Fine Wine & Bashed Bananas

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I wonder if cellulite just above the knees will ever become fashionable; if that protruding single black hair donning my chin will ever be considered a “statement” feature; if someday people will say “oh, look how split her ends are.” Unfortunately, until that day comes I will remain distinctly out of fashion and just a bit gross. There was a brief spell there when the sumo bun passed as borderline trendy – that worked in my favour. But since then things have evolved to elaborate plaits and pastel shades and not only am I now very obviously lazy when it comes to my hair, I am also incredibly passé.

Have I always been like this? I don’t think so. There’s a girl I vaguely recognise in pictures with platinum blonde hair, a sun-kissed glow and skinny arms (thank you Facebook for those impromptu updates reminding me of when I once could have passed for attractive). She bears a slight resemblance to that woman I see in the mirror today, minus the wrinkles, an extra half a chin and, ironically, acne.  Some of us, the Leonardo DiCaprios of the world, age like a fine wine and others, unfortunately, like a banana that’s been bashed about your handbag for half a day. I fear it is the latter category in which I fall.

Those pictures – like most that appear in our newsfeeds – are, however, not an accurate reflection. They should also come with tags. i.e. it took one hour to achieve that perfectly carefree curl and 50 quid at the hairdressers to create that blondes-have-more-fun colour. That “sun-kissed glow” that you see required hours of sweat-filled sunbedding and the application of a brown gunk that would drip off at the mere sight of water. Those skinny arms? Well that was just good old underappreciated metabolism. In sum, a lot of time and money went into looking like this. Time and money which I no longer have and even if I did, I seriously doubt would be spent like this.

Just as I don’t now, I had no appreciation for how I looked back then either. It’s like those over cited lyrics from that Wear Sunscreen song:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

My 40-year-old self will probably look back at her late 20s Doppelgänger and express the exact same sentiment that I am now narrating: “Why didn’t I appreciate how fabulous I really looked?” It all just seems a bit fruitless.

I could conveniently blame motherhood for letting myself go. No doubt, it has been a contributing factor.  But the fact is, if I can find the time to eat half a multi-pack of crisps, I could probably take some time to pluck that stray black hair. It just seems to be something I have out grown (not the hair; it will outlive me). Case in point: my 5-year-old goddaughter recently asked her mother and my oldest friend “Why does Rebekah wear tracksuit bottoms all the time?” “Because they’re comfortable little Naoíse”. And that’s simply where I’m at at this point of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments of weakness, when those perfect eyebrows or face-contouring tutorials catch me off guard. They make me want to want to be better. I just don’t have the room for sculpting in my life right now.

To give a really, really bad analogy. You know when you make a meal with something that’s out of date? You can manage to bluff it with other ingredients and just about get by. That’s what I’m a bit like. I’ve passed my best-before date and I’m just winging it. I have every intention of some day going shopping again, starting afresh and making a much more pleasant version of myself. But until then, I will continue to slick back my hair into my trademark bun, dab concealer on those particularly unforgiving blemishes and rock my tracksuit bottoms until they start gathering fluff.  It may not be pretty but, as I told my goddaughter, “it’s comfortable”.  And while Leo continues to age like a fine wine, I’ll just settle for drinking it.

 

 

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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.

From One Nervous Wreck to Another

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So. You’re having your first panic attack. At the outset there are a few things we should probably clear up:

  1. Your limbs have not been reduced to giant lumbering sausages and you will start to feel more human than hotdog again soon.
  2. Your throat is not narrowing like the walls in one of those really difficult levels of Super Mario.
  3. That surge of heat rushing through your entire body is not your blood reaching boiling point and you will not explode.
  4. Your heart has not chosen to interpret Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” FAR too literally.
  5. Your mind has not up and left you and decided to emigrate to Shutter Island.

The logical part of you knows all this but, unfortunately for you, “logic” has bid you a farewell for the next few minutes and left you with your unbearably irrational self.  What led you to this point is of little significance.  It might have been what some would consider a “minor hiccup” or just some completely nonsensical notion that you managed to get into your head and couldn’t shift. Nonetheless you are here and, for this brief time, it feels like the world has abandoned you.

There’s little I – or anyone for that matter – can do by way of consoling you. All I can do is tell you “You’re not nuts and it happens.”  Whatever it was that triggered this episode is not your fault; life just seems to have a gotten a little bit too much for you. The aftermath of this will be strange.  You’ll wonder how it happened, why it happened and whether or not it will happen again – questions that will remain unanswerable to you for some time.

On one hand, you may have been lucky enough to have had company during this little mishap.  On the other, you’re now likely to feel tarred with the “crazy” brush.  And while life was seemingly stressful enough for you before this fit of panic, you now have the added bonus of worrying that at, any moment, you might be induced into another one of these frenzies.

I have no interest in patronising you by making ill-founded claims and promises that I can’t keep. You have no doubt hit a stumbling block in your life and you’ve some work to do before you’ll regain that sense of normalcy you once took for granted. Inevitably, you’re going to get a lot of advice over the next while, none of which is strictly wrong or right.  A doctor might attribute it to a chemical imbalance and recommend medication to remedy this; your mother might see it as a continuation of your nervous little ways stemming from childhood; or a friend might simply tell you “You need to just chill out.”  In truth, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors.  Take it all on board with an open heart and an open mind but do not let anyone infer that you are in some way weaker because you have a greater tendency to worry. You could not have foreseen or prevented this.

