Friday, October 24, 2014

So What's it Really Like?

I'm writing this from the children's hospital where at this moment my little girl is having a brain scan under general anaesthetic. I can't think of anything else to write about apart from this at the moment to be quite honest. What's it really like to have a child with a chronic health condition? 

So many people since Louise was born have said things like 'you're amazing' 'I could never do it' 'you're great' 'I'd fall apart' and I can tell you now none of those things is true. I'm neither amazing nor great.  I'm no different to anybody else who does whatever it takes for your child.   Nobody ever thinks they could handle a cross, if you like to call it, like this. Or worse. And yet every day of the week I see people coping with bereavement, illness...all sorts of things they never thought they would ever be able to cope with.  

People have said to me God never gives you more than you can handle. I don't think I really agree with that statement either, because it somehow implies that his did this thing to my child. Made her wrong to make me holy. How mean would that be? We don't have a mean God and in fact a precept of Christianity is you can't do wrong even to achieve good.  God's not mean and he didn't break my child. 

However, I've found time and again that he helps you handle whatever situation you find yourself in.  Mine, a child who is broken. 

I read an article by an Irish journalist a few weeks ago about his daughter who has Down Syndrome.  I remember she was born the first time Louise was in hospital, he wrote a very inspirational piece then...including the promise that hewas  going to teach her two important words: Eff and Off.  This time be was writing about the recent talk of the possible discovery of how to 'turn off' the extra chromosome which is present in Down Syndrome.  He was horrified because every cell of his daughter's body has this chromosome, without it she wouldn't be her, she'd be someone different.  She'd lose her her-ness. She's not broken and doesn't need fixed.

This made me think about Louise.  Louise is broken.  She does need fixed.  If I could turn off whatever it was that caused all this I definitely would. No, I wouldn't have turned her away for any reason as medical eugenics presses for babies like Louise, or Mary or any of the other children who eugenists don't approve of. As my husband said the day she was diagnosed, Louise was always this, whatever she is...she never was anybody else, it's who she is. He also said that whatever her ultimate diagnosis would be, it wasn't going to become our identity.  Louise is Louise, she's not Dandy-Walker or PHACE or CHD.  She has those things, she isn't those things. If I could take them away it wouldn't change her the way taking a child's extra chromosome away would radically change that child.

To all outward appearance, Louise is an ordinary child.  This is precisely where my struggle comes in.  I know she's not an ordinary child.  There is no 'cure' for what she has.  When her consultant wrote to John as her doctor and said she was very well palliated I got the shock of my life...which is the reason consultants write to doctors not to parents! Palliative care to most minds means the dying patient.  Palliative actually means making the best of something for which there is no cure. Louise has the best for her. I'm sure of that. But the fact is that it is now embedded in every cell of my body.  It can't be turned off any more than she can be cured.  I don't treat her any differently to our other children.  I don't love her more.  But I look at her differently.  I love her differently.  The fact is she's different. I asked a mother who has two, now teens, with a chronic condition whether she ever got to the point where she looked at them the same way as she looks at her other two children. She answered she didn't and I wouldn't and why should I...she and they are different. That was a big relief for me because it was giving me a burden of guilt that I couldn't shake. I accept it now (though I still feel guilty for some reason, but feelings are only feelings.). 

The consultant just came and told me she'll be back now in a minute so I'll just say the last thing I wanted to say.  Louise may be broken, but that doesn't excuse me, John or her from the duty to rear her as best we can as the person God wants her to be.  Spoiling or mollycoddling will do her no service whatsoever.  Yes, she's here for a reason.  We all are. Yes, she's special.  We all are. 

Finally. I don't feel sorry for myself whatsoever. This post isn't to glean pity, it's just to air some garbled thoughts. I don't see Louise as something bad that happened us.  She's something good that happened us.

Here she comes. I love her. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Food Is The Food Of Love

Food is important.

Maybe not the world's most profound of statements but after last week's 'heady' post which received an unprecedented reaction in the form of personal messages and phone calls and the sharing of some personal stories, I decided to write about something more light hearted this week.  

We all have to eat and the importance and benefit of a family sitting around a table with no electronic devices butting in, just being a family for that time, are well researched and documented.  Click here for the low down on that.

But, beneficial or not, the problem of having to eat, and eat that ahem...someone has to make the food, whether they like it or not. 

Now, having grown up in a large family myself, and making the foolish request of my mother to teach me how to peel potatoes at the age of seven, becoming champion potato peeler by the age of 7 1/4, I learned to cook as part of the course.  My mother was of the generation where bread was baked every day and apple tarts and home made soups were the norm.  

Looking back at the meals they were amazing but I'm afraid to say, not always welcomed by my childhood self.  I hated the texture of rice pudding to the point that I couldn't even swallow it.  Bacon and cabbage made my heart sink and barley and huge whole fluffy potatoes cooked in real soup just didn't do it for me.  Home-made chips fried in beef lard and the Scottish dish stovies learned from my Scottish grandmother on the other hand...just a taste of Heaven.  There'll definitely be stovies served every Monday in Heaven when we come in from school. Home made fudge, jams, cakes...we never had a bought birthday cake in our lives. No expensive presents but my goodness you got cake!! Remember the huge cake in Meet Me In St Louis? Like that, only smaller. 

