Do you have a phrase to describe the times when they are challenging? To avoid an old swear word session? Mine is Ducky Longstockings. I don’t know why. The daily grind can get you down. Ironically, the daily grind (of coffee beans) can get you up. So what causes this feeling of absolute blahness as a parent? Give it a lash, shall I?
Weary weary nights. Some are better than others. Betsy rarely does a full night. It catches up on us all until tiredness is a permanent state.
Food. The diet can be down the pan and up the Swanee but recently I have done quite well to tackle it. Slowly, slowly. We eat bad, we feel sad. Try telling that to a tired Mammy with a Toffee Crisp in her hand.
Clothes. The body never feels the same after baba one. Baby two? You may have had a body transplant when you were having that child. I still don’t feel right. I find that Mams stop buying themselves nice new clothes in favour of kitting out the minnies leaving themselves shabbily shod and clad as a result. This does not help the self esteem! Hoody central.
Muddy, mucky car. Did you ever think that your mode of transport can cause a mental health issue? I spend so much time in the car. As I live in the Irish Midlands, in the bog as it were, cleaning the car is almost as pointless as a chocolate teapot (as I probably have eaten that anyway). Debris of Liga. Little feet. Milk. Water. Mud. Clay. Cows. Rain. Chaos.
Kitchen Inspiration. My freezer, once full of interesting bits such as kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass or chillis, is now a virtual supermarket of pre-cooked meals for children going to crèche. I find that I cannot make that curry from scratch anymore but am proud to throw together a tin of tomatoes based pasta sauce. New parents can’t beat themselves up over this -but we do!
No Time to Breathe. All the advisors say ‘Take the help’ when you get it. I am lucky to have family nearby, yet when asked what I need help wise, I just freeze and think, time to breathe. I never say this though.
Enjoyment of Food. Food is now eaten whilst being attacked by adorable mini us people. Why does our porridge/ toast/ yoghurt look so much more appealing to our children than their own?
Your Other Job. Educating the teens is mine. You can imagine that isn’t always easy too. Take that on top of no sleep. Teaching 25 sixteen year old boys why poetry matters when all you want to do is have a little nap. Maybe you are a banker. Writer. Homekeeper. Try getting ANY of those things done properly at the same time as parenting!
What gets us through?
The Daily Grind! Here it is to squashed beans with milk.
To review a book is either pleasurable or piteously painful, depending on what you have got on your hands. I can honestly say this handsome treasure by A.F Harrold (illustrated by Levi Pinfold) for young people makes me smile slightly every time I spot it (casually awaiting my stolen moments in time) on the desk. Hardbacked and dust-jacketed, I felt elegant just holding it. I loved reading this book. I loved reading what is essentially a tragedy to me. Friendship, parenting, the supernatural and love all feature as key themes combining to form a tale of intrigue with more than a tinge of sadness.
A beautifully sibilant title, ‘Song From Somewhere Else’ is consistently sonorous in tone from the mysterious title to the last line, singing strangely to you across every page. Beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold, this is somewhat a gothic modern day fairy story, brutal reality at times juxtaposed with magically surreal moments. Tim Burton would be my director of choice for this story. Strange, angular creatures from other worlds appear alongside the mundane dad making tea or the the group of bored teenagers living their own version of Lord of the Flies in the town park before they head home to an absent parent home or a grim supper.
Frank (Francesca) is quickly introduced as a victim of bullying. Blissfully ignorant parents smile at the group of boys who harass her, terrifying me as a new mother. Can parents be so unaware of their children’s misery? The thought appalls me as I read Francesca’s tale. Yet I remember my own teens. Many the day I kept a horrible experience secret from loving parents. Just as Frank does. Haunting images of the frail, frightened Francesca, as her head hangs in her loneliness, are painted in both words and sketch on every page. Threatening shadows prevail on every street corner exacerbating her solitude. Her stomach appears almost as a character in its own right as her digestive system is held hostage to her tumultuous daily world. The foreshadowing of sadness occurs early on as Frank searches for a much beloved and fabulously named cat, Quintiles Minimus. As someone who has named a black feline Humphrey Bogart, I am drawn to this girl immediately.
The theory that we are all bullies and victims in life at different stages of our lives is quickly brought to the fore with the introduction of classmate Nick. Frank’s treatment of the much scathed and teased Nick can lead the reader to judge their heroine harshly. He falls to the bottom of the pile when it comes to the teenage predatory circle of life and leads to me wonder. Would I have acted any differently as a teenager? Concerning to think, possibly not. The bullying escalates in a grittily true way, cleverly demonstrated by a two page sketch of nettles as the climax of the torture is reached. Words are not always necessary. Frank’s desperation and terror combine to create her horrific actions. It is possibly easier to forgive her as an adult. I wonder would a tweenage reader empathise or criticise? Nick’s family story is the enigmatic mystery of the piece. It is the unexpected salvation of Frank- in a less than predictable way.
