Two Eyes, Two Ears

I haven’t been able to write lately. I’m in a fog. I have no coherent thoughts to express. I’m feeling lazy, selfish and stupid. I’m trying to appreciate how lucky I am. It annoys me that I don’t. We’ve had an ok month. Delicious food, happy moments, ticking jobs off the to-do list (see the first photo, we finally have some beautiful planters outside our house).

I’ve had a lot of down moments. I feel guilty that I haven’t done enough homeschooling. I could have done more, if I didn’t hate SeeSaw so much. And when I have these thoughts I feel angry with myself for not appreciating how much work the children’s teachers have put into trying to maintain some semblance of normality for them. I cried when I went to pick up happy meals from McDonald’s yesterday. The children get them as a treat every year on the last day of school. This little normal thing loomed large when I drove by all the bus shelters with ads about covid 19.

Work is hard. I have to listen to things I would rather not have to think about. And then I finish work and I don’t have my commute to decompress. And I then I remind myself how lucky I am that my income hasn’t dropped and I have a secure job that remains unaffected in many ways.

We were supposed to be in France right now. And I resent my feelings of resentfulness about not being there. I finished my last bottle of Crement De Loire last week. We’re probably drinking a little too much and I’m definitely eating too much, but I don’t actually care right now. I’m telling myself if we were on holidays we’d be eating and drinking what we want.

My gym won’t reopen. I miss the classes and I feel awful for the staff. I’m doing couch to 5k in an attempt to get back on the exercise wagon. I’ve done ballet classes, following a lovely ballerina’s videos on YouTube.

I know this is a big long rambling rant and there are loads of things I have to care about and even more I should care about but I’m taking a wee bit of time to wallow and I already feel better having written some of this down instead of constantly letting these thoughts swirl around in my over caffeinated brain.

Two Eyes, Two Ears

Live Alone (Almost) And (Try To) Like It.

Well, it has been quite the fortnight. Hard to believe that this time two weeks ago I was planning on how to juggle homeschooling and some level of normal life which would include working from home as much as possible. Like everyone else we know,  life has come to a shuddering halt and we are Living Alone (As A Family) and (Trying To) Like It.

I have to be honest, I have really struggled with the giant shift that has taken place. I haven’t been on top of any areas of my life, including the writing of my blog which is such a good outlet for me. I haven’t been a stellar homeschooler. I have cleared out and organised very few cupboards. The house is a mess. There is lego EVERYWHERE, even in our tiny en suite. I have been snappier than usual and I have not been as Mary Poppinsish as I would like.

I’ve had to learn to let a lot more things go. The children are watching a lot of TV. We don’t have tablets but I’m quite sure if we did they’d be handed over frequently. If they want to spend all day in their pajamas, I’m letting them. Quite frankly, I haven’t had the headspace to deal with any discipline problems. I’m hoping there’s a few happy memories for them, mixed in with the chaos.

The next few days and weeks will be better. I’ve stopped wallowing. I’ve made plans. Today, I put on makeup and a dress and I feel better. I’m going to reread Marjorie once again, because her advice to Take Yourself Firmly In Hand still rings true. We are in this together, and separately, and we will just have to learn, once again, to Live Alone and Like It, and maybe get to love it and learn some valuable lessons.

Live Alone (Almost) And (Try To) Like It.

Raising Children Without Religion

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One thing we decided on long before we became parents was that we would not, and could not, indoctrinate our children. We were both raised by parents who dutifully dispatched us to Catholic schools and sent us through sacraments, but we wanted a different path for our children. Every year there’s fashion spreads in Irish newspapers about ‘communion season’, and tips from bloggers about what ‘the communion mammies’ should wear. There’s debates in parenting forums about whether to cater the party at home or book a restaurant.

It feels to us, as people who’ve stepped out of this merry-go-round, that the whole thing isn’t as benign as many of our peers seem to think. We’re lucky that our children don’t have to go to a school that others them, and puts them to one side for small or large portions of the school year. Our children are able to say, freely and without difficulty, that they don’t believe in god. And still ‘the communion’ creeps in. They see a religious sacrament presented as a normal cultural experience and conversations are had about our family and the choices we make.