Well speaking of Heaven, this story is a bit about Heaven (as usual, I know).

I've always been well able to cook.  Everything I make turns out more or less the way the recipe planned.  Dinners were healthy (apart from all the butter and cream) and more or less tasty.  However I had one problem.  I never enjoyed it.  Dinner was the one domestic task I just couldn't muster up much enthusiasm for.  I was fine cooking a fancy recipe for a special occasion or for guests but those every-day meals...oh all those years of marriage and motherhood, constantly trying to think of something interesting to make that everyone would eat was just a drag.  I used to moan why, oh why, oh why was I born in Ireland, where every meal begins with tedious potato peeling, my skills having long been surpassed by my immediate older sister who could peel potatoes for the Foreign Legion quite happily. 

Many's the time with cranky hungry children and after staring despairingly into the fridge for some inspiration I'd admit failure (and truth be told, laziness) and rip open a bag of oven chips or ring my husband to collect a take-away on his way home.  To be honest, I still don't really enjoy take aways because I just saw them as a mark of failure.  (Yes I know, a bit melodramatic). 

I have always loved food and cooking programmes but cooking myself, not a fan. 

A million times I said to my husband if I could wish for one thing it would be to be hit with a cooking bug. 

Then I decided to pray for one.  You know, it's legitimate to pray for anything it's legitimate to hope for, such as winning the lottery, but since everybody's probably praying for that, God can hardly grant everyone's prayer so I think he probably leaves that one to work itself out.  However, I do earnestly believe that God likes families, since he was born into one himself.  And I think he likes mothers, since the most perfect thing he ever created was His own Mother.  And she made since one thing Jesus didn't die of was food poisoning, she was probably pretty good.  So if I won the lottery, I'd benefit, but if I got a cooking bug, my children and husband would benefit. 

I know plenty of friends who believe that if there is a God, he's a disinterested God who really isn't concerned about our minor concerns.  I don't believe that because coincidence couldn't possibly account for the sheer number of my minor prayer requests that have been answered with finesse. If you want me to address the mystery of suffering on the world, I'll do that another day, today I'm talking about how our seemingly boring requests are important to God.  Although, it must be said, there is one thing I keep asking him for, that he doesn't seem to hear.

'Dear Lord, please send me some boredom...

I've never had that request fulfilled. 

Anyway, I did a little nine day novena, which took me a month or two because I kept forgetting I was doing it. then I forgot all about it because I figured it's just my personality thing, I was never going to love cooking. Just get on with it girl.   A good while later Hallie Lord, in her then entitled Betty Beguiles blog mentioned a new website she'd just fallen in love with...PINTEREST

This is maybe three years later now and about a month ago it suddenly dawned on me that I love cooking.  I love planning my menus, I love finding that obscure ingredient, I love knowing what I'm making and being able to answer my children's question "what's for dinner?" with something that invites the response "oh yum!!"  I love putting something different on the table that I know they'll all love.  And it just slipped up on me.

Can you believe, God is just with it!! Do you think he doesn't know all a out social media in all it's ugliness (twitter), in it's companionableness (Facebook) and it's beauty (Pinterest).  He knows I love Pinterest and the little visual holiday it provides so therein he embedded the answer to my prayers.  Inspiration to trigger a love of cooking.  Leading to a less grumpy, and I admit, somewhat resentful cook. 

Everybody in my family has benefited and it took me almost two years to even notice that my little insignificant prayer had been answered in such a fun and lovely way.  What ungrateful children we can be to that good Father. Then I guess, children often don't see or appreciate all their parents do until they 'grow up' themselves.  Just as it took me to adulthood to fully appreciate the delicious meals my mother made, so too, it takes all of us till eternity to appreciate just all that loving Father God does for his un-noticing children. And I think that maybe the beautiful Nazarene woman who so lovingly fed the Son of God might just have had a little something to do with it.  It's just the sort of prayer that's right up her alley. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Courage To Be Different

How do you express eighteen years of total, utter and unconditional love in one hug? Today I probably didn't manage that but I hope she understood. 

I'm not exactly sure how to write this post because I have privacy to respect, business that is ours to mind but also something very important to say, not least because more than a few of the people I have confided in with this personal tale have told me they wished their own path had taken different turns and how lack of courage had been a factor in open doors not walked through. 

