Thursday, December 13, 2012

a headwreck

Do you ever have one of those weekends when the volume dial is just jammed on high?

The dog barked continuously, the mini maelstrome that is Ruby moaned all day, the middle monkey over-tired cried at everything, and the older sulked and sighed (very loudly) and my own screeching reached embarrassing levels as I tried to untangle three sets of christmas lights, stabalise a tree while the dog pulled it the other way, detangle said dog from the tinsel tornado he had become, and I generally let loose my furious festive fuming.

Do you ever have one of those weeks when your head jars with the constant jangle of 'I'm a crap parent today' melodied with 'you must be a better parent today', till your head feels like splitting in two with the bickering voices?

I've learned a lot about minding my own mental wealth after my bout of post-natal depression last year. And I've written here and been published in newspapers and magazines on various issues surronding mental health, and the pressure on young people in particular. I have three daughters and so have a keen interest in what might lie ahead for them. And like most parents, I am constantly wondering about how my parenting will affect them.

So it came as a bit of a shock to read that 50% of all mental disorders will have their onset during the school-going years. This terrifies me - what my girls will experience, and how they will cope will have a profound affect on the rest of their lives.  I will play one of the most important roles in making sure they can cope, are given the mental, emotional and practical skills to cope with family life, school life, social life, friends, academia, social pressures, etc

My girls are just in primary school, but already I deal daily with issues relating to the general gymboree of schoolyard issues. I can only imagine the challenges of the years ahead. Here are the stats in Ireland:
In an average secondary school class size of 30 students, 12 will feel depressed, 7 will not feel they can talk to anyone about how they feel, 6 will think about self-harming, and 3 will.

As I had one of my mummy mania moments over the weekend, feeling put-upon, stressed, overworked, undervalued - you know, the usual - I asked my girls what would make a happy household. I was leading to a smart reply along the lines of a happy mummy makes a happy household and helping, doing as your told, not fighting yada yada yada would make me a happy mummy. I know, crap mum moment. But instead, I was stopped in my tracks. My bright little button Poppy looked at me and said simply, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world, "Love. Love makes a happy household."
I dropped my duldrums and hugged her hard. She's right of course. Love is the answer. I just hope its enough.....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

is is possible?

I don’t know if I’m jinxing things so I’ll whisper the words quietly, and write them in small font so they don’t get overhead by the gods of the laws of the ire of irony. But….

I think we’re almost through it.

The end is in sight, almost touchable, almost tangible. I can almost grasp it. Almost.

Seven long years I’ve been in the deep dark depths of early parenthood…. that brutal busy, physical tussle with irrational beings, that sanity-sucking limbo of baby-rearing, that cataclysmic chaos of nappies and sleepness nights, shit and wee, vomit and wind, pureed food, refused food, spat out food, spilled food, tantrums, toilet training, screaching, screaming, double buggies in small shops, Ryanair with a baby (don't need to say more), sixteen cars seat struggles a day, the exhaserbation (me), the exhaustion (me), the exhuberation (them) all whirled and wound togther in a wirlwind of wonderment and worry. And I'm nearly through it.

The other day, I took the dog for a walk. Daisy ran up ahead. Poppy rode her bike. And Ruby stuck her tongue between her lips and scooted with the concentration of a nobel-winning scientist on the cusp of cancer-cure. No-one whined. No-one had to be carried. No-one poo’d their pants. No-one threw themselves on the ground with a fearful ferocity for no apparent reason. It was a civilized walk in the park. I almost felt that a real person with a real family. Like on the telly.

And mealtimes have developed a promise of calm. A hint here. A glimpse there. Glimmers of possibility when all three actually sit in their seats at the same time for a full few minutes. I’m so taken aback I never quite know how to respond and I stare at them trying to find a topic of conversation that doesn't involve the words 'sit', 'eat' or 'aaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhh'.

We are evolving from a child management to a family participation unit. I'm excited. I'm nervous - what untold horror of hormones awaits me? But for now I'm writing my blog in peace. In peace!

The end is in sight.... and so is the beginning... a whole new phase of parenting.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

little steps, big changes

Two years ago, I was horrified and harrowed by the awfulness of tending to the same needs from two people at the opposite ends of life - my mum and my newborn baby.  In the months after my mum's stroke just days after Ruby was born, one of the hardest things was the tasks I now had to perform for her, in complete unison with my daugher. Changing her nappy, feeding her pureed food with a spoon, figuring out what she was trying to say.

