Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bag-Packing, A Sociological Observation.

I have just spent the morning in a supermarket helping out at a fundraiser for my son's sports club by packing grocery bags for shoppers in the hope that they'll throw their spare change into the collection bucket. Easy enough money with no overhead costs, all you need is volunteers.

Now I am no stranger to either packing groceries or working with the public.  My teenage years were funded by this very activity as my weekend job, and that of practically every Irish teenager at the time, was a casual worker for the first Irish supermarket chain to introduce the service of packing groceries. The after school and weekend hours were often tedious and boring with every customer basically saying the same thing: "Lovely day we're having" or "Bad day we're having" over and over and over again.  However I didn't really mind too much as the allure of new clothes saved up for or a night at the local teenage disco made up for the repetitive work and the occasional unpleasantly over broken eggs or some such mishap. By and large though, people were generally friendly and appreciative.  By the time we were finished, a stint working for this particular supermarket was a bonus on any teen CV as the company was known for it's standard of excellence. We knew how to work and the founder and CEO instilled a work ethic in his teen brigade. Do the job and do it right and the customer will return.  Staff wore lapel pins of a boomerang depicting this ethos.

I went on to work with the public after I left college.  I worked in an environment quite opposite to that I had left.  Unless an employees work ethic came from within there was no incentive whatsoever to put in a good day's work.  In fact good workers were often ostracised because they showed up the others.  The Chiefs despised the Indians and indemic bullying was the norm. So babyish. However, one thing was so eye-opening was the public.  At the time, most people were neither here nor there, neither unpleasant not pleasant. Most still said please and thank you, apart from third level students that is.  Those words seemed pretty alien to them or maybe they felt they were too hip and cool for social niceties to cross their lips.  Since I was roughly the same age or just slightly older than most of them I wasn't backward at asking them right out for the Magic Word! Especially since they were often hoping I'd actually DO their tardy course work for them...the bits their Mammy hadn't already done, and it was usually due tomorrow or yesterday. I had the upper hand!

Then there was the folk who would just lift your day just by being themselves.  so friendly and warm.  My favourite in particular was a man who had Down Syndrome who always dressed in a suit and fedora hat and carried a black umbrella and briefcase.  He was so proud of his smart appearance and his research work. When he'd leave, he'd leave in his wake a feeling that life is good and it's good to be here.  Wonderful. I wonder where he is now.

Then there was the minority.  Oh deary me, the miserable minority.  Scowling, grumpy, fault-finding nasty minority.  I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to my fundraising contribution this morning.  Now if I know anything, it's how to pack bags.  I have six grocery trolley is sizeable.  I'm always in a hurry and I like my groceries intact. So apart from my early 'training', I'm good and I'm speedy. No eggs will break on my watch.  I think I look capable enough. I think I look pretty much what I am...a mother well used to supermarket shopping.  I think I look like I can capably pack your shopping, saving you some time and effort in return for your contribution should you want to make one.  It was an interesting window through which to study people. I was reminded of things I'd noticed years ago and forgotten.  I was treated in ways I'd encountered before but which genuinely surprised me as a mature adult as opposed to a young person. It was a look at a part of life that is no longer mine and I am left less than comfortable with some of what I observed. Not because I personally was treated in any particular way but because anybody would be treated in that way.

Here are some of my observations.

One...a smile costs nothing.  Do you realise how few smiles people who work in retail receive? Very few.

Please and thank you also cost nothing.

Old people who shop as a couple are maybe the nicest people you could meet.

People who bought the most possible with the least amount of money and had carefully counted coupons and small change tended to be very generous and appreciative of the help offered with packing their purchases.

People buying most luxury items were least likely to acknowledge that their bags had been magically and perfectly packed and walk off without contributing.  Some had no coins to offer but apologised and were thankful anyway. I certainly didn't mind in the slightest.

Teenagers stuffing bottles of vodka into handbags in anticipation of the upcoming evening...not cool.

People with clearly tight budgets were often making very poor food choices.  Very few fresh foods or vegetables.  A lot of the bulk of shopping was highly processed very cheap foods with little nutritional value. This should be addressed.  A lot of these families are headed by single parent early school-leavers.  The short time spent in education would be well served by a robust home management/food programme.  So easy and obvious when you know but not so obvious when one is in the cycle of poverty.

The words thank you came mostly out of those who appeared poorer.

It can take very little effort to strike up an interesting conversation with some people.  I heard quite a few reminisces and life's anecdotes.

Some people are delightful.  Old people are mostly delightful.

Some people are just not nice.

I remember why when I was working, staff far far preferred to be appointed to the poorest parts of the inner city or working class estates than to wealthy affluent postal districts.  Honestly, just because someone is doing you a job of service does not mean that that person is less that you.

Just because your income is higher than the girl at the check-out does not entitle you to speak down to her.  I have been watching her, she goes to a lot of effort to be friendly to you who does not return the common manners

If you prefer to pack your own bags, there's no need to rudely announce it's because only you knows how to pack bags properly.  Believe me Ma'am, you did not pack your bags properly.  Cooked and raw meats should NOT be in the same bag, rude lady.

If you prefer to pack your own bag don't act as though the person offering to help is the dirt off your shoes.

It's a sad indictment that the better dressed you are, Lady, the ruder you are because you think someone else is less than you.  They're not. That someone's job may seem menial to you does not justify your lack of common manners to them.

