Friday, May 25, 2007

The 10 Year Itch

THIS WEEK sees myself and Mr. Allan celebrate both our sixth wedding anniversary and 10 glorious years as a couple.

I figure the ten year mark is as good as any to sit back and regroup because, in hindsight, I was only a bit of wain when we met and I was definitely a child bride by today’s standards when we got married.

In fact, when I was talking to the lovely people at Poolbeg about my book and the age of my heroine Grace, who married at 24, they wondered was it believable that women these days get married so young. “But I was only 24,” I stuttered, and they looked at me aghast. Even colleagues in the ‘Journal’ office who have passed the 24 mark themselves say there is no way they could imagine themselves settlling down so young.

It wasn’t something I planned, however. I was only 20 when I met my other half. It was a curious twist of fate. He was attending my best friend’s 21st birthday party which I couldn’t make as I was glued to my books in Belfast preparing for my final exams. It was a last minute bout of the guilts which got me on the bus back to Derry that night and the rest, as they say, is history.

Our first date was on May 29, 1997, and I still carry in my purse a picture taken of him the following day when we all traipsed to Portrush together. (In hindsight, taking a picture of someone just one day into a relationship was a bit bunny-boilerish but I was young and didn’t know better, and besides, he looks damn fine in the picture!).

When I think of me and Mr. Allan, I think of how we have pretty much grown up together. When you are 20, you think you know it all and it’s only now, looking back, that I do realise how young and naive we were. Our cares back then basically related to where the money was coming from for a carry out to take down to the beach on a sunny day and whether or not I would get a place on a Masters course in Journalism.

We didn’t live in the same country - in some ways I don’t even think we lived on the same planet. We didn’t second guess every decision and plan our lives meticulously, we just went with the flow. We were happy to live in second rate accommodation (him, a dodgy bedsit in Holyhead; me, an even dodgier student flat on the outskirts of Belfast which needed neat bleach to even start shifting the suspect stains off the floor in the kitchen).

Although we thought we were all grown up and very metropolitan, we were actually just living an extended youth. Two years later, just before I started working in the ‘Journal’, Mr. Allan moved to Derry and we set up home together while we saved for our wedding. I’m sure that, no matter what age you are, planning a wedding feels kind of surreal.

A wedding dress is just so removed from your every day apparel that it’s hard not to feel a bit like you are playing dress-up when you try it on and, subsequently, glide down the aisle on your big day. After we got married, we bought our first home, our first car (which is now just about on its last legs) and had our first child.

Those days at the beach, larking about with friends ‘til the wee small hours, are a distant memory. In many ways my gorgeous satin wedding gown is just a memory, too (it wouldn’t fit over my thigh these days, never mind my gargantuan hips), but the life we have now is so far removed from the life we had then.

We are, for the most part, responsible adults getting on with our lives quietly - doing the best we can to raise our son and keep our heads down. We both want the same things - most of the time - but ten years in, I’m sure we both sometimes yearn for that carefree summer of 1997 when we first fell in love.

Quality time

A lot is written of parents needing to make quality time for their children, but surely it is just as important in this fast paced world that couples make quality time for each other. I don’t want the pair of us to become people who no longer hold hands on romantic walks, or chat about things unrelated to our offspring. I might make an effort, when we get the chance, to put the three of us on a train to Portrush soon.

We might make the same embarrassing mistake again of missing the Portrush stop and ending up in Ballymena for an hour instead. (The photo in my purse was taken at Ballymena train station). But, hopefully, we will have a nice day and set ourselves up nicely for the next 10 years of our lives together.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Signed, Sealed, Delivered... a tiny taster

Eejit man walked me home. He even offered to push the pram some of the way, and being that some of the way was up-hill I let him. I suppose to people looking at us, we would have looked very much like a proper family. He would have looked like the proud daddy and me the stunningly beautiful wife and mother. (Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?)
The conversation was easy. We talked about our days - mine cuddling Maggie, his laying a rockery. I left out the bits about the big freeze with mum, the hangover after my night drinking with Beth and of course all that nasty business with Jake.
I don’t know what - if anything - he left out but it wasn’t lost on me that we all have our own secrets that even the people who see us day in and day out know nothing about.
“Hopefully that night air will tired her and she will sleep well for you,” Tom said and I yawned. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to Maggie or me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I don't feel like dancing...