Two years later, and so much has changed, despite so much being the same. My mum can now talk and feed herself, albeit limited.  My daughter can now talk and feed herself, albeit limited. They are developing at the same stage.  And today, a momentous thing happened for them both.  My daughter completed her first jigsaw. And so did my mum. Ths first time either have had the concentration span, the cognitive intelligence and skills to complete a puzzle. The last few months have been like an awakening for them both. Ruby is working things out, recognizing more and more, communicating more effectively, being funny and engaged. My mum is making more sense, recognised a picture of her mother and last week said my name for the first time in two years.  We can laugh again together. Today we baked. I made the dough and rolled it out and with one hand she pressed the cutter. My mum taught me to bake, as I teach now my children. It is something we did together and today I got to do it again.   We walked the dog in the autumn sunshine as Ruby sat on mum's knee in her wheel chair and later we had a pretend tea party. Mum and Ruby laughed and connected - something I never dreamed could have happened in those awful awful months after her stroke.  Everything with Ruby is getting easier, and things with my mum are getting better.  It's the little things that make the biggest difference.

Monday, October 15, 2012

and then reality bites...

I love it when I write a post like my last one, as if suddenly the world has shifted on an axis and there are no troubles to be found.  Because I should know by now, when you have three kids, a job, a parent to care for, a marriage you'd quite like to keep, and a dog, troubles are never far away. Although I have to admit that after the Troubles of the last few years, it's nice to have troubles with a little t for a while.

Working from home had it's challenges - the constant pull of needs leaving me feeling I was making nobody happy any of the time. Every minute was allocated to at least three different functions and craziness ensued.  Now the pull is of a different kind - the constant guilt of leaving my girls, the logistics of organising meals, school pick ups and general family needs around the demanding 5 days of work in a three-day a week job.   Every minute is allocated - from 6 am when I have to get up to walk the dog before hubby goes to work, to the moment I lay my heavy head on the pillow, assuming at last this is my moment - only to have Ruby cry out. No. That moment isn't mine either.  All my  moments are theirs.  I realise that now. And that's ok. I've spent the last 7 years waiting for things to calm down. Just around the corner will be some peace. Just get through this week, and I'll be able to do all those things like tidy the baking cupboard. Maybe next year will be easier.

Daisy turned 7 today. I think I've finally realised it isn't an itch that needs scratching. It's life.
I have kids, ergo life is hectic and full, and challenging and chaotic, glorious and gruesome, exhuasting and exhilerating. Every moment is allocated, because every moment is full.

 My beautiful, wonderful, funny, exhuberant, smart, fiesty, thorny, caring, loving, curious, creative gorgeous baby is seven. And like the day I became a mother by becoming her mother, I still feel new to this parenting process.  But I now kinow this;  I'm going to stop waiting for the ride to stop so I can step off for a moment and catch my breath. She is seven and only a few moments ago she was a baby. So I'm buckling myself in and holding on tight. I'm on this ride, and I'm not getting off.   Bring it on!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Changing times

Life has changed so much in recent weeks. Speeded up, slowed down, eased off, taken off.  Since coming back from Donegal where the days rolled into each other like the sea on those glorious beaches, and the horizon was limiteless, the autumn now drags the dark skies in earlier and a new phase of life with it.

Poppy has started school with her usual confident shyness, and Daisy has bounced into her third year with a happiness that was covered in trepidation the first two years. And Ruby.... well Ruby has reached the big 2 milestone, leaving her official status as baby behind. However, she is as minxy and exhuberant as ever. This week she got into my baking cupboard (she rattles them until the locks break) and covered the puppy in Pink food colouring. Last week it was green felt tip pen, and we're all still recovering from her covering the poor pub in nappy cream!

But the big change is me. I have a new job - the first time really working out of the house since the girls were born. We have a lovely au pair from Germany who has taken all my stress of childcare issues away, and I now wear lipstick and talk to adults three days a week.  It took a lot of time for me to come to terms with the change that would take me away from the girls, but it's been amazing. In a good way.  I love my new job, I love the fact that for the first time I'm not working from home - it means when I stop working, I STOP WORKING!  Weirdly, I have better time with the girls now, because when I'm there now, I'm there for them.  I'm not juggling them, my gmail, my yahoo mail, my work mail, my iphone, my housework, my general life. Oh, and my marriage!

Now, I have time to be with the girls. I do my own stuff in the evening instead of finishing work deadlines. And....... one night a week, hubby and I have a date night. A DATE NIGHT!!!!  I've even managed to squeeze an extra au pair hour this week so we can go and walk the dog. Together. As a couple. I'll say that word again. Together.

After 7 years of baby care, I think I'm finally into the new stage of childcare.  A new stage of work life. A new stage of marriage.

Here's to change. And it being as good as a rest!  Coz there's no chance of that!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A near perfect day

Yesterday was one of those days that I kept catching myself and watching as if I was above and looking down.  It was near perfect. It was the kind of day I remember from my childhood. The kind of day I wanted for my un-born children as I wondered how our lives would change. The kind of day our girls will recount when they are older and reminisce about their Donegal summers.