Being rude to kids fundraising is NOT ON. Yuk!

Dear vegan with a wan child dressed in unbleached knits...that your groceries are so so expensive does not necessarily mean they are good nutritional choices, alternative and unappetising and all as they may be.

Dear woman who rudely shoved me aside so you could pack your bags in a superior fashion,  I hope that bottle of shampoo you shoved upside-down on top of perishable foods didn't actually do that thing I wished it would.

But most people are lovely.

Especially old people.

Especially old people who are poor.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cinderella Movie Review

I have just been to see Disney's newest production, Cinderella. I'm writing a review simply because I have heard opposite opinions about the message the movie presents. So just as an extra voice here's my initial analysis of the movie.

Whenever I watch a children's or family movie I try to see it from a values point of view so that I can use both good and bad points afterwards in trying to teach our children discernment.  I know they will always come upon values that aren't those of our home and that's perfectly ok.  I have no intention of mollycoddling them in a false protected world which will leave them disarmed when they enter the fray. Overprotection is not a wise parenting method in my opinion.
Neither is allowing all and everything with the attitude that "Oh you can't protect them from the world". Rather I try to see teaching moments as I go along. I can't protect them from the world, nor do I want to.  I want them to get stuck right in there as active participants in this great world of ours but armoured with the art of discernment.

What I try to see is what's beyond the surface. Sometimes the surface is all there is but in general I feel no artist applies his or her trade in a neutral fashion, all art displays some of our personal ideals. It wasn't till the ending credits that I realised that Kenneth Branagh was the director of this Cinderella tale. I'd have looked forward to it more had I known. The movie has the historic elegance that I would associate with his movies.  It captures the atmosphere of the fairy stories I read when I was small, large thin papered tomes bound in navy cloth covers. The kingdoms I conjured up in my head were world's apart to some of the shoddily drawn illustrations so common in children's literature today. In Cinderella , the house, the animals, the castle all make the seamless connection with the original fairy story.  I think Branagh makes a huge effort to capture those classic qualities in this movie. The panoramic scenes of the kingdom are perfect. The choice of Lavender's Blue as a background theme evokes babyhood and early childhood for me anyway. I have dreamy memories of being soothed to sleep by both my mother and my father to this tune gently hummed.

I've said numerous times on this blog about my strong belief that children should be educated in beauty. I read an interview recently with Irish sculptor Dony MacManus who spoke about this very concept. That beauty points to God and that the function of art, even if not overtly is to capture beauty and therefore reflect a glimpse of Divine. Art works best with that aim, look at the art of the great masters of paint, architecture and sculpture...all aimed to achieve something higher than the artist. McManus tells of how European art colleges have moved away from art reaching higher and toward being used only to portray self and how the concept of beauty is oftentimes laughed at and rejected as immature and passée.  Mr McManus has gone so far as to found his own Fine Arts College in Italy which focuses on beauty leading to God and precisely the human body and it's creative power as the highest form of beauty.

I'm delighted that the story wasn't ruined by any attempt to 'modernise' it by making the female and male characters somehow at odds with each other in a struggle of power. In this movie, neither character is vying to be superior or more powerful.  The prince acknowledges time and again that he is an apprentice to the trade of being a good man. He is neither portrayed as arrogant or, as is more usual in movies, an endearing idiot. Humility, as in acknowledgement of our inabilities is perhaps the most manly of virtues because without it which man can become great as he is caught in the snare of believing he already is.  Although it is not an indepth character study, he is nevertheless a refreshing movie role model.  Not loud, not a fool needing to be saved by alpha-princess, neither is he chauvinistic. He just seems to be a good man.

Neither is Cinderella seemingly made strong by being warrior-like or crass or shouty. Her power is in her femininity. She isn't obsessed with beauty but wants to look beautiful for the ball to honour her mother who she loved. She is transformed into beauty most feminine...just that dress...I want one. So beautiful. She sticks with her efforts of courage and kindness, neither of these are easy feats and neither are signs of subservience or weakness. I love that femininity is finally portrayed as a quality and not as some sort of 'betrayal' of the sisterhood.

The deathbed redemption of the King, triggered by the honesty of Cinderella and the steadfast refusal of the prince to go against his decision reminded me a little of the death of Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited. (I told you I see things in movies that aren't there at all!) And the following scene of the prince and king embracing was a powerful testimony to fatherhood/son-hood, again, both men humbled but not weakened.

The wicked stepmother was a masterpiece. I'll be very surprised if Kate Blanchett doesn't win an award or two for her role. Her and whoever designed her costumes, just perfect.

The only downside was that maybe the movie was a little slow moving for smaller children. Setting the scene took quite some time and my 5 year old nodded off missing some of the more spectacular scenes closer to the end of the movie.

Also, perhaps the movie could have gone a little deeper into the consequences to Cinderella of the cruelty to which she was exposed. For most of the film it seems to flow off her. She smiles a bit too much which inadvertently superficialises her suffering.  Probably a bit more character study of the prince too would have added to the story. However, that's just me and maybe not for a children's movie.
All in all, I liked the movie.  My children aged 17-5 all enjoyed it.  It probably isn't the most memorable movie in the history of mankind but it is a refreshing good old fashioned tale of good people making a go of it.  The wedding reminded me of that of Archduke Imre and Archduchess Kathleen of Austria in 2012. Two good people hoping to do good together as a married couple, a team of equals.

