Monday, 28 April 2014

Quick message to a commentor

I accidentally deleted a comment from somebody who didn't leave their name, while trying to remove the typos from my reply. The comment was something like "Brave would be telling him to his face, not hiding behind a blog." I decided to respond via a new post, in the spirit of taking the rough with the smooth and in the interests of not censoring people just because I disagree with them.

Who's hiding? The blog is no secret to either my family or Mat's and my photo is right up there. If we're Facebook friends, you'll see that I'm not slow to claim and promote my posts under my personal page. He'll see it.

Are you suggesting that I get on a plane to a different country to tell someone who doesn't want to speak to me that I don't want to speak to him either? Seems a little excessive.

But hey, you stay anonymous while talking about hiding and telling others how to be brave. I enjoy a bit of irony.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Please, don't sign yourself "Gramps"

Dear Stephen, 

I've toyed with the idea of writing to you since Christmas, when you blew up and blew apart the family we thought we had, but I haven't really known where to start or what to say. I haven't wanted to ask forgiveness - maybe we should, but we don't know what caused your behaviour, so we can't tell whether we're in a position to ask pardon or demand that you do.  And it seems silly to ask for an explanation when you won't be able to provide anything that comes close to excusing what happened. 

Of course, no matter the reason for the appalling show of temper on Christmas Eve, I'll never believe that your reaction was warranted. I'm used to people stomping and shouting and causing havoc - in my family, it's par for the course whenever one of us gets on another's nerves. We're not cold blooded, though - we don't plan to hurt each other and we're as fast to admit wrongdoing and apologise as we are to fly off the handle. However, again, this isn't really something I wanted to get into in too much depth. I don't really see the point.  You don't want to be in our lives and, as a family, we can live with that.

You sending Dom an Easter card, however, set my mind in gear again. I'm sure it was done with much deliberation about the effect it would have in our household, and the words were carefully chosen - that much is apparent. It's those words, and one in particular, that are the reason for me finally sitting down to write this letter that you may never even see. If you don't, it'll be a release for me and maybe the shitty dreams I continue to have about the whole situation will cease. I can only hope.

First of all, why the repeated mention of money? In a small Easter card to a toddler who still thinks money is for eating, it was undoubtedly the dominant theme. You seemed very anxious to let "Dom" know that you were still filling his bank account, almost as if money could make up for the loss of something that is precious and beautiful - the relationship between a child and their grandfather.  

See, to me, that relationship is absolutely sacred.  I grew up with the best grandfather the world has ever known - of course, most grandchildren who are lucky enough not to lose their grandparents early probably feel the same way.  Rather than diminish the strength of my feelings, though, this only serves to increase my respect for that togetherness that spans and bridges generations. I never called my grandad, "grandad". Until the day he died, I called him Dad. He was everything a father and a grandfather should be, and that's the standard I aspire to. It's impossible to attain, but nobody who loves my son should ever stop trying to reach it. 

It was for that reason, that sentimental memory of my own time as the apple of someone's eye, that during the nightmare that you tried to make of Christmas Eve, I was still standing against Mat in offering you the chance to remain in our son's life even as you broke your own son's heart.  I genuinely thought that, when you told Mat you wanted nothing more to do with him, that some sort of relationship would have to be maintained between you and I at least, so that you could be around for Dominic.  I mean, nobody could hold their grandson, take him to the park, delight in his achievements, get to know him better, and then drop him on Christmas Eve, could they?  I naively thought that Dom was separate from whatever was going on, that you still wanted him even as you threw us away.  But I was wrong, wasn't I?  You had Debbie and Leah remove me from Facebook before we even landed back in Spain, taking away the only chance you had to keep up to date on Dom's progress without having to speak to me or Mat.  And to this day, the phone hasn't rung.  You don't know what you've missed.  I pity you for that.  