It started well. I had a lie in..... Hubby arrived the night before and after two and half weeks of solo parenting, I got to slumber in my duvet and tune into my own thoughts wthout the perpetual background symphony of little voices.  Then, after Ruby went for her morning nap, the four of us had a family game of Monopoly.  When I was a child and we went on our family holidays to Donegal, my brother and I would have epic three day games of Monopoly.  Daisy and Poppy are now equally addicted, although Daddy had to go and bankrupt us all!
Then I wrote a long letter to my mum and sent her all the pics of our beach adventures.... I know she will clutch that letter and hold onto it for hours.... an escape to the outside world.
Then....... we went and saw some puppies.  We've been wanting one for ages, and there in the local little shop was a little notice. I knew immediately one of them was ours. Serendipity. A little piece of Donegal with us always. We went to see them and the girls chose their new pet - the little dog that will share all the days of their childhood.  And here he is...... Olly. Serendipidous. He was already called Olly, the name we were going to call our boy that never happened.

In the afternoon we climbed up sand dunes, and rolled down them, laughing out sand, spitting out sun. We walked though a meadow of orchids, cow parsley, cowslips, thrifts, dancing in the long grass. We left our footprints on the soft sand, and Ruby waved at the waves. We climbed rocks and threw sand and wet seaweed at each other screaming in laughter.
Then we got home and sat down together to a great big steaming fish pie, talking about our new family. With Olly.
When the kids went to bed, the sun called us outside and hubby and I sat in the shadow of Mount Ericle and supped wine and smiled.  Then we fell asleep in front of a roaring turf fire. Does it get any better? Does it make up for the endless days of frustration and tears, hard work followed by hard work, rearing and roaring, teaching and tearing my hair out?  Yes, actually. It does. I say near perfect, because I wish my mum would be able to read the letter I sent her. And come and visit us to meet Olly and step her footprints beside mine in the sand as she has all my life.  But then, I know I wouldn't have been able to have this near perfect day if her footprints weren't there.  As they always will be. As mine will always be beside my girls whereever they are.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Donegal Dreaming..... 2012

I'm back. Back in the glorious expanse of sky that makes me feel part of a huge beautiful world. All year I have waited for this. All year I have plodded and puffed, toiled and teared my way through the months waiting for this.....
..... the wet smulch of sea-soaked sand between my toes. The wind blowing away the stands of stress with every bluster.  I'm back. And as always, the beautiful wilderness of Donegal makes me feel alive, alert, appreciative.
I'm back..... in every sense of the words.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

You can't win

Today I had an encounter of the weird kind. Quite upsetting actually, although I'm forcing myself to laugh. Laugh in the face of nutters, right?
There I am, bubbled in the babble of morning mayhem - striding up the road to school, three kids in tow, ten minutes late and dealing with the normal emotional meltdowns that cover young girls like an invisible aura. Poppy was whining and whinging and lagging behind. She stayed awake last night longer than is required for happy family life, and was making sure everyone knew about it.  I did the only thing one can to survive a day of endless crying and hysteria - I ignored her.  I strode on ahead and she scooted about 4 feet behind,crying and shouting. At some point, I turned round and told her to grow up and hurry up. So far, so normal.  (Just to point out, there are plenty of mornings - when the required amount of sleep is had, that we all skip to school singing songs and chatting our heads off).

Suddenly a young man walked past me and as he did he turned to me angrily and snarled, "It's hard being a child. How dare you treat her like that. You're one of those angry mothers you see everywhere!"
Once I'd picked my chin off my shoes, I spluttered out an incoherent retort along the lines of 'How dare you!  How dare you comment on something you know nothing about. You know nothing about me or what I'm going through!"  Did he walk away? Did he apologise?  No!  He stopped, turned and shouted at me in front of my three girls. In a furious attempt to just get rid of him, I told him to 'clear off!" Honestly - no stronger.  Where I found the self-restraint not to swear I don't know - probably the look of horror on poor Daisy's face. Suddenly another school mum appeared, saw what was happening, and literally chased him away up the street.  I hid my upset from the girls and carried on to school. But I was bruised. He might as well have slapped me. A complete stranger called me a bad mother in front of my children. His words pressed down on me all day, like a large thumb crushing my head. Every insecurity, every pore of guilt that I have ever felt came gushing through me.
And then I had coffee with my friend. She has three daughters too. And last week she was on her way to the shops with them. Like mine, she had one in a pram and two were scooting a bit ahead of her.  Suddenly a man approached her and said (and I quote, lest you think I'm joking) "If you let those girls go ahead of you like that, they'll get lifted by a paedophile!" My friend spluttered some shocked reply, and he retorted, "you need to let a roar out of you and control those kids!"
So there we have it. One week, one road, two men giving us mums some advice. I'm a bad mother for shouting at my child, and my friend is a bad mother for not shouting enough.
We can't win, can we?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The map of motherhood

