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Long limbs

Sometimes I look at my Instagram account, whizzing back through the past in a matter of seconds, and watch my kids get smaller. I see her hair get blonder and curlier, dungarees aged 1-2 years, short pudgy arms, big eyes on a little round face, walking, wobbling, crawling, rolling, still, staring. And him, in a few rows he goes from baby to newborn to bump to gone.

I wrote about his birthday the other day but I mostly talked about the cake. I didn’t mention the fact that the last year feels as though it’s been hoovered up into the ether. It went by so fast and all I have to do is scroll a thumb or two and I’m back to a time when it was just me and my little girl sitting in cafes, feeding our bulging bellies, days out, playgrounds, one on one and not being confined to the house because of naps or fear of copious sand eating.

I was looking at the photo I took of her on her first day of Montessori, this time last year. I can’t believe how tiny that person was that went in so bravely, no tears. She was so small. She seems much more robust now, able to handle herself, able to say what she wants. She never stops talking. Verbal diarrhoea. People used to say that about me when I was small – it didn’t translate into adulthood. She loves to help. I hurt my back the other day and she was delighted with the role reversal, uttering sympathetic things as I exited the car, groaning and wincing. She insisted on clambering over me so that she could hold my hand and walk me to the front door. Last year, that little girl was barely more than a toddler recently liberated from nappies. Now Charlie is wearing the same size as she did then. She has grown and changed so much, I wonder where I was while she was changing.

I was here. With her. With them both. But was I present? Or was I too busy firefighting, getting through the newborn days, one feed to the next, hastily made meals, waiting for Brendan to get home so that I could offload the weight of a small person onto him. Did I rush back downstairs after my little boy had given in to his nap, or did I sometimes linger, look at my phone, enjoy lying in stillness without any demands for my attention? It was nothing at the time – just a few extra minutes of her watching TV by herself – but how many times have I done that? How many minutes have been lost while her legs grew longer?

People always tell you to enjoy them while they’re young, to relish the baby days and delight in tiny feet, and then there are those who will admit how hard it can be, how lonely, how tiring and difficult to lose yourself while being so occupied with others. I think most of us go back and forth between the two, on one level knowing how precious these years are, how magical, funny, exciting and new, yet we do it all under the veil of snatched sleep, long repetitive days and oftentimes in isolation.

I do my best. Sometimes my best is not particularly great, but in those moments when patience has been worn or stolen, I tell myself that it’s good enough and I’ll be better tomorrow, and maybe I will. I try not to beat myself up for the bad days, but guilt is a skill we mothers spend our lives perfecting.

I worry about things, the world, huge exterior events that have little impact on our everyday lives. I try not to, but I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in it I feel swamped, choked, terrified. I try not to let it show. This, too, is part of the job description.

It seems trite to say it but I’m often astounded at how becoming a parent changes a person so much. The relief you feel when a childless friend says they’re pregnant. Finally, they’ll get it. They’ll understand. They’ll be part of the club and you can shudder and quake at news bulletins together.

My husband and I are happy with two children, that was always the plan. I make jokes about an accidental third while he googles vasectomies. I never understood why people would want a big family, but I’m beginning to get it now that I have two. The love you give and get is intoxicating. It becomes fundamental to your being. You are what you are because of that love. And the joy. Watching them emerge, drinking in their delight. It’s your drug. And the more you have, the more you get. The problem, though, with having more people to love so fiercely is time. It speeds up. Your attention is divided. You’re distracted. You’re tired. You miss things. And somewhere in there she skipped a whole shoe size. But she didn’t, not really. She grew and you weren’t watching.

Try not to let it happen again.

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Fifty shades of grey

I’ve been going through one of those phases that my husband despises where I’m feeling all housey. You know, where I spend hours on Pinterest every night and have this insatiable need to paint everything grey. Because grey.

