Wednesday 29 February 2012

Easy Parenting

Easy parenting? I don’t know about you, but there is no such thing really, is there? Hands up all of those who disagree. Sorry now, the well-known A-Lister down the back, but you have lots of nannies and home help so I’m afraid you don’t count. Don’t take it personally, but the rest of us mere mortals need to accept help on an ad hoc basis. With or without that annoying spare tyre we just can’t seem to lose, despite the number of workout DVD’s we invest in. Put quite simply, parenting is one of, if not the hardest job we will ever do. Nobody warns you. (Ok, ok, I just didn’t listen). If today, I saw an ad for it in the paper; I would distance myself as far as possible from it. I am reminded of a time BC (Before Childers) when I worked outside the home. In every new job I started, I was routinely given a contract from my new employer. Each contract outlined in detail the job description, the hours of work and that all important salary. Your Honour, I object! I do not recall receiving the aforementioned contract when I signed up for motherhood. I did not know the job title would be as broad as Chef, Accountant, Personal Assistant to a number of small people, Nurse on occasion, Bank Manager, Referee, Cleaner or Chauffer. I was not made aware that the hours of work extended to 24/7 all year round and yes, I suspected that there would be minimum pay, but in my defence, your Honour, I didn’t grasp the ramifications of that because I had no idea what was ahead of me. Does anyone? There isn’t a jury in the land that would convict me for complaining about it. If a case such as this were to appear before an Equality Tribunal it would surely be thrown out. Dismissed for its slavery like work ethic, its sexist connotations because only women can give birth and strong discriminatory leanings because women receive paid maternity leave and men don’t. It has to be said, the media comes under a lot of criticism for how it places already stressed parents under even more pressure to have it all and do it all. Us women, nay mothers, can be our own worst enemy. Nobody can have it all and do it all well. Not even the celebrities. A glittering career, a beautiful home and the perfect body comes at a cost. Something has to give somewhere down the line. Parenthood, despite what popular magazines and culture will dictate, is not a competition. That’s right; you’re supposed to enjoy this journey. Hard I know when it’s 3am and you’re up, yet again, with a poorly, teething baby. Harder still when you yourself do not feel 100% but have no choice other than to keep going. For some people, plopping their charges in front of a DVD for thirty minutes while they get on with preparing the main meal of the day is what works best for them. We all need to find what works for us. Whether we’re stay at home parents or working outside the home, we all lead busy lives. We’re all on the same team and our common link is our kids and wanting what’s best for them. Parenting may not be easy but I believe it is possible to make it just a little bit easier. The first step to take in that direction is to let up on the expectation. Lower all of your expectations. Bring them right down. Don’t expect too much of yourself in the early daze. You’re going to be tired. Unbelievably tired. Do as much as you are able to and no more. Don’t expect your house to be in its usual spick and span condition. Remember, you have children now and it’s ok for it to be just good enough. But do expect people, friends and family, to help out. In these challenging times, it is not well meant advice parents need, but hands on help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it if you need it. Don’t confine yourself to the house either. Even if it is just a walk to the shops for a litre of milk, a break from the confines of the four walls will do everyone good. And on the way there, you will always see someone with a line of kids in tow, looking fantastic and totally unfazed by the modern pressures of parenthood. Think of the swan gliding serenely on the river; not a care in the world and not a feather out of place. But look closely under the surface of the water and watch the frantic paddle paddle movement of her feet. We all have a little bit of that going on inside us. Some of us are better at hiding it than others. And last but not least, don’t expect your body to return to its pre-baby shape too soon. Chances are it never will and it’s ok for that to be just good enough too. Remember, in your little baby’s eyes, you are perfect. Close your eyes now and I’ll play with you a game I play with the boys sometimes. You’re in the cinema. Picture the big screen in front of you. Now, the big movie starts. Up there, in all your glory is you. Plus every other mother you know and a few extras besides. Keep watching. Everyone is forming a circle and the first person in the circle, that would be you, pats the mother in front on the back. Like a domino effect, everyone follows suit until all the mothers are patting each other on the back. Well? Don’t we deserve it?