Do you ever read something and it resonates so much with your moment in time and space that the words leap off the page and slap you in the face?  Or maybe it's a lyric that rings in your ears long after the song has stopped? I read this last night, and it nearly stopped my heart:
A mother draws a map for her child and places herself at the centre of it. Her death wipes that map clean. She leaves you knowing that you must redraw it to survive, and yet not knowing where to start.
My mum didn't die but the map was wiped clean when she had her stroke. Those three lines sum up how I've felt over the last two years, and how I have struggled not only to redraw the map, but to figure our how or where to even start.
Grief is more than an emotion. It becomes a physical part of you - like shrapnel embedded in your flesh - as real, and permanent as your arm and leg. It is always there, although we might seem to heal and live with the scars, it is hidden in your muscles and your bones, your brain and your heart.
Every day I mourn the loss of all that could be, as much as what was. People say time is a healer, but it is also the blunt knife that cuts deeper. Sure, time softens the pain and the heart-stoppping terror, leaving behind a low-level ache. But the knife of time also cuts deeper, reminding us over and over again that as life is moving on, we are leaving someone behind.
My mum lies in suspended animation, a still frame in a world of moving pictures. Poppy turned five last month, and danced in her first ballet show. Daisy is writing stories and singing songs, and Ruby is full of wonder. We have adventures, we make plans, we live our days, and my mum is missing it all. But worse, we are missing her.
I know that over the last year, no-one would have devoted more time to sitting on the sofa hearing Daisy read than her. I know she would have started to write letters to Daisy, and get replies, just like mum and me wrote to each other all our lives. I know she would have been measuring every centimeter Poppy has grown this last year as her gluten-free diet kicks in, and listened avidly as Poppy regales tales of her imaginary friend, Heart. I know Ruby would be wearing little dresses ("I just couldn't help myself") that mum would bring down, and my mum would be bending the ears of everyone she knew with Ruby's minxy antics.
I know that, because my mum was the centre of my map and those are the roads that lay ahead of us. Now I stumble down new tracks, unmapped areas and try to mark my way. All I can do is take the navigation tools she taught me and hope I find my way.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

This old house

I'm spending so much time in my childhood house these days as I care for mum, that it has that old familiar feel. I'm not the random visitor of that last 20 years, leaving my breath on the window pane on my way out. Instead, I leave my imprint in the bed, my things accumulating in bedside drawers and wardrobes once again.
As my mum lies in her dining-room-converted bedroom, I wander the rooms of my adolescence and remember the memories. Fights, laughs, chats. The front door opening and closing a thousand times as I went to and from school. The hours I spent standing in the hallway talking on the phone to friends and shy first boyfriends. The whispers my bedroom walls heard as I revised for exams, wrote secrets in my diary, gazed beyond my horizon and imagined my life ahead. Hours spent beside my mum, licking baking bowl spoons in the kitchen, sitting beside her on the sofa learning the lessons of my life.
These walls housed many family sagas before our own. When we moved here I wandered about then, touchng the walls and trying to listen to the whispers of other people's stories. Now I sit with my mum and go through old photos.... black and white characters no longer filled with the colour of life. Long lives, long lived, but over now. Now they are the ageless faces in aged albums. Like the people who once lived in this house.
And as our family sage comes slowly slowly to an end, I cannot help but wonder who will live here next. What fights, laughter, chats, hopes, dreams, heartache, pain, love will fill these walls.  But for now, we must still fill this hosue with the noise of our family. Until those memories too drain of colour.
Replaced in brick, but never in hearts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A gift

I've been given a special gift this week, made all the more precious because it was unexpected, a still frame in the blur of life. For months, I knew I was coming up to care for mum for a week while my dad took a much needed break.  But my focus was on finding childcare (my gorgeous aunt-in-law came over from Uganda to help us out!!!), school pick ups (thank you Brid!), and making meals for every night so Aunt Judith didn't have to cook as well as looking after three young tearaways and change her first nappies at the age of 60+.

So when I arrived it was in the tailspin of planning, packing, and panicking. You do suddenly panick as you run out the door leaving three small children in the hands of a woman who has never had kids - my worry being for her, I hasten to add, not them!

But as squeals of delight greeted me down the phone every day, I began to relax into the week with my mum. When my mum had her stroke 19 months ago, I never thought I'd enjoy my time with her again. She was a shadow. And I was scared of her strangeness.