I think I have lost my ability to dance. I used to be able to throw some pretty impressive moves on the dance floor but lately I’ve lost my sense of rhythm.
I’ve now reverted to, at best, the Primary Seven Shuffle (you know stepping from side to side, clapping in time to the music) or, at worst, the Funky Mammy (dancing with your elbows close to your sides as if holding a young child’s hands).
Part of me has accepted this loss of grace on the dance floor as part of the ageing process and an inevitable consequence of piling on the pounds. But part of me watches in jealous awe as skinny young things shake their groove thang on the dance floor to the latest happening tunes. (As you can tell from my hopeless use of street lingo, I’m not down with the kids.)
Much as I might try, my body just doesn’t move that way anymore. A shake of the hips is more likely to result in a spasm requiring hard core medication rather than a 10 out of 10 from the judges of Strictly Come Dancing.
I used to be a good dancer. Of course when I say good, I mean that I made up for what I lacked in talent with sheer unadulterated enthusiasm. I was perhaps the happiest I have been when I went to salsa classes and spun around the dance floor in a pair of diamonte-studded dance shoes. I felt elegant - which if you know me at all you will know is a rare occurance.
The combination of proper co-ordinated dance steps with flowing scarves and shiny heeled shoes was irresistable to me. I also loved a good boogie on the dances floors of Squires and Earth - but I was definitely more into dancing for the craic rather than to impress anyone. You should have seen my amazing dance routine to ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor.
It was a thing of beauty.
Since I became pregnant (four years ago, doesn’t time fly?) I haven’t really found the urge to put my dancing shoes back on.
The first time I attempted a good boogie was the ‘Journal’ Christmas do of 2004. As I strutted my stuff to ‘The Fairytale of New York’, a certain former editor was heard to remark: “That’s the first time she’s been out since having the wain. Isn’t it?”
Yes, my lack of co-ordination was that impressive.
The second time I managed a good boogie was the ‘Journal’ Christmas do of 2006. I actually really enjoyed myself, and even did that really classy thing of kicking my shoes off towards the end of the night when my feet started to ache so I could lump about in my bare feet.
The next day, however, I suffered. My legs were aching, my sides were sore and my feet had swollen to such a size that the only things I could dare put on them were my oversized slippers from Tesco. And then I had the joyous experience of “the night before” flashbacks. Had I really acted out scenes from Grease and Dirty Dancing with my fellow reporters?
Had I really showed the whole room my long-forgotten salsa moves? Add this to the memory of myself and a certain colleague serenading the taxi driver on the way home with our own particularly unique rendition of ‘The Rose’ and you may see why I vowed never to drink, dance or sing again.
Of course there is something about dancing which gets under my skin. When I went to London recently on my sister’s (aka Bridezilla) hen weekend weekend to see the Dirty Dancing Musical, I felt my legs start to twitch as the dancers took to the stage for their breath-taking dance scenes.
Yes, in the show they do the full final dance (I lost my voice for several days after shouting the “Hey baby” bit a little too loud) and I realised that I was jealous of them.
They could move, they looked good and they were obviously having a great time. I think in that moment I’d have offered up my first-born to have a chance to shine on the stage like that. So when we moved on to a club afterwards I was all set to give ‘Baby’ and ‘Johnny’ a run for their money, but after a large meal and a few drinks I lost my nerve and after a half-hearted attempt I gave up and traipsed back to the hotel for a much more sedate glass of wine and natter with friends.
At least my feet didn’t hurt the next day (well apart from the cuts from running down Drury Lane barefoot in a bid to get to the show on time - but that’s another story.) I’m determined to find my rhythm again, some time, and I’m determined that I’ll do more dancing in the future than just swinging a three year-old around on my hip to the Bob the Builder theme tune.
With Bridezilla’s wedding a mere six weeks away, maybe I’ll be in fine form for the Hokey Cokey at the reception.
I must remember to bring my Tesco Slippers just in case...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bring her home