Back to the money.  Obviously the repeated references were for our benefit, rather than Dom's.  The only money he's interested in has chocolate inside, like the coins he ate while opening his presents on Christmas day.  You missed that, too.  Do you think we want your money?  Do you think that's why we were around?  If so, that's sad.  I was tempted to return the card to you, tell you to take your money away and not pollute my family with mention of it again, but in the end, I realised that as a mother, my duty was to my baby.  That's not my money to refuse.  In the unlikely event that it does ever make its way to Dom when he's 16 or 18 or 21 or whatever you have planned, he'd probably be very grateful for it.  I can't in good faith let my own feelings take away something that could be beneficial to my son, though I hope you know that he's not for sale.  Not now, not ever.  You won't attempt to buy his affection while he's young and has his head easily turned, and for that reason, I'd like you to refrain from mentioning money to him again.  He can make his own decisions when he's mature enough without being swayed by the prospect of financial gain when he's too young to know the price it carries.  

I did want to keep a relationship going between you and Dom, because foolishly, I thought you wanted that too.  I feel differently now.  During the months of silence unpunctuated by so much as a reply to my one text message, I've had time to reconsider that.  I've held your son in my arms as he sobbed his pain into my shoulder, his grief at losing a father again.  Most people dread losing a parent once.  He's now lost both of his, three times in total.  

I remember a time when Mat and I were having trouble and I turned to you for advice, thinking that as his father, you would not only be best placed to help, but would also want to see us doing well together, for the sake of your son and grandson.  The vitriol of your response stunned me into silence for some weeks - a silence for which you later berated me.  An understanding of basic human emotion seems to be something which eludes you, and dealing with the difficulties of family life is clearly not on your agenda.  In the end, we weathered that storm without your help and we'll weather the rest of them.  You taught me something about families that day - that they weren't always like mine, sometimes too eager to be involved but always, always willing to help.   

Mat learned something about families too, over Christmas, and in doing so gave me an insight into himself that I'm glad to have.  Over the course of our relationship, almost ten years, we've broken up numerous times.  I used to wonder how he could pack his stuff and leave like it meant nothing. I didn't realise then what he'd come from.  He explained to me at Christmas, after watching my family laugh about arguments past and surreptitiously bitch about each other while maintaining the love, that he wasn't used to that.  To him, arguments and fights meant that person walked away and never came back.  He deserves respect for breaking that cycle and learning that it's OK to disagree and it doesn't signal the end of your family.  Because for him, growing up, it did.  

My heart hardened against you on Christmas Eve, when I watched you break your own child into pieces and toss him away like a rotten branch.  Maybe that's what you think he is?  Maybe, to you, all that are apparent are the problems, the flaws, the imperfections and the difficulties.  You don't see how amazing he is, how wonderful a father he is to his son and how he supports us both, working long hours, coming home and being engaged with me, with Dom and with the boring drudgery of cooking and cleaning.  You only see the blips and lapses, the bits where he becomes less than you think worthy of your time.  I don't intend to drag up the past between you and him, because I wasn't there, but I'll tell you this - I watched you hurt your son, and I hated you for it.  There is no way on this earth I will let you do the same to mine. He is not an "option" and never will be. 

Don't forget, I've seen the photos.  I've seen you acting the proud father with Mat when he was a baby and a little boy.  You didn't always carry such resentment towards him, obviously.  You even looked like a good father, and I've heard stories that melted my heart about how you cared for him as a tiny baby.  But the thing about kids is, they grow up.  They get smelly and narky and bolshy and don't listen.  They tell lies and make mistakes, sometimes over and over again, and they still need their parents even though they'd deny it to their last breath and with every fibre of their spotty, uncouth, sometimes aggressive being.  The same thing that happened to your son will happen to your grandson, but with one difference.  You won't have the opportunity to flick Dominic off like you did Mat when he became unpleasant and difficult.  He's not a dog that you take to the pound when he's no longer a cute little puppy, but has become a huge ball of slobbering fur that takes up too much room and has too much energy that's impossible to direct productively.  I watched you hurt your son, and you will NEVER hurt mine in the same way.  Understand that now, and remember it well.  You do not get that chance with my child.  You don't just play with the puppy until the novelty wears off.  

You may think I'm a bit ahead of myself, telling you how to parent when you have 40 years on me, but I don't measure success on longevity.  A marriage where one partner cheated or beat the other for 40 years would not be considered successful, and on the same note, parenting two children who become estranged from you as adults is no recommendation of your methods.  Your ability and willingness to turn your back on your children, to me, negates the time spent raising them.  

