Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Own Personal X-Factor

Sometimes when you ask a question, you get a different answer. I think every person in the world hopes they are unique, standing out a little from the crowd. But now I wish I was a little more like every one else. This week, results came back from the various tests I had done to try and discover why I have had three miscarriages. Because I have had two healthy girls, they didn't expect to find anything. But they did. Oh yes indeed. (Excuse my slightly manic upbeatness - it keeps me off the windowledge). I have been diagnosed with a phenomenally rare chromosome disorder. To be precise (and if I repeat this enough, it might eventually make sense to me) I have a pericentric inversion of my X chromosome. This means part of my chromosome detached itself, rotated 180 degrees, and reattached itself and is present in that twisted way in every cell of my body. Two days ago I knew nothing about chromosomes other than they sound like hormones and we all know how much trouble THEY cause. Now, I'm an internet expert, and still know virtually nothing.

Except this. When my dodgy X chromosone meets my husbands (perfectly good) Y chromosone when we conceive, we produce a fetus that is incompatible with life. And that is what they were. Three pregnancies incompatible with life. Which is funny, in that heart-breakingly awful sort of way, because I thought they were wonderful beginnings of life. We are seeing a Geneticist on Wednesday to try and find out what implications my 'disorder' (thanks, like my chromosomes are guilty of disorderly conduct) have on my girls, me and our chances of having another much-wanted baby.

So on one hand, I now know why I have lost three babies and there is some comfort in that. Not enough to take away my grief, but enough to know I hadn't done something wrong. On the other hand, a whole scary vista of not knowing has opened up before me. And there may not be any answers. Out of 7500 people on the UK's Rare Chromosome Disorder Support Group database, only 7 have a pericentric inversion of their X chromosome, and none have what I have. None. My consultant has never come across this in 20 years. When my husband said I was one in a million, it seems he was being very conservative.

And my chances of having another baby? My head is hurting from the swirling odds, and statistics and percentages that actually tell me nothing. But all I know is this. Somehow, in the chaos of my chromosomal catastrophe, two miracle girls emerged in a statistically sinister environment where the odds were not stacked in their favour. I have been incredibly, incredibly lucky..... and that, more than anything else in the last few days, is what has turned my world upside down.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Green Eyed Monster

Following on from my last post, I’ve moved on from Swine envy to child envy – from Mummy Pig to the Green Eyed Monster. Maybe because my 40th birthday is breathing down my neck like a dirty old man on a crowded tube, but I’ve been having weird thoughts about my eldest daughter recently. Up until now, I have firmly been the mother, and she has firmly been the child. I am the boss, and she is the bossed around. I have all the wit and wisdom, and she has all the innocence and ignorance.

But once or twice recently I’ve caught myself looking at her and feeling a little off colour. It’s not that my rose tinted glasses have slipped off – she is as dynamic and dazzling as ever. It’s just that there has been the hint of a haze of green that clouds my eyes. I’ve actually been feeling a twinge of jealousy. Is that awful?

Her life sprawls before her like a long lazy summer’s day, while I feel a chill in the air as I enter the autumn of my life. Is this normal? I think of all the life and loves she has yet to experience, all the excitement and energy she has yet to enjoy. Her life is like a beautiful map – a chaotic ramble of roads and avenues unknown and unexplored. Mine resembles a shopping list – things to get before I run out.

But then as I snuggle her up at the end of a long day of shared moments together (making collages) and shared moments apart (like this one, where I ‘do important work on the computer’ at the kitchen table and they play beside me lost in their imaginary world of Peppa Pig figures – life imitating art more and more!) and she asks me to tell her a story. As I rack my brains, she prompts me to tell her about when I was a little girl. And I sit on the floor beside her, stroking her long hair and I tell her about my eating so much chocolate one Easter, I threw up. I tell her about my rabbit who nearly bit my dad’s finger off. I tell her about the elephant that chased us in Africa. “You were chased by an elephant mummy?” I was. And many, many, many other adventures and excitements and experiences, many in far away lands, that have made my life incredible. And in telling her, I suppose I will relive them again. And I realise that while she has her whole life ahead of her, I have half of mine behind me and it is a map littered with roads and avenues explored and enjoyed. And hopefully I have another half yet to live, more paths to travel, unknown and unexplored, and the difference is now her footsteps will walk alongside mine.