Monday 27 February 2012

An Old Timer's Guide for First Timers

You can spot the first time yummy mummies to be at a glance.  Or at least I can.  They are perfectly manicured and accessorised from glorious hair do right down to their very fashionable, albeit unsuitable, footwear.  They are still refreshingly touchy feely with their partners and point out the cute and amusing things they’ve spotted in the mother and baby magazine they’re reading.  We veterans, on the other hand, are equally as recognisable.  Imperfectly groomed, hair scraped back into a pony tail, sensible and scuffed footwear.  Our attire is hastily thrown together and most likely the closest item to hand that morning, even if it did come off the top of the laundry pile.  But the biggest give-away?  If, and it’s a big if, our partners are with us at this ante-natal appointment, we are sat apart.  Both of us involved in our separate pastime.  She is most likely writing a shopping list and he is reading a paper.  When I was pregnant with Screecher Creature No. 1, I think Mister Husband came with me when I peed into the bottle for that first dipstick test at the GP’s.  He was present and correct for every single ante-natal appointment.  Ironically enough, he was sent home when I was induced as “nothing was happening” but then “something” definitely began to happen and all of a sudden I was 7cm delighted and he was 40 minutes away.  I was terrified he wouldn’t make it for the birth but, in true rom-com movie fashion of course he did and we all lived happily ever after.  But with my other three pregnancies, I attended all ante-natal appointments solo, by mutual agreement.  Been there, done that, wore the t-shirt.  If, on the huge off chance that you are a man reading this, and she asks what you can do for her when she is carrying your baby, take note.  A lie in will get you massive brownie points.  Especially if you already have children.  If you do, please, please feed and dress these children while she is sleeping.  Rinse off whatever is in the sink and wipe down the counter tops. There is no point having a lie in if there is work waiting to be done when she gets up.  Oh, and make her a cuppa when she wakes.  If she wants to sleep in the spare room every once in a while, let her!  It doesn’t mean your relationship is on the rocks and it is the beginning of the end.  Although it very well could be if she doesn’t get a decent night’s sleep without being pressed up against another hot and sweaty body.  Yes, yours.  And no, not in a good way.  If that pillow she could not live without for the duration of her pregnancy, the one she used to raise her heavy and uncomfortable swollen belly off the bed, is still in the bed long after the baby is born, whisht!  Let her have it!  Seriously, it’s small fry.  Don’t comment, for the love of God; don’t pass any remarks on the huge amount of chocolate she can put away.  She is pregnant, she feels she is fat so she may as well, she knows how she looks, asking her does she really need that extra piece of chocolate could get you killed.  Think death by pregnancy hormonal rage.  Estimated Due Date is near.  Inform yourself of the whereabouts of the hospital bags.  Make sure there is fuel in your car.  Do you know the way to the hospital?  The proper way and not a short cut?  Discuss with her beforehand what she would like to do with regard to visitors.  Does she want excited family members outside eagerly waiting for “a hold” as soon as she pops, or would she prefer visitors to wait until she is back home.  Major, major life changing event for both of you here.  Absorb every moment of it together first before inviting an audience!  Finally.  You thought it would never get here but D Day has arrived!  Hold her hand.  Don’t hold her hand.  Basically, if she asks you to stand on your head in the corner, juggle two ten pin bowling balls and read the golden pages from back to front, don’t ask questions, just do it! Do whatever it is she asks.  Allow her to birth in her own fashion.  Tell her she is doing great, give her space, be there but not with a look of horror on your face.  Leave the squeamish outside the door.  This is new life we’re talking about here.  Your baby’s life.  It will never get any better than this.  And now you’re home.  The baby is home.  But she is not.  In her place is Mother Tiger.  She was always there, this fearsome feline, just hidden under her old persona.  Repeat all of the above Before New Baby steps and give her a lie in.  If she wants to sleep in the spare room with the baby, in the bed beside her, support her.  Make her endless cups of tea.  Mother the mother.  Restrict those visitors.  Believe me, they will be more welcome a month or two down the line when things settle.  Tell her she is great, give her space. Allow her to mother the baby in her own fashion.  This new life we’re talking about here, is your family’s life and it doesn’t get much better than this. Be supportive.  And if you are reading this and someone you know is about to give birth or has given birth, by all means visit but don’t outstay your welcome.  Don’t expect to be entertained.  Make the new parents a sandwich and a cuppa.  Bring a present for them and not the baby.  Glossy magazines are a nice bit of escapism for her and maybe a DVD box set that they can both watch together.  This only works if it’s a first baby though.  (Mister Husband always complained he never got a present and when pushed he admitted whiskey would have gone down very well, thank you!)   Ready to heat up meals will always be welcome.  In disposable containers.  Take their wash basket with you when you’re leaving.  Freshly laundered, fragrant smelling clobber is a fantastic present.  No parent will refuse an offer of a babysitter. It might not be accepted immediately, possibly sometime in the coming 12 months, but keep offering.  Even if it’s taken up just so she can have a decent nap herself in the middle of the afternoon.  Anyone can buy a bundle of nappies and a box of wipes.  A hamper is a lovely gesture.  Babygros’ keep the baby warm and cute outfits are perfect for photos.  But the best present of all is to maybe offer an ear every now and again.  Company at the kitchen table is the icing on the cake even if you utter less than 100 words.   This woman has the most gorgeous baby in the whole world, tell her that.  Tell her she is doing great.  Keep telling her that.  In general women are fantastic to each other, especially when there is a little baby in the picture.  What goes around comes around and no-one forgets a good deed.                    