This weekend, I opened up our Saturday newspaper and sighed a weary sigh at the above feature. Apparently we’re not ‘the average parent’ and our children are being denied ‘the big day’. I know the vast majority of people declared themselves to be Catholic in the last census and we know many of our friends struggle with putting their children through religious indoctrination. But still, it jars that a national newspaper is part of the normalisation of the indoctrination of large swathes of the children in this country.

We have been told by others that raising your children without religion isn’t that simple, that there are family pressures and traditions that are hard to shake off. We’re told people ‘had’ to baptise to access schools, and then fear their children will be left out if they don’t do ‘the big day’. I understand all of this. We faced some of these comments and pressures too. It is hard to be part of the change, and not everyone has the same priorities. But every year I wish ‘the big day’ was seen for what it is. And treated as such.

Raising Children Without Religion

Endings and Beginnings.

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I bought this set of milestone cards when I was pregnant with Baby Orchid. It was an impulse purchase during a summer supermarket run. I thought it would be fun to document the first year of Baby’s life and know exactly what age he was in pictures. We dutifully opened the box every week, and then every month, snapped some pictures and then put the cars and blanket away. Earlier this month I made a couple of photobooks and the best pictures went into one of them, a whole book of him to savour and keep.

Yesterday, I passed this onto another pregnant woman. I offered it on a freecycle Facebook group and it was snapped up almost immediately. I tucked it into an overfull bag before my commute and handed it over at lunchtime. We exchanged good wishes and went our separate ways, she to the beginning of the end of pregnancy and I to the end of the beginning of our final steps into parenting.

It feels good to pass things on, knowing that we won’t use them or need them ever again We’re slowly filtering out what’s been outgrown or what we’ve kept ‘just in case’ and now know ‘in case’ never came. We have very little baby stuff left. I have a box of sentimental clothes and cards and a few other small things.

We still have the cot all three of our children have slept in, and I’m torn on what to do once that’s no longer needed. I have a love/hate relationship with our SUV of a buggy, but I’ll probably miss it when its gone. I know soon enough I’ll be passing on our slings to someone with babies who needs it and that we’ll be taking out the next size of clothes from the attic and giving away the smaller ones rather than packing them away for a possible baby of our own.

I don’t miss vast swathes of the intense early days with a small baby. I can’t forget the shattering tiredness and the resentful feeling that can wash over you when you’re a baby’s sole source of food. I miss parts of it more than I expected, and what I miss has surprised me a bit. I smile at new babies and bigger babies, and I have a small pang that this stage of life has gone forever for us. But the next bit is good, and the bit after that, and it will be nice to let go of the stuff we don’t need any more and send it off to those who do.

Endings and Beginnings.

When Do You Leave?

 

The events in the book in the middle happened 80 years ago this year. The Chalet School In Exile is one of the most extraordinary children’s books I’ve ever read and I still get more and more from it during every reread. It’s written contemporaneously, which gives it a unique perspective, and from the point of view of being generously sympathetic to the German population. I’ve often had the thought “When would I leave” on reading it.

Do you leave when you’re getting uncomfortable with the political unrest alluded to in an earlier book in the series? What about when you see the Nazi party consolidating power? Do you start thinking about packing up your life when you see the local young fellas with nothing better to do chasing the Jewish goldsmith through the village? There’s no spoiler alert required; the school quite clearly does leave and goes into exile (spoiler alert: the initial exile is short lived) and lives are upended by doing so. The school’s history is forever altered, given that the author felt she couldn’t move the school back again once peace was restored to Europe.

I haven’t read the other two books as much as Exile, as its popularly known in the Facebook group where these books have gained a new lease of life, but they have sparked similar musings. When should Offred (TV or book Offred) have left? When the creeping march of control over her reproductive rights meant her husband had to sign the form to get the pill? When she was fired from work under the watchful gaze of “some other” army? What about when the initial terrorist attack took place? Packing up your life is a hard thing to do, when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Is it going to get worse? Is this temporary? What do you leave behind? These aren’t rational decisions, no matter how they might appear with the benefit of hindsight.

