Friday, January 27, 2006

Sisters are doing it for themselves?

YOU WILL perhaps forgive me if the first few lines of this week's column are dedicated to giving a sound telling off to the not-so-lovely lady who gave me the filthiest look imaginable last Sunday in Tesco.

Life, you see, is hard enough for us women. We work hard, run our homes, raise our children and endure waxing of sensitive areas on a frequent basis. So when one of our own, one of the sisterhood bound together by these uniquely female life experiences, lets the side down by being an unsupportive harridan, it upsets me greatly.
Last Sunday, shortly before 1pm, my child decided he wanted to throw a tantrum- but not just any tantrum- this was the mother of all tantrums. There was screaming, crying, desperate attempts to clamber out of the trolley and a few incidents involving my shopping being used as missiles with which to assault other Sunday shoppers.
There were two reasons for said tantrum- the first being that he has an obsession with the "Nanas in Jamas" (Bananas in Pyjamas) ride-along-thingy in the Lisnagelvin Mall and would happily live there given the choice. My decision that three goes was more than enough was clearly to his displeasure.
The second, and most important reason, is that he is nearly two. He is a child, learning, experiencing, pushing the boundaries and yes, admittedly at times, being a wee brat (and that is the polite way of putting it).
As a fairly modern mammy, I pride myself on being fairly up on the parenting advice of the day which includes giving a stroppy child as little attention as humanly possible so that he gets the message quick smart that I'm not impressed with hysterics (despite being slightly prone to them myself).
To try and keep your cool when your child is 'breaking you to the bone' as we would say in Derry, is not easy. I prayed the ground would open up and swallow me, I hoped my child would be distracted by all the shiny things they sell in Tesco- but alas neither happened and instead I was faced with the disparaging looks of a woman who I swear followed us around each aisle with the sole purpose of looking down her nose at me and my squealing child.
Now I for one am the first to admit that screaming children aren't pleasant. When you are stressed, shopping and trying to beat the queues on a Sunday lunch-time the last thing you want to be 'entertained' with are the squeals of a child shouting: "No! No! No! Ah wan Nanas in Jammmmaaaaassss!"
I understand this can be annoying. I understand that it have a negative effect on your shopping experience, but what niggles at me most about the whole experience is that said woman was there with a child herself (Admittedly a much older child).
You see from what I can tell from talking to any of my friends or colleagues with children, all little darlings go through phases when they will take a tantrum at the drop of a hat.
All mothers will at some stage be faced with crowds of people shaking their head, looking embarrassed and hurrying past the scene of the impending nuclear meltdown. So you would think women, especially those who have children themselves, would be a little bit more understanding, a little bit more sympathetic and a little less judgmental.

More equal than others?
I feel at the heart of the matter is the fact that we women, as much as proclaim our membership to the sisterhood, as much as we burned our bras and fought for equality, still somehow believe that some are more equal than others.
If you can manage to get out the door on a Sunday with your make up perfect and hair brushed you are more equal than the stressed out mammy in the tracksuit bottoms with her hair scraped back (guess which one I was). If your child clings to your side with perfect manners and social skills usually only achieved after a year in a finishing school then you are more equal than the lady struggling to gain control of an unruly toddler who wants to play instead of shop.
This is something evident not only in Tesco on a Sunday afternoon but in almost every aspect of our lives. I would like to be a super-organised person, a mother who falls into the 'yummy mummy' category who bakes organic breads, has a designer buggy and clothes her child in clothes spun by blind monks in some fair trade factory in Outer Mongolia.
I would like to be the uber efficient employee who never skirts too close to deadline or forgets to make a phone-call at the appropriate time- but I'm not like that I'm afraid.
Like so many of us out there I am simply human. I'm doing my best and trying to do better. I am, as my (fallen) idol Marian Keyes would say "too busy doing it all to have it all" and I very much doubt I'm alone in feeling like that.
We women live in a fast-paced society whereby we are constantly battling to keep on top of all our responsibilities. We would love to be glamorous and cool-headed like Gabrielle in Desperate Housewives, but the truth is the majority of us are more like Lynette.
So next time you see a mother struggling with a screaming child, take a deep breath, avoid the urge to roll your eyes to heaven and remind yourself that there but for the grace of God go you.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oh for a good lie in!

