Thursday, November 29, 2012

How To Make Ironing (Sort Of) Fun

I think you can tell from the title of this post there's not going to be anything too profound here today.  Ironing isn't exactly the most philosophically deep topic of discussion.  It is, however, a part of life and because of that it deserves a little look in from time to time.

I don't know anybody who loves ironing. I know lots of people skip it completely, that's fine. Me, I like ironed clothes, they're easier to store and, in my humble opinion, look a bit better and sit nicer when worn. As housekeeping jobs go, along with laundry in general,  it's probably one of my least hated, mainly because it smells lovely.  I don't love it though.   Still, I'd rather do it than not do it because with eight people in the house, ironing as we go would just be too stressful with people rummaging through laundry looking for clean stuff that needs ironed now. Bad and all as we are at timekeeping, we'd never be on time for anything if we had to do that.

I don't mind if I rarely get to the bottom of the bundle as then everything would have to fit into the wardrobes and drawers so my optimum would be a conveyor belt efficiency of equal amounts in the wardrobes, the laundry basket, drying and in the ironing bundle.

That's the theory.

The reality is that ironing is always the job that gets long-fingered.  I'm willing to bet most of you are nodding in agreement.  I know you're supposed to fold things away straight from the drier (if you have one) to reduce the amount of things to be ironed  but with a big workload , that's often long fingered too. In my rush to move onto the next job, I usually just throw everything on top of the bundle barely even sorted. So what I usually end up with is this:

Yes, it's a bit depressing looking at it and looks pretty daunting.  

It doesn't bother me though.

Because I know that with the right conditions this bundle will disappear in (almost) a flash.

Here's what I do...

(1)  I wait until the house is in a moderate to good state of tidiness. This means that I don't connect ironing to mess.  I only iron in a tidy environment and therefore the connotation is more relaxed than overwhelmed.

(2)  I try to enhance the relaxed ambience by lighting a scented candle.  There are lots of gorgeous scented candles on the market but I find that the ones you can buy in the supermarket can be every bit as nice, especially when you're only using it for ironing, not stay-at-home-date-night.  They are often available half price so I stock up then.  This is the supermarket one I really like, it doesn't have that cloying cheap smell the plug-in or spray versions have.

The Glade Christmasy ones are lovely too.

(3)  Here I go again...Music. Sometimes I put on some upbeat fast music, sometimes something more this:

So I can do some thinking.

(4) Set my timer.  I don't know whether you've heard of the organising guru, FlyLady. She is a great believer in using a timer for tasks we don't like. She works under the premise that anybody can do anything for fifteen minutes.  Fifteen minutes a day at our worst job makes it so much more manageable.  Well today I had a bit of time available as a pre-arranged meeting was cancelled, so I set my timer for an hour.

(5) I don't usually do this with my ironing but today I made myself accountable...I posted my self-imposed challenge on my Facebook page.  This made me less likely to start browsing Pinterest half way through my hour and end up drinking coffee instead.

(6) Just DO IT!!  Because I was working against the clock, I put on fast disco music.  I had to not disgrace myself on Facebook so there was a little bit of a 'competitive edge' introduced into the task. For husband's work shirts and pants there needs to be a certain good standard of crispness in the result but for children's t-shirts that are going to be worn out on the street and at this time of year, under a sweater, there's no real need for over-ironing.  A quick run over is perfect. Sing aloud (if you want to) and boogie (I suspect my choice of hip words might be a bit outdated...I'll need to get a few new ones from my big girls!).  It's just amazing how quickly that bundle will disappear before your eyes.

(7) When the hour, or fifteen minutes is up...STOP.  Leave the rest for next time.

(8) Finally...don't stumble at the finishing post.  Put the ironed clothes away.  This is usually my downfall, I move it all upstairs out of sight to put away later.  I can tell you...this is a mistake.  I don't know how many things I've had to re-iron over the years from stuff being strewn in the hurried morning search.

Here's what I managed in my hour...

I'm pretty satisfied with that.

And the basket looks less daunting for the plebs when I inform them they are finishing the rest.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Empathy

A while I mentioned my mother in passing to an online friend. She commented that she'd love to hear more of my mother's story and maybe I'll write that some day. This piece will mention her but not so much about her life as about how I look back on her last few years.

