The Mother of All Mothers

Life’s too short to drink shit coke – Catherine Rainey

To anyone who has ever read any of my previous posts, it should be pretty obvious by now how important my mother is to me. Subtle references to her spending nights with me watching Father Ted may, on the face it, seem like nothing more than a pastime we shared together but the truth is much more poignant and indicative of a bond much greater than some mutual interest in a TV show.

In fact – and it’s only occurred to me now – I don’t think Mum even likes Father Ted.

On those nights neither of us particularly enjoyed ourselves. She would hold my hand in the reassuring way that only a mother can, offering words of comfort while Ted did his best to distract me from whatever anxieties took the forefront that evening. She often lay until the wee hours, kept awake by the less-than-soothing theme tune and repetitive laughter track, never daring to move until I found sleep.

With many a night spent like this – and undoubtedly hundreds more of a different nature with my siblings (of which there are four) – it is safe to say that, as she turns 60, she must be fucking exhausted. I can only assume this, however, as she would never complain of those hours of lost sleep, unlike me who manages to moan at every opportunity about sleepless nights on account of my own child. She is of a higher order you see; in a league reserved for only the finest of mothers. I imagine she secretly wears a medallion on the inside of her lapel, symbolising her patronage to some mystic motherly force which few others are accepted into.

I take this opportunity to again pay homage to my mother and her services as she celebrates her birthday 60th today. In typical Rebekah fashion I have not bought her a big bunch of flowers or a piece of jewellery befitting of such a momentous occasion; instead I offer up these humble words – which also coincidentally happen to be much less expensive. Just as Dad receives rubbish Star Wars memorabilia and novelty mugs for his birthday, you too must pay the price (excuse the pun) for raising such an “economical” daughter.

(This might be a good time to bring up the fact that you will also probably have to pay for my share of your birthday meal.)

It is often said that being a mother is a thankless job. True. There are no pats on the back, no monthly pay packets, no periods of annual leave.  The truth is mothers do not “mother” to be thanked. It is out of pure unconditional love that they dedicate their entire lives to pursuing so little of their own interests and goals in favour of their children’s. They derive their satisfaction from other more meaningful sources – from the smiles on their kid’s faces, the late night cuddles, and the achievements of their children. That said, after only 15 months in the motherhood game, I’d imagine a “Thank you” every now and again would be nice.

After all these years I can say with no uncertainty that I never thanked you enough. How could I have? How could those two little words ever amount to the recognition and appreciation you deserve? Nonetheless, I say it now and for the world (the handful of people who read my blog) to hear. Thank you.

Thank you for loving me each and every day of my life. Thank you for giving me a childhood that I can only think of with fondness. Thank you for rewarding me with my wonderful brothers and sisters, all of whom remind me of you in their own little ways. Thank you for putting your own grief to one side in order to tend to mine; to this day I still don’t know how you did it. Thank you for being brave; never afraid to argue the truth or sing louder than the voices around you. Thank you for finding strength when others could not. Thank you for guiding me in the right direction while always allowing me to make my own decisions.  Thank you for being an individual; your inability to give a shit of what others think inspires me to never blindly follow. Thank you for being the grandmother to my son; as I watch the two of you bond I am reminded of the tender love you gave and continue to give me. Quite simply, thank you for being you.

At half your age, I can only hope that I amount to half the mother and half the woman that you are. Happy birthday Mum.

P.S. Sorry for reminding everyone of how old you are.

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Granny Knows Best

grannyYou thought you were doing yourself a favour when you bought those fitted bed sheets. I mean, sure, when it comes to dressing the bed – one of the most dreaded chores in the history of the world – you’re glad you can easily navigate tucking those corners in without breaking into the sweat-blinding, enraged fit that comes with “unfitted” sheets. Like most things in life, however, this is also too good to be true. Just as the last sheet came off, this one too will face the washing machine, the tumble drier and the inevitable (dun dun dun) folding.  Let’s face it, they are the cloth equivalent of the Rubik’s Cube.