You probably wonder how I can sit here imagining that I'll never do the same to Dom, because he hasn't had the chance to hurt or disappoint me yet.  In answer, I'll once again direct you to Mat.  Our relationship is far from perfect and we've hurt each other on multiple occasions, but we still love each other dearly and deeply.  We forgive each other, we try to help each other do better next time.  In doing so, we demonstrate to Dom the very values that we hope to instil in him, and we show him that even when you mess up badly, your family will always be home.  I've spent ten years showing this to Mat, and will spend the rest of my life teaching it to our child.  

As you don't seem able to do that, I have another request regarding your little conscience-easing cards.  As I mentioned above, I feel very strongly about the bond between a child and their grandparents.  It is a source of intense sorrow to me that Dominic is not going to grow up with that depth of love from a grandfather, not going to know that  behind Mama and Dad there is another force, immovable in its ability to love and sustain.  I want to give my son everything the world has to offer, but I can't give him the best thing I ever had - a grandfather who would move mountains to be near him.  And I won't give him instead a grandfather who won't even pick up the phone.  I won't give him a cash-flashing imitation of a grandad.  

So, please, don't sign yourself "Gramps".  A Gramps holds hands, not envelopes of money.  A Gramps balances babies on his knee, not chequebooks to make himself feel better.  A Gramps goes to the park with his grandkids, not to the bank for them.  We wanted Dom to have your presence, not your presents.  If that's not happening, don't assume a relationship you don't have.  Sign yourself Stephen, and accept the relationship you chose.  


Friday, 25 April 2014

Oh, I've found my voice alright

If you spend enough time around writers or wannabe writers, at some point you might hear talk of "finding your voice".  That does not appear to be a problem in my house.  All of our voices are present and correct, especially, it seems, mine.

Way back when I started this blog, almost two years ago, I wrote this post which discussed my parenting style, or lack of it.  I didn't and don't feel comfortable labelling my approach to this crazy job in which the rules change constantly, the boss is an adorable tyrant and the wages swell no coffers but threaten to burst my heart every day.  It's too unpredictable when you're dealing with human beings to say exactly how you're going to approach every situation that could arise, to say nothing of the fact that toddlers will throw situations at you that you never imagined possible.  Once you've told someone not to rub his apple on his willy like it's a perfectly normal thing to say on a Tuesday morning, you begin to realise that in the game of parenthood, every ball is a curve ball.  Add to this the fact that the little person you're dealing with hasn't even finished developing the neural pathways in their brain and is effectively still a work in progress (aren't we all?), and how can it be possible to insist that you'll only ever do X or Y, and NEVER Z?  

However, there is one exception to this self-imposed rule, and it's one I feel quite strongly about.  I don't want to enforce harsh discipline on my baby.  I don't want to smack him and I want to avoid shouting at him.  I've been the child cringing in fear at a raised voice or a raised hand, and I never want Dom to be afraid of me like that.  Apparently, this is called "Peaceful Parenting", and it's actually A THING.  If it sounds like it could be your thing, there's more info about it here.

Anyway.  I don't want to get too into the nitty gritty of it, because I'm not interested in or here to preach at people to do things a certain way.  If your kid is loved, fed, clean, warm and cared for, that works for me.  Also, I'm not exactly the best example of peaceful parenting right now, as I'm in the middle of writing a blog post about how I failed miserably at it earlier.  

I come from a large, loud family.  Our time together is interspersed with arguments and laughter at full volume, and I love the chaos of that kind of family dynamic.  Now that I don't live in it any more, I can see how it could be overwhelming to some, but it's a lot of fun to be around.  The only problem is, growing up in a loud family means that if you want to be heard, you have to be louder than every one else.  And my word, did I rise to that challenge.

I've been told various things about my voice - that I am unable to modulate it; that it's not so much the volume as the pitch that causes it to carry across rooms, offices, parks and beaches like I have a megaphone in my throat; that when I think I'm whispering, the family three blocks down would beg to differ.  When I was a kid, my best friend's mum called me Foghorn Leghorn.  I genuinely can't help it - I'm just loud.  What I lack in altitude, I make up for in amplification.

Anyway, lately I've been feeling pretty good about myself as a mother.  Of course, it's a constant guilt-fest about every thought that ever crosses my mind, but I can live with that.  I've been feeling like I'm dealing well with Dom's challenges, or maybe there have just been less of them, but either way I've felt pretty proud.  