Since I began writing I have been saying that I don't think any of my experiences are that unusual.  In a lot of ways I'm your common or garden Jane Soap.  But that's the thing-Jane Soap doesn't exist. There's no such thing as your common or garden person. Everybody is different, I'm different and so are you.  Nobody is repeatable, replaceable and so far (and hopefully never) cloned from someone else. We have temperament, character, dreams and talents completely different to the person next to us. And that's not nothing, it's the way The Divine Artist planned, no work of art of his is the same as the next, each complete and perfect in ways so profoundly different that only a Divine Artist could have come up with. The omnipotent Creator who delights in his creations and loves them (us) with the intensity of love a mere reflection of which I tried to portray in one hug today, if only those pesky tears hadn't gotten in the way.  Or maybe the tears expressed what the eloquent speeches of Goneril and Regan could never portray. Was it not precisely Cordelia's lack of words that most described the fullest love? 

So what was this hug?

This afternoon I hugged my eldest daughter goodbye as she stretched her 18 year old wings for her first test flight.  She's going to France for a school year.  

What's so special about that? Don't students do semesters abroad all the time?  Student exchanges and so on? Nothing different there. 

The only thing is, she isn't going to school.  And she's not coming back to school either. And she didn't finish school. 

Isn't that what you call a drop-out? I hear you think. 

Here's a story. 

When my husband and I met we knew within days this was it.  After just six weeks of dating we were engaged though we didn't tell anyone for a year because my secret fiancĂ©e was a 20 year old pre-med student!! It was a crazy commitment in the eyes of the world. We finally married three years after meeting though had we had means we would have been married in the minimum time of three months required by our diocese. 

About ten years after we married my husband was invited to take part in a TV studio audience discussion on marriage.  The presenter put the question to him why he had married at such a young age, as a student with still several years to go when it was so far removed from the social convention of his peer group.  

His answer, though improvised, as it wasn't the question he was told he'd be asked, was profound in it's simplicity. 

'Well, we knew we were doing the right thing, and why would anybody wait or delay doing the right thing?'

So why would we do something that was different to the right thing just because nobody else was doing that thing?   Friends thought they were being helpful by suggesting we travel for a while, or move in together.  These weren't options we even considered because, believe me, never did a young couple put themselves in God's hands like that couple did. I'm not embarrassed to say that contrary to what sniggerers might suggest when we sat in a parked car before beginning every date, we were actually saying the rosary asking Mary for guidance.  Every single day, dear Mother, guide our path.  Moving in together was not the permanent and public commitment we wanted.  Travelling? A poor compromise.  So we waited until the first chink in that door and went for it.  Our first baby arrived a year later, our second child was born eight weeks before John's final exams and our third when he was in the throes of the nightmare of the unearthly hours of hospital rotations, our fourth decided to be due the DAY we were supposed to be moving from one country to another.  All socially unconventional moments that invited numerous inquiries into our sanity by the socially conventional. 

So we did things a bit differently.  We are a bit different.  We have taught our children that they are going to be different in the post Christian European culture into which they have been born.  To be an authentic Catholic in Europe or any western society today by jinny you'd better not be afraid to be different because it's a culturally unacceptable difference to hold. Long ago you just needed to go with the flow and you'd be carried along once you just did what everybody else did.  No challenges, no questions, no apology (as in apologetics) required.  Not so today.  Today you need to be able to answer your teenage radical atheist friends with answers that ring true. Today's teens need to be able to place their neck on the block and let their Christian difference speak for itself.  Why? Because it's the right thing to do, even if nobody else is doing it. 

So back to my little French traveller.  The  Mother Mary her young future parents appealed to with heartfelt prayers is the same Mother Mary her now slightly (and I emphasise slightly) greying parents who are starting to show a few fine lines ( and one of us is pondering whether Botox is such a bad idea after all) prayed to with no less heartfelt prayers to show us the right path.  Today I am fully at peace that she has shown us the right path.  It's the one, quite literally, less travelled by.  In fact I hope Our Lady is going to provide us with a machete because this road is pretty much virgin. 

Our daughter hasn't dropped out of school.  She has dropped INTO life.  I've heard a million times that school doesn't suit everyone. And yet when we considered all options, school was the ONLY one which was socially acceptable.  Nobody could give us any better reason apart from 'you have to'. You don't have to.  Life isn't a race and we have reduced the education of our children to precisely that.  The points race.  How well can you perform in X subject by regurgitation on a set day. Don't take Y or Z subject because know...arty subjects...are for deadbeats...the lazy ones...for the lazy...or the non academic. 

In the olden days the Jesuits were known as master educators.  Looking into this, it was because they were masters of temperament.  They studied the concept of temperament and were able to individualise the approach to education to best suit the educatee.  As far as I know, the original purpose of study and university was to become learned. The focus was learning and becoming knowledgable in things worth knowing.  Philosophy was valued because it is precisely only by living a philosophy can we know which direction we wish to go. As the Cheshire Cat said, if you don't know your destination then it does 't matter which road you take. Somewhere along the line, producing learned and wise adults became a secondary function of education.  My father is a long retired teacher of many many years experience.  He told me once that he felt sorry for children starting school because they started with so much spirit and individuality and came out the other end either conformed or broken. Wow! 