(Seriously though, how do you fold them?)

I have been in awe of my mother for most of my life but, if I’m honest, I took for granted these subtle skills she mastered on a daily basis. It only occurred to me the other day, when I went to “fold” one of these cotton enigmas (and when I say fold, I mean roll into a heap and discard in the darkest corner of the house) that I realised this was my job… forever… and I might, some day, actually have to figure out how to properly do it.

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This all sounds fairly dramatic considering we’re talking about a bed sheet here. But it was the wider implications of this realisation rather than the folding of this one sheet that scared the complete and utter shit out of me. To this day, I have very much relied on my mother. And I’m not even referring to the big things at this point; I mean for those really small, niggling things like sewing a button, knowing how much soy sauce to put in your stew and what another word for conundrum is. To me she represents a fountain of knowledge and experience that, I fear, one day my children will look to me for. Once such a comforting notion, the concept that “mum knows best” has all of a sudden become incredibly frightening.

As a youth, my mum always encouraged me to watch her performing these seemingly insignificant tasks, presumably so that one day I would be able to do these things for myself. Of course I didn’t. I always figured I’d eventually pick it up and while I can make a mean spaghetti bolognese, my culinary skills are severely lacking, not to mention my sewing abilities.

I realise my mum is not your typical mum and I could never aspire to her greatness. The woman is 60 and, just a couple of weeks ago, twisted her ankle playing BASKETBALL.  That’s the kind of woman we’re dealing with. But beyond that, she’s an extreme gardener who can rock a pair of waders; an experienced upholsterer who, despite her arthritic fingers, still knows her way around a toolbox; a general knowledge genius who manages to retain information on pretty much every subject; and, above all, the most selfless woman I have ever known. She’s also a dab hand when it comes to GCSE art (wink wink).

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 FYI these are waders. FYI this is not my mum in waders.

To now draw a comparison, I genuinely don’t think I can name all the colours of the rainbow.  In fact, I’m not even going to try as I don’t think I can deal with the confirmation that I can’t.  My point is, is that someday my son, and hopefully my future children, will look to me for the wisdom that I was so fortunate to have in my mother.  They may not need me to reupholster their furniture or build them a pond but no doubt they’ll have their own special challenges ahead for me – a fact which, if I’m honest, terrifies me. From the hard “life” questions to even just the hard math questions, what if I don’t know best?

The good news, I suppose, is I still have time to learn. I still have time to learn how to sew a button, bleed a radiator, cook a turkey and fold a fitted sheet. And thankfully I have the master to learn from. So, for now I’ll happily give way to the fact that Granny knows best and hope that someday I will earn this honour myself. I realise this will be a long and difficult process; after all, those are big waders to fill.

P.S. Once I have mastered the art of folding the fitted sheet, I will post the instructions.

“You supposed to be a writer, girl” (in the voice of Whoopi Goldberg)

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If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing, then you’re a writer.

I wish I could pretend I know this quotation from having read the book Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke but, in reality, the words echo in my mind in the husky tones of Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act 2. You’ll recall at this point, the famous scene where she, as Sister Mary Clarence, applies this piece of advice in an attempt to encourage Rita (Lauyrn Hill) to pursue her interest in singing, which for some reason her slightly unhinged mother condemns. If you can’t quite remember this or, heaven forbid, have never seen the movie, I have kindly hyperlinked this piece of cinema gold for you.

*At this stage I should ask you to bear with me and reassure you that this is not a review of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.*

While admittedly most mornings I can think of everything (breakfast, how tired I am, the meaning of life etc.) but writing, I believe the quotation is symbolic for a passion that goes beyond such a predetermined supposition.

On an average day, I find myself regularly narrating my life in my unfortunate Ballymena accent. I constantly ask myself “Could I write about this?” and while I almost never do, the occurrence of this thought leads me to believe there is an underlying, and unfulfilled, desire to write more.

