My friend Jann sent me a gorgeous email today filled with wise and wonderful quotes from Maya Angelou. I haven't read much of Aneglou's work, but when I see her talk I'm always entranced by her way with her words- her almost poetic pearls of wisdom. I could list to her talk for hours and I think for when you want to define 'inspirational' you should look directly to this wonderful woman. It was so good I had to share...
Maya Angelou said this: "I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow."
"I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."
"I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life."
"I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as "making a life."
"I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance."
"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back."
"I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision."
"I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one."
"I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back."
"I've learned that I still have a lot to learn."
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I NEVER thought I would be one of those people who longs for a couple of extra hours in the day or complains about the weather on a regular basis or generally turns into a right grumpy drawers. But lately I’ve found myself in the most miserable and grumpy of moods. If it moves, chances are I’ll tut at it/ fire a dirty look in its general direction or beep my horn at it at least once a day. My days seem lately to be spent chasing my tail and wondering where my tolerance levels for anything out of the ordinary have gone. Trust me you don’t want to get me started on poor customer service, people who speed across the Foyle Bridge or shops which don’t stock anything above a size 14. The reason for my grouchiness? I’ve given up chocolate. No half measures for me this time, I’ve gone cold turkey and it’s making me unbearable. You see things were reaching crisis levels. I had found that my occasional bar of chocolate was turning into one bar a day and when the wee man got a Milky Way or packet of Magic Stars, Mammy (that’s me) would have to have a wee taste first just to make sure ‘they weren’t poisoned’. (In fact my five year old niece thinks adults are immune to all sorts of nasties, after her grandad repeatedly tasted a chip off her plate ‘because it was poisoned’) I am slightly ashamed to admit, my name is Claire and I’m a chocoholic. After successfully losing a stone in weight before Christmas I was scunnered to step on the scales recently and see a few (okay four) pounds back on and when my fat jeans started to feel like my tight jeans again I knew it was time for action. This was all compounded on Saturday night when I was watching Casualty with Joseph and a rather large lady appeared on screen. “Mammy, that’s you in the hostibel,” the wee man piped up. I (ever the optimist) asked him was he referring to the “ambliance” lady standing at the side of the bed. “No mammy, that’s you in the bed, you are sick.” And sick I nearly was. I thought all sons (three year old ones at least) where supposed to think mammy was gorgeous and perfect in every way. My son, it seems, sees me as Jabba the Hut lookalike (albeit a friendly one who gives cuddles). So knowing that Mother’s Day may well bring some chocolate and wine my way, I decided to set Monday as D-Day. I’ve never smoked (well there was one drunken attempt at inhaling a cigarette a few years back which led to a rather embarrassing coughing, spluttering and near vomiting incident) so I’ve never experienced the pain of withdrawing from nicotine- but if my chocolate experience is anything to go by I can kind of understand why people never give up the dreaded weed. I purposely gorged myself on Galaxy over the weekend in an attempt to sicken myself, but in hindsight it has just made the withdrawal all the harder. I did okay up to mid-afternoon. The worst thing the ‘Journal’ has ever done is put not one, but two, vending machines in our staff canteen. These wonderful machines are filled with Bounty bars, Mars, Snickers, Chunky Kit Kats and Twirls. They are there, calling me every day at around 3.30 and they refuse to be silenced. And so began the battle with my inner demons. Surely, they said, one wee bar of chocolate wouldn’t hurt? Sure couldn’t I count it into my points and be done with it? And once the craving was satisfied then I would be grand, wouldn’t I? But I know it doesn’t work like that with me. If I gave in to those demons once I would be giving into them all the time and then I would be back to square one and Joseph would be shaking his head at me as I tried to wrestle the Magic Stars from his grubby wee paws in a chocolate fuelled hysteria. No I have to steer clear (even though I’ve been informed Milky Way Crispy Rolls are only 1pt- and sure they only have a wee bit of chocolate on them) because it’s a slippery slope until I become an Augustus Gloop from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ lookalike. Physically it has been tough. I’ve had headaches from the withdrawal and my afternoons already missed their sugar rush. As I’ve said I’ve become exceptionally grumpy and short tempered. It’s true that chocolate contains certain Endorphins which create a happy state of mind and I’m lost without my daily dose- but it has to get easier, doesn’t it? They say it takes three weeks to make a habit and three weeks to break a habit. I’m five days down, so if I can last another 16 days I’ll be free of my demons. As long as I don’t kill anybody between now and then, it should all work out grand.
