Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Silence isn't always golden

IT IS one of the most natural instincts in the world to soothe a crying child- Lord only knows I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last two years hushing, cuddling and drying tears.

When my child, or indeed any child, is crying and in pain I get an almost irresistible urge to scoop said child up in my arms, kiss their wee heads and try my very best to make it all better.
I imagine that urge does not make me a freak of nature and that I'm not the only person in the world that feels that way. That is, I guess, the primary reason I won't be swapping my Catholic guilt for a healthy bout of Scientology any time soon.
For the uninitiated, Scientology is the increasingly popular religion favoured by Hollywood hunks and starlets- most notably Tom Cruise and his soon-to-give-birth missus Katie Holmes.
Now generally I'm very much of the opinion that when it comes to religion we are all under the care of the one God anyway and how you choose to believe in his (or her) representation on earth is your own business. I'm a live and let live kind of gal- but not when it comes to the teachings of Scientology.
You see Scientologists believe that if a child is sick or injured you should, of course, tend to their physical needs, but you should not, under any circumstances say anything to them while they are distressed.
Scientologists believe that soothing an injured children- with a hug, a kiss or a simple "I'm here baby"- will leave a negative imprint in their brains- something they call an engram.
This 'negative impact' philosophy is also used to support their policy of maintaining silence during childbirth and, indeed, making sure the newborn baby hears not one sounds in the first hours and days of their lives.
As a woman who has given birth largely without the aid of pain relief (not through choice- I'm just one of the 15% of women who the epidural doesn't work for), I cannot for the life of understand how it can be helpful, productive or even possible to stay silent throughout the experience.
My labour, along with being quite sore, was a time when every emotion possible bubbled up to the surface. I laughed, I cried, I grunted, I moaned, I told my husband I loved him, I chatted with the midwife- I even sang along to a song on the radio. The one thing that I did not do was shut up.

Kiss and hug
Similarly when all 6lb 9oz of babyness was placed in my arms it would have been the most painful and unnatural thing in the world for me not to have acknowledged him with a kiss, an hello, a hug and promises of great things to come.
Apparently over the last week giant billboards have been arriving at the house of Mr. Cruise and Ms. Holmes proclaiming, basically, she is to keep hush while birthing their baby.
Then ickle baby Cruise will reportedly be wrapped in swaddling cloths and taken away to be left in peace for a day without any of that old intrusion from his/her doting parents. There won't be any cuddles, proud pictures or early bonding. Katie will not have the chance to lie awake all night staring at the newborn creature in the cot beside her marvelling to herself that she is now a mother and that wee miracle of life is her own.
God love the poor woman if she then goes on to develop Post Natal Depression because, just like the children who won't be comforted if they fall or get ill, she won't find soothing words from her Scientology friends.
They don't believe in psychology, you see. They don't believe in taking anti-depressants to help make it all better. Apparently if you get really bad, however, you will get a 'Introspection Rundown' which, as far as I can see, involves intensive therapy where, you've guessed it, no one talks to you until you can admit you have a problem and suss out what that problem is.
Now if you use that little Google tool on your internet, and type in the words 'Introspection Rundown'- the name Lisa McPherson will jump out at you. You see Lisa McPherson was a member of the Church of Scientology and had a nervous breakdown. Her 'friends' took her aside and arranged a wee introspection rundown and a mere three weeks later Lisa was dead. It is believed by many her treatment by the compassionate souls in the Church may have directly contributed to her death.
Now I can't help but wonder that if Lisa had been talked to, and listened to, would she still be here today? There are times in all our lives, when we are scared, in pain and vulnerable when the thing we need most of all is simply for someone to listen to us and tell us it will be okay.
If you can't get that kind of comfort from the source of all love- your God- then where can you get it?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Getting my 'R's into gear

THERE ARE a few achievements in my life I am particularly proud of. The first is getting my Masters Degree which was achieved under sufferance and put me off studying for life.