I CAN’T watch the news any more (not something which bodes well for a journalist, admittedly). I have had to switch off the TV because it breaks my heart to see pictures of Maddy McCann and wonder if she is still alive.
As I write this, she has been missing for six days. For six days my stomach has lurched each time her picture appears on the TV or in a newspaper and I find it unbearable to watch the grief and worry etched on her parents’ faces as they plead for her safe return.
Maddy is three - the same age as my son. I’m not sure if that makes it more real for me, or if it simply because this is the first big missing child case to hit the news since I became a parent.
Last weekend our biggest trauma was that Joseph did not get into our first choice of nursery school (something he was oblivious too, being more concerned with the Thomas the Tank Engine pool we bought for him.).
The McCann family were going through hell wondering whether their child was. Our problems are nothing in comparison to a family who have lost their precious child and have no indication of whether or not they will see her again, alive or dead.
I look at my son - for all his grown-up chatter he is in many ways still a baby. He still sleeps curled up with his wee chubby hands at either side of his head. He still cries for his mammy when he is hurt, or scared, or has a bad dream. He still needs us.
So I wonder how on earth the parent of any three year-old could leave a child in a hotel room while they went off to have a dinner elsewhere?
Perhaps it was the holiday setting that made the McCann’s complacent. Sure don’t we all relax when we are away from it all and let our hair down a bit? And no one ever, ever expects a child to be snatched from their own bed in a resort which prides itself for providing family-friendly accommodation.
But this is a new world - one where danger exists at every turn for our children. Perhaps I’m over-protective but I can’t bring myself to let my wee man out of my sight (or out of the sight of a responsible adult). Last Friday we had a particulary scary incident in Tesco where I turned my back to lift a T-shirt off a rail and turned around to find him missing.
I imagine most parents know that heart-stopping moment when your child disappears off your radar. Your heart starts thumping, the rational side of your brain tries to calm you down while the adrenalin kicks in which transforms you into a screaming harpee shouting their name at the top of your voice. In total Joseph was missing for all of 10 seconds.
A kindly Tesco employee found him drooling over the Lightning McQueen birthday cakes, while I turned to run to him and fell flat on my face in front of assorted shoppers. When I burst into tears as Joseph walked back towards me I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the humiliation of landing on my proverbial that caused it.
It was simply that two seconds inattention could, in theory, have taken away the most important thing in my life. I was 17 when Jamie Bulger was abducted from a shopping centre in Liverpool and led to his death by two 10 year-olds.
His mother had only turned her back for a few seconds, just as I had done in Tesco on Friday - and just like countless parents do every day.
It reinforces the fragility of life and the fact that a split second can change your life irrevocably. I’m sure I don’t need to heap guilt onto the McCann family now. No matter what the outcome they will live with the knowledge that they left their child and in that time an intruder came in and took her. I doubt they will ever forgive themselves for that, but it makes me wonder about the numerous decisions we make each day never expecting them to end in tragedy.
It also makes me wonder will we change? We don’t have eyes in the back of our heads. There are times a child will wander off (it seems to be what children like to do best). And there are parents who will go on holiday this week, next week or whenever and put what has happened to Maddy to the back of their head as they leave their sleeping children to go for a meal, or a quick drink.
No doubt there are countless parents who have done this in the past and not had anything untoward happen, but I’d ask everyone now to consider whether or not it is worth taking this risk? My life would end if anything happened to my child. It is something I find hard to contemplate. Our children are the most precious gift we can be given and it is our duty to do everything in our power to protect them. For now though I’ll keep my head down and keeping praying that Maddy comes home safely to her family.

Monday, May 07, 2007

You gotta love Oprah

When asked this week if she thought she had managed to keep her feet on the ground since becoming perhaps the most famous woman in the world ever, Oprah Winfrey replied:

"My feet are still on the ground. I'm just wearing better shoes."

Sheer genius. Will keep you posted when I buy my first pair of better shoes!

Friday, May 04, 2007

A positive legacy for our children

It’s a strange day for a parent when you suddenly realise you can have full scale conversations with your child.

What used to be a few passing references to broom brooms, nee naws, woof woofs and din dins has somewhere over the past year evolved into full blown conversations about how our car is driving along the Crescent Link to see Fireman Sam’s house before passing the dogs barking in the street on our way home for some lovely dinner of fishy fingers, potato ‘wobbles’ and peas. While we are at it, we may well pass the police station (PC Plum’s house) and several diggers, oil lorries and assorted modes of transport which the wee man can identify not only by their actual names but also by any corresponding names they may be known as in ‘Bob the Builder’.

