Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The last week in bullet points

  • Baby who never sleeps is diagnosed with a chest infection on Wednesday. Is given an inhaler and antibiotics.
  • Mammy (that's me) wakes up on Thursday with the mad bokes, sore throat and general lethargy. Takes day off work. Expects to be better on Friday.
  • Mammy is still sick on Friday.
  • And Saturday.
  • And Sunday.
  • On Monday the boy was diagnosed with an ear infection - with his ear drum (or drum stick as he referred to it) in danger of perforating.
  • On Tuesday we all lay about the house, eating, sleeping and I did some writing.
  • It has not been fun.

The mammy wars continue

I read an article on motherhood this week which made me want to stand up, punch the air with joy and whoop very loudly.

I probably would have done all that if I had not been so utterly, utterly exhausted from the 387 nights of broken sleep I have endured since my daughter arrived on this planet.

But the article said what I have been thinking all along and that is that - for many women - that innocent looking, smiling, gummy creature who fills your heart with joy is also a tyrannical oppressor.

In fairness it is not my baby’s fault - or any babby’s fault for that matter that they are oppressive little life bombs (I steal the term life bomb from American blogger Heather ‘Dooce’ Armstrong). It is our fault - as mothers - and we need to sit ourselves down and give ourselves a very stern talking to.

Several generations ago it was a woman’s sole responsibility once she married and had children to take care of her house and her family. She gave birth with no pain relief whatsover. She breastfed. She pounded dirty nappies in soapy water before running them through a mangle. She mashed home cooked food and slaved over a hot cooker to feed her brood. She didn’t really dare dream of a life outside of the house and well, at the time, we can pretty much say there wasn’t much in the line of choices for women. We were unliberated. We were carers and mammies and wives and we were not individuals.

And then the women’s lib movement came about and with it there were some pretty spectacular changes. Washing machines were invented - proper automatic ones which did not require anyone to stand breaking their back over them. Pain relief was introduced to child birth (oh pethidine, I love you). Baby formula was also invented - allowing an alternative to breast milk and freeing new mothers up from 24 hour baby duty. The disposable nappy was a God send and I’m all for the occasional jar of baby food if not only to relieve the monotony of pureeing endless amounts of strained carrots never knowing if your baby is just going to spit it back out at you.

Women got out of the house, and got on the career ladder and all was well with the world. We were told we were equal with our male counterparts and that we could achieve whatever our hearts desired. We had been liberated! (Cue great happiness and clinking of wine glasses).

But something has changed. According to French author Elizabeth Badinter in her book Le Conflit, La Femme et La Mère (The Conflict, The Woman and The Mother), women have given up the battle for equality and returned home to place themselves at the service of their children. Which, of course, is all well and good if you want to be at the service of your children. The problem arises when we are told we should be there, and that we are selfish to have children if we have no notion of not spending 24 hours a day with them.

Being a stay at home mother is the goal of many a tired working mammy trying to do it all and bitching about it on internet forums the country over. Except that stay at home mothers are no longer allowed to be just ordinary stay at home mothers. They are expected to be breastfeeding, lentil pureeing, cloth nappy scrubbing, sling wearing, baby signing eco warriers whose sole purpose in life is to nurture their children. Any mother slaving away in her office and dreaming of a life when she gets up, plonks the kids in front of the telly and scurries back to bed for an hour before partaking in some light cleaning or lunch with friends should beware.

Instead, once the pureeing and scrubbing and breastfeeding is done, mothers should be bringing their infants to music classes, gym classes, swimming classes, baby massage classes - everything focusing entirely on the development of the baby and ignoring the fact that there is a real live human individual there with that baby.

Badinter rightly points out: “We live 80 to 85 years in our industrialised countries, and children take up 20 to 25 years of that,” she says. “Staking your whole life on 20 years is a bad bet.”

Now, I hope my children take up more of my life than 20 years. I hope I will always be a major part of their lives and they of mine but I do not wish to lose my identity entirely to be their mother.

I don’t want my peers telling me how I should parent, or if I should work. I don’t want to be judged for my parenting decisions. I don’t want to cease to exist as an individual just because I am a mother as well.