But this week was almost like days of old. I did her hair and make-up every day, and we laughed. Really laughed. She has made so much improvement, that at times I forgot the fear, and enjoyed the fun.  For the four hours a day that she is in a wheelchair, I took her out to the amazing Titanic Exhibition, to the shopping centre, and round the park in the sun. Her friends came round for lunch and stayed all afternoon. We watched and sang to the Sound of Music, and we went through old photos.  She still can't remember people or names, but she engaged none the less. Every morning, I brought a little table in beside her bed, and worked beside her on my laptop, chatting and drinking tea. And in the evenings, I would hop up on her bed and lie beside her while we watched TV. 
For a week, I've had my mum back........ one of the most precious gifts I've ever had. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Things I learned on holiday

Apologies for the blog hiatus - but frankly I was too busy eating chocolate and drinking wine over the Easter holidays to nurture my neglected baby. With the girls off school, I was busy nurturing them instead..... and my waisteline. We went to Wales for a week, followed by a whirlwind tour of English friends. Then Belfast, back to Dublin, off to Meath, and here I am back in Belfast, catching breath. And letting out my belt. Here's some of the things I learned while I was away...

1. Don't be fooled by the sneaky sun. Two days bluffing and I put away all the winter clothes and unpacked the frivilous summer fabrics. Then we went on holiday. We were doing great the first two days as the girls swam in the sea and we picniced on the beach. And then it snowed. Twelve hours after sunbathing, it snowed. We had no socks. I had to go out and buy fleeces. Next year the jumpers are staying out until July.
2. If you eat all your children's easter eggs, you will get fat. And unpopular.
3. Five hour ferry rides are not enjoyable. Five hour ferry rides with a livewire toddler who won't sit still, while 40 drunken students dressed as pirates sing and cavort the whole way across the Irish Sea is just plain hideous. I didn't know whether to grab their port and start singing, or jump overboard.
4. If you drink wine every night, while sharing a room with your baby, you will soon feel you are dying from sleep deprivation. Combine this with chocolate overdose and you will actually wish you would die.
5. As my mum would always say, "it's lovely to go away, but it's even nicer to come home."
6. Mum's are always right. Even when they eat all your chocolate.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We Survived

Dear Ruby,

today, you are exactly 18 months old. This may not seem like a big milestone to some, but for us, it's a miracle. This was the age there were times I never thought we'd make. This was the age I set ourselves to reach at the darkest abyss of the beginning - 'if only we can get to 18 months, we can get through it all', I would say, wishing away every minute.

There are four babies I'll never hold, so holding you was life-changing. I remember the joy of your birth. My mum was with me and we laughed and joked and smiled at the wonder of it all. Hubby was overjoyed and especially delighted when you came out ginger like him! Daisy and Poppy couldn't believe their luck - a perfect little doll that moved. All was well with the world.

And four days later, I lost my mum. She did not die, but I was left with her shadow and the loss of never being held ferociously again, as I held you.

Those days and weeks and months that followed, I'm ashamed to say, were dark, dark, dark dark days. It was as if my heart wasn't big enough for all the love and all the grief I was feeling, and so the grief overwhelmed it all. There were days, even moments, when I literally did not know how to get through to the next.

But you are a fighter. You are an energy force unlike anything I have ever encountered. You are a mystical beautiful beast that rose from the ashes of my life and battled and beat me until I broke through the grief and bathed in the love. You are like dynamite. You are a ball of fire. You are a hurricane of love and glory and mischief and enchantment and magic and mayhem.

We have made it to 18 months and you got me there by the sheer will of your love, the ferocity of your hugs, the glory of your gusto. You are a little goddess of goodness, and a little demon of devilment.

You have broken every bowl in the house and have started on the new batch. We no longer have stools or chairs in our kitchen as you use them to climb into the cupboards and break everything you find. You're favourite was dragging the stool over to the fridge door and pushing the water dispenser until the floor was flooded. No-one is allowed a drink because you pour water over my computer whenever you can. You eat snails and worms and terrorise the cat. You've battered the kitchen cupboards so much all the locks have given up in defeat. You've drawn on every surface of the house, and yesterday poured my nail varnish all over our bed. Most days, all any of us say is a screeching "Rubeeeeeeee!"

But you have the smile of an angel. You have the giggles of a cherub. You have the capacity to love and show affection like an army of babies. When you run into my arms, and bury your face in my neck, squirming to get your body as close to mine as humanly possible, it's like the earth melts away and we are floating in space. And nothing makes my mum's face light up as much as the sight of you.

Today you are 18 months old. I no longer wish away the moments, but relish every frustrating, fabulous second (with a slight trepidation as to what you're going to put me through over the next 18 months, the next 18 years, and the next 18 years after that. I'm on a health regime just so I can stay alive long enough to keep you out of trouble for as long as possible).

We made it. I've been up since 4am with Poppy coughing. Yesterday Daisy called me a Poo Poo Head before storming out of the room. And you? You smashed my iphone. For the third time.

