WHEN we moved into our house eight years ago there was a rectangular space in the hall, just at the bottom of the stairs, the same as millions of houses all over the country.
And like millions of homeowners all over the country, when we moved in first that space was filled with a lovely table and lamp, sometimes a vase of flowers and, more often than not, big piles of junk post.
As the years went on the table was moved out in favour of a baby buggy, baby bag, baby car seat and all the paraphernalia that goes with a newborn.
Then the buggy was replaced by a big boy stroller and now that The Beast is four and no longer using a stroller of any kind, that space in our hall now houses his brand new bike.
In a couple of years if Santy is feeling generous, that bike might be replaced by a bigger one but after that it’d be a tight squeeze to get a big kid bike in there, so it’ll probably have to go out the back.
Leaving the space in the hall empty.
In other homes there’s always another buggy (or four!) to fill the hole. Always a sibling’s bike to sit neatly on the tiles. In other homes their space in the hall rarely empties.
But in this house, once the space is empty, that’s it, it’s empty.
Of passing years and growing up. Of leaving babyhood behind. Not this coming September, but the following one, The Beast will head off to big school, leaving the space in the hall empty for even longer each day, with not even a school bag to fill it
And once the babyhood is over, once we’re in the midst of growing up, once the bikes get bigger and the rooms are emptier for more hours each day – where does that leave me?
According to newspapers and magazines and overheard conversations on the playground, it’ll mean I can get back to work, it’ll mean I can finally have my life back, it’ll mean I can break free of the chains of mothering and finally ‘do’ something again.
But here’s the thing:
I don’t want to. I don’t want to do any of those things. And I’m enormously privileged that financially I don’t have to.
I’m happy. I like me, just the way I am. For the first time in my life I can say with absolute conviction that I am content, that I am fulfilled, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Which is not to say that it is easy, because it is not. Being a stay at home mother can be wonderful and exciting and boring and monotonous all in the one day. All in the one hour. Which is not to say that I have embraced motherhood entirely and never struggle with it, because I do. Of course I do. Sometimes the walls of this well proportioned, large house feel very close together. Sometimes I question everything. But always, always, the answer to the question is that I am in the right place. For me.
For other mothers, it is the exact opposite, they are chomping at the bit to return to work, to do something outside of mothering and to that I say bravo. Every parent should be able to do what they want to do.
I have friends returning to work and education after 20 years at home. I have friends writing books and designing jewellery and opening delis and I am so fucking proud of them that I feel as though my heart is going to burst.
But I want to be here. At home. My ambitions are less. That might seem wasteful and shameful to some of you, but it’s the bald truth. My ambition is to be at home, with my son, for as long as I want to.
Maybe in a few years things will change. Maybe I’ll still be a stay at home Mam when The Beast is 15. I don’t know. Do I have to decide now? Is it not ok if my five-year plan simply says ‘To be happy’?
What I do know though is that my work here in my home is worthwhile. It’s important and it means something to me. It means everything to me. And that shouldn’t be under estimated. And it shouldn’t be seen as second best.
So no, I won’t be looking for part-time work once The Beast starts school. I won’t be going back to college. I won’t be changing the life I have here, right now. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
And as for that space in the hall – well, maybe it’s ok if it just stays empty.
I think I write a variation of this post every year on here, or if not here on my Facebook page, so you’re probably all sick of me waffling on, but hey, tradition is tradition so here it is.
I like Valentine’s Day.
It seems it’s a bit of a novelty these days to admit that you like Valentine’s Day, that you get some pleasure out of the day. In every newspaper and blog, in online forums and in real life people poo poo Valentine’s Day, giving out about commercialism and overpriced tat and forced love.
And you know, I get it. I do. Because in a way they’re right. Nobody needs a six-foot teddy bear holding a heart. ‘Special Valentine’s Menus’ in restaurants bring me out in a rash and spending €6 on a supermarket card makes me die a little inside. So I really do get it. That aspect of Valentine’s Day isn’t necessary at all. (Though, if it’s your bag, fair play, none of my business.)
But here’s what I think IS important and IS necessary – taking a breath and telling someone you love them. Just that. It doesn’t have to be a romantic partner, it can be your Mam, your kid, your best friend. Just taking that breath, that pause, from our busy lives to remember love is important.
And why Valentine’s Day comes in handy as a reminder of that. Just a reminder, a nudge. Of course we should be telling our loved ones that we love them everyday, we should be showering our lovers in rose petals and champagne every hour, we should be texting love notes non stop, we should be permanently ensconced in a rosy glow of desire – but the reality is we don’t and we’re not.
