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My grandad had some pretty old-fashioned and outdated views on a woman’s role in society.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

The Blurb is Out!!

Woohoo, sharing the full book sleeve to reveal the blurb on the back which will give you an idea of what The Real Mum’s Guide to (Surviving) Parenthood is all about! The headshot incidentally was taken by the genius that is Sabrina Dunny. Not only did she ensure this total photo-phobe felt comfortable – she also managed to banish the look of 16 years’ sleep deprivation!

The book is now available to pre-order on the Orpen Press website and they’ve very kindly given me a 20% discount code for followers of Mama-tude. So if you fancy getting in early, the code is “Mama-tude” and the link is here
I’m on countdown!!!

Book Cover Reveal and Publication Date!

2017 has been one of the craziest, busiest years of my life. In a rare turn of events, I am neither pregnant nor mum to a brand new baby, but I have been working on a different project – a literary type of “eighth baby.”

What started as an exciting new venture, back in February has finally come to fruition. I thought nothing could top the excitement of the offer of a publishing deal – I was wrong. The arrival of my book cover, with the book’s title, and MY NAME on it, has knocked that original excitement out of the park.In fact I still can’t look at it without hopping from one leg to the other like an excited child!

So without further ado (and because I’m too excited to write much more!) –  here it is:
 

“The Real Mum’s Guide to (Surviving) Parenthood”, will be published by Orpen Press on the 5th September.

And the cover….

 

So there you have it. No doubt the hopping will continue between now and September 5th although I’ve been assured that this is nothing – and to wait until I’m holding a physical copy of it. (I may actually burst with excitement at that stage!!!)The countdown continues. We’re nearly there! 😀😀

Tips for cutting the cost of “back-to-school”

We went to hell today, otherwise known as a shopping expedition with all of the children in tow. The sun shone much brighter than it had promised to do resulting in hot cranky kids and even hotter crankier parents.  The adults traipsed from shop to shop, without any semblance of enthusiasm, whilst the children resisted and complained, and complained and resisted every step of the way.
It’s not that we’re martyrs to the cause, or complete gluttons for punishment either – but taking all of the kids was a necessity as there were feet to be measured and school shoes and runners to be bought. With the summer holidays half over, it’s time to consider the return to school.
It’s a hugely expensive and pressurised time for parents. With five in school here, including two in secondary and a sixth in Montessori, the costs are scary and the need to make serious savings is real. So with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few tips for cutting the costs involved with very expensive, free education.
1.    Book Swap
This is a great and easy thing to do amongst two or, even better, a group of parents who have children of different ages. Get out the booklist, set up a Whatsapp group and send out the searching texts. In a time of every changing editions and book requirements, hoarding books for younger children coming up the line is not necessarily the best course of action as frequently the required books change. Some years you’ll manage to do better than others in a book swap but even one book acquired this way is a saving to your pocket
2.  Sell ‘em

No not the kids, the books. Many educational book stores buy your old school books if they’re in good condition and either pay you or offer store credit, which leads nicely on to tip 3  …..

3. Second-hand books
It’s always worth checking a second hand book store for the school books you need and the earlier in the summer that you do this, the more chance there is of you managing to get several. Just be very mindful of editions and always double check that you have the correct one.
4. Watch out for special offers.
Around this time of year, may outlets such as Easons and schoolbooks.ie offer online discounts towards the cost of new school books or the option of free delivery or free book covering. Heatons are another place worth checking for back to school stationery as they often run a 3 for 2 offer, providing the potential for great savings if your numbers are up!
5.   Discount outlets.
School shoes and runners are a very expensive part of back to school. If there’s a discount outlet near you (such as the Kildare Outlet) it’s worth considering a trip. There’s significant savings to be made on shoes in Clark’s, which for me is a lot more than the cost of the petrol involved! The many sports shops on site meanwhile can see you make savings on runners and possibly even school bags.
6.  Schoolbags
And speaking of schoolbags. Before purchasing new ones, double check if a quick wash in the machine with lots of fabric softener is enough to make the bag look good as new and obliterate the pungent yoghurt smell from last year! If you are buying a new one however, – shop around and don’t forget to check stores online to compare value. Sports Direct can offer great value too, but always double check the measurements. Pictures can
be deceiving
7.  Crested uniforms
When it comes to uniforms, crested pieces are usually the most expensive parts. Don’t be embarrassed to ask around. If you have friends who cannot pass their child’s outgrown school uniform to a younger sibling, ask them to pass it along to you instead. Sometimes people are afraid to offer for fear of causing offence. Personally, I’m eternally grateful for the amount of outgrown crested uniform pieces that are passed to this house. And remember to share the love. There’s always someone who will happily receive your own children’s uniform hand me downs.
  8. School sales
Check on the school website just in case a uniform or book sale due to be held ahead of the return to school.
9.  Veer from the obvious
Don’t assume that certain things can only be bought in a certain type of shop and keep your eyes peeled – always. Book Station for example, usually renowned for selling good value books, also sell lunch boxes and good beakers for very good prices. The “smash” beakers have stood the very testing, test of time, here.
10. Buy in bulk

Sounds obvious but list your copy needs and stationery needs and buy together. If you’re trying to spread the cost over a few weeks, spread by purchase type rather than by child. Copies bought in 10 packs work out cheaper and getting all stationery together lets you make the best of special offers and avail of 3 for 2’s.

 

Lessons learned on the parenting frontline

The first week of the school hols is over and high-fives all around, we survived it – relatively unscathed, well kinda. And we’ve learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share. The sort of things that it’s handy to know as we navigate our way through the remaining, approximately thirty five weeks, or thereabouts, of the school holidays.

1.   Never leave the house without babywipes. It’s just asking for trouble and without them, your child’s first port of call with their snotty nose, carrot stick orange-coloured mouth and chocolatey hands will be your cream jeans – if you’re daft enough to wear them on an outing with the children.

2.  Never wear your cream jeans on an outing with the children

3.“Live food” for reptiles in the pet shop is actually live. This will bring about two types of reaction in your children. Those who think it’s really cool will want to touch it. Those of a more sensitive disposition will continue their emotional meltdown well after you’ve arrived home. Steer clear of the live food for reptiles section in your pet shop.

4.Always ask your four year old what’s in his pocket before checking for yourself. Sometimes it’s a spider.

5. Small children cannot be distracted from asking relatives about their boobs. It’s best just to answer.

6.  If you are trying to gauge the weather and the likelihood of rain – hang out a load of washing. Expect imminent downpour.

7.  You will never have enough food in the house and they will always be hungry- always.

8.  Small children don’t do “appropriate” very well. If they know they correct name for genitals they are quite likely to shout it very, VERY loudly and only mildly mispronounced, in the park with maximum audience attention. For example “Mammy I can see your dagina through my binoculars”

9. The row over who pushes the lift button can potentially see your 4 year old escape in a lift alone if you don’t wedge yourself between the door very quickly. Your four year old will not be as traumatised as you.

Have a great second week!