Saturday, March 30, 2013

Growing down

I've decided I want to grow down for a while.  Not reduce my height grow down, but the grow down that is the opposite of grow up. I want to grow down and find all those fun and childish values that get pushed out of the way to make room for more bone mass and chocolate induced fat cells as we get older.
Life has got super serious the last couple of years, super serious and super super stretched. I've taken on too much work, but still raise the girls, so I find myself lurking at my desk while the rest of humanity (rightly) use the dark hours for sleep, I have too much time away from them,  and back to the keyboard every evening once I've done the ususal routine of putting Ruby back to bed 14 times, whilst trying not to throw her (and me) out the window in frustration.
I care for my mum. I care for my children. I care for my husband. I care for the house, the family meals, the dog. I work. I no longer write my novel as there is no time. I barely write this blog.  But that's the time that's in it, those sandwhich years where I am the filling (nearing out of date) squashed between the breads of burden.
So to put a bit of life back into that filling (since I can't change the bread), I've two chutney challenges for myself.
The first is to reduce my workload so that I can fit some stuff in that (shock, horrow! How dare she?) is in fact just for me. Like writing, like running.  I have just made that income v living balance decision, and its scary but it's good.
And the second is to grow down. A few things happened in the space of a week to make me realise I've become too grown up. One morning Ruby was awake early and we went to walk the dog. I was in fowl form as I had hoped to get some work done before the girls all got up, so I stomped around the soggy park in the rain, dog and child in tow. I'd put Ruby's wet gear and wellies on so when she spotted a big muddy puddle she ran for it like a true Peppa Pig fan. The lure of her jumping around in this mire of mud was too much and I stomped right in and it splashed my mood away (I did not have wet gear and wellies on which made me rather sodden by that kinda added to the joy). And there it was. A moment of joy in a world of work. I grew down for a little bit and it gave me joy.
A few days later I was out with the girls and we were at an outdoor farm / playground place and Poppy said, "Mum, let's run to that fence and back again." I looked at her with that adult face that says, "for what purpose?" Because everything we do as adults has to have a purpose. And Daisy looked right back at me and said, "Why don't grown ups run?"  Kids run everywhere. Just for the pure expression of energy and joy. They see a space and they see a chance to run. Not the running (I'm supposed) to do where I set my distance, measure my pace and pound the path. Just a run. From here to there. Just for the fun of it.  So we did.We ran to the fence and back several times and puffed out lots of laughs between strained breaths.
I was at a worky workshop this week, and to start us off we were asked to draw the person beside us and then introduce them - their name and where they worked etc.  The room was full of apologies and cringy laments about bad drawings and 'it doesn't look like you's'.  The facilitator threw away a comment - if she had done this with a group of children, they would have attacked the challenge with vigour and made no apology for their masterpieces. Why do we loose that confidence, that enthusiasm, that total lack of embarrassment when we grow up?
And the last reason for wanting to grow down? If I don't grow down, and instead keep growing up, I'll keep growing old. My beautiful (grown down) daughter was sitting on my bed while I got dressed the other day. She came up behind me and squeezed my bum. "I love your bum mum," she said. "Thanks lovely!" I said, deligthed to be appreciated. "Yeah, it's really squidgy."  This was followed by a perfectly innocent "I like your boobs too - they look like monkeys hanging down from a tree."
So, two things I take from this. I have to make time to exercise so I do stay young and fit. And that kids call it as it is. They don't evaluate every comment, sanction every thought before they make them. They just accept who they are, and see things in simplicity.
So here's my simple thought. I'm super busy. I'm super stretched. I'm super sodding strangled.  And I'm not feeling super at all. In fact, I'm feeling rather crap.  So, I'm going to be grown up and cut down on work, and I'm going to be grown down and try and enjoy the simpler things in life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

the sound of heaven

Thre is no greater sound than the cacophony of childish giggles, yells and squeals. It is the sound of life living.

But there is no sweeter sound than the seconds after they all run out the door......a stampede of squealing, shouting shoe-searching, coat catching, that leaves a wake of  pure, blissful, unadulterated silence.   A silence so powerful it can knock you over.

It is rare, and all the sweeter for that. But, apart from being a mere pleasant moment that most parents at some points have sighed, "ah, peace." I wonder is it actually good for us?

