddy and the J-man. Seems daddy was right all along, John Denver ain't so bad!

Friday, November 18, 2005

If Music Be the Food of Love...

EVERY NIGHT I take my son up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and we sit on our big comfy rocking chair in the nursery and look at the luminous stars which decorate the ceiling.

As he drinks his bed time milk and allows me that one uninterrupted cuddle of the day, we listen to a CD of suitable music to soothe the rather insane and crazy baby before I deposit him in his cot for the night.
Some of the songs are so cheesy they could be used to advertise Dairylea (sample names "Lullaby Wishes", "Baby of Mine" and "May All Your Dreams Come True") but latterly we've slipped a few 'proper' songs into the mix.
We're lucky in that the wee man has quite an impressive taste in music. His favourite artistes include Damien Rice, Eva Cassidy, Brian Kennedy and, bizarrely, The Keiser Chiefs (I can't explain how surreal it is to hear a 21 month old sing "I Predict a Riot" at the top of his voice).
The upshot of listening to these songs each night is that now there are certain songs in this world which I can't hear without immediately being mentally transported to that rocking chair, those sleepy cuddles and the feeling of love for a child which is at its very strongest when he falls asleep in my arms.
As I rocked back and forth with him listening to a lovely cover version of the Beatles classic "In My Life" the other night (a Canadian singer called Chantal Kreviazuk if you are interested), I started to think about songs and how they really can provide a soundtrack to your life.
The opening notes of a song really do have the ability to awaken memories that you have long forgotten or buried away as you rush through the day to day of modern living at break neck speed.
And of course, certain songs will mean more than others. For example I can't hear a John Denver song- any John Denver song- without thinking of my childhood.
My father is a huge John Denver fan, which means my mammy is too- by default-(I actually think it was in the wedding vows "I promise to love, honour and listen to John Denver non-stop"). Our childhood was one big mix of 'Annie's Song', 'Grandma's Feather Bed' (Daddy would sing "I even kissed aunt Lou!" and we would all shout the requisite "Whoo!") and the lesser known "Home Grown Tomatoes".
Each Christmas was a musical feast as John Denver teamed up for the Muppets- the only bum note being when my daddy (God love him) told a five year old me that when he died he wanted "When the River Meets the Sea" played at the funeral. (Nice song- shame about the traumatising effect on a five-year-old of thinking her daddy is going to die at Christmas! )
As the teenage years hit, the musical taste varied. "Shocked" by Kylie Minogue will always remind me of my school friends and of our 5th year social. Being so very cool and with it, myself and my friends knew all the words to the rap. We still do in fact- and perform our unique version every time we get together to have a few drinks.
The very same group can also still do a cracking version of "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips with a few drinks in us to loosen the vocal chords. Only problem is, we have to find a street suitably wide and long enough to allow to stride arm in arm down it singing at the top of our lungs ala the ladies in the original video.

"Jump Around" by House of Pain will remind me always of our painfully dreadful sixth form formal- and while it is one of those experiences you can look back on and laugh about, the actual jumping around like a mad woman to the song is now sadly beyond me due to the joys of a post baby pelvic floor. (Which reminds me...must squeeze!).
If I want to remember my late teens, all I have to do is listen to Mariah Carey warbling to "All I've Every Wanted" which reminds me of an unrequited love affair that never quite happened. I realise now what a lucky escape I had, but at the time I literally thought my heart would break that a certain college class mate didn't return my affection.
Thankfully, as the years progressed life got a little better- as did my taste in music- and the sound track to my final year at college is a wonderful mix of soul songs thanks to discovering a very cool live music scene in Belfast.
I can't hear Stevie Wonder singing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" or any of the Commitments' hits without being transported to a certain bar in Belfast, dancing the night away with a cold drink in my hand.
But life is always moving on. At the moment, it's hard to get the chance to listen to any music which doesn't revolve around nursery rhymes or weird hand movements and dance routines.
My sleepy time cuddles are my music moments these days and I'm aware that all the time I'm starting my son's very own soundtrack to his life.
Perhaps when he is older he will remember the soppy lullabies, or even the fact that my daddy was right and John Denver singing "Perhaps Love" is wonderfully soothing.
But for now, the song which will remind me always of my son and of our time together over the last 21 months is Brian Kennedy singing "A Case of You". It was playing at the time my waters broke, and it plays every night when I put Joseph to bed.
Most telling of all though is the line which, whenever I hear it, I think of my child and of how I'm ridiculously obsessed with talking about him, writing about him and- generally- spoofing about him.
" I remember the time you told me,
"You said love was touching souls,
"Well surely you touched mine
"'Cos part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

No Hippy Chick

WHEN I was a mere slip of a girl at 16 I loved to write the most unimaginably naff poetry you could ever imagine.

