Welcome to the new Mama-tude website!

A huge and very warm welcome to Mama-tude’s new site!

I have some pretty big and exciting upcoming projects in the pipeline so it seemed the perfect time to launch my new site which was all designed and basically put together for  me by my brilliant friend Andrew Barnes – whose own blog you can and should check out here 

So have a look around Mama-tude.com , take comfort in the familiar and let me know what you think. There’s past posts,  newspaper articles, podcasts and reviews of my book to be found – and a little info about me too.

And my social media buttons are there too – so if you’re not following me already across the different channels,  please do. I love to have the chats.

So all that’s left for me to do now  is cut the virtual ribbon and declare Mama-tude’s new site open. Go forth, explore and enjoy!!

Jen xxx

21 activities to keep the kids occupied this Easter

 

The Easter hols are here and thanks to recent snow days and a patron saint’s bank holiday, the novelty of having the kids at home may have worn off before it’s even begun!
So to keep your troops occupied and your sanity in check, I’ve compiled a list of cheap or free things to do over the coming two weeks. May the force be with you through it all!
1. Cinema clubs – the old reliable, especially for those rainy or cold days. Many cinemas have morning screenings of kids’ movies at a reduced rate over the school holidays. Some even discount their popcorn and fizz for an extra treat!

 

2. Picnic at the park – make hay while (and if) the sun shines. Lunch outdoors is an adventure of its own. Throw in a football or take in a playground and the kids can burn off some energy while you’re at it.

 

3. Write a family newspaper – as simple as it sounds. Assign all kids in the house a story to cover relating to your family or what’s going on that day. Then add some phone-taken photos or some drawings to accompany their articles and voila – you have your equivalent of “The Hogan Times” and the bonus of something for “show and tell” upon their return!

 

4. Visit the National Museum – There’s loads to see and entry is free! Thanks to school projects there’s sure to be several things that catch your children’s attention and it’s a pretty enjoyable visit for parents too. You can find more info at www.museum.ie

 

5. Playdates –  Have some pals over to keep your troops occupied. There’s always the chance the favour might be returned over the course of the holidays, giving the double bonus of another day’s fun for your child and a bit of breathing space for you.

 

6. Go swimming – An activity everyone can enjoy, that’s not weather dependent or overly expensive. And it might tire them out a bit too!

 

7. Visit some relatives, or invite some over –  With the restrictions of school and after school activities it’s hard to find the time to visit relations who might live that bit further away. If cousins are involved, the visit made or received is sure to cause even more excitement.

 

8. Board games – Always fun and often overlooked in favour of the computer type. And the great thing is that all ages can get involved!

 

9. Treasure hunt (indoor or outdoor). Draw up the clues and hide them inside or outside the house and let the kids do the rest.

 

10. Build a fort – Timeless fun and a great way to keep the kids busy on a rainy day. And if you’ve a few kids, build two. They can visit each other.

 

11.  Games from our youth – Remember how much time we spent outdoors growing up, wary of going indoors to use the bathroom even in case you weren’t let back out again?The games that kept us occupied for hours would no doubt do the same for our own children. So why not teach your kids how to play them? Hopscotch, Red Rover, Crocodile Crocodile, What time is it Mr Wolf, Rounders, Kick the can, Balls and Skipping – to name but a few!

 

12. Home baking – Most kids love baking and even those of us with limited baking skills can help our littles to make fairy buns, rice krispie buns and maybe something more. Happy bonus –  dessert is sorted!

 

13. A walk on the beach – Even if it’s raining. Skimming stones and wave dodging are fun, rain or shine for the bigs and smalls in the family

 

14. Trip to the library  – to browse and borrow books or to enjoy the
different activities that regularly take place there, details of which can
usually be found online.

 

15. Write a letter – To a grandparent, other relative or friend because who doesn’t love receiving mail that isn’t a bill.

 

16. Make sock puppets – Get crafty and creative to the best of yours and their ability. And then afterwards, do a puppet show

 

17. Visit a pet farm – Kids generally love visiting animals and a pet farm gives them the opportunity to get a little bit closer. Have a scour online for some in your locality. There’s lots of cheap and cheerful ones – and even some free ones too.

 

18. Play doh – messy, get everywhere, maddening stuff – that the kids just love!

 

19. Go out for muffin – a treat in a cakeshop always goes down well. (And the muffin is bribery to behave ;-))

 

20.Get everyone to do a self-portrait, make a collage – One to treasure and frame.