Yes, it's a fairy story. Yes it's probably sugar coated, but fairy stories are good. Wiping them from our children's bookshelves in the name of modernity, or even worse...rewriting them to suit ideology, is doing our children a great disservice. They show us we are not our sufferings, they show us we can be more than how we are treated.  C.S.Lewis wrote extensively on the value of fairy stories and I tend to trust his judgement.

So I say, go to the movie, bring your teens. Enjoy it and don't feel guilty, you are not returning anyone to the dark ages just because a woman is feminine and a man is noble. Did you ever think that perhaps this is the Dark Age and that perhaps we need to reclaim the light?  Perhaps we need to reclaim both womanhood and manhood and marriage between the two as something better than the sum of the parts?

You might not see all those things but I did.

My favourite character?

The lizard footman.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Rose For Louise

My little girl has a heart operation coming up in the next few weeks.  It's not open heart this time.  They'll go in through her leg and up through her arteries to reach her heart.  It will be a two stage procedure, first they'll insert a little balloon to temporarily close up the fenestration which the surgeon made during her last surgery then monitor her lungs for a few days to see whether they can tolerate the new pressures.  All of these things are designed around protecting her organs as much as possible, not just heart but also lungs and liver.  Well if her lungs rise to the occasion they'll remove the balloon and permanently close up the hole which should finally see us bringing home a pink girl. I love blue too but this little girl needs to be pink.

So the success of this operation is 100% dependent on a little pair of lungs.  This morning I looked up to find out who is the patron saint of lungs. Lo and behold, who is it but one of the most approachable and loveable of all saints... St Therese of Liseux.  Which suddenly reminded me of a very interesting story that really happened.  I had completely forgotten about it.  

If you read my other blog you will know that when Louise first made her presence known to us in the form of two pink lines I didn't think for a single minute that we'd be bringing home any baby.  Although I have what is now considered a 'lot' of children, I also have a long history of pregnancy loss.  You never get used to miscarriage and you never become expert at dealing with it no matter how old a hand you are at it.  Babies aren't replaceable be they born or unborn.  I never grieved a 'pregnancy', I always grieved that baby...a person in their own right, no less someone than I am. 

I spent the first few weeks of this pregnancy in preemptive grief.  I had just lost four babies one after the other (accounting for the seeming gap between Louise and her nearest sibling) and there was no differential to suggest that this baby had any better chance.  I was grieving her when she was still alive, waiting for another miscarriage to happen, but still, hopeful that maybe this time would be different. 

In his bedside drawer my husband keeps a first class relic of St Thérèse, The Little Flower as she is affectionately called.  I think we all know that life's difficulties are a great impetus for heartfelt prayer.  I know that some of my readers who aren't Catholic have difficulty with the Catholic tradition of praying through the intercession of saints.  It's very simple really...we ask each other for prayers here on this earth all the time.  Please pray for my intention, my child, exams, financial worries...and few of us will refuse that request.  Oftentimes we particularly seek out those we seem to be maybe more 'holy' than ourselves to put in a good word for us with God.  I know in Dublin there used to be a great tradition of single young men and women dropping donations of food into the cloistered convent of The Poor Clares, requesting in return that they might pray for a good spouse for them.  Well it's no different with the saints..ordinary folk like you and me who had faults and struggles but who kept getting up and starting again and finished the race. Of course we ask our friends the saints to pray for us. We're not praying to them, instead we're asking them to also pray for us.

Well back to Thérèse, she is such a lovely saint.  When I was a child my mother told us about a particular devotion to St Therese.  A nine day novena of prayers. Now the different thing about this novena is that the tradition is that as she had promised before she died at such a young age, St Therese would acknowledge those prayers with a rose which would be received before the end of the nine days.  It's not any guarantee that you are going to get the thing you want in the way you want...God's plans are often a bit better than ours, but it's like a little calling card that indeed your prayer has been heard. I have heard story after story about those roses unexpectedly being received, including in my own family. Anyway, not to get a rose, nor to test God, nor in any way looking at this little relic as a talisman, rather a momento of someone we love, we printed off the particular rose novena to St Therese from the EWTN website and John and I prayed in earnest that this Saint, who had said such beautiful things about unborn babies, would intercede for this hidden little one who nobody knew was there except for her Mummy and Daddy.  Nobody else knew I was pregnant. We began the first day at about 11pm.

Every night before sleeping we recited the prayers and blessed our little one with the relic.  Each day passed and no rose appeared.  It didn't matter, we know God hears our prayers and we don't need proofs. Then a few days before the end of the novena, maybe day six, it happened to be my birthday.  My sister sent me a bouquet of flowers.  A mix of pretty scented Lillies, carnations and...roses. was a bit of a stretch to consider that this was the rose.  Still...a rose is a rose even if I was sceptical.  Day eight...nothing. Day nine my husband came home from work and said that a patient he rarely sees had come in and as she sat down she lamented to him that she had picked his wife a bunch of roses but had accidentally left them on her kitchen table. Well, getting warmer, but that someone was going to give me roses wasn't exactly a miraculous event. 

Oh well. 