Babies, even those who do not sleep, are wonderful. I wouldn’t be without mine for all the money in the world but I’m important too. That’s something we should all remember.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is motherhood a form of oppression? - Times Online

Is motherhood a form of oppression? - Times Online

Love this article! Especially if your baby NEVER sleeps.

And the last day have gone like this...

The baby who never sleeps has exceeded her previous non-sleeping record.
She is teething and and she has a cold. This does not make for a happy baby. Nor does it make for a happy, or indeed productive, mammy. In fact how I got out the front door this morning is a little beyond me. I have vague memories of staring into the fridge trying to remember what I was doing and even vaguer memories of sort of coming too in the shower as I tried to get ready for work.
Sunday night was the most fun most traumatic yet. Madam woke, and coughed, and boked. We changed her and changed the bed sheets and she cuddled down beside me for the night. Except she didn't sleep. She woke. Sat up. Coughed. And boked. And then lay down, face first into the sick.
So we changed her, and bathed her, changed the bed sheets and she cuddled down beside me for the night. Except she didn't sleep. She woke, coughed and boked. You get the general picture.

Let me state now, there is no dose of prozac strong enough to cope with prolonged sleep deprivation. I feel as if I am losing my mind, slowly (or maybe not so slowly).

So if this is a little rambling then please forgive me. Normal service will resume - probably in about 18 years.

In other news, the WeightWatcher weightloss total has reached 11lbs.

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Open Letter to Nadine Coyle

Dear Nadine,

You were probably expecting this. I’m sure as soon as you saw those pictures appear of the weekend with you looking a wee bit too skinny you thought “I bet that Claire Allan one will be writing me a letter in the ‘Journal’ come Friday. She has an opinion on everything these days.”

Nadine, you were right.

Now I have to admit you and me are polar opposites. You are a tres glam, tres successful popstar with lovely full hair and (until recently) a figure most people would die for. You have dated one of the cast members of ‘Desperate Housewives’ and you live in the sunny climes of LA.

Me? I’m a moderately successful author (which requires a very low level of personal grooming), who isn’t a touch glam and is slightly balding after the birth of my last child. I have a figure no one would envy and I’ve not ever dated a cast member from ‘Desperate Housewives’. Nadine, my dear, I am too busy being a desperate housewife to have hunky gardeners chase after me . And the Waterside is, I hear, a far cry from Beverly Hills.

But there are two things I believe we have in common. The first is that we are both from Derry. We both speak with a certain twang in our voice and say “cyarr” instead of car. That alone should be enough to bond us. The second, if I could be so bold, is that, Nadine we both have - it would seem - quite an unhealthy relationship with food.

You see if you were thinking I was just going to write “Eat, for the love of God woman, eat!” then you were wrong. I know it is a little more complicated than that. I know, first hand, how hard it is to have an unhealthy relationship with food. We just happen to be at different ends of the spectrum. I’m a comfort eater and you, well, you don’t seem to be an eater at all at the moment.

And that worries me. First of all I have met you, several times, and yes you are naturally petite and very naturally slim. No one is arguing that, Nadine, but there is nothing natural about that person we saw walking down those steps at the weekend - with Bambi legs, skeletal hands and a head resembling a lollipop on a stick. No healthy woman, in the Western World, is naturally that thin.

Secondly my eight year old niece thinks you are the cat’s pyjamas. Seriously. She wants to be in Girls Aloud and does quite a mean rendition of ‘The Promise’ complete with dance moves.

She nearly went into orbit the day I told her you were from Derry and that I had actually met the “really, really” Nadine Coyle.

I don’t want my eight year old niece to grow up thinking that the only way she will be successful and popular is if she starves herself half to death to fit into a size zero.

That would annoy me just as much as if she followed my lead and ended up rifling through the “big girls” section in Matalan trying to find something to wear.

The fact of the matter is, she is much, much more likely to want to emulate you than her boring Auntie Claire. In fact a generation of young girls want to be you and like it or not they look to you for guidance. If you shaved all your hair off, chances are they would want to as well. If you decided that day-glo shell suits were back in fashion, you can bet your parent’s bar in LA that the high street would soon be flooded with mini replicas of same. If you decided that being dangerously thin was the only way to get noticed....