ONE OF the great joys of trying to keep an over-excited toddler's head from exploding over the Christmas period is spending hours in a bedroom with him so that he doesn't completely destroy his auntie's house.

I say it is a joy because once the wee man was sleeping soundly and recharging his over-used batteries I got to curl up on the bed beside him and watch some tacky TV while he snored.
You see, my sister-in-law has Sky TV in her guest bedroom. I know this might be a relatively common occurrence in some areas of the world, but to me it reeked of pure decadence.
Myself and himself have tried to get Sky installed in our bijou Derry residence but due to there being a tree the size of a small African country directly across the road we have been told we can't get a signal. I have never really recovered from the upset of not having the digital world at my fingertips and therefore given the chance to surf the myriad of channels that can be on offer, I'm doofer happy (doofer being code word for remote in Chez Allan). Therefore to have the opportunity to watch all those dreadfully tacky and American reality shows one Boxing Day afternoon was sheer bliss.
I had long heard talk of "Extreme Makeover- Home Edition" but I'd never had the chance to watch it. On Boxing Day however, huge and complicated Sky remote control resting comfortably in my hand, I got to watch it for two hours.
For those who haven't seen it, basically it entails a team of over-emotional American eejits knocking someone's house down and rebuilding into a palatial dream house complete with a home cinema and one of those gorgeous island thingies for the kitchen which I have coveted for many years.
Generally the lucky recipients of the dream home have something horribly wrong with them (I guess that kind of makes them unlucky- but I'm unable to see that through my insane jealously at their new kitchen island thingy), so the big reveal at the end is always an emotional affair.
Everyone cries and, being Americans, there is always a great deal of squealing which, in fact, gets on my nerves- but nonetheless this is a programme which is the perfect anecdote to the winter blues.
I almost wished that afternoon that Joseph would stay asleep for a while longer just so that I could watch the next instalment, but alas, all too soon he was awake and raring for action.

Perfect afternoon
'Extreme Makeover- Home Edition'- Even though we only shared one perfect cold and grey afternoon together, I already miss you.
Having now developed an obsession with Sky TV I decided to make the most of the facility the following day while repacking our cases and getting ready for the journey home.
The other "must see" channel I had heard tell of from those lucky enough not to have big trees blocking their signal was Discovery Health, which shows an inordinate amount of documentaries about women having babies.
Hoping that seeing a woman in full labour would kill the broodiness in me, I switched over and found myself watching a very interesting programme about a Chinese woman giving birth to her second child.
Now perhaps it could be argued that Sky TV is not the most educational of tools, but what I saw that day set my brain to thinking. Apparently in China, new mothers are expected to fulfil a 30 day "lying in" period after the birth of their babies.
Basically this means that for 30 days after the birth experience, the new mum gets to lie in her pit and recuperate while her mother and husband fuss around her making sure she eats the right things, has loads of sleep and is generally pampered.
It is a far cry from life in Derry where within hours of your labour, no matter how long and painful, you are feeding, changing and bathing your child and trying to stomach a rather vile and suspect hospital dinner.
Then of course, after two days (if you are lucky) you get out of hospital, go home and throw yourself straight into the routine of mammyhood- with not so much as a cup of tea and chocolate digestive offered to you, never mind 30 days of nutritious goodies cooked by your very own mammy.
It registered in me that we may be the Western world, modernised in almost every way, but somewhere along the line we women have got the rotten end of the stick. Why no one in the West accepts that pregnancy and birth is demanding and exhausting is beyond me, but I for one would be all for having that 30 day lie in- with nothing to worry about but cuddling my new-born and relaxing into motherhood.
Of course upon sharing my new found belief that we need to move to China before we produce number two, himself has vowed that even if, by some miracle, they knock down the big tree across the road we are never allowed to contemplate Sky TV again as it gives me too many notions.
I guess I will just have to settle for the island thingy for the kitchen instead. Now if only I had the phone number for the 'Extreme Makeover' team....