Because life gets in the way. Kids get in the way. Sick parents get in the way. Demanding bosses get in the way. Mortgages and sky-high rents get in the way. Job losses and illness and depression and worry and stress and being ALIVE gets in the way.
So for me Valentine’s Day is a chance to press pause. A chance to take a breath. An opportunity – an almost State sponsored opportunity! – to focus on love. To tell the people in my life that I love them and that I care for them. I think Valentine’s Day can also be a hard day for many people – particularly those who have lost a loved one and it can have unhappy memories, which is why I think it’s important not just to focus on romantic love, but on an all-encompassing love for those people who are important to you. And I find that when I really celebrate the true meaning of the day, that it makes me more inclined to be romantic or loving or just to take that breath and remind myself that I am surrounded by love, on other days of the year too. So it’s win win.
So tomorrow for Valentine’s Day I’m going to spend the day telling the people who are important to me that I love them. I’m going to spend some one on one time with my little man and I’m going to cook a special dinner. And I’m going to pause and remember how lucky I am and how wonderful it is to know love and to have love and to give love. And I’m going to resolve to try to keep Valentine’s Day in my heart all year round (thanks Charles Dickens).
And really, when you think of it, what’s so bad about that?
I’ve decided to embrace big knickers.
This isn’t about size or weight and it’s not about ‘letting yourself go’ it’s just about the fact that big knickers fit me and are comfortable.
And I like being comfortable.
Over the years I’ve tried every kind of knickers: briefs, thongs, bikinis, French knickers, lacy knickers, shorts and they were all grand, except when they weren’t.
Like when I was hauling bikini briefs back up to my waist, after feeling them slowly rolling down my thighs. Or reefing thongs out of my arse crack.
Or almost disembowelling myself when my French knickers rode so far up my hips that the gusset felt like it was actually trying to crawl up into my vagina.
Or secretly trying to scratch my Lady Garden on the bus on the way home after wearing lacy pants all day.
I’ve had enough.
I want a nice big knicker. A ‘full brief’ is I believe the proper term. Knickers that cover your bum, that actually come up to your waist and, even more radically, that cover your hips. Knickers that stay put on your body. You put them on in the morning and … they stay there. Covering your body. In a normal fashion.
And, possibly more importantly, big knickers tend to be made of cotton. Not nylon or polyester or even silk, but good old-fashioned healthy breathable cotton. Hello big knickers, goodbye cystitis.
I still have fancy knickers. Knickers that match my bra and I wear them regularly. Sometimes if I’m going out with my husband, or for a night on the town with my friends, but other times just on a random Wednesday, just because I like fancy matching underwear and I feel good when I wear them. But sometimes the matching bra is in the wash or the knickers are in the wash so I need a supply of regular every day knickers and I have decided the full brief is the brief for me.
I don’t care if they’re not sexy, or pretty or becoming. I don’t care if they make me look like I’m either pregnant or 80 years old – or both! I don’t care. They’re comfortable, they’re soft, they’re smooth. I am one with the full brief, and they are at one with me.
My name is Karen, I’m 38 years old, I wear big knickers and this is how it feels in my pants, every day:
Pox Mam lives in the Family Tree
With her Pox Husband Love and her Pox Beasty, wee.
One day she wakes early, for a bagel and lox.
Pox Mam, oh Pox Mam, beware of the Pox.
A Mam! Cried Chicken Pox. A well rested Mam.
Let’s change all that, I don’t give a damn.
I’ll push up the temp and bring out a spot,
Why stop at one, I’ll bring out a LOT.
I’m not just a Mam! Why can’t you see,
I’m Pox Mam, I’m Pox Mam,
I’M POX MAM, that’s me
And I want to burn down the family tree.
I’m not a Mam who needs sleep at night,
Sleep is for the weak,
I’ll stay up and fight.
I can go on, who needs a rest?
I’ll stay up with Pox Beast, it’s for the best.
He’ll scratch it and pop it and scratch it and then,
He’ll scratch it and pop it and scratch it again!
Pox Mam is lonely. Pox Mam is lost.
Pox Mam forgot her slippers, at her own cost.
She sits by the bed, stroking a feverish nose,
Trying to comfort, but dying to doze.
She cuddles the Pox Beast, wanting to cure
Then suddenly remembers, Calpol for sure!
She checks the time and sees it’s ok,
He can have another dose, hip hip hooray!
She squirts and she spoons and she gets it all in,
Another smear of Pox cream, why not, for the win.
The Beast’s breathing slows, he’s sleeping at last
Pox Mam, oh Pox Mam, get to bed fast!