That evening for some reason all our children were down in their grandparents house, we must have had a meeting or something to go to. John went down late to collect them in time for bed.  My mother-in-law was out somewhere so only Grandad was home with the children. Now my father-in-law is one of the nicest people I know.  He's always in an even good mood.  However, the gift-giver, as in most husband/wife arrangements, is Nana.  Grandads sign their name to the gift.  My father-in-law, as is normal, doesn't really give me gifts,  he has never given me flowers.  

After John had put the younger children into their seat belts he chatted for a while to his Dad then started up the car.  Suddenly out of the blue his father waved him to stop.  He went over to his rose bush and picked the perfect head off a bloom and handed it to one of the children saying 'give this to your Mummy'.  He knew nothing about either the novena or the pregnancy.

My husband and children arrived home and, at about 10.45 pm, handed me the beautiful and most unexpected rose, 15 minutes before the 9th day of my novena was over.  

So there you have it.  Coincidence? A sign from Heaven?  Make of it whatever you like.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Troubled World

This may seem naïve, like throwing a thimble of water onto a raging fire.  Believe me, I am not naïve, as I write this I am listening to blanket world news service about an unfolding event which might shortly bring even more bloodshed.

I was going to write a blogpost about so many things that I think about the terrible events in France.  About victim blaming...I cannot even count the number of times I've read 'they were asking for it'. 'Well they did 'offend''. A roundabout justification even if follows a condemnation.  'I'm sorry but it was your fault' is not an apology, it is a kick in the teeth. 

About majority sympathy being lavished on those who are offended rather than those who are killed.  About wondering how reposting disgusting cartoons is somehow helpful, how some have posted beautiful cartoons like the Charlie Brown one is maybe more sensitive.  

How nobody lavished victimhood on the ordinary catholics and priests, all of whom were tarred with the brush of the horrendous acts of a few and were all blamed as though we knew and approved of them. I see very little commentary on the fact that synagogues across Europe are now given police guard during services...the stealthful creep of anti Jewish sentiment is going un-noticed and I see it becoming fashionable in my own peaceful country with one country being portrayed as evil incarnate and it's neighbour as innocence personified.  Political/cultural unrest is never so simple. 

About how we are all Charlie and yet none of us is the unborn child equally the victim of massacre. How I disagree with the publication of pictures and videos of the death of anybody at the hands of another...and the compulsion to look at them. I don't know how many pictures I saw last year of children triumphantly holding up the heads of murdered men. Do we become immune to these acts? Is it helpful to see a man being put down like a dog or to see tiny dismembered children? Is it more helpful to show the humanity and beauty and value of every life, like the biography of the understated policeman, or the devout and selfless lives of an american journalist or British aid worker? Or the beautiful photos of life in the womb which show that the victims of that hidden massacre are indeed our brothers and sisters? I think so. 

I was going to write about how 9/11 was the day the world became a more scary place.  How the scary thing is that we all look at people differently and more fearfully.  I was sitting somewhere recently near an extended family from somewhere in the Arabic world.  It struck me that the only place I have heard that sort of language this last year has been on horrible videos celebrating atrocities.  I felt sorry for them because in spite of how 'normal' or good or decent they are, nobody has any way of discerning the one in 1,000,000 who will do harm and so the decent folk are feared because of the acts of a few. 

About how I don't blame satirists for their own death but how equally I am uncomfortable to sidle up with artists whose only aim is to offend and insult not least, perhaps even more vehemently, my own Faith. About how secular Europe is still riding on the back of it's Christian roots, forgetting that getting along with our enemies...forgiving them...not seeking revenge and vengeance...loving them even...are remnants of Christian culture which was not the norm before Christianity, and when that goes, as it surely will if we continue along this path, we are in serious trouble.  That maybe it's time to examine ourselves and the way Europe is heading and that perhaps we need to change something and revive our identity.  Just too much effort has been made to rid Europe of Christianity while at the same time there's a piercing silence on rising unease and a head in the sand approach to history.  I think it was Churchill who said that the further back we look into history, the further into our future we can forsee.  Instead of bovine cries of 'what about the crusades?''what about the inquisition' by people who know as much about either of those events as they do about how to build a time machine, maybe we should actually study history in it's raw truth rather than in an ideologically edited version. 

About how I am afraid as a mother because my own child is in France, in a peaceful town where a disturbed young man drove at speed into a crowded Christmas Market which my child had visited several times...a disturbed drunk boy from a messed up family jumping on the back of a dangerous ideological mindset. I don't think this fear is over dramatic because I know about the low grade stress of family living in the northern part of my own country during troubled times, how mothers were nervous every time their teens were out. A more intense fear compared to that of mothers in peaceful places who still are fearful for the safety of their young adult children. 

So I'm not going to write all those things, they're too unformed and garbled...the same way lots of the commentaries are unformed and garbled. This isn't a political blog, it just me and what I think.  

But this is what I am going to do. Today, every hour I am going to post a picture on Facebook of somewhere/someone beautiful in the world, beginning with France. It's naïve in it's simplicity but I hope maybe it will serve to remind us all that while the world is a scary place with so much unrest and hatred and...dare I suggest it?...sin. In spite of that, the world is a beautiful place.  It is good, people are good and life is valuable. I'm not trying to start a meme or to trivialise events, I just hope to apply a little salve to all our wounds. 