I think it’s been spurred on by the fact that we’re finally upgrading our windows to double-glazing after nine short years of freezing our arses off in winter and having to wipe condensation off the glass every morning and dealing with the subsequent rotting timber frames and mould everywhere. Aren’t we fancy. So I guess my attention has turned away from babies and life and stuff towards the house.

So I started with the badger den because it’s the one room that hasn’t been painted some shade of grey. There was a feature copper wall and the rest was magnolia. The copper has been annoying me for years – it would scuff at the thought of something touching it. Here’s what it looked like when we first moved Amelie in:

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I decided to do the room in Farrow & Ball’s Cornforth White because I’ve been itching to try it out. And just so we’re clear here, Cornforth White isn’t white, it’s grey. It’s a beautiful light grey with an almost purple undertone. Or do I just see it that way because I’m a wanker? Anyway, I think it looks amazing. And I bought her new curtains while I was at it because the old ones came with the house and were ripped to shreds. Oh, and I painted the radiator, window-sill and curtain pole because that’ll let all her colourful kiddy stuff do the talking. Or the popping. You know, the pop. Pop. And of course it’ll all tie in with the new window frames when we get them. They’ll be grey. Obviously.

So here it is now.

I think it’s lovely. It’s cooler than my bedroom, I’m kind of jealous.

So then, because this was not nearly enough house-ness for me, I focused my attention on the sitting room which, you might remember, I painted a glorious shade of dark grey two years ago. I painted the white radiator to match the dark walls, and it’s had such an amazing effect of elongating the room. Everyone always paints radiators white which makes no sense unless your walls are white, but why would they be white when they could be grey? Anyway, it’s a neat trick and one I’ll be doing in all rooms as and when they get updated in future and subsequent anti-Brendan house phases.


Excuse the mess and the child and her sofa fort and the bad lighting. (The invisible radiator is under the window.)

Since moving the furniture around I’ve had an empty wall which has been bothering me. (I know – get a real problem.) I wanted something that would house some books but nothing too tall or huge. I also need surface space because I don’t have a coffee table and sometimes a person needs to put their coffee down somewhere. True story.

I had half a plan to get a mid-century sideboard and even got as far as to contact a dealer with my specifications, but then Pinterest got in the way again and despite the fact that I’d vowed to get something I love, something that will last forever, something not from IKEA, I saw this image below and was horrendously inspired.

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So off I trotted to IKEA and got two Ivar cabinets for the ridiculously reasonable sum of €53 each. Which is nothing, like. And that left me with plenty of money to spend on overpriced paint. Cough.

So anyway, I’m halfway through painting the two cabinets in F&B Down Pipe to match the wall. That’s dark grey, obviously. And I guess I should’ve waited till they were finished to blog about it, but by the time I’ve finished them, mounted them (in a non-sexual way) and dressed them, months may have passed. Possibly years. So I guess I’ll leave you with this pointless photo of them just after we’d put them together but before I started painting them. Because yeah.

Spot the scowling child who got called a girl for wearing a RED-NOT-PINK top. You’re welcome.

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And that’s all I have to say about that, for now.

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Right, I guess I better whore it out while I get the chance. So I’ve made it to the shortlist in the Littlewoods Blog Awards, and so I am required to beg and plead for votes from the public. So this is me asking you not that nicely to send a vote my way if you are at all arsed and have a minute to do it. If not, no bother, I never win these things anyway, so it’s all cool. There won’t be any ugly crying when I fail to make it to the finals. I won’t even make you feel bad. Or maybe I will, but probably not. Because my expectations = zero.

Thank you. Or not, as the case may be.

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He’s one!

My little boy turned one today. ONE! Already! I know!

This means three significant things for me. Firstly, I have officially earned my golden (and sadly metaphorical) boobies. That’s a whole year of breastfeeding. He will never need to taste formula or have a bottle. And soon he’ll be heading into the weirdy toddler-feeding stage which upsets people so much. I can’t wait! I wonder what he’s going to call them? Will he start trying to yank up my top in public or motorboat me in the queue at Butlers? And what’s he going to call them? Should I stop saying things like “mmm boobies” when I present them to him or “go on, it’s fresh, num num num” lest I hear that repeated back to me at some inopportune moment? It’s SO EXCITING.