You also have to think of yourself. A dangerously low BMI is just as damaging to a person’s health as a dangerously high BMI. You could be doing all sorts of untold damage to your body - affecting your future fertility, damaging your bones and your kidneys, losing some of that famously glossy hair... and for what? To fit in?

You should know now that you already fit in. You fitted in a long time ago. You were a success and a role model when you were a healthy, yet still really very slim, weight and you don’t need to prove anything to anyone else.

I know you have a very close family Nadine - and I know they love you. So I hope, quite sincerely, that if they try and help you, you let them. No amount of protestations that “you are just built like that” are going to cut it at the moment.
Just as I can’t argue that I was built to be a larger lady.

Tell you what missus, if I try, will you?

Much love,


Thursday, March 18, 2010

So anyway, in less ranty news...

The mass market paperback of Jumping in Puddles is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It's priced at a mere £6.99 and you can read a snippet by clicking on the wee 'Jumping in Puddles' toggle at the top of this page.
It is set for release on May 26 - which also happens to be my 9th wedding anniversary so I'm taking that as a good omen.

Another day, another scandal

When I was driving to work this morning I switched on the radio to hear the news - as a journalist is want to do on her way to a newsroom - and I heard the following story regarding the Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty and and out of court settlement to an abuse victim.
The Catholic Church is in danger of imploding under the weight of these scandals. The thought that any men of God could think it morally, spiritually or legally acceptable to offer a £12,000 pay off to a person whose life has been destroyed through eight years of abuse sickens me to the core.
For fear of being ex-communicated (not that I hold much court with the Catholic Church these days) I'll not say entirely what I feel but such scandals, which seem to be coming out of the woodwork on an almost daily basis, are as far removed from the true meaning of Christianity as they come. These men are sinners - mark my words - and their sins are mortal sins. You know, the really bad ones. Three Haily Marys and a few Our Fathers is not going to cut it and I have no faith - no faith at all - in these people to lead my children in the Faith. Jesus said 'Suffer the little children, come onto me'. How mocking those words seem now.
But the flipside of this is how on earth could any parent accept what amounts ot hush money to cover up the abuse of their child? No amount of cash would stop me from wanting to bring the full force of the law down on anyone who dared abuse my children. No written apology, no promise that it wouldn't happen again - nothing - would stop me from dragging their sorry arses through the justice system and having them shamed for who they are.
This country I live in is seriously messed up. All I can do is shake my head in disbelief.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An amazing day

If you look to the right hand side of this web page you will see a link to Camille's Appeal.
Camille's mammy is a friend of mine - through a parenting forum I use.
Last year when the baby who never sleeps had a scary meningitis scare, Camille's mummy was very supportive. Her wee lady, you see, was sick also but no one knew why.
Cara got better quickly. Camille was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Camille's parents have fought with their daughter over the last few months to beat this horrendous illness. They have also raised a helluva lot of money for charity - which will either help Camille should she need treatment abroad or help other children battling brain tumours.

I have nothing but admiration for Camille's parents, her big sister and indeed Camille herself.

Tonight Camille's mammy posted this update on her Facebook.

Managed to get some time with Camille's consultant today, the lovely Amos. He gave me the best news ever, the chemo has had a significant effect. Reduced, weakened and moved from Camille's cerebellum and partially from her brain stem. An inoperable tumour has become operable. Her surgeon is likely to want another cycle of chemo to see if it will reduce further - but we are nearly there!!!!!!!!

Camille will be in my thoughts and prayers until she makes a full recovery and then some... but for tonight let us celebrate how very far she has come.

