Thursday, 15 March 2018

Still me

I think every parent gets excited about a night out. What’s rare is wonderful they say and last weekend was very rare indeed – I had a night out with my college buddies. It’s been a very long time since we were all out together. I’d admit exactly how long if I had actually come to terms with my age yet, which I haven’t, so I won’t. But suffice to say I hadn’t seen some people since I’d left college and Whigfield was big at the time.

It was easy to see by the chosen venue that some of us (not me) have retained our coolness more than others. The music was loud, very loud. I’ll be honest I’m not even sure it was music – I think Madame Gazelle might refer to it as noise.

Conversations were roared over the din. I coped with the volume quite well – I think as a mum of seven I may measure loudness and shouting on a different scale to others.

We moved somewhere quieter to catch up properly and laughter replaced the noise. Laughter at recollections of our youth, laughter at our proven inaccurate theories and laughter at stories from our current lives.

I am a much more sophisticated being now and my college drinks of 20/20 and Ritz have been replaced with a penchant for red wine – you know, whatever is on special in the local supermarket. What has remained the same are my lightweight tendencies. As the giggles continued, aided by fabulous company and wine, a friend I hadn’t seen since we left college turned to me and said “Look at you, seven kids later and you’re still Jen”. She made my night.

And as I reluctantly said my goodbyes to my fabulous college pals, a promise of a karaoke night to follow was made. Brief discussions were held before my departure about solos and involvement and “enthusiastic participants”. 

A song I loved came on the radio in the taxi on the way home. I figured it was the perfect chance to practice for our upcoming event – so I did, because after all I’m still me ;-)

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Out with the old?

We took advantage of the snow days and did a clear out. Not the most exciting way to spend a few days but after fun in the snow, and constantly gnawing away on chocolate, to facilitate the rationing of bread of course, it was a welcome distraction from the cabin fever that was setting in - OK not welcome, but necessary in the interest of our sanity and future good family relations!

The great thing about having a large family is that there’s lots of “stuff” to pass on to other siblings. The bad thing about having a large family is that there’s lots of “stuff” to hoard that you might pass on the other siblings, or that you convince yourself you might because you don’t want to part with it.

It’s not that I’m a particular hoarder, I’ll happily discard any of himself’s newspapers and magazines whether he’s read them or not – and I have no issue “losing” certain horrendous gaudy-coloured football shirts that pass through the wash. Before anyone thinks this might border on spousal cruelty, I do his washing for him – it’s a hazard of the chore!

When it comes to my babies’ belongings however, I’m not so great. “We have 6 of the same sized coat hanging in the wardrobe” came the call from the youngest boys’ room. “I’ll put 5 of them in the charity bag”. In a time Usain Bolt would have been proud of I sprinted to the room. “ I need to check everything first” I said, “I know what ones I want to keep and what ones we should give away” There was also the matter of the pile that was going to the attic for memories’ sake and, just in case…

As each item of clothing was handed to me, I reminisced about which child had worn it first and decided if it should be given away, passed to the child it would now fit or put in the ever-growing attic pile that I was hiding down the side of one bed. Every now and then himself would show a moment of weakness and say “ah I remember this on…..”. I took that comment as confirmation that I should keep that item too.

I realised as I literally waded through small vests of every colour and size that my emotional attachment to my kids clothing and the very limited storage facilities in my house were not compatible. Something was going to have to give. “You’ve an awful lot of football shirts taking up space in those drawers under the bed” I said to himself “and those bloody football programmes too, could we get rid of some of them to make some space?”. He wasn’t keen.

Ruthlessly I discarded 3 or 4 vests to the “not being kept pile”. Everytime a bag for the charity shop was filled, I announced it loudly– “that’s five of them now – I’m making great progress” I said. I figured it would soften the blow when he realised how many bags of “I love these too much to part with them” he would have to find a home for in the attic. It didn’t.

“We don’t have space for all of this” he said. I dismissed the notion, he found space.