When an A student who is incredibly artistic (and I'm not boasting, I'm stating a disinterested fact) is quite clearly gradually drowning in (at least what she perceives) the cattle mart crowd control system which subvervetly (and probably inadvertently) punishes the unconventional and those who learn by thinking rather than by fitting into an ever narrowing corral, is it not time for parents to throw the life buoy?  And had they not better throw it regardless of what everybody else does.  Have you ever looked at those YouTube videos about crowd psychology? You know the ones where actors pose as a victim being beaten by an aggressor or as somebody passed out on a street.  How many people walk past simply because nobody else seems to be helping? As soon as one person intervenes, suddenly everybody offers help.  Well, a parent can't wait for somebody else to intervene.  They are the first educators.  It is the parent's DUTY to be the frontline. It's not their duty to follow the pack, it's their duty to study their child, to seek and listen to advice from every source, and by doing so discern that the time has come to change route. And that's exactly what we have just done.

So in case you've been wondering, or heard it on the grapevine, or behind our back...did you hear...are they crazy...I'd never have allowed...?  

Are we crazy because we suggested and allowed something unconventional?

Do you know that hammering a square peg into the round hole IS actually possible? Oh you can do it all right. The only thing is, your beautiful square peg will be very badly damaged in the process.  We're taking a different route to success.  Yes it may be slower...equally it may be faster...not one of us knows the future.  All roads begin with where you are today and all roads lead to Rome.  

One of the many wise people whose judgement we trust said two things to us.  Firstly...the most prolific phrase in the bible...

Be Not Afraid.

The second one, we can't plan the entire expanse of our lives, but you'll find that when we turn to God with heartfelt  prayer (like we did) doors you never even could have thought of will present themselves to you, but you have to be willing to open them and forge paths that are different. 

Well this door is something we couldn't have dreamt of last year.  And as I was busy a few days ago ironing the last few clothes helping her squash her life into Ryanair's restrictive allowance I looked at my daughter with great admiration.  

This girl has a helluva neck!! To calmly do what she has done-gone against the 'you have to because they say' (who are they, by the know...they...the ones who say things?) and had the courage to be different.  Courage to be different by remaining steadfast in her faith, courage to be different by speaking up for it even though mockery.  Courage to know that the hole was round and that the square peg needs to take the path God has designed for the square peg.

And back to Jane Soap.  Every one of us is a square peg.  What other people think or say or do should never never be the criteria for our life's decisions.  If you are a parent you should not be choosing school subjects for your teenage child against their desire.  Most definitely YOU should not be filling in university course choices or pushing a child down the path you always dreamt they should take (or even worse, that you would have liked to have taken) as I know several parents who have done exactly that.  Remember that your child is not a peg, she's a thousand piece jigsaw, and she has to fit those pieces in herself. 

So while my heart broke in the airport today, it was the sentimental break of a mother launching her first child into the world.  Yes, I'm fully aware that there are still five in my nest, but people aren't
 birds who can't count and don't notice that there five mouths instead if six.  There's an R shaped hole in our home just now and there's a gapingly empty chair at our table.  

 Be reassured that she's not gone off like Dick Whittington with a pack on her shoulder facing the unknown to make her fortune.  She travelled along with her Dad (who will come back in two days lol)  to a very safe home from home environment to people we trust and where her life view will be nourished and her faith respected and where she'll hopefully become fluent in the world's most beautiful language. Next year we'll look at the doors of school and college and exams, or maybe the year after that or maybe like this, a door we never imagined,  but today...I love her, I miss her and my tears are pretty close to the surface, but I am completely at peace that God has given us the courage once again to be different. 

My brother wrote a song when he was in his 20s...the words go like this:

Believe and keep on dreaming
That who you are will see you through.
Why follow someone else's star?
Why change the person that you are? 
Believe and keep on dreaming 
That who you are is where you're going to. 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Tiny Time-On Waiting In Cars.

You know that story about the professor with the container of rocks that looks full up, then he fits in pebbles, sand and finally water to demonstrate how we can fill so much more into time than we think we can?

Well here I am sitting outside ballet class having miscalculated the pick up time by half an hour.  Yes I know, how can that happen? Between six children, changed class times and today trying to get every...single...item of laundry washed today in advance of Ireland's new water charges kicking in tomorrow I got it all wrong.  

I actually don't really mind doing the drop offs and pick ups because I have my classic hits stations on tap, no real distractions and my back-hugging ergonomic car seat to keep me company. Little interjections during the day to recollect.  Ages ago I mentioned making good use of tiny time, for example throwing on a load of laundry while the kettle is boiling and so on.  It's amazing what we can achieve.  But at this moment I'm looking at other Moms in the cars near me, and a few dads and seriously, every one of them, (and usually me too) are just staring into space. No doubt they're all listening to the radio. Same here, Michael Jackson is asking the Man in The mirror can he change his way. 

Can I change my way? Well, while up to this I've been making good use of the time it takes for the kettle to boil, I'm afraid I can't say the same about the time I spend in the car. I usually just stare ahead and listen to my music. 