 

21.  Have a karaoke competition – because, ahem cough, cough, you can have the craic joining in too.
Kids Easter Artwork
Kids Easter Artwork

 

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 😉

 

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….;-)

 

 

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.

 

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.

"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!

 

Six steps to Christmas-tree-proofing your relationship

      1. When your other half decides to get all Chevy Chase and recreate a Griswald family Christmas, steer away from reminding him (on loop) that his plans to get the oversized Christmas tree home were ill thought-out at best and non-existent in reality. Resist also the urge to reiterate over and over again that you “told him so”, as a necessary evacuation of car seats from one car and the reinstalling of them in another follows in near baltic temperatures while the two year old screams incessantly, the four year old makes numerous bids for freedom and the seven year old sings “Feliz Navidad” at the top of his voice.

2. Do not constantly refer to the fact that you could have put up and decorated the artificial tree that lounges in the attic, four times over in the time that it took to choose and relocate the oversized real Christmas tree.
3. Refrain from sharing your true feeling when, five hours later, the tree still has not successfully been installed in the newly-purchased stand which promised to make the putting up of your tree “a cinch”.

4. Resist the temptation to turn the air blue when – after the tree is finally up, the lights have been painstakingly assembled on the branches for maximum balance and effect, and most the baubles are gaily hanging in place – you realise that the tree has once more assumed a “leaning tower of Pisa” position and correcting it involves removing said lights and baubles and battling with the newly purchased stand once again.

5. Desist from picking up the beautiful pine-smelling tree, that cannot be coaxed into a straight standing position and throwing it out the front door in temper while swearing that you are NEVER getting another real tree and that the artificial one is coming down from the attic first thing in the morning because you cannot look at a lob-sided tree
for the next month and basically Christmas is effectively ruined.

6. Open the wine, turn off the main lights, turn on the Christmas tree ones and appreciate how less crooked the tree looks in the dark.

Taking the time to make time.

A new month – well in fairness we’re a few days into that new month but in many ways October is continuing in equally frantic style to September – so there’s barely time to take a breath let alone glance at the calendar.

September was an incredible month of highs and lows. We lost our dog of 17 years and are still very much trying to come to terms with that. The kids settled back into school, one started a new school, homework battles resumed and raged, notes came home re specific and essential pencil case contents, contents were purchased, pain-stakingly labelled and lost within a couple of days, reminder notes came home about the same essential pencil case contents, the kids fought, single school shoes disappeared off the face of the earth, I was reminded how out of practice I am in the world of cocktails, and in between this my book was published and a media whirlwind followed. I am dizzy from it all.

We’re coming up to mental health awareness week. I’ve had my own battles with mental health issues particularly after the birth of my lovely babies. It was never something that I was comfortable to speak about before, until my book came out. Even now I squirm a little as I’m writing – in spite of the fact that I spoke about it on national radio just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a difficult one to explain. Maybe it’s vulnerability or maybe it’s the fact that one day my children might read and see that infallible mum, she who knows all the answers, lays down the rules and boundaries, kisses hurts away, sorts problems, has endless supplies of hugs, rants a bit (ok a lot!), hates projects more than they and does all the other things that parents do – actually is human.

Life is crazy for everyone. We’re expected to move at a faster pace than ever before and the advent of the internet and social media means we’re never truly removed from outside influences. The expectations of parenthood are different to those of yesteryear. The community and support networks often not so available. The demands on our time constantly mounting.  So often I’ve found myself saying – it’ll all be easier next week, next month, the one after that, when one of the variables is removed from the equation and we will supposedly have more time. I dismissed the notion of mindfulness and staying in the present because, I don’t have time for that.

There is no sign of the busyness of life abating anytime soon – and in many regards I’m glad, I like to be busy, but it’s about getting the balance right. There is nothing like a night out with friends to give you not only a chance to recharge your batteries, but to remind you that all work and no play makes Jacqueline not only as dull as dishwater but particularly stressed and miserable into the bargain. It is amazing what clearly we can see of others that often we fail to see of ourselves.

The thing with mental health is that like all other areas of our health, prevention is better than cure always. In spite of this fact too often we wait until we’re in the doldrums before we act – if we act. There is no shame in looking after your mental health. There is no shame in being kind to yourself and saying “no” sometimes because the demands on you are too much. There is no shame in reaching out for help or in accepting it if it’s offered. There is no shame in putting your needs first, sometimes. You cannot take care of others, if you don’t take care of yourself.