Friday 24 February 2012

Keep on Running. Week 1

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Or at least for the next 6 weeks anyway.  I have been bullied into registering for the SPAR and Ray for 5k.   This delightful little exercise in torture is 5 runs in 5 locations with Ray D’Arcy of Today FM. Everyone and anyone can run it.  The one I have been hectored into is in the Phoenix Park on April 6th.  Good Friday if you don’t mind.  Already there is nothing good about it.  Once again, I opened my gob and words came out of it.  It seems I spoke a little too much at length about my book de jour; Run Fat B!tch Run. I know, I know, shut up about it!  Lookit, even if you have no intentions of getting up off that couch, go and read the book.  It is highly recommended and you’ll have it read in one night.  Two of my many sisters were obviously listening to me boring on about it as they have jumped onto my RFBR band wagon.  I just wish they brought coffee!  So Ruth Field, that’s 3 people, count them, three, from the one family who have read your book.  Two copies bought, 3 readers and today my own mother expressed an interest in reading it.  One of my sisters has been training for a long time already.  Jumping on her bike and completing 10k in 45 minutes is nothing to her.  She already does the 5k run with TriAthy of a Sunday morning.  (Bitch!)  My other sister is a walking wonder and has been known to visit the gym on regular occasion.  I’m still very much a learner runner.  But so far, so very good.  I’m really enjoying it.  I have mild concerns about my poor joints and how they might seek active retribution in my autumnal years.  But I’m swallowing calcium supplements in an effort to combat a possible strike later on.  At the moment I am managing (just!) 3.2k.  It’s door to door and I am aware that it’s under the target but I’ve come a long way.  Seven months ago I was taking a left at my front gate, walking 10 minutes and then taking 15 to get back home.  Granted Screecher Creature No. 4 was only 3 months old but the first time I literally turned that corner at the top of the road, walked out onto the main road and completed the circle home, was a very good day.  Now I’m running that circuit in 23 – 25 minutes with one brief walking break.  I suppose the Phoenix Park is my goal.  Aren’t you supposed to always have a fresh and vibrant carrot dangling on the end of your stick?  I was of 2 very large minds about my first run.  Admittedly the venue was a big spanner in the works for me. I’m a breastfeeding mother so I wasn’t keen on the Dublin location.  I began to think about the logistics. Brendan will be 11 months old at the time of the run, he’ll eat most anything put in front of him but my body doesn’t know that.  It’s not called supply and demand for nothing and if I don’t feed him, I get a tad uncomfortable.  Not very conducive to running.  Then it was pointed out to me that it’s a family day and Mister Husband would be more than welcome and he could mind the charges whilst I charge around the Phoenix Park.  My next cop-out was I’m scared; I’m only able for 3.2k at the moment.  Cyclist Sister wasn’t letting me off the hook.  You’ll be grand, she sez, think how great you’ll feel at the end of it and anyway, you’ve a whole 6 weeks to up your game.  Plus, she went on; it’s for everyone at all fitness levels.  See?  Bullied into it.  And at that point I could feel little flutters of excitement burgeoning.  Maybe it was possible.  Maybe I could do this.  I clicked onto the Today FM website and one little detail clinched it for me.  You get a t-shirt. In your goody bag! Ok, I fired off a quick text to Cyclist Sister before I could change my mind, sign me up.    There’s no turning back now.  I’m registered.  I’m afeared.  And I’m excited all at the same time.  Ruth Field, author of Run Fat B!tch Run, methinks you have created a monster!!           