Early next morning, after sleeping a while,
She checks on the Pox Beast, there’s more spots, by a mile
She thinks it might be a very long week,
Chicken pox really is not for the meek.
Still, Pox Beast is smiling, he’s really alright,
These pox won’t last for ever, a few more days (and a night!)
Pox Mam will get through, the best she will make
But also, fuck it all, she’s making a cake!
Because it’s her birthday, yes really, today
Chicken Pox bedammed, what do you say?
Chocolate or lemon or vanilla, oh my,
And coffee too, obvs, so she doesn’t just die
I’m Pox Mam, I’m Pox Mam,
I’M POX MAM, that’s me!
And I’m baking right here, in the family tree.
(This is ripped off from the wonderful Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler book, ‘Stick Man’ which is available here if you haven’t already got it. It’s one of The Beast’s favourites!)
I REMEMBER the first time I saw a homeless person as a child. It was in the city centre of Dublin, on O’Connell Bridge and he was sitting on some cardboard, with a cup in his hand, asking for money.
I was about ten years old I think and I remember my Mam dropping a few coins into his cup from her pocket and telling me that we were so lucky to have a home and not to have to live on the streets like this poor man.
She was right of course but for a long time I equated homelessness with this cold man on the bridge, thinking that all homeless people were like him. That you had to be sleeping rough on the streets to be considered homeless
I know now however that this, of course, is not the case. The reality is homelessness is multifaceted, encompassing everyone from rough sleepers to those sleeping on a friend’s couch to those living in B&Bs. You can be homeless even when you have a roof over your head or a bed to sleep in.
And for 1,200 families this Christmas – including 2,400 children – that’s the reality they face every day. Squeezed into hotel rooms or hostels with very little space, no cooking facilities, no room for toys, no privacy.
No home. No haven. No place to call their own.
Yet as Ireland’s homeless crisis deepens, more and more people, families and children are forced into this situation – something Focus Ireland is hoping to tackle.
And for that they need your help.
Focus Ireland recently launched its Christmas appeal highlighting the record number of homeless people now living nationwide – both rough sleepers and those in emergency accommodation. Far from eradicating homelessness, the problem gets worse every day.
Launching the campaign Sr Stan spoke passionately of the terrible impact being homeless has on families and in particular children. She said: “Christmas should be one of the happiest times of year for children and their families. However, it breaks my heart to think that up to 2,500 children will be homeless on Christmas day this year.
“I know from meeting families who are homeless that we support it’s the children who feel it the worst. Many times a family who are homeless are often squeezed into one hotel room – 3 or 4 people in one room, nowhere to cook or for children to play. There are also many single people and couples homeless and they all need a place to call home.”
Sr Stan highlighted the vital role Focus Ireland has played in supporting families to secure a home, in partnership with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and local authorities, this year, saying however that more funding is urgently needed. She urged people to give as much as they could afford to help the organisation continue its vital work.
One Mam, Gillian, who was homeless but has now secured a home with the support of Focus Ireland said: “When you have a home you don’t realise how lucky you are… my daughter was only two weeks old when we became homeless, I don’t think I’d even be here now if it wasn’t for Focus Ireland. I wake up every day now and think ‘I have a home’.”
Focus Ireland depends on your donations to keep supporting homeless people and families year round. In 2016 alone the organisation supported 12,500 people who were homeless or at risk and they need your help to continue that work.
Turning the key in the door of your own home shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a basic right, for all our citizens. For all our children. Please, if you can, dig deep and donate to Focus Ireland. You can do so here or by calling 1850 204 205
**This post is part of a Blog March by members of the Irish Parenting Bloggers network, to raise awareness of homelessness and Focus Ireland’s campaign. You can read more posts on the subject by following the hashtag #FocusOnChristmas on social media. Thank you. **
Here’s Kate Take’s 5’s take on it: http://www.katetakes5.com/2016/11/homelessness-in-ireland-what-can-we-do.html
NOW look. I know. It’s November and I’m already talking about Christmas gift guides. I KNOW! Ok? I know.
But there’s method in my madness. Some of the beautiful little handfuls of gorgeousness below are hand made and limited edition, so if you don’t get in early, you might miss out.
Plus, I’m a parent now, I can no longer browse for gifts in a timely fashion, instead I have to wait for The Beast to be occupied for five minutes and then panic buy on the internet and I want to spare you that. I want you to have a lovely list to hand, for all your gift needs so that you don’t end up with some monstrosity you purchased at 2am. I’m doing you a favour here!
So without further ado here’s my Christmas Gift Guide. (This is my guide for adults, I’ll be doing a children’s version later on in the month. These are all items that have simply caught my eye as lovely things, this Gift Guide isn’t affiliated with any of the companies featured here, I haven’t been sent anything for free, nor paid for this post, or sponsored for it in any way.)