Being somewhat idealistic and, let's face it, a buck eejit, typically the poetry would be about some world issue and my impassioned ramblings (which never rhymed much to my dad's eternal annoyance) even made it to print in some questionable anthologies.
I filled notebook upon notebook with poetic ramblings about Mother Earth weeping, oil slicks taking the tortured souls of ducks and geese and litter choking the eternal beauty of God's own countryside (as I've said, totally naff).
I shopped for what little cosmetics I could afford in the Body Shop and covered my new-agey-looking embroidered school bag in badges and buttons proclaiming no to animal testing or displaying that wee CND logo.
My friends and I would get together and listen to wishy washy sad songs and burn incense and talk about how we wished our parents were more with it and, along with half of Derry we protested in 'Ban the Burn' rallies in the Guildhall Square.
Now, the burn did indeed get banned but as the years passed my high moral standards fell someway to the wayside. I don't go into the Body Shop as much as I used to (the lure of L'Oreal and Clarins being too much for my aging skin to resist). I'm more likely to be seen sporting a Pink Prada Bag (courtesy of a friend of a friend who went to Malaysia..amazingly Prada is spelled correctly and not Pradda) than a badge laden hippy satchel and, thank heaven for small mercies, the poetry is a dim and distant memory.
It's not that I don't care about environment. I use my blue bin religiously, I don't drop litter, I would never wear fur and I'm still pretty much a fan of the CND movement.
But I'll admit that like many people who lead busy lives, handiness has over-run my need to be a laid back mother earth type gal.
The greatest example of handiness versus doing what is, arguably, morally right relates to my child- or more specifically his bum.
From the day and hour I found out I was pregnant I developed a rather sad obsession with Pampers NewBorn nappies. I would walk past the little yellow packets with the teeny weeny tiny tootsie nappies and rub my tummy with excitement. (Obviously at this stage I was not thinking about the explosive poos that would fill said nappies..just the ickle tiny bum that would fit into them.)
I briefly (for all of about five seconds one Wednesday afternoon) considered using reusable nappies. I was assured that long gone are the days of Terry Squares and the risk of stabbing your wain in the stomach with a nappy pin.
Now we could opt for pre-folds, wraps, all in ones, boosters, liners, reusable wipes, nappy nippas and all sorts of jiggery pokery. And we could get a nappy pail, and a dirty bag and a nappy net and dry pail with tea tree oil and lavender, and nothing- but nothing on this earth- would feel as good as seeing row upon row of gleaming nappies drying on the washing line (After a wash in non-bio powder at 60 degrees with white vinegar to be used a softener).

Logical thought
I thought this through logically. I could A) Slap a cutely packaged nappy on my wee man and chuck it in the bin when he had done his business or B)Juggle the shock to my system of being a new mammy with taking on board all the above jiggery pokery of the reusable nappy dance (as I like to call it).
Pampers won.
I admit, my love of Pampers just grew with time- until we had an unfortunate "they cost far too much" incident and I switched to Tesco's own brand (highly recommended, by the way). I used to stack my nappies up, row upon row of gleaming white cotton wool, on a shelf in the nursery and I looked forward to the replenishment of the downstairs nappy box with a certain stupid glee.
Of course I thought about the impact our use of disposables had on the environment. When at one stage, in the fairly early stages of parenthood, I worked out we had gone through more than a thousand of the blighters I had a real pang of conscience. (Not enough to make me change my mind, but a pang all the same).
But two weeks ago, when my son reached the grand old age of 21 months, the conscience caught up with me. I decided, while disposables have their place- namely any time we leave the house- I would, in the interests of being cool and with it- give the reusables a go.
I felt like Claire- Mother Earth- Allan as I pranced into the Pram Centre to buy my Winne The Pooh Nappy Bucket and as I filled my basket with liners, boosters and Zinc cream in Boots I felt smugly proud that I was doing my bit for the environment.
Now I have to admit, as long you don't have to rinse poo off one, reusables are pretty good. I do get a sense of satisfaction when I fold my clean nappies and I have bought a lovely array of fleece liners in pastel colours which are just as pretty, if not more so, than the Pampers NewBorn packets.
My son's rear end looks amazingly cute and pudgy when he is wearing one and I do feel I'm regaining some of my respect for the environment.
I'm not planning on burning incense or writing poetry again any time soon however, some things are better left in the past.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven

ONE OF my favourite sayings of all time is that when the pupil is ready the teacher will come.