God bless, Camille. We love you very much. xxx

Monday, March 15, 2010

The most battered book on my shelf

Anyone want to share their most battered book?
There it is, my 1997 copy of Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes which I bought in Eason, Belfast - which was at that time based in the Castlecourt Centre.
I still remember the day I bought it and I still remember laughing out loud while reading it.
As you can see it has been well read - many times in fact - not only my be but most of my family circle and even my former editor at the Derry Journal Pat McArt (big burly Donegal man) who declared that Marian "writes sex scenes the way men think about them".
I also started seeing my hubby in 1997 - so I informed him last night the book was as old as our relationship... I don't think I've aged well either, to be honest.
But there is something really refreshing about thumbing through my well worn copy, the pages yellowed, my maiden name scrawled inside the front cover and thinking how this book most likely shaped my life just a little bit.
For the record, I've not read the Isabel Wolff which is sat beside it, but Kate Long's Queen Mum is another of my absolute favourites.

Go on now, share the most battered book on your shelf!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A message from Joseph to everyone in the world who has my mummy's dot com

There is one wee lady in our family that does not go to sleep.
All she does all through the night is go "Daddy, daddy" that's her song.
And she is a really funny baby and sometimes (this is not true, I just made a joke) all her enemies come down from the roof and go "bum do doody bum do doody wah wah wah"

Random Conversations with the boy

We were walking through the town today when Joseph asked

"Mummy, what's a Peh- Harmacy?"

I had to think.... but the darned phonetic spelling was to blame again.

A pharmacy, I told him, was a chemist.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Jon Venables issue

To this day I have very vivid memories of the news coverage surrounding the abduction and murder of James Bulger.

I don’t think anyone who has heard any of the details of his brutal death could forget them - such are the things of nightmares.

Since then, that bright and chirpy two year old baby from Liverpool has often been in my thoughts - not least when I became a mammy myself and had the uneviable task of trying to keep a very active toddler close by me every time we went out of the house.

Every mother knows that fear - the heart-stopping, gut wrenching moment of terror when your child is no longer in your sight and when you have no idea where they might be or who they might be with. No mother cares, in those moments, if she makes a buck eejit of herself screaming her son or daughter’s name out as loud as she can until she finds them. My best fish-wife moments have been when the boy has wandered off in Tesco, because even if we know that such things are statistically unlikely you can’t help but remember James Bulger. I’m pretty sure his mother never imagined he would meet such an horrendous death.

His life was cut short in a brutal and violent manner and what made it all the more shocking (as if it were not shocking enough) were that those responsible for inflicting such injuries on this poor toddler were just children themselves.

Unless you happen to live under a rock, you may be aware that James Bulger’s killers - or at least one of them - has been in the news again.

Jon Venables is back in custody. According to sources close to both Jon Venables and the other killer Robert Thompson, it is thought Venables would have been the least likely to reoffend.

However he is now facing serious charges - allegedly relating to child pornography. Well, the vigilantes are out in force. A Facebook group outing a completely innocent man as being James Bulger’s killer has been set up. There are cries all over the country to name him, and shame him and publicly flog him - except that flogging wouldn’t be good enough for the likes of him etc etc.

Let me state here and now I have little sympathy for Venables. My sympathy lies directly and completely at the door of James’ family who were robbed of their gorgeous baby boy.

But I find it outrageous that these boys - above the age of criminal responsibility when they committed their crimes - served only eight years before they were released. I find that as outrageous for Venables’ and Thompson’s own safety and peace of mind as I do for the Bulger family who must have been sickened to their very core at such an early release.

Now I’m not saying that the children - as they were then - should have been hung, or locked away for their rest of their days but how can a child who has spent their formative years in prison possibly be expected to reintegrate into society normally?

How is a child who brutally murdered a baby expected to a completely reformed character by their 18th birthday?

How can the rest of the public have faith that that person - regardless of the age they were when they committed their crime - will go on to be a productive member of society? How can anyone be sure that they will not hurt another child?

I know this is a tricky situation. I know that the fact Venables and Thompson were children themselves when they abducted and murdered James Bulger complicates things. I know that there is an argument out there that no one is born evil and that these children themselves but have had a very twisted childhood themselves. A part of society argues that we should feel sorry them - maybe not as much as but close - as we do for James Bulger and his family.

I can’t make that leap. Maybe it is naive of me but I can’t understand how any human being cannot reach the age of 10 without knowing the basics of morality. Thou shalt not kill is quite a basic principle to live by, is it not?