- First up the stocking filler to beat all stocking fillers. A Bite Size Natural Skincare Set from Bia Beauty in County Cork, featuring a cleanser, moisturiser, eye gel and skin superfood. This little set features some of Bia Beauty’s most loved skincare, in a mini set so you can try them to see do they suit your skin, before buying the larger version. Packaged in a dinky little box, this sweet set is only €12.95 and the sample pots contain enough product for about ten days – two weeks depending on how much you use. A friend bought me this set earlier in the year and I just fell in love, I think everyone in the world that I know is going to be getting one of these for Christmas, my poor postman is going to develop a hernia lugging them up my driveway.
- Next up we have some beautiful stationery from Emily at The Nest, who is bringing back her stunning Book of Days journal for 2017. Full of brand new illustrations and paintings created in her studio in the Midlands, this gorgeous diary features a full colour velvety feeling cover with the inside leaves being a heavy silky material, with miniature landscapes printed throughout. There’s even a dinky envelope on the back page where you can keep important receipts. Priced at just €20 this is a truly unique gift. As well as the Book of Days, this year for the first time The Nest is introducing lined and unlined notebooks with beautiful original artwork on the front cover, priced at just €9 each, perfect for the stationery lover in your life. Pre-orders for the Book of Days finishes mid-November so if you want one, you’ll need to move fast.
- Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some tree decorations and Letter Lane Studio based in County Limerick has created the most gorgeous wooden ornaments which would grace any tree, big or small. Made from birch plywood, the ornaments feature festive sayings like ‘Merry and Bright’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ and they can be bought individually or in a bundle. They’re €4 each or three for €10.
- If you’re looking for a small but perfectly formed gift for a colleague or your child’s teacher, look no further than Tara Robinson Designs, based in County Limerick, who has this beautiful slim bookmark available for just €15, which can be personalised with a name or date or even just a favourite quote. Stylish and practical.
- Also from Tara Robinson Designs check out this gorgeous leather cuff, which can also be personalised, a really unique gift for the love of your life. Priced at just €30 it’s sure to go down a storm.
- Most of us would mainly associate Tesco with groceries, but the supermarket also has a decent homewares section where you’ll find this pretty ceramic oil burner priced at just €5.60, which let’s face it is an absolute steal. Add in a wax melt, wrap it up in some crepe paper and ribbon and you have a really gorgeous gift for under your tree. I’ve already bought one of these for myself!
- While you’re in Tesco check out the clothes section where you’ll find Touchscreen Gloves in both men’s an women’s sizes. Both fabric and leather gloves, where the thumb and index fingers have a special kind of material which allows you to use your phone or tablet without having to take off your gloves. Nifty! I’m not really sure how it works, I suspect it’s magic. Prices range from about a fiver for basic gloves to around €15 for leather ones. As far as I’m aware Tesco is no longer delivering clothes etc, so you’ll have to buy in store.
- This Christmas give a year long gift with a magazine subscription. What’s better than getting post every month that’s not a bill? Exactly, nothing. Easons has a full range of subscriptions to choose from or you can go direct to the magazine of your choice. For example at the moment National Geographic is offering a year long subscription plus a free world map and a free fleece jacket, for just €39. Not too shabby at all!
- Combine Christmas with some activism. Why not give the gift of some original artwork from a group of pro-choice artists, part of the Someone You Love exhibition, with all proceeds going to the Abortion Support Network. Browse the catalogue here. A personal favourite is this piece from Irish artist Róisín Blade Illustrator.
- Sometimes the best gift is the gift of giving, so consider a donation to charity as a gift for someone this year. You can simply donate some money in a friend or relative’s name, or you can buy a little gift/trinket with the proceeds going toward the charity. You can even purchase medical supplies to send out to disaster zones, for example, with just a few clicks. Pretty much every charity in the world has the option to give a donation as a gift, so just get Googling and find a charity that means something to you. I’d be here all night if I listed off the various charities out there (you might get some ideas from last year’s Charity Guide) but I think this year my main international donation will be going to Médecins Sans Frontiéres (Doctors Without Borders) who are currently operating in Syria and Haiti.
Honourable mention: Gifts are all very well and good but for many of us it’s the Christmas cards that make Christmas so I want to give a shout out to Lemon Squeezy, based in County Mayo, who makes the quirkiest, most beautiful hand made cards in the world. She also makes beautiful perosnalised Santa cards as well which are sure to delight your little ones. Check her out, you won’t regret it!