This brings back memories of my childhood, of my pregnancy and sums up how I should feel about life and how I feel about my father and my son- two of the most important men in my life. Nice to get a bit tacky on it and shamelessly enjoy a bit of JD- who I was lucky enough to see in concert just a few months before he died. Give it a chance, trust me, you may just like the words.
Remember those seven dwarves of the apocalypse? They've been quite good and stayed away for a while, but I'm sick today and a little worn out. I think my burning of the candle at both ends (and a wee bit in the middle too) has finally caught up with me and I'm officially out of fuel. I have a horrible headache which is making me want to take my left eyeball out and scratch my brain, and I'm ever so slightly nauseous.
It's time for a rethink. I still have to work full time (need the dosh) and I still have to write my books (need the creative outlet) and I'm kind of stuck with the mammy thing... so what can give? Well I've made an executive decision and booked a cleaner. I feel like a bit of a superwife let down to be honest, because you know my granny managed with ten wains and not a cleaner in site but I have reached the stage where I just can't cope with the average day any more.
Hopefully once the headache lifts and the cleaner starts, I'll start to feel brighter and more settled in myself and my writing word count will go through the rood again! Til then, lots of chicken soup for me.
ONE of the best (and worst) things about writing an opinion column for a newspaper is that you open yourself up for a right of reply from your readers. Who would have thought that a column about the trials and tribulations of being a working mother would have generated such a vitriolic response? To use the Derry venacular I’ll take my oil. At the end of the day if people take the time to pick up a pen and write a letter expressing their views on what I’ve written then I’m doing my job properly. But the other side of the story is that if people want to write and express those views they have to, at some level, expect me to express mine back. The writer, you see, has the same right of reply as the reader. So first of all, can I address the ‘Co. Tyrone Female’ who told me that if she could, she would rid her department of all working mothers? The lady in question went on to describe us as unreliable, moaners and (the piece de resistance) ‘users’. To top it all off she suggested that I simply give up my work if I’m unhappy. I think she may just have missed the point. I doubt there are many working women out there (regardless of marital or parental status) who can just wake up in the morning and say “Feck this for a game of soldiers, I’m packing in the day job.” Secondly, in the article I stated very clearly that working mothers work hard and do a great job. I’ve been a single person. I’ve been an employee before I was a mother. I’ve worked in workplaces where other colleagues had children and I never looked down on them for it. With the power of hindsight, I can see it’s a bit like when you were at school and you thought life was never going to get tougher than studying for your GCSEs or A Levels and that the trauma of whether or not that wee lad from St. Columb’s fancied you back. And then you went out in the big, bad world and realised your school days really were the best days of your life. That’s not to say I would change my life. I have a gorgeous son, a job which gives me a decent degree of satisfaction and I have to say I’m very blessed to work within a supportive company. Unlike the staff of the Co. Tyrone Female, I’m not working under the added pressure of knowing my boss would gladly sack me tomorrow and sees me as a liability. I was not born a mother- so I have seen this debate from both sides of the fence and I still stand by my comments that discrimination against us working parents must stop. If anything the letter from this particular reader re-inforced that belief. The second letter I received made me think a little more. From a reader calling her ‘Unstressed Woman’, she said that my focus in this column on working mothers excluded those women out there who are single, or who don’t work, or who don’t have children. To be honest, while I write this column hoping to resonate with other women out there I will admit my column does hold a certain bias towards women in similar positions to myself. The reason for that is that I always endeavour to be as honest as possible (sometimes brutally so) because there is no point in me patronising readers by pretending to know what they are going through if I don’t. What it does not mean, and this is a charge I will refute entirely, is that I think the only ‘worthy’ women out there are those who have completed an education, got married and work their socks off. I would have hoped a recurrent theme of this column is that we women should not be expected any more to ‘have it all’ if we don’t want it all. I would go as far as to say that, as someone who has it all on paper, that having it all is not all it’s cracked up to be. (Have I used the word ‘all’ too much in that sentence?) It is my firm belief that women out there make a difference every day. (In fact just several weeks ago I wrote a column highlighting unsung heroes in our society- only one of whom had children and I seriously don’t know or care which of them had a university education. It was completely and utterly irrelevant to the story.) I’ve come from a family of strong women- women who have been single parents, who have been unemployed, who have raised their families on a diet of custard and bread because there was no money in the pot for ‘proper food’. I come from a family of women who have raised children with disabilities without grumbling or complaining. I come from a family of women who face illness on a daily basis. All of them- each and everyone of them- is a high achiever and a hero in my eyes. My final point on this issue is that there is no way one columnist can address all of the issues women face in their lives. It’s a little along the lines of you can’t please all of the people all of the time. So you’ll forgive my self indulgence this week with this right of reply. I hope no one can accuse me of ‘shirking the issue’ after this.