And so I embrace that smidgen of envy and mix it up with large dollops of pride…it will keep me reminded that I must keep making my life – and now hers – extraordinary.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Which Cartoon Character are you?

Since we mums spend so much time watching, singing about, helping to colour in, and picking up soft toys of cartoon characters, they can sort of take over our lives. The other day I even found myself thinking, "You know, I'm just like Mummy Pig". For months now, Daisy and Poppy have been obsessed (with slightly worrying stalker tendencies) with Peppa Pig. They only get half an hour TV a day, but it has to be Peppa. All they will play with are Peppa Pig characters.... and since the family have pretty much moved in with us, I feel like they've become us. Or us them! Certainly Mummy Pig is worryingly like me. She constantly tells Peppa she "has important work to do on the computer." Ahem. Sounds a lot like me. The great thing about Peppa is that Daisy now respects my work as something very important. I was writing my blog the other day and I could hear her tell Poppy, "Leave mummy alone, she has important work to do on the computer." I gave them an extra episode that day! Mummy Pig is the voice of reason in the midst of mayhem, and I like to think I bring a little calm to the chaos...... (I'm hoping my hubby doesn't read this one...). Mummy Pig is kind and loving, and smart and intuative, a great mother, a lovely wife, a worker, a warrier, and I find myself smiling when I hear her hamming it up, bringing home the bacon, and fixing whatever pig's ear Daddy Pig has made of things.

And so it has come to this. I used to aspire to great women - Virginia Woolf, Kate Adie among others. And now? I'd be happy to live up to the moral code of a pig. Mummy Pig. Honk honk. Forget Swine Flu, I have Swine Envy.
What children's character are you???

Thursday, January 14, 2010

my favourite photo

Thanks so much for Hot Cross Mum's tag - to show and tell my favourite photo. In this digital age when we have more photos than blades of grass in our garden, this was no mean feat. But I'm a great believer in instinct and not over-thinking, so the first picture that popped into my head when faced with the challenge is the one I'm going for (as opposed to the 254 subsequent ones that i picked after much thought).

This is me and my mum at Daisy's christening. I love this photo for so many reasons, the obvious one being the sheer joy and happiness and love we all share - three generations of smiles. But it also represents the beginning of so many things. A new relationship with my mum - one based on our love of my children, and her being needed once again, after years of being pushed away by an independent, cocky teenager and twenty-something. It represents the beginning of my life as a mum, an incredible journey that I am still only on the first tentative steps of. And finally, it represents the beginning of my writing career - this picture was included with my first ever published article called Mothers & Daughters ( ) that began a new era for me and hopefully the stepping stones towards a lifetime of writing .

The future is impossible without the past, and often I have struggled with managing the two forceful elements of my life - the pre-children and post-children me.... and yet my mum has been the bridge between the two, keeping me sane and intact while while I often unravelled. Three generations of smiles are still smiling, and that makes me happier than pretty much anything else.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My history of feminism

Dare I open this debate again? Many previous blogs on the princessing of our daughters - and my responses (afraid to speak my mind if I’m honest, because the consensus seemed to be against me, and I was feeling on shakey ground as you’ll see below) – have left me feeling like I got up in the middle of my lunch and never got a chance to go back and finish it. So here I am, taking a big bite. Like many things these days, it was my daughter’s natural assumption that women should rule the world that made me strong again.

I regard myself as a feminist, and here’s why. I believe in my potential – not just as a woman, but as a person. I believe in my daughters’ potential, and will make it my life’s mission to ensure they know that they have every opportunity open to them to suceed in life. Suceed in career, in love, in knowledge and most of all, in happiness. But I’ve been rather confused of late, unsure what legacy as a stay at home mum I’m leaving my daughters, and by the (seemingly minority) opinions I have that there’s nothing wrong with girls being princesses. Did this mean I was no longer a feminist?

I started out believing the tired old crap I learned by rote…. “all men are bastards.” I actually used that phrase in my youth…. yet my brother is one of the best men I know. I didn’t think for myself, just took on board the beliefs (wrong as it turns out) of others. But at uni, I fell apon a course that changed (literally and literaryily) my life. Through Women Writers and the words of Virginia Woolf, Mayo Angelou, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood and others, I began to empower myself and open up my mind to the realisation that feminism has nothing to do with men, and everything to do with women – strong, brave, kind, loving, generous, creative women. I built my life on their teachings, and they journeyed with me on many roads. I travelled the world, I broadened my knowledge, I made friends, I worked hard and strove harder. I did my best and did well. I had a wonderful career and I found love. The perfect feminist life: all the brilliance with none of the bluster; all the vigour with none of the violence; all the adventure with none of the aggression; all of the loving and none of the hating.