The second is surviving child birth and the first three months of my son's life without becoming a hardened street drinker and third, and most recent, is finally- after four attempts- passing my driving test.
Regular readers of this column will be aware I have a love/ hate relationship with driving. Seven years ago, as a fresh faced cub reporter I first got behind the wheel of a car and drove for a year before failing two tests and giving up.
Earlier this month I faced my demons and sat my third test on a cold and wintry Tuesday morning.
I had been beating the Rescue Remedy and Stressless tablets into me for a week beforehand and had also, I kid ye not, persuaded a hypnotherapist to talk me through relaxation techniques over the phone. In my pocket I had a prescription for Diazepam in case the nerves became unbearable and the Big Man upstairs had taken to avoiding my calls as he was sickened hearing the sound of my novenas.
I woke that morning and it was persisting down with rain (that's the polite way to put it). Venturing out with my long suffering driving instructor (Michael Harkin, if you want to know- he's in the book!) we also encountered reams of road works.
He assured me they would work in my favour and we drove to the Test Centre and I took my seat in the waiting room (aka the Green Mile) and waited to be called- swigging from the Rescue Remedy all the time. (That stuff is stinking by the way).
As it happened I kept my cool. I drove across the Foyle Bridge like a true professional, did my three point turn in record time and my emergency stop was one they should really have filmed to show people how it is done.
And then, it went wrong. I realised I had done it all right. I realised all I had to do was get back to the test centre and that elusive slip of paper would be mine. I relaxed, too much, and crashed ("with a fair whack"-according to the examiner) into the pavement at Myra's shop. (I still give said pavement dirty looks now when we pass).
I knew then I had failed. I think I swore. I know I had to fight back tears and then, of course, I had to continue the drive back to the test centre knowing that I had messed up and it would take at least another one attempt at this test (and another £100 of my hard earned moulah- money I had set aside for my sojourn to Glasgee) before I could get my coveted 'R's on display (no giggles at the back please).
The most disappointing thing about failing a driving test is the notion that you have to do it again. I'm sure somewhere we could make an argument for the abolition of said test using the same argument that has been used against the retention of the 11 Plus. Branding anyone a failure is not conducive to good mental health- even if they have hit a kerbstone a "fair whack" and risked killing a stray pensioner.
Luckily I was able to secure a cancellation, thanks to the persuasive powers of my driving instructor (who also does wedding cars, if you are interested). While I welcomed the chance to get through the test again I dreaded the green mile, the not knowing if I would be tested in the cityside or Waterside, the worry over whether it would be a parallel park or a reversing around a corner that would catch me out.
As it turned out, Lady Luck had another cunning plan up her sleeve which involved some weird gastric flu type bug, a sick child and sleep deprivation. You see, when you are trying not to throw up, or indeed to stop your child from throwing up, you don't have time to work yourself into an absolute frenzy.
Not one Stressless tablet passed my lips (I have an unopened box if you want them). Only two doses of Rescue Remedy were consumed and the Diazepam prescription can now go in the bin.
You see I had come to peace with the fact that I had been so sick there was no way I was passing this test. And when the examiner took me on an unfamiliar route, I was doubly convinced I was on the highway to hell. I was so busy mentally working out how to pay for test number five, I was so convinced that I would fail, that I no longer feared failing- and when you have no fear you don't tend to make stupid mistakes like hitting kerbs a "fair whack".
Weirdly the nerves only started to jangle on my way back to the test centre when it dawned on me I hadn't messed up- yet. The elusive slip of paper was but a few moments away, I prayed that I could hold it together long enough to get into that parking bay in a straight line.
When the examiner told me he was "pleased to say" I had passed I promptly had a little happy cry and had to restrain myself from hugging him. (He looked vaguely terrified at this stage to be honest)
Within a couple of hours I had arranged my insurance, bought some 'R' Plates and gone for a drive down alone in the sunshine singing along to 'Hollaback Girl' in my uniquely squeaky voice.
It may have taken seven years. It may have cost me hundreds of pounds in lessons and Rescue Remedy but now, as the self-proclaimed Queen of the Road I really can say this shit is bananas.

And finally
It is Mother's Day on Sunday, so can I offer a special mention to my lovely Mammy who kindly agreed to get in the car with me just after my test despite her post traumatic stress at accompanying me on the bumper cars when I was a wain.
Much love to you from me. x

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

If you're Irish, get out of the country

If you're Irish, get out of the country!
I HAVE a confession to make. (And no, before you all start going and making assumptions, I am not pregnant nor do I have intention of being so any time in the immediate future).

