This thought dances through my mind as I wake up- hair damp with sweat, skin greasy from last night’s takeaway. I toy with the idea of hiding under the duvet, ducking my responsibilities and going back to sleep but then it dawns on me- I'm a grown up. I can't just do that. It's not like when I was at school and I could feign a cough or grab my stomach and perform my dying swan routine for my unimpressed mammy who would eventually give in to my pitiful whinges and allow me a day under the blue blanket on the sofa. You can't just refuse to go to work- not when there are bills to pay and stories to write. You can't go back to sleep when you can hear a wee voice giving a rather amusing rendition of "Jingle Bells" coming from the nursery next door letting you know that your toddler is awake and will soon be demanding breakfast. The dream I had been having was just so nice too. It was sunny and bright and I felt gloriously relaxed. I was cycling to a local dress shop to pick a dress to wear when I accompanied by dish du jour Dermot Murnaghan to the Baftas. Himself is snoring beside me and I realised this is my reality. A stuffy, too bright room. A snoring husband, who bears not even a passing resemblance to the delectable Dermot, and a child who has started to reach fever pitch with his singing. Oh yes, and there is work. I have to go to work. I pull myself out of bed and blearily reach for the cow print slippers which are hiding on the floor. After pulling on my dressing gown I give a cursory glance at the mirror. T- minus 60 minutes until I have to be dressed and out of the house. T- minus 60 minutes to make this face, this crumpled, wrinkly, bed-headed vision before me, respectable enough to face my public. It almost makes me laugh. When I walk into the nursery I am greeted with a "Morning Mammy" and the second part of the Christmas medley begins, despite it being July. “Time for breakfast,” Jack cheeps from his cot, grinning ear to ear and I smile again realising that when my son looks at me he sees nothing but his very own mammy and he loves me.
He is not one bit bothered about my bed head and the saggy pyjama bottoms I'm wearing. He thinks I am the bee’s knees, one yummy mummy, a foxy mamma. He reaches out his chubby arms, still warm from being hidden under his quilt and I allow myself to lift him up- envelop him in my arms and feel his cuddly body against mine. Until of course, he tries to bite me and the spell is somewhat broken. This morning, like almost every other, I manage to get out the door in time. At least, I manage to get out the door 10 minutes after I wanted to, which is a record for this year. Aidan was still snoring comfortably, having worked long into the night, and I had spent my precious 60 minutes trying to entertain two years old Jack, get dressed and get into the car without totally losing my cool. I chose to ignore the Weetabix stain I know is on my trousers. It's not that I don't care about my appearance- but I know no one gives me a second glance any more anyway so they are hardly going to notice one wee stain. Grooming is a thing of the past when you have to get to work on time.
Where once I would practically dance into the office, throw my (designer) handbag onto my desk and set about working on the features for next month's issue now I saunter in the back door, sit down, bury my head in organising my desk and offer to cover all the boring, respectable features that don't actually require me to leave the office or speak to anyone face to face. This morning is no different. I say a few hellos to the team before plonking myself down with my morning coffee and sausage roll to open the post. Somehow in the proper daylight the Weetabix stain on my trousers had morphed from an eeney wee mark to a mark not too dissimilar to that birthmark on Gorbachov's head. Running my fingers through my hair I realise, not for the first time, that I have forgotten to brush it again before leaving. No wonder Susie, the normally very friendly childminder, had looked at me somewhat alarmed as I dropped Jack off. Searching through my tatty, Dunnes Stores, Better Value handbag for a mini hairbrush I am needless to say more than a little alarmed to find the bottle of Calpol I keep for emergencies had sprung a leak and yes, I can still brush my hair, but only if I don't mind it being strawberry flavoured and slightly pink in colour all day.