The second thing is that it’s 367 days since I broke my wrist. Remember that? Not so funny.

The third thing is that it’s 368 days since I had a full night’s sleep. I won’t bang on about it (again) but sweet jesus this child is trying to kill me. Slowly. Every two hours. Every night.

I suppose we should talk about him? We had a party on Saturday. I made cake. Of course I did. Everyone kept bloody asking me about it so I had to. After much Pinteresting and consulting with the resident four year old, we settled on the idea of unicorns. Because obviously. This is the image that inspired me.

Fucking WHIMSICAL, yeah!

It was going to be so easy. No bother. We’ll throw in a rainbow theme while we’re at it. Unicorns and rainbows seem to be inexplicably linked. And that will make sense because it harks back to Amelie’s first birthday cake and everyone will think I’m terribly clever for giving these things so much thought. Even though I don’t. If I’m honest my first plan was to bake a giant set of boobs but I wasn’t sure how well that would go down with my guests.

So I baked one of Nigella’s buttermilk sponges, spread on some blackberry jam, and asked Amelie to choose a food colouring to go into the buttercream. She chose blue. This was fortuitous because rainbows are often found in the sky, which is blue. Now we had a theme. We got some Smarties to make a rainbow and added mini marshmallows to look like clouds. Then Amelie went to bed and I got drunk and tried to mould the unicorn.

Terrible idea.

It was awful. It was like a dog. Actually no, it was like a cow. A cow with a penis on its head. A slumped cow with a penis on its head that looked like it was shitting out a rainbow.

Jesus, like, what IS that?

But it looked ok from the front.

Kind of.

Someone asked me if I was going for a Moomin and I was like, yeah?

So anyway, that was the cake. Here’s the official shot that I won’t be submitting to Pinterest.

And that’s it really. Happy birthday to my beautiful boy. I’ll try harder next year, I promise. Maybe we’ll do the boobs. Mmmm, boobies.

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Education conundrum

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So homeschooling. Remember I mentioned it? Since then, Brendan and I have read a few books and we’re both convinced that conventional school is not the right place for kids to learn things. Then we found out that a Sudbury school is going to open up near us. It’s kind of amazing. Like, what were the chances? It’s like it was dropped from the sky into our gleeful and just-a-bit-sweaty palms. To put it crudely (because I can’t be arsed going into detail), the Sudbury model is a form of communal unschooling. This means that you avoid that pesky argument about homeschooled kids not getting enough socialisation. They all go and learn nothing together. (I’m joking. Kind of.)

It’s perfect. Problem solved. Job done. All the benefits of unschooling without a) me having to give up my entire life and b) my child becoming a social recluse. Except for one thing. The fees. This school gets no government funding, so the fees are hefty. More than hefty. They are crippling. I’ll spell it out. Twelve grand. I’m spelling it because I can’t bring myself to write out all those zeros. Twelve fucking grand. A year. I am struggling to understand how anyone could afford it.

There is a bit of good news, though. They don’t charge much more for subsequent siblings. So once you’re paying it, you’re paying it – go forth and procreate. They also have a grant system. Hurray, you may say, but hold the phone, upon further inspection we’re not actually poor enough to benefit (much) from it. It would still kill us. Between the mortgage and my penchant for obscure herbal teas, we don’t have that kind of money to spare each month. Which leaves us in the position where I would have to get a job solely to fund my kids (un)education, which I guess is fine, but I won’t be ready to do that until Charlie is school-age. So in the meantime we’d be on the breadline with no savings or holidays or ORGANIC POTATOES FOR GOD’S SAKE, for three years.