Friday, November 28, 2014

Science & How To Uplift Girls...Not.

I need a new computer, half the keys are missing from mine, I can't type a colon or a semi-colon and now letter L seems to be joining in the fun. Oh well.

I didn't post last Friday because this time I was in Scotland no less.  I was invited to speak at a pro-life ladies lunch (I never realised just how often L appears in the English language! This is like a comedy!).  It was a real experience and I have a lot of thinking to do just to process all the conversations I had during that visit. However, I'm glad to be home with no more trips on the horizon.

This post is about a little incident I witnessed yesterday and while it was innocuous, it points out a sort of attitude that has slipped into our culture.

Years ago, even before my generation, education was not considered for women and it was unusual to see a woman  going far in a career.  Lots of social and cultural factors contributed to that and I'm not about to address that here.  However, I think we can all agree that that has changed dramatically and that women are pursuing excellence in all sorts of areas in life.  In fact, it has probably tipped in the opposite direction as I've blogged about before in that a woman's decision to raise one's children at home full time as part of a two person team (that will be the husband who is earning the money) is seen as demeaning, escapist and non-contributive to society.  I think differently, but why then did I feel humble when I signed my name as a patron of something recently and my name and occupation was nestled nicely between those of lecturers, journalists,  business people, academics and medics?   Why did the words home-maker embarrass me on that list even though every fibre of my body knows and believes that I carry out a noble and worthwhile task?  Just asking.  I was even more uncomfortable with the fact that I felt like that because I have such a clear vision of my role, how must mothers feel who know it's the right thing for her family but might not have the reasons behind it?  I have no answer to how to tackle this and actually it wasn't what I was going to write about anyway...just my usual lengthy preamble. (damn you L!!)

Yesterday I was at our children's school open day for parents of next year's Junior Infants.  I didn't really need to attend as I know the school inside out at this stage but because two of ours were playing instruments and helping showcase their work I went along.  I was really impressed with how the children had pulled out all the stops to display and explain all the activities of the school.  Each classroom had an open door and the children were rehearsed with little speeches explaining their wormeries, their incubating chicks, weather studies and so on.  I was impressed at my Mr Understated's class because I was unaware of half the exciting things they were up to.  He just gets on with life, no real need to tell Mom about the baby chicks waiting to hatch.

Anyway, noticing that most parents were just glancing at the stalls and walking on by,  I resolved to ask every single child about their work and listen to every practised and endearing speech because there's nothing worse than having something planned to say and nobody asks you. I figured there went my morning and I already knew the stuff but would be worth it. One of my pet hates is seeing the wind being taken out of somebody's sails, especially a child's.

Then I heard it.  At one of the science stalls ( now, remember this is a smallish co-ed school, to the best of my knowledge all the children are treated equally by the teachers and staff), there were a few experiments on display and three children eagerly waiting to explain them to the adults-two girls and a much smaller, fine-featured, bespectacled boy, all about 11 years old.  As I stood there, two separate adults loudly congratulated the girls on their work, announcing how great it was to see girls doing science and how there weren't enough girls in the sciences. They didn't even acknowledge the existence of the little boy.  I happened to be looking at him and observed the wind well and truly leaving his sail.  'Well, it's great to see boys involved in the sciences too' I added and proceeded to ask the boy about the experiment while everyone else gushed over the girls.

Five of my children are girls.  I only have one boy and, as I said, he's understated. He's not shy, just understated. So this isn't prompted by 'my boy is always in trouble', he doesn't really get into trouble.  But I have noticed this uplifting of girls in our culture, which is good in itself, but not when it's achieved by crushing boys.  I don't actually agree with quotas giving preference to women, what sense of achievement is it for any woman to be chosen or promoted over a man simply because she is female?  I'd personally feel demeaned by that.  Surely we should be chosen for our ability, our qualities and so on?  That policy is still only seeing one aspect of woman...her sex.

 I've noticed this attitude wherin boys are considered disruptive because 'he moved in the line', because he 'ran on the grass'...I'll bet every one of you could list ten incidents.  Girl good...Boy bad.  So we have a generation of young men and women who have been subliminally and/or perceptively  told that typical male characteristics (such as strength and leadership) are bad (in a boy) and need to be suppressed and that equally, typically female characteristics (such as perception and nurturing) are demeaning (in a girl).  So we end up with the family of Peppa Pig where Silly Daddy is a loveable idiot who always gets it wrong and Mummy Pig (never back-answered by anybody) is the problem solving responsible adult who carries the family.  And we have a bossy, over-self-assured little girl who will grow up to think nothing of taking the wind out of a little boy's hopeful sails for no other reason than that she's a girl and therefore the best. 

I don't think this is the way to uplift, or advance girls.  We are fully aware of the cultures around the world where one sex totally dominates the other.  Where women are seen as nothing more than servant carriers for the boy-child.  I watched a video on YouTube last week depicting the sale of the spoils of 'war', completely sickening.  I felt like bursting into that room of sniggering cowardly men and demanding to know just who the heck they thought they were?
Now I know it's a big exaggeration and leap of aspects to even compare the two incidents but my point is this.  A rise in tide lifts all boats.  Can we try and uplift all mankind to a greater understanding of all our qualities.  One is not better, or superior, or of greater or less dignity than the other.  Strength and leadership in boys can be channelled into the unfolding of a just and noble man.  Nurturing and self-giving of a mother is not demeaning and no woman should feel embarrassed that that's her role. The 'feminine' genius of perception and multi-tasking are of infinite value in the world, be it applied to family, the workplace...or oh hurrah...the sciences.  The protective and self-sacrificing service of a man is vital to the world, be it applied to the family, the workplace...or oh hurrah...the sciences.