According to Rainer I am, in fact, already writer though if someone asked me what I did, I would never have the nerve to respond with such a bold assertion. Sure, if you asked me what my dream job was, I would say “a writer” but even then I’m not so sure what this means. We all have our own preconceived notions of what a writer is or is supposed to be.  This generally involves an introverted type, hunched over a desk strewn with papers, looking completely immersed in their own words, oblivious to the chaos of the world that surrounds them.

While I, myself, share this idealistic vision, I have a developed a relationship with writing outside of this fantasy. It might best be described an ‘ease’ or sense of comfort – a feeling which I struggle to achieve in many other of the pursuits in my life. I have often felt limited in my abilities which people tend to shrug off with a “Don’t be silly” or “Of course you can do it” but to which I genuinely feel I cannot and I am not being silly. At the best of times, I struggle to explain how exactly I feel or what exactly I mean but with the aid of a pen, or more accurately a keyboard, I achieve a new sense of freedom and understanding.

Of course, I have been aware of this love of writing for sometime now but it is in recent times, as I have written more and been encouraged by others, that I now feel it is time to explore this passion further. I have been particularly spurred on by the words of my mother, who unlike Rita’s mother, happens to be a lot more supportive and, thankfully, a touch saner. She recently told me that she was proud of me and that this is what I was supposed to do and, if you’re lucky enough to know my mother you’ll know, she is always right.

And so, by writing this piece and making a formal declaration of my intention to write more, I suppose I am hoping that I might actually follow through with this. This is not in the unrealistic hope of being picked up by some paper or publisher but rather in the hope that one day I might be able to assert with confidence: “I am a writer.”

You should also note my copy of Letters to a Poet is in the post so I will never have to reference Sister Act 2 again.

It Ain’t All Roses and Hot Cups of Coffee

 

coffee and roses

Since you’ve had your baby, you’re likely to have experienced every emotion in high definition. When you cry, you could flood your entire living room; when you laugh, you’re on the verge of wetting yourself; and when you get angry, you can almost feel yourself turn green and your trousers start to shrink. Is it the raging hormones? The seemingly never-ending sleep deprivation? Perhaps, it’s just another symptom of your self-diagnosed cabin fever?

While these are all completely apt, I believe there’s another factor slowly driving us towards insanity in our new fragile state of “motherhood” and, thankfully, it’s something we can actually control. PRESSURE. The undying attempt to achieve perfection in every aspect of our lives, be it in our home life, career, or appearance.  This is, of course, not confined to motherhood but I can say, hand on heart, I’ve never quite felt the same level of strain as I do now. While this largely comes from within, there are external forces influencing and misshaping our thoughts and expectations everyday.

Whether it’s a trip to Tesco where you meet that Mother, sporting the latest trends from Topshop, casually strolling down the aisles with her equally fashionable child or it’s that Facebook friend with her perfectly decorated home sipping her, somehow still hot, cup of coffee. To all those who feel their lives gradually spiralling out of control, can I just say, the majority of us are right there with you.

Kudos to those mums who somehow have their shit perfectly together but this is not the bar to set yourself against. It’s fine if you didn’t have time to take your child to see Santa, bake cookies or wrap your presents in photographs of your children dressed as snowmen. I assure you, your children will grow up to be perfectly normal and well-balanced adults.

Thankfully, I am blessed enough to have a close network of “mummy friends” who, on a daily basis, send me images of their unwashed dishes and adorably unkempt children.  Without these women, I can safely say I might have more officially lost the plot (NB. I still have much plot to gain). We embrace the chaos of each others lives and remind each other that those other frills are exactly just that, “frills.”

Keeping your child healthy and happy, alongside maintaining a job and household, are in themselves phenomenal achievements. Neatly stacking your bookshelves and fluffing your cushions are not.