As we approach mental health awareness week, I’m going to take the time to be mindful and to truly appreciate the present – because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Whether that present involves the four year old naked bird spotting into our fridge on a hectic school morning, or the 8 year old referring to the his brother’s Roddy Doyle tendencies as part of his homework sentences – that might reveal what we’re REALLY like as a family. Whether it involves the bigger lads and my hubby killing each other over a game of football or the smell of false tan wafting from my daughter’s bedroom and her orange-tinged white sheets – I will not wish I was on a desert laundry-free island with only a bottle of wine, a bar of Lindor and Will Smith for company.

Ok I can’t promise that, but I will take the time to truly see and appreciate my family for the fabulous mess-making individuals that they are.

The youngest two have put me to the test already today, with a teddy volcano built in front of our door. The playroom that I spent two and half hours cleaning yesterday now resembles the aftermath that you would expect from child-sized tornadoes on a soft toy hunting mission.

Fabulously “creative” and destructive, but more importantly, fabulously mine.

 

He wasn’t “just a dog”

Almost seventeen years ago, a colleague at work told me that her dog had had pups. “They’re a cross between a red setter and a border collie” she said adding that “Bella” their mum was a gentle soul – “Don’t suppose you want one?” she asked. The words were barely out of her mouth when I made the phonecall to my hubby to persuade him we needed a dog.

He didn’t take much convincing, and just like that the plans were made and we waited until our pup was ready for separation from his mother. My colleague told me that she had the perfect one earmarked for us. “he’s the runt of the litter she said, “but I just know he’ll be perfect one for you”

And so we went to the farm to collect our pup, under no obligation to choose the “runt” but found ourselves drawn to this particular pup with two different-coloured eyes. There was just something about him.

We wrapped him in a towel and I made a silent promise to his lovely mum, that we would look after him always and love him forever. I was a first time mum-to-be myself and I felt so guilty for taking him away from her.

As we drove home, our ball of fur Rodney snuggled on my husband’s lap and moments later threw up all over him. I’m not sure whether it was it the car drive or the trauma of separation that caused it. Rodney always seemed to be so attuned to life and his surroundings. Maybe rather than a skill acquired, it was something he was born with.

Rodders became our practice baby ahead of the birth of our first actual one.  My sister sat with him while I attended ante-natal classes.  I watched the neighbourhood cats suspiciously as they prowled along the back garden walls. Precious first born syndrome seemed to kick in with my puppy dog and Mama Bear was ready to protect him from ferocious felines!

And like most first borns, his every move and different pose was photographed. His energy was inexhaustible. Always running and bounding. Always excited and always bloody digging – but forever gentle. He was his mother’s son.

And when my daughter came to join the party, Rodney, though still adored, accepted his move further down the pecking order. He loved company which was just as well, as the numbers grew and grew. He was a horse, bad guy, good guy, unicorn, cushion, reindeer and scoffer of food the kids didn’t want to eat. He sniffed each new baby as they arrived home, and licked away the tears that fell for the miscarried ones.

 

He had special dinner on his birthdays and his sock hung on the mantle-piece alongside those of my children every Christmas Eve. He loved to swim in the sea and rivers, yet was never so keen on being washed with clean water. He knocked unsuspecting visitors over with excited welcomes and chewed everything that was dropped accidentally in the garden.

He drove me crazy, robbing washing from the basket as I tried to hang it on the line and took us for a walk rather than the other way round – until lately.

 

Recently he got old, or at least it seemed recently. The passing of time seemed suddenly to creep up on him  – and us. And the washing basket dramas were because he couldn’t see it, so he fell into it. And the walks became less about managing to tire him out and more about his managing to stand up. And that gorgeous face looked so tired and those beautiful two different coloured eyes, couldn’t see so well, but still looked at us so trustingly.

 

And we tried because we loved him so much, and we didn’t want to say goodbye and we sought assurances that he wasn’t in pain and that he had a quality of life until it became so blatantly apparent that he didn’t.
So we said goodbye – and our hearts are broken.

 

He wasn’t “just a dog”. He was part of our family.We’ll miss you always Rodney and we’ll love you forever – I promise . xx