If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a ..chaaangeee...

My father spent a lot of time sitting in cars outside supermarkets and such like waiting for my mother. With neither mobile phones nor house phone in those days she had no way of telling him when she was ready. Especially since she had the infuriating habit, as I thought then but now realise it was a real gift, of meeting someone she knew and immediately entering into long conversations with them literally every few yards.  As a child and young teenager I'd wait at a respectable distance wishing she'd hurry up and sighing deeply to myself, but inconveniencing her children came second place to the person who needed my mother's incredible wisdom and empathy and her gift with words.  To this day, 14 years after she died,  people stop me in the street (or shop, where I meet someone literally every...few...yards, to the great inconvenience of my children) and tell me how my mother's words impacted on their lives.

Well, back to my father...while my mother was shopping and changing lives while choosing tomatoes, my Dad was sitting in the car minding babies and learning French!! He never to this day at the age of 86 wastes a minute.  He plans his day and what he's going to achieve and then he does it. Often when he's leaving my home after a morning brunch he'll say, I'm running behind now, I'm off to do my morning prayer, his half hour of contemplating God, many's the time through the medium of Esperanto, the international language in which he is fluent.  He doesn't say Oh it's too late now, I'll leave it out...that's not even an option.

It's embarrassing sometimes when I think of how much time I waste either procrastinating, or looking at the Internet without any real purpose or sitting in cars doing nothing but listening to oldies and I compare it to my father's productivity or my mother's living for other people. 

So here's my plan...I'm taking Michael Jackson's advice and make a changeee.

Tiny time in my car can be put to much better use. 

I have a load of reinforced A4 zipper folders left over from the children's school supplies. I'm taking one and in it I'll put:

Learn French in Your Car.

I bought this with the idea of copying what Galbraith of Cheaper by The Dozen fame, not the crazy funny movie with Steve Martin which portrays him as a loveable but incompetent Dad, but the book by his son and daughter documenting the amazing life of this very loving and funny efficiency expert who invented Time and Motion which is used today in every single workplace in western civilisation. He'd put French lessons on the gramophone every morning while his 12 children breakfasted...all 12 became fluent.   My resolve lasted about a fortnight but since my eldest is heading to France for a school year next week (don't mention it to me, I wondered would I blog about empty nests but I'd be a basket case and probably ruin my computer with the floods of Mommy tears, I'm so sentimental! so we'll leave it at that lol)

I have some motivation to improve my own French as my attempts at fluency while in France have been known to make the entire staff of a pharmacy burst into laughter.  I have no idea what I said. 

If my father can learn French this way, so can I.

A Pretty Notebook for Menu Planning.  

The single thing that reduces stress in my life as a mother of a large family is menu planning.  Is there anything more depressing as opening the fridge at 5 pm wondering what you can make with no ingredients and no motivation? 

Pinterest has been singularly responsible for the dramatic improvement in my family's culinary life. Here's my Pinterest Board on dinners, I just pin anything I think I'd probably make and the family will probably enjoy and then choose from there each week.  It's a Godsend.

Some Notelets and a Few Stamps.  

There is always, always someone who could do with a little note to say you're thinking of them, or you need to thank.  Emails and texts just don't say it quite the same as getting a little note or card through the letterbox.  Packing the stamps increased the chance that you'll actually post it by about a million percent.

A Small Prayer Book.  

I think we'll all agree it's something we tend to neglect until we hit a big worry or need a favour ( like dear Jesus, look after my girl in France, oh sniff sniff sob) but what about the daily interactions and companionable chats like we have with our family or friends.  Is Jesus not our family? Not our best friend?

There are lots of lovely inexpensive little books you can find for little more than small change. St Josemaria Escriva's classic The Way has been my constant companion since I was in primary school, it's timeless and so apt in simple one or two line points. 

CTS also do lovely ones which can often be bought in church porches.

A Pen (that works).

Some hand and nail grooming supplies.  My life involves a lot of hand washing and household chemicals and since I cannot stand rubber gloves, my hands take the brunt.  Sometimes it's nice to dedicate a little time to treating them to some extra care.

A Classic Book.  

My reading time is much less than I'd like and since it's so limited I have a policy of keeping it only for books that will stay with me forever.  After my little girl's big operations I thought I needed some mindless chick-lit for some escapism.  After two or three books, rather than escapism I just ended up with a bad taste in my mouth.  That's when I made my resolution and I'm loving ever so slowly ticking off must-read novels of all time from my list. I'm leaving a book just for the car as I'll either forget to bring one or remember the book I'm reading is in the cold dark car just as I'm snuggled in bed.  So I've two on the go now.

Well that's it, my little in-car kit. Maybe next week I'll tell you about my empty nest? Though as my husband keeps saying..."She'll be back".

Friday, September 26, 2014

Creating A Home Culture Of Co-Operation. Some Ideas.