Mankind is designed to be complimentary and complete.  We will never thrive in a power-struggle over who's superior and who needs to be crushed.  Let's not let those scales tip in the other direction.  No good can come from a tipped scale. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Looking Back: Children's TV & Educating in Beauty

I didn't post last week because I was just back from visiting our eldest on her French Adventure along with our second eldest.  I'm glad to report all is going so well I can see God's hand at work and along with it, the reminder of the futility of worry because as I said before, quoting some saint, while we can only see the chaotic back of the tapestry, God sees the front.

Of course it's easier to say to a parent not to worry than it is for the parent to act on that.  I think some level of worry is part of the package you're handed along with that sweet-smelling mini person swaddled in a hospital blanket.  But aslo part of the package is the building up of precious memories, oftentimes in the form of what seems like insignificant moment followed by insignificant moment tick tock tick tock building the treasure trove of what constitutes childhood. 

I came across a picture book a while ago about how unaware a mother is of all those tiny things we do for the last time, like kiss a bumped knee, arrange a toddler's morning snack, read a bedtime story.  To be honest I half think the book should be banned because it just pulls those heartstrings just a little bit too tightly and I cannot even imagine how any mother could possibly read such a book aloud to the end without dissolving into a basket-case wreck of tears. 

All the same, it's a thought that has flickered through my mind from time to time over the years, how one time was the last time our now teens dressed up as sparkly princesses, how one time was the last time one of ours uttered her last entrenched piece of baby-talk and said 'I don't got' instead of the more correct but eminently less endearing "I haven't got', one time was the last time I was awoken by a cuddly little boy's huge brown eyes asking so mannerly in his little whisper 'can I come in?' and when I'd ask him a bit later 'do you want to go into your own wee bed now?' and he'd reply 'ok'. He's still the same actually but he never comes into our bed at night.  We still have a cuddly night-time visitor but I know the day will come when she will just turn over in her own wee bed and go back to sleep like the rest of them. 

Anyway, I'm saying this because while sitting cross legged on the beds of the doll-house pretty guesthouse in France last week we started reminiscing about the children's TV shows the girls loved when they were small. I'd forgotten quite a few of them and we commented on how programmes just disappear silently from our lives and the new ones slip into their place. Downtown Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, The Dome and Dr Who take up the place once occupied by Teletubbies and Arthur.

As a young mother with lots of little tots I had a very clear idea of what I wanted them to watch on TV.  Yes, I did, and do, use it as the unpaid babysitter so I could keep on top of housework and meals.  Yes, I admit they did, and do, watch more than the hours recommended by the gurus. Yes we sporadically had family meetings to reasses rules and we'd be the model family for about a week before I'd plonk a bunch of fractious children in front of TV and shove their thumbs into their gobs so that I could hide from them for the duration of a gone cold cup of coffee. Now that I think of it, a family meeting is badly needed to curb electronic entertainment, the struggle never ends, does it? 

 All the same, I was very very strict about what they watched.  This was long before Pope Benedict came on the scene with his beautifully rich writings on educating children in beauty and the arts so that they could recognise God when they met him.  I already had that insight and would only allow our children to watch programmes which in my opinion had beautiful animation, not over-busy, no shouting all at once, no over-stimulation, no over-acting stage school kids pushing themselves forward while I could imagine their pushy mothers hovering off-screen. No adults annoyingly pretending to be children...yuk!! That's still a bug-bear for me. No main characters displaying characteristics I didn't want to see in my little ones like constant disrespect for 'silly Daddy' (little brat lol) While I pottered around the kitchen and while out driving I'd play calm or vintage children's music and even Lyric FM, no shouting out badly sung wheels of the bus for these little folk. I chose programmes which were gentle, beautiful and edifying.  Looking back, some of the stuff I banned was actually fine but still, I'm glad I erred on the side of over-idealistic.  

I asked our two eldest whether I was over restrictive and they both said no way and that they plan to do the same because what they remember is worth remembering. And anyway it seems they still managed to see half of what I'd banned, isn't that exactly what grandparents are for? 

Incidently, I've noticed that all our children have their morning alarms set to classical music.  I was in Lidl last month and our, now 10 year old, little boy found a little 4x6 radio and asked me whether he'd be able to set it to the 'man' for his alarm clock. Now Peter is king of alarm clocks, he has them set for all sorts of over-ambitious early rises, places them in unfindable places, never hears any of them and succeeds only in rousing the entire family about an hour before their own clocks were set to go off.  Anyway, the 'man' is the early morning presenter on Lyric FM and I often wonder whether he actually gets people out of bed or simply soothes them back to sleep, forget about school when Marty's waking you up! I went in a few days ago to tuck Peter in, fully expecting him to be asleep, only to find him awake in the dark listening to some late night recital. Cool. (Even if I can't drag him out of bed in the morning, at least his mind is filling with beautiful music!)