So we just can’t. Like, we can’t. So what’s the alternative? I could homeschool. Or unschool. Or whatever. But I’m scared. It’s not that I think it’s the wrong way to teach kids – I don’t. It’s the social issue. There’s no getting around it. As much as it gets pooh-poohed by the homeschooling community, I think it’s a very real problem. Or it is for us. I don’t think our neighbourhood offers a good enough set-up for decent socialisation. Sure, we can do some classes, but it’s not the same. You don’t get enough proper interaction with other kids at ballet or music class. She needs to be able to spend time on her own with her friends without an adult conducting every second of it.

I’ve joined the local homeschooling groups to get a feel for what’s happening, and instead of finding it reassuring, I’m not convinced that there’s enough going on. I can’t tell if that’s because there isn’t much happening, or if people have established connections and meet up behind the scenes. I also feel like the activities which are taking place are focused on older kids. There are meet-ups for teenagers – not much good to us. This makes sense because a lot of homeschooled kids are children who’ve started school and have then been taken out for whatever reason. That’s grand, like, but we’re starting from scratch here. As much as age-diversity is important (and it is, the books all say it), she still needs and wants peers of the same age. Maybe I’m wrong on this (and I really hope I am), and it will transpire that there is a thriving network of local homeschoolers, but at the moment I just don’t see it.

So the next option. Start her in school (assuming she gets into one) and take her out in a few years and either transfer her to the Sudbury school, which will be more established and hopefully have a good age-spread of pupils, and the two of us will work our asses off to fund it, or homeschool her myself. Let’s go back to that thing in brackets up there – “assuming she gets into one”. I’ll be honest, I don’t have much hope for this. I’ve decided that I can’t in good conscience send her to a single sex school. Secondly, I would hate to send her to a faith school. So it’s either an Educate Together or Educate Together. There are two near us. One of them (my first preference) only has one class per year. So that’s twenty-odd kids who will be plucked from a bulging waiting list, who will be taken in in Junior Infants. I don’t fancy our chances on that. The other school has two classes per year but I’ve heard some negative things about it. Plus it has the giant waiting list.

So yeah, conundrum. Maybe it will all become really obvious when she’s offered – or not offered – a place in a school. In a way I wish I hadn’t gone down this path because now I know too much. So if she/they end up in a mainstream school I will be highly conscious of the negatives and critical of the system. That’s not a good place to be. Parents are expected, and need, to support the school. No good will come from us telling our kids that they don’t need to do their homework. We’d have to buy into it. Drink the Kool-Aid. Or pretend to. And therein lies the problem.

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Ten holiday revelations

1. You are terrible beach people
You always forget the important things: the parasol, the towel, the hat, food of any kind. If you spend thirty minutes trying to put sunscreen on two wriggling children, the sun will go in. If you don’t, your tanned babies will speak of your ineptitude to the world. You stupidly think it’s possible to change a shitty nappy on sand when the wind is blowing. You don’t own any shorts so you wear a new, white, hastily purchased skirt which you stain with BAD coffee just after you’ve arrived. Nice strap marks, by the way.

2. You will spend an excessive amount of time trying to hunt down a decent takeaway coffee. You will not find one. You will have many conversations with your husband about the millions of euros to be made by opening up a hipster cafe in this particular seaside town. You wonder what the locals do, whether they lament the lack of not-shit caffeine, or whether this goes some way to explain why people from the country always drink “tae”.

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3. Lady Google Maps is also on holiday with you. She needs signal. Wexford has no signal. She sulks like a teenager at inopportune moments and announces that “you have arrived” at your holiday home when in fact you are parked by a field. She does not appreciate your language.

4. Your holiday is only as good as your four-year-old proclaims. If she hasn’t said “THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER” for over an hour you are doing something wrong. If she says, “I miss my real home”, you better get her that third ice-cream.

5. Children appreciate the company of other children on holiday. You and your husband may delight in the isolated cottage and empty beaches and playgrounds, but your offspring does not. She wants to make friends. You owe her the chance to become slightly less anti-social than you. And by the way, because of that isolated cottage you booked, you’ll spend half your holiday in the car getting angry with Lady Google Maps while trying to get to places where there are people.