When my mother became unwell, it was really my first brush with real illness. Nobody close to me had ever died apart from my grandparents, my life had been relatively straightforward and my life's experience didn't really include dealing with sickness or death. Since she passed away in the last few moments of the Great Jubilee Year of 2000, I can say that those things have changed. My life's experience now is definitely MUCH more complex and far-reaching than it was then. For that reason I often often wish I'd had the experiences of multiple pregnancy losses, a lot more experience rearing children, a very worrying pregnancy with a very sick baby, the subsequent hospital visits and most of all the hundreds of conversations I've had on and offline with mothers whose lives are far from straightforward, BEFORE my mother became unwell.

With a diagnosis of cancer or another life threatening condition, along with the whole medical barrage of consequences, there comes hand in hand with it a huge package of emotional and psychological issues which I doubt if most of us are prepared for. The word cancer makes us face the reality of our mortality, the possible mortality of a child opens up to us just how vast the well of human emotion is. I wish I'd known that thirteen years ago.

Long ago when a mother had a miscarriage or a child died, it was often the case that final cuddles weren't even considered. The parents weren't shown the baby, no photographs or footprints were taken. It wasn't mentioned again. I think the thinking behind that was not to cause un-necessary upset to the mother. People thought that if you spoke about the child it would only prolong the grieving, better not to talk about it and get back to normal as soon as possible. There was loss of a small child in my own family in the 1930s or early 40s, I'm not going to write about it out of sensitivity to my extended family but I do know one thing, because my mother told me, that that mother had told her, not talking about the baby did not help her in the slightest. She would have loved to talk but it just wasn't done and she died never having recovered from the terrible sorrow and loss. Thanks be to God, that has greatly changed now and there is a much greater understanding of the value of talking things out, crying, the role music and songs can play...the all encompassing and complex  facets of the psyche of which we are comprised.

Looking back to when my mother was sick, I wish I'd done some things differently. I wish I hadn't tried to jolly her along, or tried to get her to watch this movie, read this book...or said everything was fine. I say this now because I know that when you're worried about something that IS a genuine worry, someone jollying you along doesn't really help. I wish I'd asked her more things, or sat there, or acknowledged more that she was low or worried. I'm not saying I was that bad or heartless, in fact my entire family pulled out all the stops as regards her care and the love she received and as a matter of fact my mother had a lovely death. It's just now that I know more I think I'd have done things a bit differently.

In the immediate aftermath of the funeral I remember being completely preoccupied with the times I'd dropped in to see my mother and didn't 'have time' to sit and have a cup of tea, I had three small children who were still taking naps and my inexperienced parenting methods didn't know much flexibility. So many times when my mother said to out on the kettle my response was I had no time, I had to this, I had to that. One day when I was lamenting that to my husband he said to me: 'What you're regretting is that you weren't perfect. You were a good daughter to your mother and everybody wishes they'd done this or that differently after someone dies but nobody does everything perfectly all the time. Your mother knows that.'

Now if I meet someone who is sick, or bereaved or simply living with the wear and tear of old age I'm much more likely to bring that up and to ask how they're really finding it. When I was younger I'd have run a mile rather than do that. I'm not saying that to say I'm so great but because I guess life's lessons teach you these things. To get inside someone else's heart and have a little look around. That's what empathy is.

A while back I was listening to a phone in radio show with Dr Ray Guarendi, a Catholic psychologist. A woman rang in complaining that her husband, an engineer, had no empathy whereas she on the other hand found herself easily moved to tears at people's sufferings and the sorrows of the world, citing one incident in particular.  That wise doctor turned it around on her.  He asked her what had she done to alleviate the problem she mentioned, she reluctantly said she had done nothing.  On the other hand, it turned out that her her husband with all his lack of empathy had written and sent off a cheque.  Her tears had done nothing whatsoever to ease the suffering of the person she was crying about.  I'm not saying that crying over other people's problems is necessarily useless but sometimes I wonder (and I like the occasional cry myself) whether it's more a form of self indulgence.  Do you remember the character in The Secret Life Of Bees who took on everybody's problems till she finally broke under the weight, all she did was damage herself.  Feeling pity or empathy with a beggar on the street doesn't do much to help them, but maybe to even say hello or smile at them might be the only time that day someone acknowledged that they were human.  And of course, we're all very familiar with the way St. Teresa of Calcutta, in her day, and her nuns continue to hug and touch and hold hands with the lowest of castes.  The difference in dying untouchable to knowing someone believed you were worth that must be incredible.