When Ireland gained independence women lost a lot. Things changed, such as the introduction of the marriage bar for women working in the civil service. Once you got married, you had to leave. This rule wended its way into other parts of the workforce over time. We had never been great at looking after women and children, but the new state didn’t think to address this. Instead, decisions were made to pay religious orders to provide “care” for women, including those who weren’t married but were pregnant. We know how this ended and we have never properly dealt with this legacy. Women were constitutionally categorised as belonging in the home, something which needs to go but is usually dismissed as an anachronism with no real meaning. I don’t agree; it is a horrible thing to read about yourself in your country’s constitution.

Would you leave, knowing the kind of things your new country is doing and saying about women? Would you stay, hoping that the birth of a nation meant some unpleasantness but an eventual working out of the things that a republic is supposed to be? We’ve long had a history of emigration, so packing up and leaving is part of almost every family’s story, mine included. People left, and returned, and made things better. We can change our constitution, and we do, frequently. We have moved forward since independence and this 1937 document. The one pictured above is one of several little blue books I own; this one is from 2018. Before we repealed the eighth. I’m keeping it, because I know how things can change and sometimes its good to have a reminder of what can happen and how it can happen and how hard you have to work to correct the trajectory of a nation.

When Do You Leave?

My Motherhood, Myself

I re-entered the working world this week. I had a lot of mixed emotions, but off I went to work. It wasn’t an awful few days. I had time to myself with coffee, I was able to nip to Hodges Figgis for a copy of The Testaments (I decided given my place way down the waiting list for it in the library I would treat myself), I managed to squeeze in some baking (and used the pears from the tree in our garden to perk up some gingerbread) and I was able to get my hands on a free copy of Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling.

My time management is better when I’m juggling. That’s not to say I love the juggling but when I have to tick about 25 boxes on the to-do list every morning before I leave the house faffing about on my phone is a lot less appealing. I like the balance of mothering and having a space and time in my life that has no connection whatsoever to anything else.

My Motherhood, Myself

Maternity Leave

img_20190905_101455I enjoyed a peaceful, child free morning as I left Baby Orchid for a few hours to adjust to me returning to work next week. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to take almost a full year off to stay at home with him. I’m also incredibly fortunate to have been able to keep employing our lovely child minder during the entire time, so the transition is a bit easier than might otherwise have been the case.

It’s called maternity leave, but that phrase doesn’t make sense to me because maternity is the reason for the leave. If anything, I’m starting my real maternity leave next week. I have mixed emotions. This will be the third time I’ve returned to work after having been at home for an extended period with a baby. Each time I’ve toyed with the possibility of staying at home a little longer, or taking a career break, or changing jobs, or somehow otherwise mixing it up a little.

Quite honestly, I’m returning to work because I want to and because I don’t want to lose too much of whatever of my identity has already been consumed by parenting and pregnancy. I don’t want to be known solely as Baby Orchid’s mum. I want to have a side of my life that has nothing to do with parenting whatsoever. I want to do work which isn’t for my family.

I’m reflecting on the privilege of making this decision too. I am so lucky; this is an active choice, one I was able to reach all by myself. I will feel a wrench, particularly because I’m still breastfeeding and have no plans to stop so I will have a physical reminder that I’m not with my baby as much as I used to be. I’m not looking forward to the morning scramble and all the logistics of working outside the home.

I am looking forward to people using my name. And being able to finish a coffee before it gets cold. And the smiles I’ve been getting this week when I’ve returned after a few hours away. I don’t leave all of myself at home, but I can leave some. And that can feel like a good balance.

Maternity Leave

Monica, and being 22.

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I remember the Monica Lewinsky “scandal” very well. I say “scandal” because with 20 years in between then and now I’ve revised a lot of my thoughts about her, and Bill Clinton, and that time, and how I feel about it all. I was about 14 when it all kicked off and Monica seemed like a glamorous, go-getting woman in her 20s to me, someone who had her life together and was going places and knew what she wanted and how to get it.