CAN I get all ranty again this week? I know it’s getting to be a bit of a habit- blame the hormones, the pressure to re-edit a book for what feels like the millionth time and the inability to be satisfied by even the largest quantity of chocolate. Nonetheless, I feel the need to let off a bit of steam. You see Top Shop (you know that shop up the town which sells clothes for impossibly skinny people) have decided to hire a new size 26 model. Beth Ditto, as she is known, is a singer and she is going to model clothes for larger ladies. I was quite pleased to read of the development; after all it wasn’t today nor yesterday I fitted into a size 14. I was definitely built for comfort and not speed. It is refreshing to see a High Street store acknowledge that not all women are built like Barbie Dolls and offer us some more choice. As it stands in Derry the choice available to larger ladies is laughable. I don’t really want to dress like my mammy or my granny (no offence intended) but it’s not always easy to find the latest fashions in larger sizes. Admittedly a size 26 is a far from ideal weight and I’m sure even Beth Ditto wouldn’t mind losing a couple of pounds.But this is the real world and why shouldn’t larger ladies get to see someone their size looking and feeling good in clothes designed with them in mind? It seems, however, that not everyone feels the same way I do. There are those out there who say that Top Shop’s decision to hire a plus size model is glorifying obesity and encouraging young women with weight problems to sit back on their considerable behinds and stuff their face with yet more burgers while enjoying the fact they can now wear fashionable clothes. That argument saddens me, and angers me. It is tantamount to saying that no woman above a size 16 (and let’s face it, 50% of the female population is above a size 16) has the right to wear nice clothes in case she dares get too comfortable with her size. The sad fact is, you could dress me (as one of those largest ladies) in the finest clothes Monsoon or Principles have to offer. You can wedge me into control pants and body shaping tights, minimiser bras and corsets of all descriptions but I can tell you now that I will never feel entirely comfortable with my size. And while I’m uncomfortable - while I’m wondering who that day has described me as a ‘grand big girl’ to someone else - I would at least like to wear modern, fashionable and funky clothes. The long and the short of it (and the thick and the thin of it) those of us who aren’t a perfect 10 or 12 should be allowed to dress well. We should not be forced to wear baggy, shapeless tents of things like sackcloth and ashes with a scarlet O for obese stitched across our gargantuan bosoms. Weight problem I’m not for one second dismissing the concerns which exist with our health professionals about the growing obesity problem in this country. Despite my own bad example, I hate seeing children with weight problems and I do my best to make sure my wee man has a varied and healthy diet without falling into the same bad habits as his mammy. I also try to make sure he stays nice and active and the boy never sits still. He walks everywhere he can and loves to go swimming. I think all parents should be encouraged not only to try and help their children eat a more healthy diet, and also to stay active. With the risk of sounding about 350 years old, when I was wee there was no such thing as plonking ourselves in front of computers or DVDs for hours on end. We were out running the streets til night fall. For those of us who have already developed a weight problem the answer is not to stigmatise us further or brow beat us into submission. It is simplistic to say that weight problems are solely related to an over consumption of calories without considering the self esteem issues that surround them. It may well be a chicken and egg type of question (or a burger and big butt kind of question if you prefer), but there is no doubt that people with weight problems are likely to have substantial self esteem issues to match their substantial clothes sizes. Therefore the absolute worst thing you can do to someone who has a weight problem is single them out for scorn and abuse. With the exception of the like of Dawn French, the majority of us want to change and are actively trying to change. So I’m quite happy to have Beth Ditto model clothes and I’m quite happy to have Top Shop provide clothes in larger sizes so that we slowly start to become happier and more confident with who we are on the outside, which, in my experience, always has a direct knock on effect to how we feel on the inside. And a happier, more confident woman is more likely to be active about getting fit and healthy than one who feels too ashamed to step outside the front door.