I give my hair a quick detangle with my fingers, hoping that everyone was thinking I was trying the new just-fell-out-of-bed look and go back to my hiding place behind my monitor. From the other end of the office I can hear Louise laughing uproariously. She was at some launch or other last night and apparently everyone who was anyone had been there. It had been a scream, she said, and she's had 100 admiring comments for her new dress which she bought in some boutique in Belfast. I try to look interested but all I really want to do is staple her head to her desk so I didn't have to look at her smug and gorgeous face any more. I shouldn't be jealous. I attended a launch myself yesterday. One of the local supermarkets was launching their new improved Mother and Baby Club and I was invited along to find out all about their groovy new parking facilities and padded trolleys. All the best mummies were there. And I stress they were mummies- the posh version of a mammy).The post generates its usual share of gems. At least being "Parenting Editor" I can always expect some interesting samples. There is a book on raising your toddler to be politically correct, some toilet wipes and a dummy which promised to soothe even the more fractious of the children. And for the glamorous mummy-on-the-go, well, there was a sample of Tena Lady because we all know the busy working mum can't smell of wee. I switch on my computer and smile as an image of the lovely Dermot flickers onto the screen. Dermot is my escape- my little fantasy where I could pretend I was still me and not just a mammy or Grace Duddy- Parenting Editor of 'Northern People' Magazine. Amid the cute pictures of Jack grinning at me from the gaudy coloured frames proclaiming 'I love Mummy", beside the piles of parenting magazines, nappies and nipple creams (again, samples) which clutter my desk, there he is- all be suited and handsome. He looks at me, his eyebrow raised in that quizzical and sexy manner of his and I wish, oh really wish, we really were heading out to the Baftas for a date.I sigh, sip my coffee and finish the sausage roll. I can not lose myself in another day dream today. There is work to be done. I have to come face to face with 30 screaming toddlers at "Cheeky Monkeys" Day Care Centre for a feature on messy play. And when all that is done I have to find the answer to the parenting problems submitted to me my overwrought mummies and daddies across all of Ireland. Oh, if only my readers knew that Jack had cheese and ham for breakfast again this morning because all cereals were now "icky Mammy icky" or that I’d let him watch Cbeebies videos until 9.30 last night just to get some peace and quiet.I already know this was one of those days when I will need two Nurofen and a power nap in the toilets before lunch time. If Louise keeps on screeching in her high pitched giggle, it might even be before tea break.
I open my email and find my daily reminder from lifecoaches.com to take each day as a new challenge, relax, breathe and remember "I am a strong, confident woman. I can do this." Breathing in, holding for five and breathing out I feel myself relax and get ready for another day. And then the phone rings.
I would say it is a pretty poor reflection on my ability to be an award winning journalist that I mentally cringe when the phone rings at my desk. I frequently toy with the idea of not answering it and doing that oh-so-American thing of screening my calls. I imagine that wouldn’t go down the best with the powers that be..
“Good morning, Grace Duddy speaking,” I trill down the phone. Sighing with relief I realise it is only Aidan- fresh from his slumbers and ready for another day of scratching himself on the Playstation before heading out for his bar job in the evenings.
“Do you know where my phone is?” he asks. “No,” I reply, “Where have you looked for it?”
“I haven’t yet. I thought you might know,” he says. My blood pressure rises.
We have this conversation every morning. Sure enough it might not be the phone we are talking about- it might be the keys, the bills that need paying, the wee doodah you use to bleed the fecked radiator in the front room- but the premise is the same. He asks, I tell him to look, he looks, he finds. Why he can’t realise he would be better served to just cut out the middle woman and look himself is beyond me.
But this morning, in a remarkable turn of events, I don’t need to answer. By now he has looked around him and found said item two feet from where he is standing. He informs me of this and I get ready to hang up and go some wear to faint with shock. However, just as I start an unexpected noise comes shooting down the phone-line. “Do you want to go out tomorrow night, Grace?” he asks and I start to wonder if my cholesterol stuffed heart can really take the impact of two such shocks in one day.
We don’t go out. Not any more. Not since we became parents. We tried it once when Jack was one and it was an unmitigated disaster. I spent the whole night worrying about whether or not Jack would settle without me and himself spent the whole evening telling me why we needed to get out more.
Both of us drank ourselves silly, talked shite about the wee man, ignoring the real issues in our relationship, before going home and falling straight to sleep.
As I threw my considerable guts up the next day, I vowed never again. Seeing my whiter than white pallor, himself agreed that was not a sight he ever wished to see again either so we became Mr. and Mrs. Bottle-of-Wine-on-a-Saturday-Night. In other words, we became so boring we even bored ourselves.
Soon the bottle of wine would involve him sitting on the Playstation and me watching a chick flick on my own in the other room, and even that went to the wayside when he got the bar job. So, if I’m honest, I’ve become a sad old wino on a Saturday night on my own and he has become the life and soul of the staff party scene at Jackson’s Bar.
How we manage to survive as a couple is slightly beyond me, so I guess if I’m trying to operate in the spirit of willingness to save what has become of our marriage I’ll have to say yes to his night out- even though I have nothing to wear.
“Okay then,” I mumble, closing followed by a litany of who, what, where questions that any woman needs to know the answer to before she can even think about picking out an outfit. For one brief moment I wonder if we are going somewhere nice, just the two of us.
“It’s one of the new bosses at work,” Aidan replies, “He wants to talk to me about my job prospects. He thought it might be nice for us to go out for dinner.”
I agree, hang up and contemplate suicide. You see, I don’t like going out for dinner with strangers (Strike two against my ability to fabulous journalist). There is always a great deal of awkwardness when deciding whether or not to have that extra garlic bread or dessert, and I inevitably end up choosing the most unappetising salad on the menu as I don’t want to appear a gulpen.