The lessons we will be taught by that teacher may not be easy, and may not be enjoyable (think A Level History or the fact that perhaps realising your favourite outfit actually makes you look like a Weeble)- but they are there to better us, to change us, to make us grow in some way.
Most of the time we won't even realise we are being taught a lesson until it is well over and we look back weeks or months later.
And then, sometimes, it is obvious from the outset that we are enduring something which will change us completely.
The last few weeks have been filled with these experiences for me- with lessons to be learned- tears to be shed and a healthy dose of laughter too.
It would be impossible for me to write this column this week without some reference to the loss of our dear friend and colleague Siobhan McEleney. While my personal tribute to her was published in Tuesday's 'Journal', her loss is not something which we can easily move on from.
To be honest, I, like many who knew her, have a lot of questions. We are raging at the world and struggling to come to terms with why someone so young and so full of life and faith could be taken from us.
But in my anger, my disbelief and my grief there have been some glimmers of light.
I met an old friend last week. The girl in question (because to me she will always be 16 - serious denial we are all hurtling towards the big 3-0) broke the news to me she was expecting her first baby.
What made her announcement so heart-warming and wonderful was that before now she had been unsure as to whether to not she would ever be able to have children.
If there is one sure fire way to give you a good kick up the rear end and remind you that there is goodness out there, it is to hear of an impending new arrival. (The only downside being it has switched on my very own broody button again and the big man in my life is running scared as he catches me staring soppy eyed over the ickle baby sections in the Mothercare catalogue- I've even chosen names and decided on a nursery theme...just in case!).
In addition, I've been out buying a shiny new outfit for wear to the wedding of a very dear friend in six weeks time and have met up with her to swap presents, share a couple (okay, three) bottles of wine and talk about all sorts of wedding related nonsense.

Worry about tomorrow
I have become stupidly excited at the fact that I have, for the first time in my life ever, bought a hat. (A rather grand affair in chocolate brown from Debenhams). I allowed myself to indulge in my purchase after scoring an amazing Ebay bargain with the outfit to match. Himself can't quite see the logic in my spending the money I saved elsewhere- I imagine it is a woman thing.
But more than that, I'm so very excited about seeing said friend get married in the soft glow of Thornhill Chapel, while the choir sings her favourite Christmas hymns.
I know how full of hope and love she will feel on that day and I know how a new stage of life is just really starting for her as she becomes a smug married.
I can only describe it as a time of extreme emotions, of hope, of loss, of excitement and somewhere in the middle I'm trying to keep it all together and stay as sane as possible so that the wee man doesn't realise mammy is a wee bit more mental than usual. (In fairness, I think he has twigged something is up. He keeps walking up to me, cuddling in and saying "Hi mammy, Hi Gasseph" (his weird pronunciation for Joseph) -speaking my response to him before I get the chance).
But then my attitudes have changed recently. While I'm a great believer in routine, I've allowed myself to sneak extra sleepy cuddles with Joseph in the evening because sometimes you just have to realise life is too short not too.
I've made a promise, and so far kept it, to sit down and read his favourite books to him in the evening- even it means reading "Stan the Snail" 101 times.
If he wants to practice his animal sounds, over and over while I'm desperately trying to doing the washing, I'll just plonk my bum down on the kitchen floor and act them out with him.
And If I see the jewellery to match my wedding outfit I throw my fear of impending poverty out the window and buy it- because life is for living not for worrying constantly about tomorrow (which I truly believe is the curse of many a Derry woman).
Sometimes it takes these extremes in personal experience to make you sit up and take notice. It is very easy to dooter along in life, just existing and getting through each day the best you can.
The lessons I've learned recently, and which I'll continue to learn over the coming weeks as these experiences sink in, is that there is good and bad out there. There is joy and sadness and it's up to us to make the most of what we have when we have it.
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