6. You will show yourself up for being a Dubliner by doing stupid things like trespassing into someone’s field so you can take an arty photo of… whatever is growing there… (it looks like hay?) and then realise that those vicious-looking alsatians you passed earlier belonged to that farm. You twat.

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7. You can last a week without TV. You already knew this. You rarely watch it anyway, preferring to spend your evenings contemplating how great you are for not watching TV. But now you know that your daughter can do it as well.

8. You become even more strict about bedtimes on holiday. This is so you can sit in the back garden at the earliest possible moment and drink hipster beers and talk about how great you are for not watching TV.

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9. Your 11-month-old co-sleeper can sleep in a travel cot. Yes, he still wakes to feed every five seconds, but it’s possible to get him out of your bed afterwards. This great leap forward gets you all excited so that when you return home you hastily finish decorating his bedroom and try to sleep him in it. HAHAHAHA.

10. You can have a good holiday without leaving the country.
You might even manage to book it when there’s a heatwave, you jammy bitch. There are interesting things to see, nice parks, beaches and funfairs. Ireland is not that bad-looking on a sunny day. You learn that an arboretum is nothing to do with dead people. You enjoy the fact that your dog is moulting all over someone else’s house. You fall in love with your family that little bit more, even the one who eats sand and climbs stairs and pulls open cupboards and tries to find new and exciting ways to kill himself every day. And of course there’s your little girl, who this was really all for, brimming with enthusiasm for trees, flowers, sandcastles, the second bed in her holiday bedroom, for using the beach towel as a cape, for finding shy Gruffalos, for eating too much ice-cream, for life.

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A brief reprise

This is rare. I have a few minutes to myself and it’s not 9pm. Mother-in-law is upstairs playing with child 1 and child 2 is having a nap. The washing machine is on, dinner is sorted, I have no particular jobs to do right now so… I’ll be honest, it was a toss-up between my interiors magazines and writing but I suppose I’ll write. Do you know what, though? First I’m going to have a HOT cup of tea – SQUEEEE!!!

Spoke too soon. Mother-in-law is going home early. FML. Ok, so I’ve chosen bad parenting, the TV is on and I’ll finish what I started. That’s assuming child 2 remains unconscious for a bit longer. This is good though, because Brendan keeps telling me that I should write in front of Amelie, so she realises that there’s more to me than folding her knickers. So I’ll just take a big bite of DENIAL and pretend that her watching My Little Pony and hearing the click of my keys is, in some way, reminding her that I’m a person. Yeah.

So what can I tell you? Shall I whinge about sleep? Because guess who’s back to his old tricks? It’s not even the waking up (well it is, but I’ll get to that), it’s trying to get him to sleep in the first place. I go through his bedtime routine, put the blinds down, sing while changing his nappy, then I lie down next to him and tenderly offer a boob. He responds by spitting his soother in my face and pounces on me. Thus begins his breakdance routine. He twists and turns, flipping his head around, legs bobbing up and down, all with my nipple in his mouth. You can imagine what a joy that is for me.

He gives up on feeding fairly quickly and starts his evening exercises. He crawls all over the bed, tries to climb my face, climb the headboard, tries to hurtle himself off the bed. Just when I’ve reached the point of wanting to strangle him, Brendan will come in (having been engaged with putting other child to sleep) and walk him round till he dozes off. Failing that we continue the dance and I repeatedly pin him down and trip him up till he’s too exhausted to move anymore and eventually passes out. Then I get up and face the filthy kitchen or the laundry or the ironing or just weep into my (entire) bar of Lindt.

Do you know what? That’d be grand if that’s all there was to it. But no, we have multiple wake-ups, sometimes two or three before 11pm, when I drag myself to bed and lie beside him fearing sleep because of the inevitable interruption. The night wears on as always and then, ping, 5.20am, he’s up for the day. DID I SAY FML? FML.