Shades of grey, blacks and whites dominate this teen mystery in both copy and imagery creating a dramatically tense environment as the plot progresses. A colourless world is depicted, at times almost totally lacking in hope or joy. Pinfold’s beautiful illustrations were captivating and brought the tale to life as I found I wanted to study every image. This is not to lesson Harrold’s writing in anyway. As an English teacher I almost compulsively felt a need to underline (I didn’t do it as I couldn’t ruin the book!) most effective uses of imagery which were employed throughout, as examples for a student to learn from. Delicate personification, accessible pathetic fallacy- the reason this plot is hauntingly atmospheric. A beautiful piece of writing and a visual joy.
I would be concerned that a young person may take the message that world is a sad place. On the other hand, I think they can handle this message better than I – a thirty something mother! I will honestly admit that one scene made me sob, truly ugly cry, for another mother. As a younger person, it is likely this scene would be much simpler to deal with. So I would leave it you. If your young adult loves dark mystery and social drama on an enigmatic level, this is the one they need. If they enjoy looking at charcoal or pencil sketch visuals, this is a must.
I am waiting for the moment to buy this book for a young person. I can think of many adults that will adore it. As it stands, I don’t want to give it to my relations under ten, probably due to the grip on reality in the plot. Maybe I don’t want to expose these children to the ugly world of intimidation that Francesca Patel abides within, even if it has a resolution. Maybe I am part of The Cotton Wool Gang. The youngster I get this for this for must have a love of the supernatural. Then again- I was personally gripped by this tale. A childhood lover of Blyton, an avoider of anything too ghostly, this was a book I may have turned away in my youth. Which would have been a terrible shame.
Of course, I really, really wanted to know what happened to the cat…as I am sure you do too. You will have to read yourself to find out.
As a Boolino friend, I am occasionally sent books to read and review. I receive no payment for this, but will have a free copy of the text. All opinionated ramblings appearing here are very much my own! Hope you enjoyed.
My dad is in hospital. Let us get that out of the way first. In hospital with a heart condition that has been described as ‘walking time bomb’ awaiting the call to St James for the big one. Triple bypass.
It is a grim irony that today, on the Day of Hearts, I worry about hearts. Damaged ones. Shrinking arteries. Broken ones.
I could talk about my grievances with the leaders of our country and their tenuous grip on reality when it comes to our atrocious health system. I could discuss the ‘hidden public’ as patients like my Dad are now known, that are listed and ignored until they are called. The hope is their life can outlast the list. It is that grim.
I am that afraid.
I could talk about hospital drives. Visiting hours. Depression. Fear. Anxiety. Watching my mother dissolve and stay strong in the same moment. Being the older sibling who is trying to juggle home life, children, full time job and this hospital sub-life that we are now imprisoned to.
I could talk about how I really feel. But let us not open that reservoir of pain.
This morning is Tuesday. Disgustingly selfishly, I can’t stop focusing on my own exhaustion despite watching my dad suffer this daily monotony of hospital living and my mother rotate her whole world to accommodate it, I think of me. Despite a sister flying in and back from Scotland, so much travel and pressure, I think of me. Despite my little girls having to spend a day in crèche, I think of me. Despite a husband working solid days on a busy farm, I think of me. I feel guilty.
On the constant weight watch, I make a decision. Fully loaded fruit scone with Cappuccino in a little cafe I love. Sneaky moments with the blog. Renergise. Forgive myself the calories this time. Make myself better with FOOD. I can handle it all with a happy (yet chubby) tum. So, I do it.
As Robert Burns once extoled, these plans we have ‘gang aft agly’. (Often go assways). This is why I am sitting chewing on something brown and nasty, seedy and burnt, literally NOT my cup of tea. The waiter got confused. I have been given a spelt scone. Spelt Stone more like. Nutty and healthy, I can feel it almost extending stinky, fibrous fingers attempting to massage my aura. No amount of butter and jam is giving this luxury for me. It tastes as smoke damaged as the lost dreams of dead hippies.
I am sorry for insulting the lovers of the health food and please know that I can give it all a fair good whack usually. Just not today. Today I need butter and white flour, sugar and cream.
I can hear a few voices mutter as they read that maybe the spelt might save me from the same fate as my father.
Maybe not. Spelt might spell healthy for my heart but today it ‘spelt’ disaster for my soul.
The spelt is not working any magic right now anyway. That is for sure.
Burns was not joking. Steinbeck had it on the ball. We make plans in life. To travel. To play. To not be in hospital. To eat scones. To do it all- soon. And sometimes it doesn’t happen that way at all.
Sometimes we are made think a different way.
The Day of Hearts. I never thought I would spend it like this. Obsessing over a heart, yes. My own? No. My lover’s? No. ( Though I love you Mr Paper, know that). No. I am over thinking the organ that doesn’t appear on the cards.