My confession is of a more shameful nature because today, while a nation of my peers will be drinking the green beer and singing about those lovely fields just outside of Athenry, I will be taking to the skies and leaving this fair land for the weekend.
I won't be heading into any pub at lunch time nor shall I be wearing a curly wig bedecked in our national colours. I doubt I shall even attach a bunch of withered shamrocks to my lapel or sing a resounding chorus of 'Hail Glorious St. Patrick'.
It's not that I don't have a great love for the land of my birth, or that I'm not terribly grateful to St. Patrick for chasing all those snakes out of the country and introducing a little religion- but I can just think of better things to do with my day that sit in an overcrowded and smokey bar drinking myself into a state of maudlin stupidity.
St. Patrick's Day has never really been much of a big deal for me. As a child I remember getting rather stupidly excited when my mammy would knit me a white cardigan with a shamrock motif, and I would get to show off my new 'style' at Mass.
Beyond that and making coloured cards at school, I can't say it really stood out in my memory all that much. (Although I seem to remember some really godawful film called 'Flight of the Doves' being shown or 'Darby O'Gill' scaring the holy bejaysus out of me with that freaky Banshee).
Moving into adulthood it somehow became nothing more than an opportunity to go to the pub and get that silly kind of drunk you can only get when you drink in the afternoon.
I remember with particular fondness going to the Student's Union after lectures with a few classmates and enjoying my first proper St. Pat's session in 1996. In all honesty though, the bonding with my classmates was much more enjoyable that the inevitable flinging of ourselves round the dancefloor to the 'The Last of the Irish Rovers' in the name of national pride.
The last time I think I even acknowledged the day was three years ago (pre-baby) when myself, my friend and our two husbands met in the pub after work for a quick drink. We joined in half heartedly with the traditional Irish art of Karaoke and stopped off on the way home for that traditional Irish supper of curry chips.
Latterly I've just fallen into the brigade of old farts who go up the town on the day to tut at all the "young ones" off their heads on drink and God knows what else.
You see, I think we should celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but I don't see why we have to use it as an opportunity to make a holy show of ourselves.
Yes, we all love a drink- but do we have to drink to such an extent that we throw up in the street? Or start a fight with each other at the taxi rank?
So, when the opportunity came up to jet off to foreign shores for the weekend (foreign being Scotland), I felt no qualms at leaving behind my native Ireland for the day. Instead I'm looking forward to a day or two with my best Scottish pal, her family, a nice hotel to stay in and a couple of drinks- none of which will be dyed green.
Instead of getting caught up in whatever melee may erupt in town, I will swan around the lobby of my hotel speaking in an exagerated accent, saying "bejaysus" and "begorrah" a lot, and waiting for the offers of drinks from kindly strangers wanting to drown the shamrock with me.
I will gather my friend's children around my feet and tell them magical tales of Leprechauns, the Blarney stone, and Finn McCool (and leave out all references to Banshees- no child need ever fear the howl of the wind in my opinion).
I will tell them of the magical pathway between Ireland and Scotland and promise to take them to the Giant's Causeway some day to see it for themselves (should I ever manage to pass my driving test).
If I'm feeling really adventurous (or slightly drunk) I might even sing a wee chorus of 'Cead Mile Failte' or 'Paddy McGinty's Goat' (In fairness I would have to learn the words to the latter first).
I'm sure, if pushed, I'll even tell them the story of St. Patrick and how he came to Ireland and chased the snakes out. (I find young children more intrigued by snakes than religion these days).
So I won't be here to join in the hijinks and hoolies, but I'll be having a perfectly fine and lovely time all to myself, feeling distinctly Irish without the associated hangover.
No doubt, however, as my plane takes off over Derry and flies across Northern Ireland towards the Irish sea I'll get a little misty eyed at thoughts of home- but what better way to see your home country on its national day than from the skies? On Erin's green valleys, I'll look down with my love.