I find myself increasingly searching silence. I used to relish the rare moments of being in the car by myself and slot my favourite CD on, blasting it loud and singing songs that didn't have the words 'bus', 'star', or 'baby.'  But now?  I turn off the cd player and listen to a blasting of silence.  I no longer have the TV in the background in the eveing while I potter round doing odd jobs. I potter in peace. I sometimes even take it a step further. I lie in bed sometimes and put my book down and just lie there. Awake, in the moment, taking a little moment to be, slightly amazed and bewildered that no-one is talking to me.

Damn. I must be getting old. I'll be telling them to turn down the music next.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My new mantra

I'm a 40-ish woman. I'm pretty confident that anyone reading this in that age bracket has gone through enough matras over the years to fill a self-help book. In my teens it was all about 'fit in, fit, fit in.'  Then in my late teens, early twenties it was all about ' stand out, stand out, stand out.'  Then it became less about me and all about the world, 'escape! explore! Seize the day!'
Then my 30's hit and it was all about being deliciously selfish - 'be the best. Work hard, play hard.' Then parenting arrived like a punch in the face and it was all about keeping my sanity. 'just get throguh each day! Be a better parent tomorrow."
Now? Now my mantra is not to have a mantra.  I'm so over with mantra's. I'm done with the litte voice in my head always telling me how to behave, and how I should be. I'm so finished with self-imposed rules and regulations.
And as a kick-start I'm giving something up for Lent. It was going to be baking and dark chocolate and then I realised that the vista of 40 days without the central comfort compenents of my life was too appalling, I opened a packet of Bourneville chocolate and let it go.
So yes. My mantra / lent sacrifice is not to mantra. But I've also gone a step further and banned a word. Recently I have banned my middle sparkle from saying the word 'but'. Everytime i ask her to do something she replies with a sentence beginning with 'But... I'm doing something / too tired etc etc etc'. So I've banned the word. It was easier than banning her.
I'm considering banning rolling eyes too. And the word 'whatever.'
So I'm now imposing a word ban on myself. I am no longer allowed to use the words "I should be doing........" When I do something even remotely relaxing, or for myself, those words pop into my head. So now they're banned.
So no mantra and no 'I should be doing....." I'm just going to be. Damn, that sounds like a mantra. Oh well. Let it be.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

degrees of separation

I'm no longer special. And it's great!

When I first had Daisy, I became her world. Literally. Like any parent. When hubby went off to Germany while I nurtured our new baby to be, Daisy and I lived in a little bubble of love together.  When Poppy came along, it was all about keeping them apart for fear Daisy would batter her!  And I became Poppy's world. She wouldn't let me out of her sight for two years! But slowly something changed. They became friends, sitting side by side in their double buggy like peas in the pod. But still, for a long time, they were little selfish beings who just wanted me or daddy. But now, as Ruby has entered the fold - along with a very needy puppy! - our little bubble has expanded and enlarged, its membrane glowing with the colours of a rainbow as the sun shines and warms us.

And I watch an extraordinary thing. Alongside the wonderful connection I have with each of them, I watch how each of my children develops unbreakable relationships with each other - Daisy and Poppy, Daisy and Ruby, Poppy and Ruby. And of course Ruby and her soul-mate, Olly the dog. Now I can step back a little now and watch, mug of hot tea in hand (how many cups of tea have grown cold the last 7 years, neglected while I am pulled away again to give comfort, or respond to need?) and smile as I watch from the sidelines as they fight. bicker, hug, love, laugh, joke, tease, enourage, teach and learn from each other. I am still their world I think, but their universe is expanding and we are all satalites to each other, spinning round each other giving and getting life.

As my brother and I navigate the traumatic and emotional landscape of caring for our parents, our life together stands us in good stead as we steady and support each other (and annoy each other too!).  And so I stand back and see that the beginnings of a lifetime of connections are forming now that will help carry them all through life. And me too. Phew, this tea tastes good hot!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Closed minds