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Whistle Blowers

I read somewhere that when you have kids you might as well hand them a baseball bat or similar, stand back and let them at it in your house.  Apparently it will save you loads of trouble having to watch your things die slowly. They compared it to removing a plaster.  Just rip it off.  Kinder and less painful in the long run.  Whoever “they” are “they” weren’t wrong.  About the demolition derby that is.  Especially most particularly when you have boys.  Two and a half years ago, my sister in law very kindly cleaned our house when I was sectioned. Oh ok, by sectioned I mean Caesarean and not remanded in a Looney bin. But she came away from the experience muttering about how “they even draw on the walls!”  They, in this case, being our boys.  I can spend an hour tidying up with little or no difference but Mister Husband, on the other hand, would put Aggie and Kim to shame after only 10 minutes.  Another witticism, of which I am particularly fond, was sent to me via e-mail.  It said “be the kind of person who, when your feet hit the floor in the morning, the devil goes, oh shit.  She’s up.”  I am not this person.  But my kids are.  And Satan, for what it’s worth, I hear ya buddy, I hear ya.  Chatting to a friend with two kids, she confided that both she and her husband have their dinner of an evening standing up at the kitchen sink.  The kids see them there; think they are doing the dishes so they leave them alone to eat in peace. Other peoples’ stories such as this are incredibly heartening.  I think, thank God I’m not alone.    I love our boys, of course I do, that’s a redundant statement, but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish they were a bit quieter.  A bit more introspective. Godammit, I can’t even watch re-runs of Malcolm in the Middle any more.  I keep wondering which of our lot is going to be Francis or Reece.  Lois, I feel your pain.  I’ve been reading a book for a number of years now.  I have finished it; I just keep going back for further explanations and reasoning’s.  I keep it in the door of the car for handy reference when I’m caught at lights or in traffic.  It’s called Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph.  It offers fantastic insight into the intricacies of the male species, starting from birth right up to that troublesome age of manhood.  I’m getting great mileage out of it.  But Steve, there’s still 4 of them and only 1 of me.  I am outnumbered slightly and can be at sea most days. Naturally enough, Steve those are the days when all of your reasoning’s and calming logic goes right over my head.  I don’t care that one side of their brain works while the other side takes a power nap, and this, in your mind, is the reason why they piss  all over the floor whenever they see a toilet seat.  I just want someone to come into my house and put manners on them!  Oh, and clean up the piss! Another annoying little idiosyncrasy kids possess is their fondness to rat on each other.  Girl Cousin was staying with us one afternoon.  Both she and Screecher Creature No. 1 enjoy similar positions in the family.  Girl Cousin is an only child and the oldest granddaughter.  Indeed, she is, at present, the only granddaughter.  Screecher Creature No. 1 is the oldest in his family and the oldest grandson.  There is a year between the two of them but despite that, they get on quite well.    Girl Cousin is used to a lot of one on one attention and our poor lads are used to, well, fighting for some.  Girl Cousin plays nicely and doesn’t occupy much space.  I know this to be true as I have witnessed it.  Our boys, on the other hand are a law onto themselves. Boys have to explore everything.  And loudly.   Girl Cousin tidies up after herself and likes things to be in their place.   My lads use the furniture as gym apparatus, toys get flung everywhere on an hourly basis.  They punch, hit, and kick each other.  Girl Cousin is polite and quietly spoken. The only one louder than the boys in this house is me.  I firmly believe I have a damaged vocal cord.  The one I reserve for screaming at them.  A big huge part of me was looking forward to this “play date” as I was interested to see what the shift in dynamic might bring.   But my eyes were opened, as it were, when Girl Cousin came to play.  Within 10 minutes of her mother departing, it appeared there was a whistle blower in the camp.  One of “the boys” was “moving the buggy.”  It seemed I had a little helper on my hands and she was determined to keep them in line. Later on that evening she appeared again to inform Mister Husband and me that “the boys are throwing clothes everywhere.”  I think she was a little bit taken aback at the swiftness of Mister Husband’s reaction.  The boys were indeed, “throwing clothes everywhere” and having a great old time until Mister Husband appeared on the scene and put a rather abrupt end to the fun and games.  Later on that evening when Girl Cousin had gone home, it transpired that she “told” them to do it. Of course, the Screecher Creatures didn’t stop for a minute and think for themselves.  It seems though, regardless of gender, they all like to rat on each other.  I suppose it’s a kind of protection racket in a basic sense.  Tell on the perp, they’ll get their asses kicked by someone else and I’ll live to see another day.  Today Screecher Creature No. 3 was heard roaring from the bottom of our (considerable) garden.  Like the Doppler effect, the sound from far away was getting closer and the power of the tattle tale was so strong, he battled his way through knee high, withered, stiff bits of dried grass and thistle to complain that one of the Screecher Creatures “hit my neck.”  It wasn’t even a good tell-tale, bordering on mediocre in fact.  It wasn’t worth his while especially when, tale of woe told, he obligingly turned on his heel and went back the way he came, struggling through the tall grass again! But I can talk.  As soon as Mister Husband walks in the door, I’m off.  I rat on each and every one of them. Sometimes he laughs, sometimes he shakes his head, sometimes he pats me on the back and says “there, there.”    To sum it up, I think it is fair to say that all kids great and small, are fond of tittle tattling.  And in some cases, the mammies are too!!  How many of us have used that old chestnut “wait till your father gets home?” As I thought, a pretty good show of hands.  Another saying springs to mind; they didn’t get it from the ground!  