Friday, January 06, 2006

Out with the old

WELCOME TO 2006- the year of killing dead things. Yes, I'm going to lose weight, sort out my house, learn to drive (again) and generally finish the year on a high of perfection and general gorgeouseness.

Or maybe not. You see I don't hold court with resolutions- they just aren't my thing. Admittedly this is mostly because I'm absolutely useless at keeping them, but also it's because I just don't understand why one wee tick of a clock should force us to examine our lives and decide, invariably, that they are pants and we need to change.
It is my honest opinion that January is depressing enough without forcing ourselves into a purgatory of our own making by making sweeping changes to the status quo.
Generally I like new starts, but January doesn't feel like one to me- no matter what the calendar might tell us. You see it's the end of winter- the winding down of the festive season, the long wait for the credit card bills to plop (or thud in some cases) through the letterbox. And all this while we are dealing with the seemingly unending dark evenings and depressingly glum mornings- it's enough to make me weep into my leftover selection boxes.
Let's face it, life is tough enough in January. Getting up in the mornings is a feat in itself for me these days. My alarm clock may screech at me that it's about time I crawled out of my pit, but my head and heart are begging me to lie back down and snooze just another five minutes away.
Allowing myself the occasional (okay, daily) Kit Kat Chunky is the only way to get through the month without totally giving in to depression and melancholy.
All that said, I've not been a total slattern. Returning from our festive sojourn to sunny Cheshire (we had a lovely time, by the way), I looked around Chez Allan and realised we do in fact live in a house that would make Kim and Aggie walk away in disgust.
The in-laws all have houses which wouldn't look out of place in the Next catalogue. Despite having animals (pets and children included in that description) their cream carpets remain cream and their oatmeal sofas are still their natural oatmeal colour and not the strange mix of Digestive biscuit and slabbers our has become.
Unpacking in the 'comfort' (and I use the word loosely) of home I announced to a rather worried husband it was time to "declutter".
I'm not really a hoarder as such- I just have my own very unique method of tidying up. I prefer to refer to it as the "Shove everything in a cupboard and hope no one sees it" method- much to himself's eternal annoyance.

Minimalist Retreat
You see, at first glance my house is a virtual minimalist retreat. Open any cupboard or drawer, or look behind any chair and it's another story.
There are handbags, nappies (clean, thankfully), letters, magazines, even a swimming suit or two hiding in every corner. I have told myself what the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't grieve over but, occasionally, when it all threatens to spill its ugly contents over my cheap laminate flooring, I have to take action.
The wee man's room is the prime example. With his second birthday looming in the all too near future, we decided it was time to update his nursery and make it more suitable for the proper little boy our wee one is turning into.
Until now I have had a huge shelving unit in the side of his nursery wherein I have stored nappies, clothes, toys and assorted nonsense for the past two and half years since the day I found out I was expecting.
If we were going to update the wee man's room, this shelving unit needing tackling- but it was no task for the faint hearted.
Binbags, and a degree of courage, in hand I entered the nursery and started work. I was literally amazed at what I found.
There were nappies two sizes too small, nipple shields even though I didn't breastfeed (apologies for the use of the word nipple in the Derry Journal), a trial sized packet of Fairy Washing Powder, 6 packets of tissues, some moist toilet tissue (you know the stuff that is moist when you buy it...we aren't that disgusting in my house), approximately 2,673 bibs of various sizes, colours and conditions, three half used bags of cotton wool, an empty bottle of Tixilix, a selection of napkins (baffled at that one) and enough clothes to open my own branch of Dunnes- all along with the eeniest, teeniest, cutsiest pair of trainers you ever did see.
After filling two bin-bags, reorganising the shelves and crying broodily over the teeny trainers, I actually felt more in control and I vowed to start working my way through all the rooms in my house until the guys and gals from the Next catalogue would be virtually battering down my door to snap my stylish living habits to steal ideas for next season.
But this is not, and I stress NOT, a New Year's Resolution, because I know the moment I put that label on it I'm damning myself to failure. Sure as eggs is eggs, announcing I'm taking control of my home and my life for 2006 will automatically mean it will all implode in spectacular fashion around me.
So I'm not resolving to do anything. If my house gets tidied this month, it gets tidied. If it doesn't, I'll try again in February when the nights are bit shorter, the weather a little milder and my post Christmas slump has eased.
And if I have to make a resolution, and I mean really, really have to, it's simply that I will start a one woman campaign to have this silly tradition banned once and for all.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

For auld lang syne...