Happy days.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

struck by a stroke

It's been a funny week. Last year, every day was dominated by my mum's stroke - either in the practical arrangements of travelling constantly to Belfast with a newborn and two children, or the emotional - the sheer pain and weight of missing her. But this year has brought an acceptance, an ability to take the weight off my shoulders occassionally and live my life, even enjoy it. Her stroke has melded into our lives instead of dominating it - and living with it has become a way of life.
But there are moments when it flares again, a reminder of what is, and what was.
Yesterday my brother was over seeing my mum. He decided to wheel her round to one of her friends for a change of scenery. On the phone to him earlier, I had begged him to put something decent on her, brush her hair and put on a bit of lippy. My brother and dad are great with my mum, but let's face it, they're men. She has a tendency to look like the Wild Woman of the West in their care. An hour later he called back. He needed guidance. He had made sure she had some good clothes on and now he stood opposite her, staring into the mystical abyss that was a woman's make-up bag and he needed me to tell him what to do. So I found myself standing in my kitchen, phone in hand, directing my 46 year old brother on powder blush and lipstick.
"Is it meant to leave a brown ring around her face?" he enquired dubiously.
I'm not sure how she looked in the end, but he tried. And I love him even more for it.
And today, one of my articles appeared in the Irish Times. I had written it a couple of months ago, and I HAD written it. But still. It was a shock. To see our story in print. To see my account of my mum's stroke in a national newspaper. I link it here.
The impact of a stroke can strike at any time.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The gorgeous and the grotesque

Children. They are the ridiculous and the sublime, and everything in between...including the gorgeaous and grotesque. I'll start with the latter - and I suggest you look away now if you are anyway sensitive.

Yesterday I had the unglamorous task of chasing my toddler round the house trying to get the soggy tissue paper out of her mouth....... tissue paper that was soggy because she had retrieved it from the toilet..... the toilet that was full of my eldest daughter's poo before she had had a chance to flush. Not one of my better moments. I only recovered when they were all gorgeous this morning. As we ate breakfast, they broke into a spontanious Raspberry finger puppet show - like you do. I was still laughing 8 hours later....

Although I was momentarily sobered by a event mid-morning. I was baking brownies (sometimes I have to admit that baking has nothing to do with the kids, and everything to do with my mid-morning snack cravings) and Ruby was playing on the decking where a long slithery worm was casually making its way to nowhere. I turned my back for a moment to stir the chocolate and when I returned, the worm was no more. Maybe he was a super-worm and slithered really really fast. Sometimes it's just better not to know....

Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy birthday to me

Today is my birthday... I'm going to focus on being 42 years young..... the alternative is too depressing. It started well - three singing children and a basket full of presents....

Not sure what it says about me that I got a bottle of wine from my six year old! When Daddy asked her what she wanted to get me, she replied, "well, her favourite thing is wine!" She even knew which bottle I liked.... mmmm, must keep my tea-time musings to myself in future ("only 2 more hours till I can have my first sip!").
It got better...I took my beautiful girls out for lunch and I felt for once people were looking at me thinking, 'ah, isn't she lucky' as opposed to the usual looks of ' dear god, she has her hands full!' For once I felt like this parenting lark is a doddle. (Last week I was out in a cafe and Ruby was being her usual exhuberant self - a woman sitting with her perfectly behaved, perfectly quiet child said to me on the way out as I struggled to strap Ruby into her pram..."you must have done something really awful in a previous life to have got a child like that..!' I promise you, those were her words to me. The bitch. It made me love Ruby all the more.
This afternoon, hubby came home early and we all had birthday cake, played musical statues and lots of board games. Tonight hubby and I go out for dinner and tomorrow I hit the town with a big bunch of girlfriends. It's ok being 42. The world is not imploding, and my world is expanding.
I feel like I've passed some test. The last 6 years have been extraordinarily hard, and the last 2 unfeasibly difficult. I miss my mum every single day, especially on a day like today. She would have been the first to call, the most excited for me, and most probably would have been sitting on that bed this morning too. I spoke to her this morning but she couldn't understand it was my birthday. The pain still has the power to punch me. But, I took the girls to lunch where I always took her for her birthday... another reminder that a new cycle has begun, where I am the mother.
I am 42 years young, I have good days and bad. But the good days are great and the bad days fade in memory.

Friday, February 17, 2012

what is it about children?

What is it about children that every morning we have to get up for school, they sleep so deeply we have to wake them at 7am....... but when there is no school - on half-term, or weekends they wake up before Jack Frost has finished his work, and the moon is still in full bloom? Yesterday I was woken at 06.00 and this morning at 05.45... the o being -like Robin Williams famously said - OH my god are you serious!!!!!!!!! By 9.30 we had made a lego treehouse, eaten two breakfasts, gone to the shops when Daidsy said, "is it lunchtime yet?" I won't repeat here what I replied.

What is it about children that they love, crave, beg for popcorn one week, and just after you buy the Tesco mega pack offer (3 mega packs for the price of two) - that's 8 bags per pack = 24 bags of popcorn...... they decide they hate popcorn?