From the moment we get in the car until the moment we reach our destination, I have a running commentary from my happy and contented little man.

The only respite we get from his constant chitter chatter is when he sleeps (and even then he has been known to chat in his sleep from time to time). He tends to wake up at full speed and run into our room to launch into detailed retellings of his latest dreams.

More than anything, I think it is this ability of his to talk the hind legs off a donkey that makes me realise just how fast he is growing up.

When he was a wee toot he always loved to gurgle and chat in his babyish way. I guess, much like his mammy, he likes the sound of his own voice. He was a stubborn wee so and so too though (much like his father I suppose, as anyone who knows me will tell you unequivocably that there isn’t a stubborn bone in my body).

For the first 18 months of his life he refused, and I mean blatantly refused, to say the word ‘mammy’. He would daddy me up and down. He knew the names of all his aunties and uncles, his cousins, his grandparents and of course his daddy but mammy was not on the radar.

“It’s a difficult word for them to say,” well meaning friends would soothe. It didn’t cut it with me. The wee man could almost manage Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, so there was no way I was about to believe he couldn’t manage a simple maa- mee.

I was delighted the day he first managed it, but it seems like a blink of an eye since then and now we are discussing the weather, the pros and cons of both Smyths and Toys R Us and Arsenal’s latest form in the football. (Apparantly “Arsenal are the champions”- I’m not sure what of, but being a Liverpool supporter his daddy isn’t too impressed).

Admittedly there are times when I would give my last Rolo for a mute button, just for half an hour to allow me to watch Corrie in peace or make important phonecalls. The constant “mammy, mammy, mammy, mammy” can get a little grating when you are trying to catch up on the latest news on the phone.

But I love that we can communicate on such a nice level, and I’ve developed VPM (Very Proud Mammy) status when it comes to talking about my boy and his linguistic skills. His renditions of “I Love It When You Call” by The Feeling raises many a smile, as do his very special chicken prayers. (He thinks it is hilariously funny to adapt his prayers to his current animal of choice: “Angel of God, my guardian chicken, to whom God’s love commits me chicken, ever this chicken...”)

What all this comes back to though is the fact that we’ve been very lucky that our son has been enrolled on the Lifestart programme since birth. As part of that programme he has attended playgroups (which are a Godsend to his poor harrassed auntie who minds him) and Joe Jingles music classes. When we’ve been concerned with his development (such as his stark refusal to say ‘mammy’ and indeed his stark refusal until relatively recently to use the potty) there has been a friendly listening ear ready to assure us as neurotic first time parents that all is okay. (In fairness, I’m the neurotic one. Himself is so laid back he is almost horizontal).

I’ve seen my child, even though he has no siblings, grow to be a very sociable, content three year old and perhaps of equal importance I’ve seen my own confidence as a parent grow too. Let’s face it folks, becoming a parent is a bloody scary business. (And not only because of the whole birth/ tearing/ stitches aspect).

Suddenly you have responsibility for a wee creature who you want to shape to be the best he can be. Lifestart have helped me do that. Today the ‘Journal’ launches our Lifestart Baby Bursary campaign. We are delighted to support the organistion which has worked with hundreds of families in this city to make a real difference and to feel more content in themselves.

Like many organisations in this city though, Lifestart have to be more creative when it comes to fundraising and the Baby Bursary is a great scheme to invest in the young people of the future. Surely the one thing we all want for this city is a generation growing up happy, confident and well equipped for life.

There is much talk in this town of ‘legacies’- the legacy of the Troubles, the legacy of unemployment and under investment. This is the perfect chance to leave a positive legacy to our children.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"I passed on an email address"

Forget all that fuss I made about "I carried a watermelon"
Last month Keris Stainton and Diane Shipley from website Trashionista (where I guest blog once a month) asked did I have an email address of Queen Marian of Keyes...
"No," said I, "but I know a man who does"... or in fairness, I have an email address which reaches the lovely Tony (aka Mr. Marian Keyes).
So I passed it on and they achieved what I could not- an interview with the indisputed queen of Chick Lit.
Read it, as Mazza would say herself "it's gas". (But she would say it funnier and all, cos she is so wonderful)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Nobody puts Bridezilla in a corner