THE OLD argument regarding whether or not working mothers are evil incarnate and a drain on the workforce has reared its ugly head again this week. It was no surprise to me to read that women with young children fare the worst when it comes to career progression. Apparantly those of us with functioning uteri (or is it uteruses?) are a liability in the workplace. We may get pregnant and then, when that messy procreation business is done and dusted, we will no doubt have our mind on the wains and silly little things like calpol, teething, potty training and drool. When it comes to promotion we are at the bottom of the pile, regardless of our qualifications, experience and ability. You see we working mothers, it would seem, are just not reliable. If our children fall and break a limb we could be so bold as to clear out of the office for an afternoon to take them to A&E and God forbid the wee mites take sick and we need a day off to clean up vomit and crusty snot. On top of that knowledge that we are now no longer valulable members of the work force, we also have to deal with the guilt at working in the first place. Because those people who don’t think we are rubbish at our jobs instead like to think we are rubbish at our parenting. A woman’s place, did we not know, is in the house. The ills of society - all those ASBOs and illiterate wains are precisely down to the fact that we women go out and work and leave our children in the care of virtual strangers. It has even been argued that a woman should not have children unless she is prepared to stay at home and raise them. Yes, the working mother is both incompetent AND selfish. And people wonder why growing numbers of us are beating the Prozac down our necks and taking to drink in the evenings? If you think I’m exaggerating, think again. Have a wee gander over at the BBC ‘Have Your Say’ website on its news pages. They stop just short of getting the ducking stools out and giving the likes of me a good drowning for my troubles. The thing all these creators of studies and social studies seem to ignore time and time again is that the vast majority of working mothers do so because they have no choice. Most of us could not keep a roof over our family’s head or clothes on their back without bringing that second income into the house. I for one am certainly not working to finance a glamorous lifestyle where I’m swanning off on fancy holidays or clothing myself in designer clothes while my son sits in a creche pining for some affection. Perhaps, however I shouldn’t be so hard on those people who would have me hung, drawn and quartered. When I was younger I used to think that having children wouldn’t alter my outlook on my working life one wee iota. I would argue with my mother incessantly that I wasn’t going to university for the good of my health and that there was no way I was going to turn my back on years of study for the sake of staying home up to my eyes in Play Doh and Thomas the Tank Engine trains. Being a stay at home mammy would, I firmly believed drive me to distraction. But then I became a mammy myself and I enjoyed it. I love spending time with my son reliving those wee innocent joys of childhood and it does at times pain me to leave him. In an ideal world I would be at home reading to him, drawing with him and kissing away his tears when he stubs his toe on a building block. Multi-task But this isn’t an ideal world. For financial reasons I have to work. (Contrary to popular belief I did not earn millions of pounds from selling my book) but yes, becoming a parent has intrinsically changed my perception of the world. My focus is now very different, but that does not mean I’m rubbish at my job or don’t give it 100% while I’m at work. Like many working mothers, I have become adept at turning off the mammy head within five minutes of hitting the office and switching into work mode. That’s the thing with us women, we can multi-task. To say we are unreliable as workers is laughable. I’ll guarantee that as a working mother I’m more likely to be at my desk on any given day than single office workers the world over who are sleeping off a hangover or taking a sickie just for the craic. At least when I’m not at my desk it’s for a good reason. We are masters of organisation, efficiency and the afore-mentioned muilti-tasking. The thing is, give a woman a job - especially a mother, and you can guarantee it will be done. As I’ve said, it doesn’t surprise me that this argument has raised its head again, but it does disgust me. It’s time we woman stood up to demand an end to this discrimination.