Until today, when I gently but firmly told him to stop using his spoon as a catapult to ping rice and stir-fry all over the floor (where do they get these ideas from?).  Afterwards, I thought I might have sounded a bit more grumpy than I intended, so I ran it by Mat.  He answered that I hadn't sounded narky, but that we'd agreed not to shout at Dom.  

I was taken aback.  I hadn't shouted, had I?  I certainly hadn't meant to shout.  Mat, with fear in his eyes (yeah, I'm great at this peaceful lark, obviously), hesitantly mentioned that it wasn't the first time he'd heard me raise my voice to Dom.  I didn't even know and am pretty crushed - I don't want to shout at him even when I'm angry, but it looks like I've been going around bellowing at him like an injured buffalo at the slightest provocation.  Apparently, when I think I'm putting on a firm but kind tone, I'm just getting louder.  

OK, it's not the end of the world.  He's not being abused and it doesn't seem to have affected him.  It certainly hasn't stopped him doing any of the things I was trying to stop him doing.  But it's a wake-up call for me to pay more attention to how I speak and how I'm perceived.  I'm 31, for the love of God - you'd think I'd have learnt to control my own voice by now!

Traumatised, as you can see.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Things T25 Taught Me

You may remember this post, in which I got all fired up about how I was going to lose weight, get healthy and fit back into my clothes.  I wrote the post and promptly went back to my old habits for a couple of weeks, hoping that scowling hard enough at my stomach would make it stomp (or wobble) off in indignation and avoid me having to actually do anything to get rid of it.  That didn't work, so I admitted defeat and stopped buying chocolate croissants, started eating a few more salads and refused to take money to work so I wouldn't be tempted to raid the vending machine.  Sadly, after a few days of this, I still wasn't skinny.  

The only thing left was to actually move my arse (and the rest of me) and do some exercise.  I tried to take advantage of the good weather to get out on long walks with Dom, but he's now at the stage where he'd rather eat his own toes than stay in the pram for more than 5 minutes.  Walking at toddler pace probably burns less calories than sitting down eating chocolate, so I needed a new idea.  Much as I'd love to go swimming, two jobs, one baby and a house which grabs every opportunity to throw parts of itself on the floor mean I'm very pushed for time, and the thought of having to wash my hair more times than I currently struggle to do in a week was off-putting.  Joining a gym was also problematic in the time stakes, to say nothing of the fact that I'd rather set my eyebrows on fire than have other people - fit, thin, healthy people - see me sweat.  I needed something I could do at home, with Dom around, in my own time.  Hello, Insanity.

 A friend recommended starting with the T25 workout instead, which sounded great to me - I pretended it was because of my busy schedule, but actually it was due to my inherent laziness provoking sheer delight at the thought of 15 minutes less of effort.  So, after spending a week and a half threatening to do it, tonight I actually got as far as clicking on the link.  Here is what I learnt from the experience:

*  When getting into your workout clothes feels like a workout, the workout is probably long overdue.

*  My sports bra is not the boss of me.  It WILL fasten if I shout at it enough.

*  Unfortunately, my sports bra is also not the boss of my chest.  I need some sort of binding, like buxom ladies in the twenties used to make themselves appear boyish and flat-chested as dictated by the fashion of the time (see, the fashion world have always been gobshites).  

*  I have no hope of ever achieving an androgynous look.  At this point, let's just aim for contained with low chance of concussion.

*  Likewise, my bobbles are no match for my hair.  Having to pause the video every 2 minutes to scoop up strands of wayward frizz is not making this pass any faster.

*  Remember the whole planking craze?  Remember how it was mostly youngsters doing it?  This isn't, as I thought at the time, because they're the only ones daft enough to do it.  It's because they're the only ones fit enough to do it.

*  I have no core.  There is no point telling me to use something I don't have.  The trainer may as well have spent 25 minutes exhorting me to use the million euros under the mattress for liposculpture instead.  Lovely as the idea sounds, it's no good to me when it's a figment of someone's imagination.

*  Sweating for 25 minutes will not, contrary to my long-held beliefs, actually kill me.  