What is it about children that they know exactly (down to the tone, the pitch, the timing) how to push your buttons? The buttons that have the nuclear warning on the front. The buttons that require three codes, synched to attack together and say the one thing that overides all the defence mechanisms to all out nucleur warfare?

What is it about children that no matter what you buy them, within minutes they want more? But give them a cardboard box or an empty milk carton and some pebbles and they'll play for an hour (and what is it about me that I never, ever learn this and get spectacularly narky about the lack of gratitude in their gift????????)

What is it about children that no matter how polite and beautiful they are in the hidden confines of your house, like metal - as soon as you expose them to the outside world they react with the air like a corrosive explosive and blow up in your face? As my mum's best friend comes to visit, they waltz in and ask if she bought them a present.....

What is it about children that they call to your inner child.... like little sirens whispering through the trees, pulling, cajoling, tempting out your petulance, your pouting, your pantomime version of yourself, stamping your feet, throwing tantrums, yelling 'it's not fair!' and 'stop being such a child!'
"But I am a child, mummy!"

What is it about children that make you smile with the simplicity of life?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

and then there are days like this.....

and moments like this... and the world feels like its mine, and I'm happy with my place in it. Children can torture you, and love you to death all at the same time. They make you human and animal. They straighten you out, and drive you round the twist. They hurt you and heal you. They are the hardest thing we ever do. And of course, the best. Today I decided to be Tigger, and it made all the difference....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

the downs and downs parenting

There's meant to be an 'up' in that phrase but i'm finding it hard to find the up these days. It seems to be downshill all the way at the moment. Depression is a bit like a coldsore. It's there all the time, in me, just beneath the surface. But much of the time it can be hidden, albeit under the surface, but away from public view.... in my system. Then, a small itch bubbles up. A weird feeling that something is wrong but nothing to see for it. It broods and boild and then, erupts. It erupts so venomously, so viralantly, that although just a small part of me, it takes over complety, and I walk round as if it is covering my whole face. And like a coldsore, you just have to bide your time.
Everything is hard these days. Making the breakfast. Wiping Ruby's uneaten breakfast off the floor. Getting four of us dressed, fed, and out the door every morning. Getting my work down while Ruby sleeps. What to make for lunch. Making lunch. Wiping Ruby's uneaten lunch off the floor. Endless car seat manoevers endless times a day. What to make for tea. Making tea. Wiping Ruby's uneaten tea off the floor. Bedtime routine. Finding the energy to work in the evenings, deadlines looming, bed calling.
So soon after stinging me with her last slap in the face, Daisy threw me another punch. This time I was giving out about something and she just walked off saying 'blah, blah, blah'. That's what my voice sounds like to them now - white background noise. blah, blah, blah. Everyone talks about the joy of parenting. Everyone talks about the sense of achievement, and the sheer pleasure of children. No-one talks about the bone-crushing monotony. The nerve-wrecking lack of validation. The hurt, the frustration, the feeling of failure, the despair, the constant questioning of your parenting skills, the punches, the lack of time to be yourself. And then you wake up the next day and try and start it all over again, trying to make it better, trying to make yourself better and the sheer uphill exhaustion of doing it all again, but better, and getting to the end of the day more times than not feeling you fared worse.
I have three amazing children. I want them to be amazed by me. I want my voice to be something of a building block in their lives. I want them to see how to live by watching me. I'm not doing any of things right now.
And then I watch something like this - the last Lecture by Randy Pausch and I realise I have a choice. To live or to die. To be Tigger or Eyore. To engage or disconnect. To fight or run. To give them a legacy or fade away.....
So, tomorrow is another day..... to start living my childhood dreams and making sure my girls have dreams worth wishing for...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My life is a Rod Stewart song....

And so the dreaded day arrived. I knew it would - it's par for the course in parenting, right? But secretly (arrogantly? hopefully? smugly?) as one by one of my friends fell, wounded by the wicked words of innocent anger, I couldn't really believe my first born baby would turn on me. But now, I too have been shot by the brutal bullet...... 'I hate you'...
She's six. So I suppose I've fared ok so far. I always thought I'd laugh it off - after all - its just frustration, just justifiable anger that I am the boss and she has to do as she's told. It's just a churlish childish chant, something to hurl at me, to lash out with because her little body and bourgeoning mind can't yet cope with the tsunami of feelings and frustrations of life.
I knew all that. And it still stung. Like a winter wasp that hides in the carpet, the sting sliced through skin, shuddering through me, making my eyes water.
And in response to her childish attack, did I behave like an adult? No, I did not. I walked out of the bedroom and couldn't look or speak to her. I was hurt. Like a child. Until she found me out and hugged me.
Now of course, my inner child has gone back to sleep, and the mature mother that I am has re-emerged and laughing about it. Now when we hug, or say goodnight, I laugh and say, "So, do you love me or hate me?"
And she smiles shyly, hugs harder and shouts,"Love you!"
No doubt she'll sting me again. But like good ol' Rod used to sing.... the first cut is the deepest.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Childhood dreams

Look at it..... in all its glory.