Momentarily I wondered if I had actually kept too much – and then I remembered there was a pile of washing waiting to be done….;-)

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Tips for a more harmonious school week.

I can’t quite believe the mid-term is over already. Granted the primary and montessori schoolers only had two days off but the teenagers had the full week, and even that seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye. And after a lovely, albeit rainy, afternoon spent at the beach, I’m finding, as Sunday night comes around again that I’m taking the ostrich approach to the uniform situation – well for an hour anyway – as I remain in denial about the task in hand. There’s a certain dread fills me going into the week ahead, and I swear I feel it more than the kids.

It’s not that everything was perfect last week. In fact in spite of having three teenagers in the house (my daughter’s pal stayed over) a phone call to a radio station nearly went horribly wrong. As I went on air to discuss a suitable tax-funded childcare solution, the two and four year olds antennae went up – mum was missing and needed to be tracked down immediately. And track me down they did to the youngest’s bedroom, which incidentally is there purely for decoration as his favourite place to sleep is firmly beside me – and not as much as a centimetre apart. However in spite of his lack of familiarity with his supposed designated sleeping area, he and his big brother found me and proceeded to pound on the door.

“Mum we need to see you. Mum were are you, I did a poo!” came the indignant call from little voices as I kept my foot pressed firmly against the door.  As I answered the radio host’s questions and tried to keep my focus, I felt sure one of the teenagers would come to my rescue – they knew what I was doing after all. But no, t’was not to be and the attempts to break into me continued.

When the call came to an end I went to investigate what possible terrible fate had befallen the teenagers in my house to have allowed such a thing to happen. It turns out “Back to the future” and the online pursuit of Longitude tickets had caused them to lose all awareness of their surroundings and had resulted in a temporary loss of their hearing.

On the plus side however, there was no homework.

But we’re back to normality tomorrow and so without any more ado or further digression, here’s my top tips to making the school week more harmonious and altogether lovely!  

1.       Leave out everything the night before – every. single. thing. Shoes, jocks, socks, change needed for the next day, spare football boots, drama folders etc . Don’t believe any child that tells you something in this category is in a particular place without seeing proof! Failure to do this will inevitably result in the discovery that a shoe or something equally important has disappeared from the face of the earth just as you’re about to leave the house. Such a discovery is likely to send you into fishwife mode – which is neither a harmonious or lovely start to the day for anyone, especially you.

2.       Make the lunches the night before – I know they taste nicer if they’re made that morning, but the time saved is invaluable when you’re already under pressure.

3.       When it comes to homework, choose your children’s seating arrangements wisely. Know which pairings work best and don’t be tempted to veer from them  - and get all bathroom stops, snack requests and general avoidance tactics out of the way beforehand to give the children as straight a run as possible at the task in hand.

4.       Set an age appropriate amount of time for your children to complete their homework within, and stop them when that time is up! It’s hard to know sometimes whether daydreaming or quantity is the cause of some children spending so long doing their homework. Consistency with a set time approach should make it obvious pretty quickly. If you feel quantity is the problem then consider prioritising your child’s homework for them. If for example they have 10 questions to complete in one subject, getting them to do questions 2,4,6,8 and 10 should offer a good balance in terms of scope and progressive difficulty, rather than 1,2,3,4 and 5.

5.       Don’t overcommit to afterschool activities. Give yourself and the rest of the family some downtime. It’s lovely to be able to offer our children the chance to try different activities but be careful that it doesn’t come at the cost of putting you and the rest of the family under unreasonable time pressures and constraints

6.       Get a wall planner/ calendar for your fridge and keep it up to date so that you and the older members of the family can see at a glance what commitments you have for the week

7.       Remember that the evenings are yours to enjoy as well – not just the weekends. There may be lots to do, but make taking the time to chill a priority also.  Sometimes it’s just necessary to park the non- essentials. We’re all living in a time-poor society but all work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy but also leaves Jacqueline feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

8.       Leave your own clothes out the night before too – it’s a surprising timesaver. And get up, get dressed and have breakfast before the kids too. It’s so much more relaxed than the alternative of being called to mop up juice while you’ve just one leg in your trousers.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Have we been sold a pup?