But empathy which brings about a change in the way we act ourselves is definitely something to be worked on.  Walk a mile and all that.  My husband is a doctor and I know very little of what goes on behind that surgery door.  Doctor patient confidentiality isn't just a nice concept.  Don't ask, don't tell.  In fact a close friend of ours was astonished at my surprise one time when I met her and noticed she was about eight months pregnant. She had presumed that because our two families are friends that John had told me.  He hadn't.  However, I do know that what presents itself in front of him more than anything else is sore throats.  Now we all know how painful a sore throat is and many's the time I've waited impatiently for John to come home with his magic torch and make my sore throat better, only to met with...'It's fine'.   IT'S NOT FINE!!! Even though I don't think he says that to the patients,  I'm always telling him to remember that even if a throat isn't covered in white spots or flaming red to still acknowledge to the patient that he knows it's sore.  Sometimes for a doctor to just say yes I know that's painful will be enough comfort to get someone through, and they'll also go around telling everyone how good a doctor you are :-D

To walk a mile in someone's shoes is not necessarily always needed.  But to just try them on might be well worth it.   Even to say to someone 'It's not easy is it?' can give them the permission so say...''s not..'  What would you like someone to say if you were worried? Then do that for someone.

Finally, just because you feel uncomfortable or awkward doing something isn't a good enough reason not to do it.  I remember after one of my miscarriages a friend of mine dropped in very briefly.  She handed me a beautiful white lilly and just said, 'Oh I bought you this..'  It meant more to me because I knew that though she was a little shy about what to say, she still did that nice thing.

Even a little x or a ♥ on a Facebook status can make all the difference.   Give your time...'I don't have time' is never true.  You'll only regret it some day.  There's a beautiful French song which I love entitled 'Je n'aurais pas le temps' 'I don't have time'.  So makes me think of my mother..

Even if I fly as fast as a bird...Even in a hundred years, I don't have time...

The only thing is...even if I live a hundred years, I'll never have that time back.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Two Little Girls

Last Sunday I went to Mass with the family.  Bringing a 2 1/2 year old to a religious ceremony is always a bit fraught as blog after blog after blog will tell you.  The bottom line is that the concept of a two year old sitting still when there are fun benches to be climbed over and under and people behind you to entertain is not that realistic. It takes time to train a little child that a Daddy Clamp is an incommutable sentence and that an unauthorised escape will result in a ignominious haul back to the designated seat.   We usually come armed with a little stash of small (and quiet) toys and other distractions and last Sunday was no exception, as the children clambered into our embarrassing very glamorous 17-year-old grey-8-seater,  I grabbed a few religiously themed lift-the flap books, one about The Teddy Bears Picnic and a cute one about kissing the noses of different animals.

But this week we didn't need to distract our little girl because this week there was built in entertainment sitting directly behind her.  In the form of a little girl not too much older than her.

Now this little girl unbeknownst to her mother holds a special place in my heart.  As you know, people usually sit in the same seat...on a train, on the bus, in a Mass...every time they in, day out, week in, week out....we do and so do that family.  So I have watched this little baby's life unfold from the time she was a swell in her Mummy's tummy to snuggled newborn to gurgling interactive tot to the cute little girl with almond shaped eyes, short little fingers and a little tongue which sticks out more often than it stays in.    And whose extra (special) chromosome no doubt provoked a river of broken-hearted tears.

Well these two very special girls came face to delighted face last Sunday. Each one scrubbed clean and dressed in the prettiest clothes for Sunday.  Each one pulled at and adored by her older siblings.  And each one totally oblivious during that 40 minutes to everyone else but the other.

For forty minutes those two little girls hugged, stroked each other's faces, gave toddler kisses, showed their toys and tried to lift each other up.  The other mother was completely unaware of the poignancy of this little meeting.  She doesn't know us.  She doesn't know I loved her daughter when I was so worried about my own, or that her pink little baby gave me hope.

Two little 'afflicted' with half a heart, one 'afflicted' with a heart that embraces the world without question.  One carries her special heart for all the world to see, one carries her's hidden deep inside.  Two delightful little girls delighting in each other.  Each one completely oblivious that both of them were just so...