So here's what the girls came up with on their trip down Memory Lane~why not join them?

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends.

This was the jewel in the crown of our children's childhood.  Many's the fretful child was soothed by the gentle timeless stories in this authentic production starring Sinead Cusack. In fact to this day Mr Jeremy Fisher is John's favourite story to read the children. I taped them all off the television...remember you had to key in a long number from the TV guide.  I've just found remastered DVDs of some of the stories online for a very reasonable price.

Brambly Hedge

Brambly Hedge stories are the epitome of homely, secure and beautiful childhood stories.  I personally loved this sort of story myself when I was a child as my mother used to make up hours on end of such adventures to tell us at bedtime, these were the nearest thing. Lovely.

The Wiggles

If you're unaware of my special relationship with The Wiggles or you're new to this blog, have a read about one of the best days of my life before moving on.

Rosie and Jim

These little rascals are full of spirit.  It added to our children's macic that the first Sylvanian Family gift they ever received was the houseboat from their Grandmother. There are also boats like this quite near our home.

Elephant Show

The Canadian produced Elephant Show was re-run on Irish TV in the late 1990s, they were from the 1980s though I don't remember it from then.  Unfortunately they never seem to have been transferred to DVD.  I just loved the wholesome atmosphere of the show and we have many happy memories of the girls snuggling into me and my huge pregnant tummy watching the shows.  I think I bootlegged every episode and they were worn away to a thread.  The adults were adults and the children were natural and not precocious.  They are available to watch on YouTube though.


Just tell me, what's not to love about Pingu? I wish I could speak that language.  John made good efforts at it over the years to the great hilarity of his children.

Bear in The Big Blue House

Well two words...Jim and Henson.


Noddy before he was computer animated.  The very opening tune of old Noddy brings back such memories of  really small girls. It was the second VHS I ever bought our first child.  In fact the Noddy doll Santa brought that first Christmas has never been put away and is still going strong.

The first VHS I bought was of course...I succumbed to the marketing...

Teletubbies was cute enough all the an annoying sort of way. Though that sun baby looked all the world like little girl #2

Animal Shelf

I recently bought some DVDs of this show for our youngest who is very cautious of new programmes, she needs plenty of reassurance that there'll be no 'baddies' (he doesn't need baddies with all life has thrown at her)  She just loves it.

There were lots of others that came up such as Andy Pandy,  Neil Buchannan's original Art Attack, that was a great show, Kipper the Dog, Percy the Park-Keeper, the original Fireman Sam which my husband watched with our little boy every day at lunchtime....lots of wonderfully childish entertainment.  Of course there are lovely programmes on now but for some reason, I just don't find computer animation as magical as the older efforts.

But lastly, I want to post the programme I'd watch my cup of coffee from 4pm-4.30.  From it I learned how to properly chop an onion, how to release a vacuum sealed jar by tapping it on the table....and that's about it.  It was just a great bit of 'adult' company when I was up to my eyes in nappies, babygros and  runny noses.  Can you believe, I don't have nappies or runny noses any more but neither do I have time to watch a half hour programme every day at 4pm!!  So much for that!

Ready, Steady, Cook

What are your memory lane children's programmes?  It's amazing how they change so fast.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Halloween

I have a love hate relationship with Halloween. In this post I want to just put down a few of my thoughts about this autumnal fest.

To be honest, I think the main reason Halloween is probably my least favourite holiday is because it's usually cold and rainy and my children always wanted me to 'go around' with them.  We usually have several events overlapping too so it can be a bit stressful dividing our time trying to fit everything in. I love spring and summer and the remainder of the year I spend looking forward to buttercups and the hum of bees. All the same, I don't hate winter and love movie nights and indoor family time.  Christmas is as exciting for me now as ever it was when I was a child-apart from last Christmas though when my father's house burned down in Christmas Day, a Christmas to remember eh? 

So Halloween is there to mark halfway between summer and Christmas.  My husband doesn't like the way our customs of bobbing for apples and trying to make jack-o-lanterns out of turnips (it's a wonder any Irish person my age has any fingers at all, that was a lethal operation!!) have morphed into a money spending festival where home-made costumes made out of old coats and cardboard would be scoffed at. 

He loved the traditional games and in particular, colcannon, which I still make a very unhealthy but delicious version of every year.  

He still tries in vain to get our children call trick-or-treat the 'pooka' as we used to call it.  The púka being a mischievous spirit of Irish folklore. Nothing so scary as an ancient Irish fairy, Tinkerbell she was not.

Now this is what I really want to make my post about.  What is the relationship between a family trying to bring up their children in a Christian, or specifically, Catholic, culture and celebrating a festival of the spirit world?

There is a school of thought among some Catholics that Halloween shouldn't be celebrated in the way our culture does with the focus on fright and spookery.  Many of these families dress only as saints in honour of All Saints Day which is the day after Halloween.  What do I think of that? I'll tell you shortly.

I used to read a lot of horror fiction in my late teens and early 20s.  Stephen King mainly, but also other writers.  I loved the thrill of a good scare knowing that the boogeyman couldn't really get me.  I read an interview with Stephen King one time in which he said that his secret was to take the things that people are already scared of, like the dark, under the bed, scarecrows and so on and draw out those ever present fears. A very successful method for any writer, when others can identify with what you say you have a reader. 