In any case it is my opinion that James Bulger’s killers cannot suddenly live a normal life after eight years behind bars when they never lived a normal life before they went to prison. Harsh as it may sound - I don’t think they should have been released from prison - especially not at such a vulnerable age as 18.

They should be there - and indeed Venables is back there now - and they should stay there. There are crimes - regardless of who committed them - which are beyond rehabilitation. There are crimes so horrendous that only a life sentence will suffice.

I admit there are no easy answers and I have tied myself up in knots trying to see all sides of the argument but there remains a large part of me that feels just a little better knowing that one of these two killers is back behind bars.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I don't think I said...

But this week at WeightWatchers I found out I lost 4lbs.
Which brings my total weightloss in the last three weeks to 7lbs 7oz.

To put that in context I have lost an amount heavier than one of my children when they were new born (being 6lb 9oz and 6lb 9.5oz respectively).

A whole baby of fat.

Either that's a great achievement or just pretty damn gross.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So what if I'm broken?

I have reached that stage of writing book five where I fear I will never be able to finish the damn thing.
Trouble is - this wall usually hits at around 40,000 words. It has hit at 15,000 this time. Eeek!
The thing is, the book is there is my head. I am conversing with my characters all the time in a mildly schizophrenic way. I quite like them. I'm definitely very excited about the book.
I just can't write the damn thing.
My fingers, it feels, are broken. I feel as if I'm writing and writing and writing and only producing 5 words at a time. I have even already experienced a major editing crisis.
Almost every writer I know goes through these phases - I just want something to snap me right out of mine and get me on the "write track" (see what I did there?) again.

As it stands I'm more likely to spend my evenings these days fake planning my fellow Northern author Emma Heatherington's wedding to Simon Cowell than actually writing. Must. Try. Harder.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I could have posted all last week about how wonderful she is

But I spent it out and about in the sunshine with her - just enjoying her wonderfulness.
I have fallen in love - hopelessly, stupidly, crazily in love - more in love than ever before and I look at her and her brother and I wonder what did I do so right to deserve them?
We went for walks. We went shopping. We sat on the floor and had a mock tea party with her dolls and we pushed her toy pram about. We sang songs. We had our photos taken. We ate cake (well, she ate cake... I had some wine).
It was bliss.... utter bliss.

Here we go again (again)

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she realises she needs to make a change. It may be the simplest of things - a chance conversation with an old friend, an article read in a newspaper - which makes us sit up and realise that enough is enough. Things have got to get better.

My moment came three weeks ago. I was getting dressed when I noticed a pair of six year old eyes staring very intently at my stomach. His brow creased and his head turned this way and that before he started. “Mummy,” he said, unaware that he was about to deliver a killer blow to my already fragile sense of self worth. “I think you might be pregnant because your tummy is really, really fat.”

Merely writing the words does not convey how much emphasis he put on the “really, really” part. I tried to console myself it could, indeed, have been worse. I could actually be pregnant which would signal the loss of my sanity entirely - but then I realised something. I could be offended and hurt all I wanted about what he said, but he was telling the truth. He didn’t say it in a spiteful way - he simply, as Roy Walker would urge in ‘CatchPhrase’, was saying what he saw.

I do have a really big tummy. A really, really big tummy.

As the baby who never sleeps has now turned one year old I cannot use the “just had a baby” excuse any longer. And the truth is, I didn’t put on an ounce while I was pregnant with her due to throwing up thrice daily but since her arrival - and my ability to keep food down returning - I have seen a gradual increase in my girth.

So taking matters in hand I did what I always vowed I would never, ever do. I joined WeightWatchers. I can tell you now I was a wreck - an absolute quivering, shaking, crying, big fat eejit of an wreck - as I stood outside that class for the first time.

As I took my seat and waited for my time on the scales I felt like a condemned woman. The green mile could have held no more fear for me than the walk to the scales that night.

It was silly really. I knew what I weighed. I knew I have a lot to lose but there was something about someone else seeing that - and commenting on it - that made my blood run cold.