And then my world turned upside down. I became a mother. I fulfilled the role my body, my biological engineering, my nature and my nurture was destined for. It was less a case of earth mother and more a case of coming down to earth with a bang when I gave up that career to stay at home with my girls. I loved my job but I loved being wth them more. It was that simple. I have no regrets whatsoever about giving up my (paid) job but I often worry and wonder about how I look to my girls -the personification of all I had fought against. They see daddy go to work while mummy washes the dishes. But then I realise that actually it was my most feminist of all my actions – making the choice that best suited my lifestyle. And the one thing Virginia Woolf wrote about in her essay A Room of One’s Own, and others that blazed (braless or not) the way for women, was not actually that we just have to reach to pinnacle of the career ladder, but that we have options and choices available to us to follow the best path to reach our own potential and development. For me, that was the choice to take time out from my career to focus on bringing up my girls while they are very young.

Into this came the blogging debate. “Prissy” was used regularly to describe (you could almost see the lips curling in scathing disgust) the awfulness of daughters loving pink. 'Pink is the problem' was the message. But I kept asking myself why? I kept asking why ‘tomboy’ (a kowtow to the ‘men are better’ attitude that supressed women for so so long) was a better message? If a girl likes pink, let her wear pink. Surely that is what Virginia and others fought for – our right to be who we want to be? Our right to be feminine and still achieve all we want?

Daisy is a pink girl through and through. At one point she would only wipe her bum with pink toilet paper. Poppy however is red. And occassionally orange. I love both of their individuality (sure many other girls are into pink, but because it’s Daisy’s own choice, her own nature that views the world through rose tinted glasses despite the fact I had never dressed her in pink previosuly, that makes it her individuality). She also likes digging up worms. Wearing pink doesn’t make her a prissy princess, any more than liking worms makes her a ‘tomboy’. It makes her her. She might like watching Snow White, but she’s smart enough to know when things don’t seem right to her. I was singing The Sun Has Got His Hat on last summer, and she turned to me, and said “No mummy I think the sun has got HER hat on.” Quite right, I thought. We went out to build a snowman yesterday and she said, “Actually mummy, why don’t we build a snowgirl.” Quite right, I thought.

So now that I feel ok that despite my dishwashing she will naturally grow up in an environment where it won’t even occur to her that she can’t achieve anything, and already questions the masculinity of phrases (like Snowman), and that the women around her – me, her godmothers, my friends , her family – are all vibrant, smart women, I’m brave enough to enter the blogging debate again, and this time, defend my pink position.

I believe those who diss girls for being ‘girlie’ are doing them - and all women - a great diservice. They should be allowed to be exactly the girl they want to be. A good parent will teach their daughter to be happy and confident with who they are, and smart enough to always strive for their potential, whatever colour they wear – that is what feminism is. Are Disney’s princess stories bad for them? I don’t think so. Yes, the stories are old fashioned – and isn’t that a good talking point? But they are also all, without exception, about good beating evil, about kindness and generosity over nastiness and selfishness, about overcoming challenges to follow your dream. Isn’t that what feminism is teaching us?

We were watching Sleeping Beauty the other day, and I could see Daisy was a bit agitated. “Why does she keep sleeping through everything?” Quite right, I thought. So I’m a stay-at-home mum, with a pink princess for a daughter. Am I a feminist? Damn right I am. Because I made choices that made my life amazing, and I will let my daughters do the same. My girls won’t be sleeping through the action, but they may be wearing pink.

What do you think? If you disagree, let’s talk. I’m ready this time.…. And for those of you who haven’t already, please go and join Judith’s Room – Virginia’s legacy of wonderful women who have made choices to make their lives extraordinary.