That's My Goal

That's my goal
REALITY TV is not something which really floats my boat but in a fit of boredom I caught up in 'finals fever' last weekend as 'Dancing on Ice', 'Just the Two of Us' and 'You're a Star' came to their dramatic conclusions.

In my opinion Gaynor Faye was very deserving of the 'Dancing on Ice' accolade, your man from Holby City was robbed on 'Just the Two of Us' and Lucia Evans was, well, the best of a bad bunch on 'You're A Star' (Probably the most embarrassing example of Irish 'talent' ever).
There was something about 'You're a Star' that dragged me in though. A few weeks ago I started watching and sat, jaw slack with disbelief, at what passes for talent in this country. After that I was hooked- waiting for RTE to announce it had all been a big practical joke on the gullible voters of Ireland.
Simon Cowell would have had the 'You're A Star' finalists for breakfast- in fact I'm pretty sure some of them would have shown up in the worst auditions montage should they have appeared on 'The X Factor'.
But regardless of my opinion on their talent, or lack thereof, I have to say I did admire the unfortunate souls who made eejits of themselves at the Helix week in and week out- and that is because at least they were following their personal rainbows and looking to find a pot of gold at the end of them.
In fact, I even shed a sneaky tear when Jeannette Cronin got booted out in the semi final. Even though she always looked like she need a good wash, she genuinely had her heart set on winning the title. When she sang her reprise of the Shane Ward song 'That's My Goal', just after the proverbial goal posts were moved so far from her they were no longer in her sites, she broke down a wee bit and I realised how crushing it must me to have your dreams taken from you.
I'm not a huge one for following my ambitions- not these days anyway. I just get on with life and make plans on an ad hoc basis- so I admire anyone who has the guts to put themselves out there for public scrutiny.
The nearest I have come to finding some get up and go of late is the ongoing trauma I face while endeavouring to get on the road legally. (My hopes of "third time lucky" in my test being cruelly dashed this week thanks to some very poor judgement on my part outside of Myra's Shop).
But as driving is more an acquired skill than a talent, I'm not sure it counts in the life ambition stakes- I mean the only thing stopping me achieving that goal is my own inability to keep my nerve for a silly 40 minute slot (and the fact there are no available dates in the next two months for a retest!).
If I'm pushed to find an ambition for myself- to reveal that secret goal, it is my hope to one day walk into Eason (or any other reputable book shop) and see my name on the cover of a book alongside tomes by the likes of Queen Marian of Keyes, Cathy Kelly and Jane Green.
That would, of course, require a certain amount of sustained commitment and discipline which, believe it or not, I am trying to find for myself.

'The Novel'
I have managed to cobble together 47,000 words of waffle, now known to all in my family as 'The Novel'- with a mere 50,000 words to go, I figure I can expect to finish it circa 2034.
Each evening, after the fruit of my loins has been battered over the head with a rubber hammer and sent to sleep, I sit down at my old and battered keyboard and set up about trying to be creative.
I have to resist the urge to surf t'interweb, phone a friend or do some housework (funnily enough, I find avoiding the housework relatively easy). I now understand that a writer's worst enemy is the blank screen and I've come to hate the blinking of the cursor as my brain goes into melt down as I try to imagine life through the eyes of my protagonist.
Often I'll pour a wee glass of wine, write like my life depended on it and then, when not under the influence of said glass of wine, realise my work is nonsense and hit the delete button.
Having (almost) reached the half way mark- having plotted out every scene, every eventuality and the ending of my masterpiece I'm now getting cold feet (or should that be cold fingers? After all they are doing the typing).
You see I know that if and when I finish 'The Novel', the obvious next step would be to show to it people- to allow them to read it, dissect it and pull it to pieces. In an ideal world they would all sign me up for mega-bucks publishing deals and herald me as the latest Queen of Chick Lit but chances are there will be a fair deal of rejection.
I imagine some witty editor at a publishing company will laugh at what I consider to be my 'talent'- or lack there of. Although they won't put my efforts up for the public vote but they will judge me nonetheless- and I'm not one who likes being judged. I prefer to live in my little bubble of anonymity, eating Galaxy chocolate and bitching about 'You're a Star'.
So to all those who follow their dreams, who put themselves out there and face the wrath of the likes of me- I salute you! What you may lack in talent you more than make up for in bravery.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On my holiberries

I will resume posting later this week and catch up on two weeks of columns!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Just the three of us

A DEBATE is raging in among women the length and breadth of the country at the moment about whether or not a man really has a place in the labour ward supporting his partner through the 'joys' of childbirth.