As you read this (if you read it on a Friday morning) I will be soaring over the skies on my way to a weekend of debauchery and fluffy pink devil horns in London.
This weekend is the weekend of my sister’s (aka Bridezilla) hen weekend in London and as Chief Bridesmaid and ‘hair-holder-backer’ I was ordered to be there with bells on.
I’m fully prepared to be sensible one (see the hair-holder-backer title) and spend my time making sure the bride to be doesn’t get herself into too much trouble and herding the troops on the Tube and back to our hotel.
Now my sister is well known for her planning skills. (Think Monica in ‘Friends’ only a little bit more anally retentive), so there hasn’t been much that has been able to get past her Bridezilla radar. She decided on the venue, the dates, the transport and almost everything else.
It was probably all well and good that she did however, because my organisational skills are minimal. If it was left to me we would have spent a wet weekend in Mamore Gap in a freezing cottage trying desperately to get some heat off the fire. (Yes, you have guessed where my uber exotic hen weekend was....)
I have made a special effort though, simply because my sister, God love her, deserves it. She is the kind of person who goes out of her way to make things memorable for the people she cares about, so I couldn’t really let her down.
I’ve spent the last two months plotting and scheming, spending my hard earned cash on Ebay and in the Party Shop and rallying the troops of 15 women over-excited at the notion of getting a weekend off from their partners/ babies/ work. (As we will have left the country by the time this goes to press, I can reveal few secrets). In my suitcase I have 15 pairs of devils horns and 15 personalised badges declaring it’s Bridezilla’s Hen Weekend.
There is a specially purchased hen weekend disposable camera, flashing L-Plate earrings, sashes galore, a beautifully hand crafted hen weekend memory book and even a thong declaring “Just Married”. The piece de resistance however is 15 tickets to see the stage show of ‘Dirty Dancing’ tomorrow afternoon· (In fairness, my sister knows about this part, in fact it was her idea.)
To women of a certain age ‘Dirty Dancing’ is the ultimate Chick Flick. As a young teenager the film was my first real introduction to love, romance and (let’s call a spade a spade and a swivel of the hips a swivel of the hips) dirty dancing. I think there were thousands of us who wished we were Baby, fell in love with Patrick Swayze and felt a little bit naughty for singing along to some of the songs. (I remember turning a shade of beetroot singing ‘We’re Gonna Make Love’- I doubt it would raise an eyebrow these days).
We all wanted to go to Kellermans on holiday. We all wanted to carry a watermelon and at the end of the day we all wanted Patrick Swayze to tell our parents ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’ before whisking us up onto the stage to dance to ‘The Time of My Life’- including the lift.
It was definitely the first 15 Rated film I saw and it was one of the first movies I saw that didn’t involved Kryptonite, Princess Leia, the Muppets or ectoplasm. I remember my mother, who is normally quite open minded, being horrified by the sexy shenanigans on screen. “They might as well be having sex,” she spluttered. “The only difference is they have their clothes on.
Little did she know that within a few years I would witness worse atrocities on the dance floor of Squires.
But it wasn’t the raunchy dancing that enticed me so. It was the love story. The fact that a fairly ordinary, book-wormish type of a girl (which could well have been me) could have a talented, muscular and gorgeous dance instructor fall for her AND teach her the Cha Cha Cha. (I loved dancing and I still do).
And of course there were the shoes - the gorgeous silver strappy dance shoes.
In fact it inspired me so much that in my mid 20s I took up salsa dancing for a time and one of my fondest memories will always be dancing to “The Time of My Life” in the Nerve Centre one sweaty Tuesday night. So tomorrow afternoon will be a treat.
I’m told the musical is very true to the original film and I’m told the actor who plays Johnny Castle is even more gorgeous than Patrick Swayze (who in fairness, hasn’t aged well). And I will be enjoying the way Dirty Dancing is supposed to be enjoyed - with a group of 14 other like minded women who all fell in love with the film the same way I did. I’m sure we will sing. I’m pretty sure there will be some dodgy dance moves to boot and I’m definitely sure we will have a blast. In fact I’m pretty sure we will have the time of our lives.
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