One of my oldest friends has recently had a dotey little girl. A second baby to add to a loving home with an already much doted upon little girl already in residence. My friend -let's call her Paulette- now has a very similar situation to myself. Two of age two and under. This little piece is inspired by you and for you Paulette and your little family!
Parenting is rewarding and lovely and sweet and snugly and magic moments and all of these things in ads, Richard Curtis movies and songs. It is also pooey, pukey, tear inducing and frustratingly exhausting. Sometimes, it just isn’t very Lady Mary to be a Mam.
Do you know Lady Mary? Who she is? Have you been asleep under a rock? Female protagonist of title in much beloved and now deceased series Downton Abbey. There is a way about Lady Mary. An attitude and a set of expectations. You might know what mean. Something in her walk. Her demeanour. She won’t be beaten by a tantruming child. She won’t give into the Bourbon biscuits. She doesn’t have to you see. She is Lady Mary. Shit gets done for her.
Paulette and I have had much discussion and many the natter over said series. Moments of Paulette’s hen party and wedding were often dotted with moments that were addressed as Not Very Lady Mary and as we continue into the parenting time of our life, so continues our comparisons and judgements-to the supercilious yet beautiful, haughty yet occasionally (can’t say warm…) lukewarm, albeit thoroughly fascinating Lady Mary.
So Paulette- I had these thoughts many times over the last few years. Hope they give you a smile, now that you and I are in the same little lifeboat!
What has changed for me…
1. My Swagger. Lady Mary is always so groomed. Anna in tow, there are evening gowns, hairstyles and fashion abounding. As bad as we are pre-baby one, two definitely might mean the hair tie pulled over uncombed hair and the baby ‘uniform’ of sweats and hood ie. may take precedence awhile. Tossing the Ralph Lauren V-neck into the wash basket before 11 am due to violent reflux just isn’t Very Lady Mary. Sigh…
Tip: Indulge in an expensive and beautiful baby handbag. We deserve it. We have no Anna to give us style.
2. Privacy. I just get the feeling LM can wee alone. Whilst we wrestle with toilet rolls, handbasin headbutts and wet floors with an audience and a healthy dose of guilt as baby two whimpers in a crib. Definitely not Very LM.
Tip: The minute you see a responsible adult that you are vaguely trusting of GO TO THE LOO.
3. Meals. We all have the iconic image of the family at dinner in Downton, nibbling and tasting, different wines for different courses and being waited on hand and foot. Delicate, witty conversation delights all with the occasional bit of controversial topic thrown in for spice. Beats the quickly swallowed down, coldish gloop we managed to throw together and the grimaced hellos we throw our partners as we make a bid for freedom (or the loo) in the ‘evening meal’ as a new Mam!
Tip. Order the takeaway. The Waistline can live another day.
4. Our Cash. LM has bags of something monetary in her life and can afford all of the best for her boy. We have our sweeties and spend every penny on giving them the best too but more at our own cost than LM does. Crèche costs are killer. They don’t really do group rates…
Tip: Bear in mind, this is short term. The state has to help us out when they are 3 and up, thank God! Lidl and Aldi will be OK for now. LM doesn’t have such a go-go as Jimmy’s Superstore. Her loss.
5. The Sleep. Oh, the big kahuna. Sleep will be assaulted by midnight banshee wails. The baby might cry too…! LM has a night nurse. Of course! So she gets to bed all cold-creamed and undisturbed. Midnight feeds are not very LM.
Tip: She doesn’t get the personal touch. She is LM after all. A cold fish. She will be Mother. We will always be Mammy to our mites. They are only ‘presented’ to her on occasion in best bib and tucker. Not very You and Me!
6. Bring a Moany Mammy. I feel like I have never moaned so much before. There just seems like a lot to be whiney and whingey about. Apres birth aches and bruises, the physical ones (and the sneaky, silent invisible ones). The weather. The way the day goes. The nights. The lack of sleep. The monotony. We all know what Lady Mary would say…
Tip: YOU are still YOU. So, if you are feeling more complaining than before, it is because you gotta REASON! This too will pass as they say. Cliché for a reason – it is true. Life is a little bit more hard work than it was and even though you feel immersed in your blessings and good fortunes (we love those little people to distraction) your body and mind might find it harder to keep up with your heart x
So to all those new Mothers of more than one- yes, Lady Mary might look to have is sussed. However, she is really not REAL! She wouldn’t last a day in our world, no Anna, no Carson, no meals handed up to her. She would have to actually mind her own baby- no scary Nanny to frighten it out of its wits!
Parenting may not be very Lady Mary at times, but then again, Lady Mary is not very parenting.
I still love Lady Mary. I just don’t really want to be her.
So hopefully, we can see the funny side of when life is Not Very Lady Mary.