Our eldest turned 18 this summer.  Oh my goodness, I spent the day looking at YouTube videos like Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof and Mamamia's Slipping Through my Fingers.  Several boxes of hankies were gone through that day, much to my daughter's bemusement.

She's legally an adult now and though she's still under our protection, we interact with our older children in different ways than we do with tots.  We're still guiding and worrying and looking up the Internet for some sort of instruction book (oh believe me, we're doing that) but the bulk of their character formation and basic life skills really should be in position by age 18.

A few years ago University College Dublin did a huge survey among it's students on precisely that topic-the ability of 3rd level students to perform basic life tasks like grocery shopping, cooking simple and healthy meals, laundry and so on.  The results were quite simply shocking.  A huge number of students, clearly with enough intellect to get into college didn't know how to plug in an iron or cook a simple dish.  

No matter what path children choose in life, it's the rare person who won't have to look after themselves at some stage.  Not to mention look after their future homes and children.  I was chatting to another mother at the school gates some time ago and the topic of children (middle school aged) doing housework came up.  She said that the children were far too young for housework at that age and that it was a bit mean to ask them to clean. My own opinion was that if the children aren't doing housework at that age there's little to zero hope of them suddenly becoming efficient and willing helpers when they turn 16.  Like all good habits-manners, diet, sleep, we must begin with tiny children. 

I can't say that any of my children would choose to clean, or tidy up or indeed that they do so willingly. No big surprise there.  I can't say I was over enthusiastic as a child being expected to do my share.  However, it wasn't an optional activity so whining and complaining was always to no avail.  I can't once remember my mother saying "Oh I'll do it myself" apart from when she'd half stand up from her chair and you knew you'd better move fast because there would be consequences. Children pulled their weight and that's just the way it was. How quickly that has changed.

Being a human being isn't optional.  Acting like a human being isn't optional.  Animals in the wild teach their young how to hunt for themselves as soon as possible.  I don't think I've ever seen a nature programme where an adult animal was being cared for by his Mammy. I think we sell our children far short with our low expectation of them. Going to bed at night, washing ourselves, eating healthily aren't, as some of my children regularly try to convince me, punishments and unreasonable demands, they're part of being human.  So too is pulling our weight. All the more so in a family.  Ask any child what's Mom's job and plenty will reply to clean the house.  Actually, while she may well clean the house, nowhere does it say that's Mom's job. Pope John Paul asked families to 'become what you are-a community of life and love'

A community. Not a collection of individuals, each man for himself, each child seeking maximum comfort and entertainment and Mom and Dad facilitating it.  A community is one where everyone watches out for the other.  

When Mom finally convinces herself that children doing tasks aren't 'helping her' but rather it is an act of justice, then things will fall into place. It is a matter of justice that everybody helps out, even when Mom is home full time. It teaches responsibility, consideration and so many other human qualities, or virtues if you would like to call them, that will turn good children into good adults. 

Anyway, once we're bought on the benefits for children when they do their share and how much they personally lose out by not doing so, we'll definitely find a way. Each family will find their own unique path but as promised, here's what has worked in our house. 

Make It Fun.

Yes, they have to help but where's the rule that it needs to be drudgery? Nowhere. I've invented all sorts of games over the years around cleaning.

Music is your friend.

See how much you can do while dancing to a favourite song or two.

Play song games while working.

Lucky Dip:  I've done this quite a lot especially for about 7-10 year olds. While they are having breakfast I go around the house with a notebook and literally write down every..single...job that needs to be done. There can de dozens, hundreds even, which would be overwhelming for a child to tackle en masse.

For example:

Pick up the pink nightdress on Isabelle's floor and put it under her pillow.

Pick up the Lego and put it in the box, put the box on the shelf.

Take the six empty shampoo bottles out of the shower and put them in recycle bin.

You get the gist. Bite-sized specific jobs they can't misunderstand or forget.  Then I'd cut them into individual bits of paper and pop them into a basket for a lucky dip.  On goes the music and off go the children.  Back and fro to the lucky dip until the house is sparkling. 

Now a word of warning-you still need to supervise to spot the child that moves that bit slower than everyone else or slinks away never to return.  You know which child that is don't you?
I'd always include little jobs which would read something like 'Find the little chocolate bar in my drawer and eat it.'

Have fun equipment.  

I have managed to get the whole house sparkling and cobweb free simply by introducing a novelty bit of equipment:

TKMaxx is a treasure trove of colourful and novelty cleaning 'stuff' which children will love.

Our 4 year old is asking Daddy to make her a low clothes-line so she can help hanging out laundry.  How did I never think of that before?  It's a great idea.

Keep it Finite.

You know the famous efficiency guru The  Fly Lady? Her philosophy is basically anyone can do anything for 15 minutes. I completely agree with this.  My husband and I are currently sorting out our out of control attic using this method, we can all find 15 minutes a day or twice a week to tackle those dreaded tasks. Children are no different. Don't have the entire Saturday morning dedicated to cleaning and scrubbing, it'll put them off housework forever. However, bite sized sessions will show them how much they can achieve in short amounts of time.