But I stood there and I thought of my son. I thought if he is starting to notice that mammy is overweight now then it is only a matter of time - due to the world we live in - that he is going to be embarrassed by that.

And then I thought of the baby who never sleeps - who also never eats - and I didn’t want her to grow up with a mammy with a warped body image and cripplingly low self esteem. I don’t want her to get mixed messages about food. I don’t want her spending her formative years thinking she is ugly if she happens to be taller, or a little larger, than her peers.

I have always been a grand big girl - tall and big boned but actually was never overweight til my late teens. However I always felt it - insisting as I did on surrounding myself with short, twiggy friends who made me look like the Jolly Green Giant in my Thornhill uniform

The class, after the initial trauma, actually turned out to be great craic. I have been really impressed by the wit of Derry women - who have me laughing out loud with their tales of diet success and failure. I don’t feel it’s a matter of being bad or good - just trying my best most of the time. If I mess up (you know, actually fall - mouth first- onto a Kit Kat Chunky) I hope to be able to brush myself off and start again.

Yes, there is a distinct danger I may become a diet bore. I feel sorry for my friends and family who will have to listen to me while I try and get my head around it for the next few weeks. I carry my wee green folder everywhere. I can be seen going googy-eyed over the nutritional information on food in Tesco. (Indeed I apologise to the impatient woman who was not impressed at me checked out how many Points there are in a Brunch bar while she was trying to get her Jammy Dodgers).

i’m also painfully aware that is the far from the first time I have written in this column about going on a diet, and really going for it and ra ra ra, aren’t I just class? The fact is, no, I’m not class. I’m just trying - like every woman, I suppose - to reach a stage where I am happy, healthy and able to buy skinny jeans.

As the wee sign on the wall beside the scary scales in WeightWatchers says “It’s not a sin to fall. It’s a sin to lie there”. Well, I’ve got up and I’m ready for the next round.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Denial isn't just a river in Egypt...

I think I am in denial. The baby turns one tomorrow. I have not bought a card, or a cake or a present.

I refuse to believe that a year has passed since she was born - since I held her soft, wee precious body in my arms and muttered words of welcome in her ear.

I refuse to believe that the baby months are gone - no more pureeing food, no more making up bottles of formula or sterilising.

I love the stage she is at now - full of craic and mischief with four teeth which form the most precious smile in the world but there is a part of me twanging at her age and wishing she would stay small forever.


Monday, March 01, 2010

As a small (big) aside

This picture was taken this day last year.... my last pregnant picture before my baby arrived.
She is turning one on Thursday - perhaps this is why I am uber emotional (but not at all broody... honest).

The Monday Moan

Well it is two weeks in. Weigh in is tonight. I think it will be characteristic of my Mondays that they shall forever more feel like the day of doom from now on. That is not to say I’ve been bad. I have stayed rigidly to my points, apart from on Saturday when I over did it on the Nobby’s Nuts at a family do. I had eaten frig all all day though to compensate for my inevitable munchies on that occasion which was great as my munching was relatively guilt free but not so great as drinking the guts of a bottle of wine on an empty stomach leads to me being vay drunk, vay quickly.

I am, however, now experiencing some bloating - you know fluid retention - which combined with a killer dose of PMT means I would rather eat my own head (I wonder how many points are in a human head?) than stand on the scales tonight.
I may not have lost. I may even have gained. And I know that if I have gained it is down to my elephant ankles and not proper ‘fat’ but weight is weight is weight. And I have a lot of it.
My green folder has become a lifeline. My tracker is my constant companion. I have started to eye delicious looking food suspiciously and thinking “There is no shagging way I’m wasting points on you” but I also know I’m starting week three aka The Wall and with the pmt munchies weighing heavy on my mind I know I will have battle to ensure they don’t weigh heavy on my thighs.

Now what I don't want this blog to become is a me whinging all the time about the size of my arse (too late?) so please give me positive affirmations and lovely stories about losing weight although, and I don't mean to sound mean, if you have slimmed from a size 12 to a size 10 because you were just "huge" at a size 12 then please don't leave me a message. I may have to kill you - or eat you. I'm pretty sure your entire body would have less points in it than my (fat) human head.
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