*  Sometimes, when sweating for 25 minutes, I wish that sweating for 25 minutes would kill me.

*  Stretching is important.  Yes, I stretched before and after.  No, it wasn't enough.  On the plus side, I can see my bedroom from my living room, so crawling back and forth for the next few days shouldn't be too difficult.

*  You know those people who say exercise feels good afterwards?  They're not lying.  The adrenaline rush is great.

*  The adrenaline rush is not great enough to make you want to do the dishes when you've finished.  Next time, do them first.

I'd continue but I'm about to pass out.  That's a good sign, right?

See this snuggly guy with the earring?
See how sweet he looks?
I'm pretty sure I'm going to hate him in the morning.

Monday, 14 April 2014

To All The Friends I've Never Met

We're constantly hearing about the "Mommy Wars" - for some reason, the American vernacular is the one that is always used. The media tells us how breastfeeders feel themselves superior to formula feeders, how the Bugaboo brigade look down on the babywearers and how crunchy "granola" mothers can't bear to be in the same room as those who are more "plastic". (Yes, these terms exist and mean something in the murky world of modern mothering - not parenting, but mothering. I've yet to read an article about one group of fathers criticising another for their disciplinary methods). 

I would have been tempted to believe that these wars existed only in the mind of those who produce our internet entertainment, our magazines and occasionally our highbrow articles in the Guardian or the New York Times, had I not seen them in action myself at times. In our technology-driven world, many parents turn to what I call "mum groups" - MumsNet forums, CafeMom chatrooms, Baby Centre boards and umpteen Facebook groups - for advice, ideas and support. Unfortunately, the relative anonymity of the internet means that the advice often comes with a giant serving of judgement, the ideas are tinged with sanctimony and the support only exists when you do as others do.  In short, the internet can bring out the idiot in people faster than a large vodka and orange, and there's nothing like a thorny parenting issue to call forth the name-callers and the keyboard warriors.  

That being said, these groups aren't all bad.  Far from it, in fact.  There's a group for everything, it seems, and while some of them are hotbeds of viciousness, sometimes you can stumble across an absolute diamond of a group that restores your faith in humanity.  I used to be a member of many different parenting (mostly women-only) groups on Facebook, but I've slowly whittled them down to just two I pay attention to and one I actively participate in.  That group has become a part of my life and I'd be lost without it.

It's almost embarrassing for someone of my generation, the last generation to know life before www., to say it, but some of the people I consider friends - actual, real friends - are women I've never met in real life.  They're the women who've supported me through relationship troubles, who probably know more about the ins and outs of my personal life than people I've known for years.  That same anonymity that brings out the worst in people also allows a certain freedom of expression, where we're not so concerned about bitching online about a boyfriend or husband as we would be about talking to someone who will then have to eat with them on our next double date.  I know I've made the mistake of tearing into my partner when things have been going badly, only for friends and family to be less willing or able than I am to forget the bad parts when things start going well again.  Sometimes just being able to have a rant is enough, to have other people agree that only a complete gobshite would ever do whatever he's just done.   It's a safe space to laugh, chat and blow off steam.  These women have helped me navigate the sometimes terrifying waters of motherhood, all with different insights, various points of view and sometimes opposing principles.  They were the first people I was brave enough to share my writing with and they were the ones who supported me in it.  They've applauded my baby's achievements with as much genuine happiness as my own family.  They've picked me up when I've been down, they've made me laugh until my sides hurt, they've respected my views even when they don't agree with them, they've treated me with tenderness when I needed it and they haven't hesitated to tell me off when I've been out of order.  

And that's just the little stuff, the "can I give carrots to my 10 month old?" stuff.  I've seen these women deal with the big stuff with class and bravery and more balls than a football stadium on Cup Final day.  I've seen them coming together to give advice to a new mother who can't get her baby to latch. I've seen them deal with marriage breakdowns together, cry with mothers we'll probably never meet and mourn their losses like they were our own.  I've see women dealing with the most horrendously difficult situations getting support and friendship from strangers. I've seen mothers who are struggling being offered storage bags, nappies, financial help and advice from people on different continents.  I've seen the strength and hope and power and potential we have, and I'm grateful and proud to be part of it. Thanks, ladies. I'm glad you're here.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Tit Tape Meant Something Different In my Twenties

PLEASE NOTE: This post is quite detailed about nipples. Specifically, mine. If that's going to traumatise or scandalise you, may I suggest trying a different post? I'm pretty sure the rest are safe, though if it's nipples in general that bother you, you might want to steer clear of "Am I Asking You To Put Your Nipple In My Son's Mouth?". But I imagine the title of that one is pretty self-explanatory, and also probably the most graphic part of the entire post. Everyone else, please proceed at your own risk.