Advertisement break during TV shows?  Quick everyone!! Kitchen!! 

They know the cleaning frenzy will last just two or three minutes and when Mom & Dad join in (partly to supervise for the same reason as above) it's much more fun. Nobody misses their show and you have the extra advantage of less exposure to junk TV ads.

Do X number of things.  I use this method a LOT with my teens. If I am going to the shop I'll call in "will you each do 100 things (or 50 or 20 depending on the level of chaos) before I come back?" Now one thing might be putting a yogurt pot in the bin, two might be putting the yogurty spoon in the dishwasher.  They're on a countdown and the end is in sight. 
I do the same with ironing, ask the teens to each iron ten or twenty items. This has the advantage that they can watch TV at the same time if they wish.  With three teens that's up to 60 items and nobody's had to be overworked.

Before they have access to computer/ go out to play / watch TV I usually say "OK, just first do X or Y" some small job like brush down the stairs or something quick but useful. Seriously, sometimes their friends have helped to hurry them up so they can go outside quicker.

Divide a room into sections assigning a section to each child.  The added advantage to this is that the harder workers don't end up doing the hog's share of the work.  When their bit is done, off they go leaving the slackers behind.

Show Them How.

Children don't automatically know how to clean or how to spot what's out of place.  I've had children proudly parade me into a room to show off their spotless masterpiece only for me to find the room in the exact same state it was in before they started.  Children aren't adults.  We need to show them how. 

Clean with them when they're small. It can be special time doing something together. 

When they're a bit bigger make a laminated chart for each room with bite-sized instructions how to clean that room.  I always had as the last instruction Ask Mammy or Daddy to check the room. This was a good opportunity to teach them how to finish a job well by helping them with the final few touches and letting them experience the pride of a job well done.  I've always found that a room stays tidier a lot longer when a child had cleaned it than when Mom does. They take ownership. 

When they're a bit bigger again have a laminated chart of what's expected from each child as regular chores. 

Follow through and check on their work.  As we know the only laws that are obeyed are the ones that are enforced.  When police are absent the The Lord of The Flies effect kicks in. Same with home laws. If they're not followed through they may as well not be there at all.

Now and again when they really try my patience I still assign a relative deep-cleaning task like tidying a shelf of the hot-press (airing cupboard) or scrubbing pots or baking trays. It keeps them out of trouble,  usually restores harony between whichever two were at loggerheads and has almost always resulted in them doing more than I asked.  Even dirty jobs can be fun.

Praise Them.

All the same, a carrot is better than a stick.  Praising a job well done, or done on time goes a huge way to ensuring willingness to repeat the effort.  Show Dad when he comes in. Tell the child you're proud of them. Let them overhear you telling Grandma.  Tell them God notices their efforts, reminding them of their earlier morning offering- 

"O my God I offer you today,
All that I think and do and say..."

It makes their little prayer something that they live rather than just rattle off. 

Well I hope that's a bit helpful anyway.

Remember, becoming efficient, and fast at doing the essentials of life frees up so much more time for the fun things...make use of that extra time.  Before long you'll be singing Sipping Through My Fingers into your hanky.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Our friend died.

What stark words that say something in a few letters that could not be explained in a million. 

When a friend dies it changes a person in many ways.  There's a hole left. There's grief of course.  To feel real grief for the first time as my husband is doing is a profoundly painful, disconcerting thing.  It sets off so many trains of thought about times gone by.  Things said and left unsaid.  Trains of thought about the future and what it holds with that one hole there.  The compassion of grief for the family, also friends, who are left with an even bigger and forever un-fillable absence. 

But amongst all the turmoil and tears of a lost friend, something constructive.  Not every funeral inspires us to want to be a better person precisely because that person's path crossed ours.  I've really only attended two and both of those have been within the last year.  One, that of a beautiful man who died in an act of un-speakable evil and horror...nobody ever gets over that.  The other, the farewell to another beautiful man whose death, as deaths go, was idyllic only for the fact that it came 40 years too early. He died in the intimate love of his own home, cared for and loved by his wife and in the company of his three far too young children.

Now here's the thing.  The illness and death of our friend has triggered so many close conversations between my husband and me.  Conversations about life's biggest issues really, but not in a woe is me sort of way.   About how none of us is guaranteed tomorrow...about how all we have is today.  I know I've blogged before about treating people kindly, but now I'm touching on something deeper.  Our legacy.   

Our friend was a wonderful man.  I overheard my husband recall of him the words applied to Jesus...He did all things well.  he was a wonderful doctor, husband and father.  As an effort of consolation (though I know there is none) to my grieving friend I have said more than a few times that her husband has done all his parenting in the time he had.  His children have a legacy to live up to.  Something noble to justify. 