So, to those of you who maybe aren’t as fortunate as me and mummy friends, I say “you are doing great”. Your girls might be biting each other, your little boys might be dismantling your Christmas tree one bauble at a time, and you might still be two dress sizes bigger than you were, but your child is loved and so are you.

And to make you feel better, I’ve included some inspirational pictures of my life as it currently stands. My Christmas tree, missing the entire bottom row of baubles. Followed by my face, which is covered in adult acne. And finally my kitchen sink, which speaks for itself.

A Mother’s Covering Letter

mum's covering letter

I have recently began reflecting on my “career”, or what might better be characterised as a distinct lack thereof.  I am now a mother – a career that is interminable, underpaid, and largely overlooked. In today’s age, being a mother is simply not enough. While I might feel fulfilled in this role, unfortunately being a ‘stay at home mum’ is not a feasible option, at least not for me.  With this realisation comes the dreaded self-reevaluation: What experience do I have? Where do my skills lie? Having been immersed in only motherhood for the past six months, it is difficult to ascertain who I am outside of this remit.

When updating the almighty CV or creating that elusive covering letter, it seems unbelievable that my current role shouldn’t be specified as “Mother”. Surely, most of us would argue that we have experienced and developed more through parenting than any other stage of our lives.  Yes, I have a minimum of 5 GCSEs and experience using Microsoft packages, but how does this come even marginally close to the skills I’ve developed as a new mother?

On that note, I have included the following proposal.

Dear dubious employer,

In reference to ANY JOB

I have just had a baby. This has been the most difficult and extraordinary experience of my life. After months of discomfort and hours of even greater discomfort, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Since that wonderful moment, I have cared for my son relentlessly. Through physical pain and heightened levels of anxiety, I have managed to love, nurture, and meet the every need of that child. A full-time job, I have never for one second quit and continue to grow and thrive in this new role without the hope of any monetary gain.

For the past six and half months, my life has revolved entirely around my son. My every waking moment (and several sleeping) has been dedicated to his wellbeing and happiness. I have learned to be more selfless than ever, sacrificing my own pleasure and putting his needs firmly before mine.

I have mastered the art of efficiency and can perform numerous tasks simultaneously. I can now hold, without dropping, an upset (and rather heavy) child while preparing a bottle, cooking dinner, and eating lunch.

My time management skills have similarly flourished and I am proud to say that I can feed, medicate, bathe and change my baby in record time. I owe this to my organised self who has the foresight and preparedness to inventory and stock every essential item accordingly.

I am an expert communicator, fluent in “gaa-gaa” and able to communicate through facial expressions alone.

I am a proud supervisor, responsible for a team of two (my partner and baby) who, everyday, are supported to the best of my ability in their own individual roles. There may be no ‘I’ in team, but there is certainly a ‘me’.

I have found more meaning in the word *‘patience’ than ever, allowing myself to be taken to boiling point and back without so much as flinching.

My capacity for empathy has grown to new levels as I notice myself increasingly able to relate to a frustrated, teething baby. I am more than happy to go to uncomfortable lengths, including hair pulling and face biting, to alleviate a pain which I can only imagine.

I have learned to deal effectively with setbacks on a daily basis. From nap refusals to seemingly senseless outbursts, I’ve grown to be thick-skinned and learned how to realign my expectations.

Ultimately, as a result of this role, I am now stronger than ever. Resolved to never give up, and handle every situation with openness and determination, I will give no less than 100% because in motherhood, there is no room for any less.

I *patiently await your response.