I've just walked through a riot. Ok, a riot in waiting. I always thought riots were moments of collective spontaneous combustion - a spark of anger / frustration / thuggery / protest - flared by a collective calamatous conscious of intent. But today in Belfast, I saw that in fact it is a premeditated, organised, cautious stand-off gone wrong (or gone right, depending which side of the barricade you are on.)
 A riot in waiting. The calm before the storm. The build-up before the explosion.
For weeks I've been watching the cowardly covered faces of youths who know nothing to the life we used to live in 'the old days' - spurred by the 'craic' of the riot rather than a passion for politics. Night after recent night I've watched the news with sadness, disappointment and a little shame that once again the streets I grew up in are being burned by petrol bombs and battered by bricks.
When I come up to look after my mum, I am more emmersed in the news, I shake my head in disgust at these overgrown children acting like violent petulant toddlers throwing a tantrum.
So I'm on my way to get the train back to Dublin, desperate to see my girls. My dad has driven me but I'm keen for him to get home quickly to mum, she can't be left alone for long. So when we see a big crowd loitering (they only loiter with intent in Belfast) I immediately tell Dad to stop. I'll walk the mile or so to go, he needs to get back to mum.
It was only when I got nearer, I realised the crowd was dense and deadly silent. Why oh why am I dragging my daughter's luminous pink wheelie case?  I realise a few of them have balaclavas and scarves over their faces. The side streets have shadows, and small piles of bricks.
Everyone is quiet. There is no noise, apart from the flock of helicopters overhead. Just people watching being watched. Because as I drag my silly fiscia case through the crowd, my heart sinks (further). The road up ahead is blocked by a police barricade of officers dressed in full riot gear, and about 20 riot vans. Behind them half a mile away is the train station.  There was no way through.
Do I agree with the protestors? I honestly don't know. I'm protestant but consider myself Irish. Northern Ireland is half catholic/half Irish and so I can understand why flying the Union Jack all the time upsets them. And I understand why taking it down upsets the unionists. If I had my way, I would remove all flags - apart from religion they have caused more death and destruction than anything else in history.
Anyway, regardless of what I think, any sympathy I might have had went up in the first whiff of smoke from a petrol bomb.
So I drag my bright pink children's wheelie case through the quiet, dense crowd. I avoid a balaclava and speak to a face. How might I get to the train station? He nods to the baricade, and suggests I ask. Oh. Ok then. Sounds like a plan. I realise everyone is calm (except me). Smiling even. Just waiting.
So I drag my pink case to the line of riot police and peer into a black visor. Both sides of the barricade use a facial cover to protect them from the other. What a weird world we live in. What a bizare way to spend your Saturday afternoon.
I point pathetically to my pinkness, and nod to the train station. He nods back and steps aside. I walk through this army of black and plastic shields, past the armour plated vans, and onto an empty main road. I walk as fast as I can (OK, I ran) until I was away enough to look back. yep. They're all still there. Waiting for the riot.
I'm at the station now. My train's delayed due to a security alert - just like the 'good ol' days'. Except they weren't that good. No matter how things change, sometimes they stay the same.

Monday, January 7, 2013


The girl on the bus.

The girl with no name.

In most cases, having no name takes away our dignity, but this time it gives some.

Gang raped and abused on a Delhi bus, then thrown naked on the street like rubbish, her dignity was stripped along with her clothes. It's right that the world weeps for her pain and her death, but only her family and friends mourn for her. Keeping her name protects her in a way she couldn't be protected that night.

It haunts me. How the last hour of her life was so violent and shocking and sordid and painful and lonely.  Of course I want to see a picture of her, but then I will only imagine the terrible things that happen to her more.  Better her story raises the collective conscience, and not her face. Let her mother gaze and touch her face in the photo. Let her father and brothers and sisters and friends dream of her face. She belongs to them.  But her story belongs to everyone who wants equality and justice and basic bloody behaviour and attitudes towards women.

I have three daughters, all with beautiful, funny, bold, clever faces. As their mum, I am going to do everything to make sure my girls have an equal, strong chance in life. They will know and love their name, and never be afraid to shout it loud. I hope they have courage and kindness, belief in themselves and compassion for others, confidence and charisma. I've no doubt the parents of that girl, who now whisper her name every moment of the day in grief, felt the same way. 

I cannot imagine, I literally cannot begin to imagine how they must feel now. A beautiful, clever girl with a lifetime of potential, tortured, abused, and murdered by 6 evil creatures who deserve to have their names said loud and clear when the verdict returns Guilty.

I hold my girls a little tighter. And I say their names a little louder. That girl should have had her name read aloud when she graduated; whispered lovingly when she fell in love; perhaps said strongly when she married; replaced by Mummy when she became a parent. Now her name won't be said, but justice must be done, in her name.  And things must change, in her name. And those men should be punished, in her name. And tonight, girl on the bus, I will think of you, and whisper my daughter's names.