Now this is what my own husband and I have been saying.  Neither of us is guaranteed tomorrow-or even the rest of today.  Yesterday our family both immediate and extended, and numerous friends (some of you who are reading this) were caught up in an incident involving a very possible and immediately imminent gas explosion.  It didn't happen and the fire officer told John later that nobody was in any real danger, though none of the dozens of adults evacuating children to a safe distance, grabbing tots that weren't theirs and shoving preteens behind walls knew that.  The urge for survival and to protect the tiny kicked in in a way I've never witnessed before. Incredible sight. 

So if John or I were to die tomorrow, or next year, or any time really...what legacy have we left?  Have we done our parenting well enough for it to be considered complete?  What would our children have to live up to and to anchor them through their lives?  What if we don't die?  Same question.  

We have to think long and hard what we want our children, or our spouse, or colleagues to say about us, to remember us by.  We need to then BE that person, or at least try. 

Surely write a bucket list.  I want to achieve certain things, ride in a balloon, write a book, speak French.  I want to visit Castle Leslie in England where Brideshead Revisited was filmed.  No harm in those dreams.  No harm in hoping they become reality.  But really, what matters if they don't?

I had a relative, now passed away, my father's cousin (first cousin once removed?) who,  just a few years ago, returned from a very very far away country for a visit and it was my honour to host a little family gathering in my kitchen.  One thing he said will always stick in my head.
Before he came home people asked him was he visiting Connemara, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula?  His answer?

"I've seen scenery, I'm not interested in scenery, I'm only interested in people".

So the two of us have come to the conclusion that great ideas are only that, ideas.  It's actions that count.  In honour of and to live up to our two passed friends we are doubling up our efforts, ( and I emphasise effort, because we'll never realistically achieve what we wish to be) to be the person we'd like to be remembered as.  To be the spouse who made the other feel loved.  To be the friend someone could turn to.  To be the parent they'll boast to their grandchildren about.  

"My Dad/Mom was the best..."

We'll try anyway. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Little Mystery

A few days ago I found a little old dog-eared prayer book in a shoebox of little old dog-eared prayer books in my attic. My husband and I had accumulated them over the years from childhood prayer books to second-hand bookshop finds.  At some stage between moving house and de cluttering this little collection got packed away. Too many and too impractical for downstairs shelf space as they would be vying for position with Meg and Mog and Green Eggs and Ham and would most likely be torn to shreds by sticky little hands. This little book caught my eye as I was packing away last year's schoolbooks and I tucked it in my handbag to use during the little snippets of time I glean throughout the day as I wait in my car outside schools, ballet classes and sports grounds. The language is old but the sentiment is as new and untried as ever.

1929.  Who bought this? I love wondering about things like who carved this stone rope knot on the doorway of Selkirk court building in Scotland's Borders?



 Were they related to the man who runs the chipper there where a fish supper will literally feed our entire family.  No stomach could physically fit in the amount of delicious chips and battered fish wrapped in newsprint paper. Beautiful Selkirk where Sir Walter Scott sat in his courtroom just a stone's throw from his Abbotsford home in Melrose, a little village which God placed there for no other reason than to delight the eye. 

There are no useful shops in Melrose, just lovely places to pass the day like a little antique shop where my father stocked up on vintage sheet music, a toyshop selling handmade delights fit for Santa's elves...and best of all a pie shop which I knew I shouldn't enter but whose inviting window displays and a combination of pregnancy cravings and pregnancy laziness overcame the thoughts of cholesterol and heart health. 

I've digressed, the prayer book...

(But those pies...ooohhh).

Well I was sitting with it this morning and I found this in it:


What is it? There's the ever-so-slightest aroma of pipe smoke off it, or maybe it's the smell of a turf fire? It has been carefully cut off something and placed in someone's prayer book. Who did it remind someone of? 

I turned a few more pages and this fell out...a piece of a letter used as a bookmark.

Such beautiful handwriting. How many of us have such lovely scripts today? Not many. It's almost a relief that documents are printed out nowadays, one of our children's birth certificates is handwritten in such untidy immature writing that barely stops short of a heart as a dot on the i's.  such a shame for a document she'll have for her entire life. Oh well. 

Then on the other side an address:

I know of no relative on either side who lived in Liverpool so long ago.  Then again maybe my husband bought this on one of his many student hours spent (usually with me) rummaging in Greenes Bookshop when he should have been studying.

So I looked up Google Maps.  It's a funny old street.  On one side council terraces and the other beautiful red brick detached homes.  Of course everything in Liverpool is red-brick. Which side of the street was home to the writer of the letter? A simple council flat or a comfortable home with perhaps paid help?

So who was it? Who wrote that letter and who received it?  Who snipped the piece of fabric and placed it in his or her prayer book.  How did the book end up in a little  old bookshop in Dublin.  To be bought by a medical student almost 70 years later. 

One last discovery...


I recognise the handwriting...the same one that wrote me little notes every day (when he should have been studying). He was praying not only for the short falling 'other' but for the short falling self. Reminds me why I married him. 

To there it lies...