Obviously the age gap hasn’t changed but now I feel much closer in age to her, which is the usual feeling you get as you grow older. I’ve been the new college graduate, unsure of myself and trying to figure out the working world and my place in it after the security of years spent in full-time education. I’ve navigated the world of older men in my workplace, and walked the tightrope of years spent being polite and never quite being sure if something is what you think it is or if its something you probably shouldn’t have to put up with.

I’ve been thinking about being 22 and being around people in power, and being around one of the most powerful people in the world. I’ve been thinking about sex, and what I regarded as sex, and what other people, mostly men at least twice my age, think about sex and consent and right and wrong. It’s uncomfortable to look back at 22 year old me, and think about 22 year old Monica, and the choices we made and the things which happened which weren’t really choices at all.

I’ve listened to  season 2 of Slow Burn and what other people said about Monica and how she navigated all that pressure and how, shamefully, she became the punchline of so many jokes about sex and power and men and what they do and who they do it to. I thought about my clothes when I was 22, and how I probably would have considered a navy dress from Gap as the ideal choice for working in an office.

I think about the working world now and my place in it and if things have changed and if a 22 year old in my workplace would be treated like Monica, regardless of how many people proclaim #metoo and talk about consent and condemn the actions of men in power who take what they want. I think about the current man in the White House, and the 22 year olds who work in that building, wearing the Gap dresses and figuring out their place in the world and I hope their world is better than mine was when I was 22 and when Monica was 22.

But I don’t know if it is, or if it can be, knowing what we know about everything that’s happened since Monica was 22.

Monica, and being 22.

Mother Hood

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I will return to work next month. It’s been almost a year since I went on maternity leave. A year is a long time, and a short time. There’ve been days that felt like they went on for a year. Birth is hard, for babies and for the people who birth them. Some days feel like they happened only last week. I remember the days lying in my hospital room, watching the light change on the red brick wall I could see from the sash window. I remember the days where baby slept so much that I felt the fog of sleep deprivation lifting. I remember days where nothing I did seemed like the right thing.

It has been a good year, and a bad year, and an average year. I’ve felt regrets over significant things and trifles. Does going back to work make me feel guilty? The honest answer is no, not even a little bit. I am very lucky that I have the option to work part-time in a role that stretches me just enough to feel like a challenge but not so much that I feel stressed out on a regular basis. The real guilt I feel is that I’m not doing enough, because the time management skills I had before I had children seem to have disappeared.

I used to fit so much into my days. I would work, study, meet friends, continue hobbies, take holidays, relax with books. I still do most of these things but they feel fragmented now and I find it hard to focus on some things that used to come naturally. I wish I’d written more during this past year. I wish I’d pushed myself more. But what would have been the point, I wonder. And how could I or should I have done this.

I beat myself up by comparing myself to the other mothers who get so much done, or achieved so much more than I did before children came along. I wonder if the me I am now couldn’t sustain more ambition than I seem to have settled on. I wonder if an external force could have propelled me forward. I wonder if my age could turn into a motivator.

I’m not sure how I measure my success in life. Is becoming a mother a metric of success? I was lucky; I conceived easily and my children haven’t presented some of the myriad challenges other parents face. Is it having a secure job? I’m not sure; my job is part of my life but I wouldn’t be considered a wild success in the role. Is being married a success? Surely not; meeting someone you want to marry is largely down to luck and chance.

Part of me hopes being back at work will push me out of the mother identity a bit. Every time I’ve been on maternity leave my world seems to shrink a little. I have a vague sense that there should be more. Maybe there is, if I could lift the hood a little.

Mother Hood

Nine Months In, Nine Months Out

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Baby Orchid has been ex utero for nine months, which is a milestone in my book.

Nine months ago I was enjoying newborn snuggles and the sunrise making the bricks outside my window a glorious colour and the painkillers post c section.

I’ve lost most of the baby weight, mental and physical. It was a difficult pregnancy for myriad reasons. It was worth it.

It is amazing. What’s also amazing is that since Baby Orchid made his entrance into the world abortion has become a normal part of antenatal health care.

Knowing that women who face what we might have faced had the worst happened now have options makes me happy. Every single day.

Our family is complete.

Nine Months In, Nine Months Out