One thing I did find in a subtle way was that I became a bit  immune to some of the horror and each book would need to be a little more intense in order to achieve the same effect. Now, I'll clarify I never dipped into horror that was either erotic or satanic, but more about that in a minute. 

Then I came upon an article in a Catholic publication that I trusted on the topic of whether horror fiction was a suitable genre of literature for Catholics.  It reiterated everything I already thought.  Horror fiction in itself is morally neutral, depending on the same criteria as any other sort of fiction. I remember when the Harry Potter books were first published there was outrage among some Christians because the topic was magic and that this would lead young people away from faith and toward the occult.  This of course was an opinion I think based in puritanism more than in Christianity. While reading the great Christian themed fiction of Tolkien, Waugh and Flannery O'Connor can edify one's faith, every book we read, every film we watch and every activity we enjoy doesn't have to be overtly Christian to be compatible with Christianity.  Is it a form of clericalism to think that if it's not 'religious' it can't be 'holy'?  I'm of the belief that changing a soiled nappy or taking bins out for collection can be 'holy' acts.  As Pope John Paul said don't see demons where there are none. The Catholics only dressing as saints are admirable and I definitely think All Saints Day is under celebrated but I think it stands as a separate celebration.  We don't need to win back Halloween any more than we need to win back CBBC.  Some things are just fun, so be it.

The same puritans are shocked at my Catholic husband's taste in heavy metal music.  I don't really like that music so poor John normally listens in his car and while exercising, I am often alerted to his arrival home by the boom boom emanating from his car as it drives up the hill! (I'm sure he has a reputation.) However he is so often affronted with the statement/question that heavy metal=devil worship! Nonsense! Apart from anything else, Satan doesn't need to hide in songs when he can draw far more people to his lies much more efficiently through the glitz and empty promise of materialism and the narcissistic me-culture of our day. Metal artists are made up of the same mix of married family men and rogues as any other genre of celebrity.

Back to the horror fiction article, it agreed that there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good old scare, or a ghost story or a supernatural thriller, however the article ended with an open this the sort of literature for one who one day hopes to reside with the Angels?  A good question which shortly afterwards sort of led to the end of my horror fiction diet.  After reading the protracted grief of the father in Pet Cemetery  I never read another. It wasn't a moral decision, it was one based on a desire to feast on something more uplifting. 

Now, on Halloween. I have no problem with children having maximum fun through the healthy scares that no other day presents. I love that they spend hours making all sorts of crafts and planning costumes. I have accumulated a pretty well stocked dress-up trunk over the years and I have a policy that no child is bought a costume for Halloween. Any restocking is done in sales and the occasional TKMaxx or charity shop find. Because I love crafts, face painting and so on,  I always end up throwing myself into the fray in spite of my annual protestations that I don't like Halloween. I think my husband thinks my complaints are just a front and that i actually love it all, he could be a bit right there though I'll never admit it .

But I have a reservation and here it is.  Just as my diet of horror gradually needed greater intensity to achieve the same effect, I began to notice in the children a lean toward more and more gruesome make-up at Halloween. I did it myself by making a pumpkin appear to have eaten a child's leg which I copied from an Internet picture. I actually regret that even though it was a bit funny at the time. I allowed the blood and guts until the point that I was horrified two years ago when a very professionally realistic slit throat appeared in my living room done by one of my teens with liquid latex. It was just a bit too real.  The same year I read two interesting testimonies.  They were two unrelated articles about a man and a young woman who had been brought up in and subsequently escaped from satanic communities.  Their descriptions of the lifestyle they experienced as children and the fears they now hold because of the information they know were nothing short of horrific. Worst of all was their descriptions of what happens  every year on Halloween in these underground groups, hiding in full view, if they are to be believed, and I see no reason to doubt the testimonies.  Unfortunately I cannot unread what I read. But there and then I made a decision while not to look for and see demons where there are none, at the same time not to not see them where they are. The occult is very much real and there are real people sucked up in it.  If what I read does take place that night I want no part of it, albeit just through some over-realistic make-up.  I fully agree with the children having lots of fun. One day of eating total rubbish isn't going to affect their overall health and I can stealthily deposit a percentage of the younger children's loot into the bin over the following few days.  However, since then I draw the line at anything to do with horror or torture or any hint of occult or murder on the off chance that a child or a young person is actually living that as a reality that very evening. 

I've made a return to my husband's idealised memories of traditional games. 

We'll watch Corpse Bride and our pumpkin lanterns are now more cartoony or pretty than fearsome, though I've noticed that false blood is still sneaking in there. Our costumes this year and last veer away from horror or sinister and I'm hoping the children will just extend their imagination in the traditional scares of witches and scarecrows or something funny. In fact the minute I'm finished this post I'm helping my 10 year old with his costume. Yip yip yip might be a little hint. I'll post a picture on my blog
Facebook page later, even if it's a disaster.  Be assured there will be scary steam coming from my ears by the time it's finished! In fact, I'll probably be pretty scary by then! I wish I knew how to use the sewing machine and the only one who does is in France right now. I'll be in bed late tonight that's for sure. Why do I agree to these things? I wonder would hot glue do the same job as hand sewing yards and yards of shedding red furry fabric?

Anyway, Happy Halloween and don't forget the suffering Holy Souls in November. Stay safe and be careful of candles.