And of course, the men folk will be talking business- of which I know nothing about and care even less for. (Strike three against my ability to be a renowned journalist, apparently I should be very interested in business and politics etc.)
As I get in the car and leave for Cheeky Monkeys, I’m already frantically trying to figure out what to wear. I have two problems. The first is that when it comes to suitable evening attire, I’m pretty limited to cosy pyjamas and second of all, even if I do find some treasure lurking in the back of my wardrobe, I’m not sure how to get out of the door without Jack leaving a special food stain reminder on it..
I think about this, while driving along the Foyle Road, towards Cheeky Monkeys. I have approximately 23 pairs of tatty tracksuit bottoms and a million T-shirts, but when it comes to glamming it up I realise it will have the RBTs again (reliable black trousers), some killer heels (as we will be in a restaurant and therefore not required to walk any further than to the toilet and back) and perhaps my nice turquoise satin vest top would finish it off nicely. (I don’t know why I say perhaps, it is in fact the only dressy top I have that still fits).
Congratulating myself on my quick outfit choosing decisions I park my car, head inside and immerse my arms in a bowl of jelly.
Whoever said being a journalist wasn’t glamorous?
Apparently I am growing too fond of my evening glass of wine. Mammy is concerned. She has been surfing the net reading about working mums under stress and has even suggested in her ever so subtle-as-a- brick way that perhaps I might want to “write a wee feature on parents who hit the sauce”.
It was never this way in her day. Oh no, you made do and you survived on a fiver a week and you were there for your children and you didn’t want it all. You didn’t need to drink and even if you did, you couldn’t afford it anyway. As I listen to “the speech” as my friend Daisy has dubbed it, I pour myself another glass and start to fill the bath.
This is my salvation- my me time. A glass of wine, a bubble bath, a good book or, if I'm feeling too tired to read a book, a cheesy weekly magazine to soak away my troubles and forget about the stresses of the day that has passed.
It has only been in the last few months that I've actually been able to get away with a soak. Before then it would be almost guaranteed that no sooner would bum hit bubbles than Jack would wake screaming and I would run, soaking and dripping, to his room where he would then stare at my nakedness with a strange mixture of curiousity, disgust and humour.By the time he was settled the bath would be cold, the wine would be warm and the magazine would be soggy so I'd opt for a quick shower before climbing into my jammies.I don't drink too much, honestly I don't. Well, not unless Daisy and I have dumped the children for the night and we are on the proverbial piss. But I supposed mammies will always be mammies and mine is as prone to worrying as I am. It is the genetic curse of the O’Donnell women. Aidan for those who are interested, is working tonight. He doesn't normally work on a Thursday but as he isn't working tomorrow night for the big dinner meeting, he has to make up his hours. I decide to make the most of the peace and quiet and climb into the bath and try to lose myself in the latest Marian Keyes while simultaneously trying to de-fuzz, exfoliate and moisturise at the same time. I realise that much as I am not used to pampering myself, I’m actually quite good at multi-tasking and I even manage to tidy that delicate bikini area without clipping a vein.Climbing out of the bath I start the arduous task of applying self tanning lotion. Trust me, when you are on the larger side it takes some time to smooth it into your skin. The smell is cloying, but then I tell myself it will all be worth it when I look like a tanned goddess as I step into the restaurant tomorrow night.Checking the RBTs are clean, and the turquoise top is back from the drycleaners I find myself then faced with an array of shoes of various heights, styles and colours and the real decision making process has to start."Three inch, four inch, sparkly or black?" I ask down the phone without even saying hello.
"Occasion? Location? Water retention levels?" Daisy counters- she knows me so well. "Dinner with Aidan's bosses, swanky new Italian beside the river, mid cycle- ankles decidedly unpuffy," I reply."Outfit?" she counters."RBT's" (Daisy knows all my code words as I do hers) "and satin top," I reply."Three inch sparkly," She answers, "with that silver cross I bought for your birthday and your hair swept up at one side with that wee sparkly clip.""Love you," I answer"Love you too," she replies, and hangs up.The thing with Daisy is that there is no bull shit. She knows me, I know her and there is no need for small talk- no need to pepper every sentence with pauses and niceties. She is like the modern day ghostbuster- she comes, she sees, she kicks my arse.I've only known Daisy two years. We met when I was heavy with child as opposed to being just ordinarily heavy. She was the little ray of Scottish sunshine who phoned the office one day to ask me to feature her nursery in the magazine. We met for coffee, swapped pregnancy stories and became friends. She assures me she is not merely my friend for the copious amounts of free publicity I can offer her- and after feeling hormonally paranoid for the first year of Jack's life, I now believe her.
Lifting the sparkly shoes out of the cupboard I realise Daisy has indeed made the right decision and I could look half respectable after all. I climb into bed, close my eyes and drift off to sleep hoping that Dermot and I get to to go to the Baftas again tonight.