Daisy has been having a hard time of late - you know, the world of a six year old can be hard to navigate at times. And, if truth be told, I've found being the mum to a six year old hard to navigate at times too. Having two younger sisters six year old can be hard to navigate at times. It's hard enough being an adult woman and yearning for that much sought after 'room of one's own' as Virginia Woolf extolled. As a writer and blogger, my desk is wherever the kids have left enough space on the table to fit my laptop on. Sometimes its the car. Sometimes the sofa. But, I have a cupboard that is all my own..... I have to be thankful for something. And so I've begun to see how frustrating things are for Daisy. She shares a bedroom, and everything she owns is on display and vulnerable to the prying hands of one sister, and the destructive hands of the other. She doesn't even have a drawer to call her own. She learned to read recently and it has opened up her world. She has always loved books, and had been writing little stories for months (first with drawings, and now with words.....). she has scraps of paper hidden all over the house, and cries with rage when she discovers Ruby has eaten them!

And so, I searched back to my own childhood and found the very thing that I would have loved as a child. I remember my nanna and pappa's mahogany writing desk. It was a world of wonder to me, and I would spend hours searching the cubby holes, playing with the stationery and pretending I was important. And so as a well done for learning to read so well, we got Daisy her own little writing desk. I think one of the happiest hours of my life was filling the little drawers and cubby holes with staionery I bought (I'm still obsessed - my friends drool over designer handbags, I go ga-ga in stationery shops), and getting it ready for her. She was delighted. Daisy doesn't do big shows of emotion, but she was shyly ecstatic. And the first thing she sat and wrote? A thank you card to me..... The best bit is the roll down lock - not only does she have her own drawers now, she can hide away all her work. We all need a room (cupboard, space) of our own... even when we're six.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Coming clean and getting dirty...

I can see from the long lost date of my last blog that the effects of my trip are still working! In fact, I've become so laid back this last while, my horribly kitsh, beautifuly snuggly purple cheneille dressing gown has become like a second skin. I've done more arts and crafts with the girls in the last month than I have in a year, and I survived Christmas, 4 different sets of visitors, a baking bonanza and various family ailments with barely a wimper.

Time to come clean. Last April I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. I'd always been a half-full glass sort of girl - every problem just needed a solution. But my life was in such a mess it wasn't that I suddenly saw the glass as half-empty - I couldn't see the glass at all. The fog in my brain, the grief I was feeling, the helplessness that was drowning me meant at times I could not see how I would make it to the end of the minute, never mind the hour, never mind the day. One day I might write about it more... but the place I went to still frightens me.
Time to come clean. I have found Ruby the hardest baby of all. I have found Ruby unbearable at times. I have been reduced to tears and tantrums and sheer screaming by her exhuberance and willpower.
Time to come clean. The last year I have had to learn to love my mum again. I have grieved for the one I had, and have had to learn to embrace the shadow she has become since her stroke. Despite seeing her as much as I could, I would cry on the drive up with the reluctance I felt. I would have to walk into another room and literally scream into a cushion, before arranging my face and walking back to her lying in her bed.
The last year has been the toughest struggle of my life just to survive. Just to get to the end of it. But slowly, slowly, I am recovering. I am gaining strength. I have found my mojo.
I no longer dread my mum; I can't wait to see her and tell her all the news.
I no longer hide from my girls in the bathroom; I put everything else aside and play with them.
I no longer wince when Ruby cries and holds her arms up to be held; I swoop her up and make her giggle.

I've had to make some decisions for the sake of my mental health - and therefore the sake of my family. I buried the superwoman aspiration. I cremated the yummy mummy goal. I sucked the spotless house ambition up the hoover.

I haven't written a blog in 3 weeks because, well, other things were happening. And you know what? The world didn't fall apart. I didn't write a thing for three weeks in fact and you know what? I had a freezer full of prepared food for Christmas and guests and I spent the time with them and the kids instead of missing all the fun. I prioritised. I took breaks. The other morning, I put Ruby back down to sleep, the girls in front of the telly, and I went back to bed with my book and a cup of tea. I decided it was my Christmas holiday too. And you know what? The parenting police didn't come and lock me up. The gremlin on my shoulder who usually tells me I have no right to rest was asleep. I went back to bed and read my book. I didn't write my blog. I didn't make lists. I didn't bake, and most of all, I didn't clean. There is dust in places there shoudn't be. And you know what? I'm happier for it.
So, I've come clean, and the house is going to get dirtier.
Happy new year!