Men may still earn most of the money, own most of the land and yield most of the power in the world, but there's one thing we women do that we'll always have the monopoly on.  No, I'm not taking about the miracle of childbirth - frankly, I'd have relinquished that "privilege" to any passing stranger with cleanish nails.  I'm referring to the wonderful moment which is removing your bra at the end of a long day.  It's a feeling of relief with few parallels, possibly matched only by another sensation more commonly reserved for ladies - that of removing tight or high heeled shoes.

(Excuse me while I go off on a tangent.  I don't know what's more infuriating - the oppressive and damaging beauty industry or the fact that we continue to buy into it.  Seldom do men feel the need to squeeze, paint and pluck themselves into oblivion in the pursuit of bodily perfection.  I don't know whether my innate laziness and inability to endure discomfort pushed me towards feminism as a backup against and reaction to the culture that made me feel wrong for not being "girlie" enough, or whether the movement gave me the strength to finally get rid of my heels and "let myself go" in my jeans and my Converse.  Either way, I'm glad my feet don't hurt any more).

Anyway, back to the bras.  Anybody who's ever spent a day with their bosom trussed up in an over the shoulder boulder holder will understand and appreciate the feeling of relief when the girls are finally allowed to swing, roam, drop or flop free.  It's the high point of the day that signifies the slow, relaxed slide into evening for many of us.  So what do we do when that pleasure is taken away?

Allow me to explain.  I haven't superglued my bra to my back or decided to stop wearing one altogether (call me oppressed if you like, but the last thing I need is my boobs in my armpits all day).  My dilemma is a little more sensitive than that.  Literally.  Almost two years of breastfeeding means that my nipples are on constant red alert, seeking for any piece of clothing or matter upon which to press themselves.  They spend their time like meerkats checking for predators or puppies desperate for affection, the constant friction resulting in even more sensitivity, which makes them protrude, which makes them more sensitive... You see my problem.

Please don't misunderstand me.  This is not sexy.  In fact, the sensation makes me want to remove my own skin.  The only thing that puts the brakes on their relentless quest is keeping them tied up like prisoners of their own misguided mania.  But that, of course, means I have to suffer in a bra all evening.  What's a girl to do?

Being an inventive and impatient sort, I decided to tolerate it no longer.  I took inspiration from a time when slashed-to-the-waist catsuits were, thanks to Kylie Minogue, the epitome of style among the young and beautiful frequenting the pubs and clubs of Liverpool. Sadly, given my more buxom figure, this was a look denied to me, but some 13 years later, it's finally coming in handy for something. You see, it's not just us melon-slingers who have titty trouble from time to time. Even the girls with less in their bras can find themselves in a pickle when dressed in low cut, slinky material designed to titillate. Sexy is a sliver of flesh peeking out from above a toned navel, the suggestion of cleavage nestled in folds of whispering fabric. Sexy is not standing on the dance floor clutching at parts of your errant outfit as it tries to make a run for it, leaving you desperately trying to retain some modesty. The answer then, as now, was tit tape.

This is essentially Sellotaped to her body.  Were it not, there's no way she'd dare to lift her arms above her head.
Back then it secured the clothes firmly to the boobs of the wearer, ensuring that they wouldn't slip over a shoulder and down an arm to the floor. Now, the grown up equivalent (hospital tape - seriously, why would I have tit tape now when I couldn't pull off the outfits that needed it in my twenties?) is used to secure little pads of folded gauze over the offending body parts, acting as a barrier between them and the outside world they're so eager to embrace. It looks awful, especially when you first wake up and have forgotten that it's there. It can be quite the shock, having what looks like two deformed boobs grinning up at you in the morning. But my God, it's worth it. Bra off, tape on, and baby asleep is the starting point for a wonderful Saturday night.