I'VE THOUGHT about this a lot and I simply cannot find a way to start this week's column without using that age old cliché- the years are really flying in.

I can't believe we are at the tail end of 2005- a year which has flown by so quickly that I can still remember clearly sitting here this time last year struggling to find something to write about without sounding like old mother time.
I don't know if it is because I'm getting older (yes, I turn 30 in 2006, but I refuse to reveal the date!), or simply because we all seem to be getting busier but I'm struggling to come to terms with just how fast things are moving.
I've become one of those sad old women who spends too much time saying "Ooooh, you're making me feel old. I remember when you were just two," to teenagers and regaling stories of changing their nappies to their highly amused friends.
I now put my house slippers on immediately when I when come in the evening because they so much more comfier than my heels and when I sit in front of the TV I grumble to himself that it's not as good as it used to be when we were younger You don't even want to get me started on how much people swear on TV at the moment either. In my darkest moments I have even thought about sending an email off to Points of View.
It genuinely feels like just a few months ago I would sit with my friends and watch the programme of the same name while we shared a bottle of Peach Schnapps (I wasn't a very trendy drinker in my youth) and some maltesers.
It hardly feels like 10 years ago that I was at university, having the time of my life- but now I'm nearly 30- its 2006 (almost) and life is busier than ever.
This year has been the most hectic to date and if I'm honest I'll be glad to see the back of 2005.
Yes, there have been some amazing highs this year. To see my child grow into a bubbly, loving toddler- to hear him say 'mammy' for the first time and see those first wobbly steps- has almost taken my breath away with pride.
I've also been lucky to forge new friendships and tend to those with more established bonds. There is something about getting that wee bit older which allows you to, excuse the language, cut through the crap and get on with things.
I'm glad to say my friends know me well enough now to boost my confidence when I need it, but also to tell me to catch myself on when I need a good kick up the rear end.
We don't need to pussy-foot around each other, wary of hurting feelings- some of my friends know me better than i know myself and I'm old and wise enough now to know when they are acting in my best interests.
But this year has been hard too. Another aspect of growing up is realising that the world isn't all sunshine and roses- and as an adult you sometimes have to deal with some pretty harsh realities.
As this year has progressed, my granny has fallen increasingly under the evil spell of Alzheimers. This cruel disease means I can no longer call her "granny"- she knows my face, but that bond of granny and granddaughter which was built up over the past 30 years is all but gone.

Coming to terms
And in seeing granny worsen, I've seen my aunts, uncle and father have to come to terms with this loss- and that truly is heartbreaking.
Of course, herself still hasn't lost her biting wit- having recently told me I'm not as a fat as I used to be! (I'm trying to take that as the compliment it was intended to be). She also still manages to torture me about when I'm having another baby- so perhaps all is not lost.
And of course this year saw me lose a dear colleague and friend. The reality that she is gone is still hard to come to terms with, but as time progresses I'm trying, as indeed are all my colleagues, to be thankful for the chances we had to say our goodbyes, to pay our tributes and to know Siobhan in the first instance.
It still doesn't seem right however to end the year without remembering her, raising a glass to her memory and hoping that 2006 brings comfort and peace to her family.
So, I'm glad to say goodbye to 2005 and move on to 2006 (even if it does mean I'll turn 30). I'll look forward to what the coming year will bring. You never know, it might just be the year I write that novel and become the new Marian Keyes- or maybe I'll finally find my weight loss motivation and shift some of this bulk (one chin at a time, sweet Jesus).
I'm pretty confident (and so is my driving instructor for once) that I'll pass my test and get on the road properly- something Siobhan was always nagging me to do. And to top it all off I get to spend some more time with himself, the wee man and the rest of my family.
I'm not sure what adventures lie ahead, but I hope I'll be able to keep sharing them with you all.
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