Monday 20 February 2012

The Camera Got Swine Flu!

It was a disaster of mammoth proportions.  The camera got swine flu.  Not only did we loose our treasured Kodak records from the end of 2009 through to February 2010 including two birthdays, we also lost precious shots of our third son’s emergency birth.  This was particularly upsetting for me as I was under general anesthetic and have no recollection of his coming into the world.
As bad as it was, we were able to retrieve a small amount of memories from an office back-up and family gave us copies of their photographs.
But we will never again see pictures of Screecher Creature No. 2’s second birthday complete with Peppa Pig cake nor of a Ben 10 creation marking the importance of a fourth year for Screecher Creature No. 1.  I have long and fond memories of a 2009 Halloween containing pumpkins, a Spiderman costume and a skeleton, but nothing tangible. Christmas day memories of the same year are just that now; memories.  And the deep blankets of snow.  All the beauty that I captured on film has melted away.
I have no-one to blame but myself.  I should have downloaded everything as they were taken but I left them to build up.  All because I am a huge technophobe.  I have no patience for such things.  I want to be able to press a button and have the job done for me.  I find it all too stressful. I have no interest in the wonders of technology.  I am a very recent convert to Facebook and still cannot download photos to my profile.  Or is that upload?    I’m sure a quick wipe of a DVD on the backside of my jeans is not good for the disc, but nor do I care as long as it works when I pop it into the machine.
I can just about operate my laptop but when it comes to back up procedures, it all goes over my head. I like the sound of a memory stick but my fear of computer speak is too deep rooted to invest in one.
If the printer jams, I find giving it a shake much more satisfactory albeit absolutely useless, than exploring the help option.  I cannot use prescriptive text on my phone.  But will admit to being impressed no end by those who can whiz off sentences using their thumb as fast as I can use both hands on a computer keyboard.
The list goes on.  And on.  So there was more than a modicum of disgust over my technical no-knowledge, when our digital memories joined the Pigs in Space.  There is a lot to be said for the old fashioned method of taking the film out of your camera, handing it over to be developed in the space of an hour and getting back hard copies of your snapshots for a monetary fee.  A lot to be said.  You don’t mess it up. And if they do, there is the satisfaction of it being their mistake and not yours. You also get lovely glossy pictures to take home put into your photo album because it’s just not the same thing when they’re all stored on the computer.
I keep a separate photo album for each of the boys first twelve months of their life.  On the day they were born, on each month, I take photos, choose the best one and date it.  It goes into the album so at the end of the first year, there is a record of just how much they grow in that space of time.   I’m slow to learn from my mistakes and pictures of 9th February 2012, Screecher Creature no. 4’s 10th month, were wiped from the camera.  Because. I. Neglected. To. Download. Them. Again!
Sickened, I bought myself a late birthday slash Christmas present of a digital camera in the sales earlier on this month.  It’s a nifty little thing. Smaller than my wallet and believe me, that’s not hard. It lives in my bag so it comes with me at all times. Has its own pouch and everything, I’m having great fun with it.  There are so many flashes going off, spots dance in front of my eyes all day.  Screecher Creature No. 4 sees the camera, squints his eyes at it in anticipation of the flash. Before I even take a picture.  “Right, lads,” I warn them of yet another photographic opportunity.  “Say…..”
“Cheese.  We know, Mammy.”  Screecher Creature No. 1 definitely sounded bored. I am determined never to be caught out by a contrary camera again.  Now all I have to do is learn how to download the pictures from the bloody thing!