I read an article online today – well it was a letter that a woman sent to the editor of the Irish Independent. She didn’t give her name, but spoke of how miserable she was working outside the home when all she wanted was to be with her children. She explained her working was necessity rather than choice, so that she could pay for essentials - not luxuries or holidays. She stated “there is nothing natural about peeling little arms from your neck every morning as you drop them to the childminder”.

As I read through, I found myself nodding along in agreement at some parts, wondering if feminism had sold us a pup. We tell our daughters that the sky is the limit – that they can be anything they want to be. But I’m not so sure that we’re truly honest with them about the real cost of “having it all”.

My grandad had some pretty old-fashioned and outdated views on a woman’s role in society. I was the first in our family to go to university and he had a copy of my graduation photo hanging on his wall. “That’s our Jennifer being canonised”, he’d say to everyone who came into the house (whether they enquired or not), much to our amusement. Yet proud as he was of his eldest granddaughter’s achievement, even if it wasn't quite saintly, he couldn’t help but wonder why my mother bothered.“Sure they’ll just get married and have babies, there’s no point in girls being educated”, he said, much to my mum’s disgust. Thankfully she held very different views and so on we went believing the world was our oyster and that we could achieve anything we set our minds to.

In due course, those babies my grandad predicted began to arrive. With every fibre of my being I was in love, exhausted, overwhelmed, ecstatic and busy – so very busy. I still am. All the responsibilities of family life and work life must be juggled and it’s so hard. Every time I slip up and miss something I feel I mightn’t have if my mind was fully on the “mammy job”, every time a younger child asks “why can’t I stay with you today” and every time I find myself run ragged and exhausted to the point I can barely remember my name, I wonder if “having it all” is truly worth it or even desirable.

And then I remember the choice is gone. I don’t work because I’m a strong, independent woman who chooses to work – I work because there are bills to be paid and mortgage payments to be met. Whether I enjoy my job or not is of little consequence – there is no choice but to have a job.

The saddest part for me in reading the article today was not actually that the woman who wrote it felt as she did, but the lack of empathy and understanding that was evident in the comments. “She’s not the only one, she made her bed she has to lie in it, were the general sentiments.

Maybe feminism has indeed blindsided us. More is expected from women than ever before. But we are strong – even stronger when we build each other up rather than tear each other down. And that includes recognising that choosing or wanting to stay at home with our children is as valid an aspiration or dream as any.  

Saturday, 30 December 2017

"What the Ladybird Heard" at the Pavilion Theatre

I hardly know what day of the week it is - and grateful as I am for this temporary reprieve from the monotony of the school week routine, I'll concede that it's not easy to keep the troops occupied "when the weather outside is frightful"

Just before Christmas I was delighted to be invited to the opening of "What the Ladybird Heard" at the Pavilion theatre in Dun Laoghaire. The show comes straight from the West End and is based on the best selling book by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks. Anyone who loves The Gruffalo, Stick Man, Room on the Broom and The Snail and the Whale is sure to love this one.

And love them in this house we do. So, off my son and I set for some quality "mammy and son" time full of anticipation and expectation - and we weren't disappointed.

The venue is perfect and littles have a clear view of the stage. From beginning to end the cast are animated and engaging and they involve the audience in the show. My son was captivated and beamed, clapped and sang along the whole way through.

The story is centered around two cunning robbers, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len, who come up with a plan to steal the farmer's prize cow. The audience delight in seeing things go wrong for them and even the adults will have a chuckle.

At just under an hour long, the length of the show is perfect for it's target audience. It's aimed at children aged 3+ and I can tell you without hesitation that my seven year old loved it! An added bonus for us was the opportunity to meet the cast afterwards who were just as lovely and full of energy in conversation, as they came across on the stage.

One very happy boy is still talking about it!

The show is here until January 7th and, if you're interested, details of times and ticket prices are available here

It gets a definite seal of approval from us!