Yours sincerely,

A hopeful mother

Great Expectations: A Mother’s Perspective

Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned

BLESS ME

It has been one month since my last blog post and these are my sins…

If you’re Catholic, you should be fairly familiar with this paraphrase.  When I realised just how long it had been since I had written something, this religious statement – for reasons completely unknown – randomly popped into my head.  Perhaps I equate my neglect of writing as a sin; perhaps my subconscious is telling me that I’ve been particularly “bad” this month and ought to repent; or perhaps it was just a momentarily blip, attributable to nothing more than the random inner workings of my mind. Who knows?  Nonetheless, it popped.  It got me thinking about the entire confessional process.  While I’ve grown up with the practice and been a regular participant, in terms of its history and influences, I know little of it.  Even outside its religious connotations, I wonder about the paradigm itself – the idea of admitting to one’s wrong doings and repenting.

As a child, our sins are easily defined.  For instance, I remember the most popularly cited misdemeanors of my youth – fighting with my brothers and sisters, being disobedient to my parents, cursing, telling lies, not doing my homework etc.   As (bad) practice had it, you would regurgitate a handful of these “sins”, making sure to suitably vary these on each occasion (as though the Priest made a formal catalogue on every appearance), and using the most apologetic tone of voice you could muster up as a child, bare whatever soul it was you had to bare at this early stage of life.

Now, as I’ve matured (I use this term loosely), the boundary between wrong and right seems less certain.  While we can accept certain unanimous truths – that hurting others etc is wrong – the realities of right and wrong begin to haze as we face countless situations throughout our lives rife with ambiguity and complexity.  That line that was once so penetrating as a child begins to dissolve.  As we begin to assume our own mindsets and question the words of our elders and superiors, we learn to form our own opinions of what is wrong and vice versa, leaving the practice of Confession vulnerable.  It all becomes a lot more complicated than “not doing my homework”.  The more avid religious followers among us would probably argue that there’s nothing complicated about it. 

I myself have not formally confessed, so to speak, in years.  It’s remarkable when I consider my frequent attendance as a youth: when I was then so innocent to the ways of the world and generally unaware of the implications of “sin”.  To sin has been defined as “to miss the mark” and believe me, I miss the mark more now than I ever did.  Surely I should be a highly skilled confessor by now.  But if truth be told, the idea frightens me.  This led, not only, to the question of why I now refrain, but why we practice it in the first place.

Understandably, after all this time there is a level of reluctance on my part.   Like anything in life, once out of practice, we become vulnerable and uncomfortable, but perhaps especially in this instance.  During this process, we are completely exposed.  We are centre stage in, what is essentially, a role play with God.  We’re immediately transposed into a situation which is designed to bring out the worst in us: an admission of past grievances which we barely want to admit to ourselves, let alone a Priest… let alone God.

The whole process of Confession is inherently tied up in the concept of forgiveness.  Without the latter, the former would become redundant.  Pain without relief.  Even when you take religion out of the equation, the hope of forgiveness remains.  We all strive for forgiveness.  While I should probably quote the Bible at this stage, I feel compelled to quote Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer:

“To forgive is an act of compassion… It’s not done because people deserve it.  It’s done because they need it.”

This concept transcends religion of any kind.  Those without faith might argue that we use Confession selfishly – as a Get Out of Jail Free card – a way of “keeping in with” the big guy, but isn’t the entire process of forgiveness selfish?  We use it as a means to make ourselves feel better, to confirm that we’re “not that bad” and that “there’s hope for us yet”.  Perhaps Confession serves to heighten this process.  It gives us a sense of satisfaction that our repentance has been formally acknowledged and that we can now “go in peace”, free from the shackles of guilt and shame.  While religion looks to a higher power to exonerate us from our sins, forgiveness on earth asks those around us to grant us this privilege. Either we way, we want absolution.

We can, at any time, I believe make amends without the use of box.  If we are prepared to recognise and admit our wrongs, we’ve taken the most difficult step.  Whether it’s to a particular deity, a religious representative or a wronged party, confession is a fundamental part of our lives.  Without it there is no means of forgiveness, no cause for hope, no opportunity to move on.  Without it our guilt would only chew us up, leaving nothing but sinful scraps.

Alas, I digress. My sins are…