It's all been kicked off by the announcement by cricket player Andrew Flintoff that he is going to stick it out at some wee poncy cricket game or other rather than fly home to support his long suffering wife through the imminent delivery of their baby.
There are a couple of schools of thought on this one. The first is that a woman will generally be more comfortable giving birth surrounded by other women- given that they will generally have some level of understanding of the hell on earth she is going through.
Certainly this was my initial view point when I was with child. You see my husband, love him and all as I do, is a bit useless when it comes to dealing with people in pain. He either a) goes into a litany of his own ills or b)tries to jolly the situation along with some ill timed humour more often seen as an insult when you are going through the agonies.
So when I was expecting I wanted what every self respecting woman in her late 20s wants when faced with a challenge- I wanted my mammy.
I figured my mother still held certain magical properties last seen during my childhood- most notably the power to reduce all aches and pains with a spoonful of pink medicine and a bottle of Lucozade.
Once, after talking to the sister my mother did accompany into the labour ward, I ascertained this wasn't the case I moved my sights to himself.
Which brings me the second school of thought on the whole men in the labour ward debate; and that is that any man who does not wish to see his child- the fruit of his loins- delivered into this world in the great big miracle of life is a big fat wuss and deserving of nothing but scorn from the fairer sex.
Himself was understandably nervous about the whole thing. He wasn't well versed in the biological process of birthing but he knew it would involve a fair amount of blood, gore and screaming. He also knew it would involve a visit to the hospital and himself holds hospitals in much the same disregard as I hold dark chocolate. (Chocolate shouldn't taste bitter- it should taste sweet, it is a SWEETIE. Point made).

So now we move onto the third school of thought on the whole issue which is that if a woman has to actually experience the physical and emotional trauma of child birth, the very least a man can do is be there so that his partner can make him feel horrendously guilty about it all.
You see I had spoken to my friends who had children and each had regaled me with stories of how they had fallen in love with their ickle tiny babies the moment they set eyes on them.
Digging deeper into the whole experience however I found a much darker undercurrent of swearing, biting and general abuse. One friend calmly told her husband, in a voice which made the midwife believe she was possessed, that he was never, and I repeat never going to touch her ever again.
Another left an impressive set of dental imprints on her husband's hand and a third starting plotting her divorce while sucking on the gas an air.
In all cases the husbands forgave the outrageous behaviour and, get this, even bought their wives flowers and/ or jewellery afterwards to thank them for their efforts.
It all seemed like a pretty good deal to me- I mean a get out of jail free card for marital abuse and the promise of presents at the end of it all!
Joking aside though, I did actually want my husband to be there when our son was born. I didn't necessarily want him down the business end, but I wanted the first sight our little man saw to be his mammy and daddy. I wanted to be the first to hold him (I figured it was my right as the one with the torn perineum), but I wanted the second person to hold him to be his daddy.
I had a stupid mental image of himself doing the whole "This time next year we'll be millionaires" speech with the wee man while I had my post-natal needs tended to.
And when I was in labour, I wanted someone there who would stand up for what I wanted. I wanted someone there who had the same interest in this child being born that I did and in my books the only people who truly get how important the birth of any baby is are that baby's parents.
For me the birth experience was the start of our life together as a family. While I'd had nine months to get very closely acquainted with my son, himself only felt the occasional kick and saw me turn into a larger than life emotional timebomb.
i was very conscious of the fact that from the first time we heard our son squeak (he squeaked rather than cried- an occurrence he has more than made up for since), we would be the Allans- a family unit- just the three of us.
So when asked if I think Andrew Flintoff was right to put cricket and country before his family, my answer is no- because no victory on the field can ever be as rewarding as meeting your child for the first time.
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