Postscript- 3 days later - Just asked the girls what they want to be when they grow up. Daisy said "builder" and Poppy said "a man." You gotta laugh!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

High Fives

This has been a good day, for lots of reasons. We are snowed in and I managed a whole day trapped (ahem, that meant to read enjoying) in the house with the girls without any major tantrums. The girls were pretty good too. I was commissioned to write 3 articles today (I’ll not focus on the fact it took 12 pitches). I lit the fire at 3pm – always the sign of a good day. I enjoyed an avalanche of creative musings from my on-line friends (where we all snowed in or did Josie at Sleep is for the Weak hit on an amazing idea?). Daisy and I built a snowgirl. Hubby came home early and threw a snowball at me. And, to top the tip top day off, I got two, yes count them, two high five memes from the lovely, the witty, the entertaining, the courageous and the good Carrot in Mum’s Hair and Foodie Mummy. (Is there a connection with my over love of food and the fact both my cheerleaders today have food in their titles??!). So I accept the high fave tags and bow down to the task of writing my five highlights of 2009. I’m going to call them my Five Family Favourites.

1. We moved into our family home, the place I will sleep (hopefully), laugh (definitely), cry (probably), and write (inspiringly) as we raise our children and deliver them out into the world loved and laden with encouragement.
2. Our family holiday. It was local, it was wet, it was windy and it was wonderful.
3. My summer off with the girls. The first time I realised I could let go a little, and enjoy (while not being pregnant or breastfeeding) long days of just being a mum in the sun, picnics and adventures galore.
4. Our extended family holiday when the Kirk Clan descended on Dublin, little people laughing while big people ate – bliss.
5. After a hard day at home with the girls, coming home in the evening with a glass of wine to my blogging family – wonderful women who teach and inspire, and challenge and support and encourage and make me feel I belong to something amazing. Oh wait… I do!

And so I offer the High Five tag to the following…. And I’m sorry if she’s been tagged before but I have to add Josie in there,
Sleep is for the weak
Spinning Plates
Rosie Scribble
Rewriting Motherhood

High Five y’all, and here’s to the many highs to 2010.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Certainties of Parenting

It’s a new year and that means lots of reassessment, fresh ideas and approaches. Eat less, exercise more, write a lot, and watch TV less. Mmm, sounds worryingly like last year’s list… and the year before. And actually a lot like the year before that. Less new and fresh, more rehashed and recycled. Maybe it should be called Try It Again Year?

Lots of “oh, I’m going to plan my weekly menu every Sunday so I know what I’m cooking all week”s, and a few “Right, no more chocolate Monday to Friday”s and even a couple of “right, I AM going to get up at 6am and go for a run”s. But while we are busy renewing ourselves, the reality that January 1st is in fact just another day with no actual seismic shift in the universe is demonstrated by our children and the ever constant certainties of parenting that show no regard for new years, never mind new decades.

Despite all my resolutions, the revolution of parenting remains as dormant as the snowdrops. As I contemplated the ten new things I was going to change this year, I realized they have no impact on the ten old things that will stay exactly the same:

1. There will always be another poo-ey nappy to out-stink the one before. It will always be done seconds before you leave the house.
2. Kids will ALWAYS get sick on a bank holiday when the doctors are closed.
3. Kids will always get sick – and pass it on to you – when you have visitors so they all get sick and you get labeled the House of Pestilence.
4. There will always be some smug single man who designs children’s toy packaging for a living. He may even do it as a hobby, since only someone with a passion for destroying the fraught mind and fingernails of mothers everywhere can come up with the engineering feat that requires a screwdriver (I kid you not) to unpack a Peppa Pig toy from the packaging.
5. They will always wake up before me, and I will always want to go to sleep before them.
6. They will never eat their home cooked tea with same wild abandon they eat chocolate and sweets. I will never get over this.
7. There will always be dishes to wash. Always.
8. They will always start screaming and fighting as soon as I start talking on the phone.
9. They will always show up the child in me. The petulant, tantrum throwing, sulky, “It’s MINE!” selfish child that is.
10. They will always make me smile. Even through gritted teeth.

So, five days in, and the hinge has fallen off the chocolate cupboard so often has it been raided in its groaning post-Christmas splendour; I haven’t managed to actually leave the house, let alone go for a run (I’m blaming the pestilence and the snow)…. (and the large amounts of left over chocolate); this is the first thing I’ve written in 5 days (see next excuse); and I’ve got stuck into The Wire series 4 boxset with such vigour the TV is smoking. So on the whole, my Try Again Year has already sludged down the slippery slope to Same Old, Same Old Year. Good to know some things never change. Even in a new year.