Argh.

I swear to God, there is more to me than lack of sleep and binge-eating salted caramel but I’m just not sure what that is at the moment. Oh jesus, he’s awake. That’s it, game over. The final spin of the washing machine. That’s what woke him. Gotta go.

I have other things to say. Maybe one day I’ll get to say them.

Enter the void

Who wants to talk about periods again? Sorry.

So a few days after that blog post, my Lunette arrived in its joyful Scandi packaging and I was confronted with its… purpleness. Yes I chose purple. Because who wouldn’t want to reef something called Cynthia out of one’s vagina? I’m getting ahead of myself.

I dutifully boiled it for 20 minutes and left it to dry on the draining board. I tidied it away in its dinky little satin pouch and forgot all about it until a week ago when I became demon Suzy who wanted to kill everything.

A brief aside here: has anyone else found that your PMS symptoms are waaaaaaay worse when you’re breastfeeding? Because this is new for me. I used to get it a bit as a teenager but I swear to God I rolled through every single clichéd symptom this month: bloating, nausea, headaches, WHERE’S THE GODDAMN CHOCOLATE, row-starting, anxiety, cramps, GO GET ME CHOCOLATE OR I WILL FIGHT YOU AND WIN, etc.

So yes, things were bad. I knew it was coming. I felt like complete shit. And then I remembered the purple thing in its purple bag and I wanted to put it in the bin. Why-oh-why had I blogged about it before trying it? Jesus like, isn’t a period bad enough without having to get in there and wrangle with bloody (I was trying not to use that word in this piece) silicone? I apologised to Brendan and said I’d wasted €30 of his money (ok, OUR money) on something which I would never use. Yes, we talk about these things. Or rather, I talk at him and he says things like “it’s fine” and changes the subject.

But then the symptoms dissipated and I felt great. A weight lifted, my head cleared, I spent a few evenings meditating and felt amazing. And then it hit, the crimson troubles, and huzzah, I was emotionally ready for the purple silicone.

I didn’t mess about (poor choice of words again). I went for it. I folded it up just like my friend on YouTube had said to, and in it went. No problem. I stood up and was compelled to do the hula. You know why.

I took the dog for a walk and it was fine. No leaks. No problem. I couldn’t feel it. This was going to be GREAT.

Until I remembered that I would, at some stage, have to remove it. I was prepared for the gross factor. Let’s consider the amount of practical, daily experience I have with other people’s (not to mention dogs) bodily excretions. Compared to that, this would be nothing.

Or so I thought. Because when the time came to get the thing out, it was not where I expected it to be. It wasn’t where I’d left it. It had gone in. Gone up. Disappeared. I couldn’t find it. I panicked. It had enveloped itself into my uterus. It was never coming out. I would have to go to hospital and have them surgically remove it. They would laugh at me for being a stupid hippy. I would have to give birth to ANOTHER bloody thing (sorry) less than a year after the last one. WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING? HAVE I NOT PUT MY VAGINA THROUGH ENOUGH?

I pulled my pants back up and went downstairs to google “how to remove your menstrual cup” and found the relevant YouTuber. She told me to relax. To squat. To bear down. Oh Jesus, not again. This was all seeming HORRIFICALLY familiar.

I did what she said. I felt the tip, I wrangled a bit. A lot. My thighs ached from the inadvertent ballet practice. I got it out. No spillage. Cleaned it out. Put it back in.

BECAUSE I AM WARRIOR WOMAN.

And the next morning? It took slightly less time to get out. Slightly less panic. And as time went on I got better at it. I even managed to do it in a public bathroom with an impatient four-year-old banging on the toilet door asking me what I was doing and telling me that she wanted a biscuit. And now I’m kinda buzzing off it because other than pushing out a human being with a broken wrist and no pain relief whatsoever this is pretty much the greatest thing I have ever done.

Possibly.

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