Equally, do not become resigned to this panic-stricken way of life. Acceptance, of course, has its place in this whole thing – but only to the extent that you allow it. You can remind yourself that it’s ok not to be ok and from this derive a sense of comfort but the fighter in you (yes, it’s somewhere in there) must take action. Anxiety is something you might have to live with but there are ways and means of coping with it and while much of your progress comes down to you, it is important that you do not shut out those who wish to – and can – help you.

I relay this to you because there was a time I wish I had known some of this. By using this opportunity to take a step back and relive the motions of an anxiety attack and all it’s ensuing bullshit, I am reminded of how far I have come. I may have opened with an apparent flippancy but I assure you there is nothing flippant about anxiety. It’s simply my way of relating how the whole thing feels, which admittedly has been rather challenging. It’s odd that these events – so singular and, at the time, traumatising – are so hard to recollect. I imagine it’s because we do not wish to remember these darker days.

It is no secret that Anxiety, its close friend Depression and its other annoying relatives you may be familiar with, are gradually beginning to make a mark on many of us. And while I have little wisdom to offer in relation to this, I can say from my own meandering experience that there is another side.

I look forward to seeing you there.

 

The Good, the Bad and the Unpredictable

UnknownMy mum came to visit me yesterday – seemingly only to listen to me give off for half an hour about how hard done by I was. Her parting words were: “The only thing you can predict is their unpredictability” (in reference to babies, of course). One year on from the birth of my son and this couldn’t be anymore accurate.

Caleb never ceases to surprise me. Because he turned one last week, I knew I’d have to write a post about him – it seemed only fair since I somehow managed to find the time to basically write one about Whoopi Goldberg a few weeks ago. I had originally planned on writing this post last week and it was going to be very sentimental and sweet as you could imagine. I was thinking of writing a little letter to him that he would read when he was older and say to himself, “Awe, look how great I was to my mummy”.  I never found the time though because the rascal wouldn’t give me peace.

And then there was yesterday. I’ll not even tell you what I thought of writing about yesterday. I had seen almost every hour the night before on account of Caleb’s crying, had broke out with very painful acne which rendered me housebound, and was subject to clingy moaning and grabbing all day.  Sitting down today to write – in the peace and quiet – having slept a good solid eight hours, I could now write the most beautiful sonnet about Caleb, likening his face to a most heavenly cherub, counting the ways in which I love him in true Shakespearian style.

Neither of these accounts, however, would serve as an accurate reflection of motherhood. It is not a blissful poem, just as it’s not some hellish nightmare. It is a wonderful combination of the two and all that’s in between. The point is, you can never quite predict what’s coming next.  The moment you feel like you’ve finally got the whole thing under control, you will inevitably lose it again.  That is one thing I will take with me from this whole  experience – you cannot get used to anything or become complacent because once you do, as sure as anything, they’ll turn around and throw the whole thing on its head.  Instead, you must learn to embrace the chaos.

I, myself, am only finally coming to terms with this. Caleb might have eaten three square meals and slept like a baby (excuse the pun) yesterday but today he will probably be throwing his food back at me and pulling my hair into the wee hours. Who knows? But isn’t that the beauty of it all?

So, one year on and where am I? In all honesty, I have incredibly mixed feelings. I watch with pride how my son is beginning to support himself while still pining for the days when I was all the support he needed. I miss how he used to helplessly roll around the floor but, at the same time, eagerly anticipate his very first step. I feel proud of myself for having got him this far and yet worry about what’s to come and whether I’ll be good enough. Time seems to have gone so fast since his arrival and yet it feels like he has always been here. Motherhood, it seems, is just one massive contradiction rife with good days, bad days and a complete lack of predicability.

We mothers spend a lot of our time giving advice we can’t take ourselves and, in true fashion, I am about to do the same. I will parcel up some small nugget of wisdom and pretend it has completely transformed my life when, in reality, I am still learning. I propose that instead of trying to pre-empt their every move and frustrating yourself when they don’t do as they did yesterday, we should welcome their little unpredictability ways.  Just as you’re finding your way in all of this, so are they. By allowing them to just be as they are and accepting that they’re going to have good and bad days, just like us, we will find for ourselves at least some predictability – that they’re going to be unpredictable.

P.S. Caleb, for when you do read this in years to come, you were great to your mummy and she cannot thank you enough for the beautiful chaos you have brought to her life.

A Most Welcome Visit

UnknownYou came to visit me last night as you sometimes do – though not as often as I’d like. Your hair was as dark and you were as handsome as ever. Time has been much kinder to you than the rest of us but, alas, you’ve been in the warm all this time.

You asked if I would sit with you for a while and reminisce about “the good old days” when we were much younger and without a care in the world. You weren’t as cheerful as you normally are but, I suppose, neither was I. I comforted you as best I could – I even offered to rub your head.

I told you of the things I could remember from, what seemed like, an age ago now. The out of tune piano at the back of the house; the room that was always filled with sandwiches; the coloured pasta which I never see anymore; the tree house were your brother and I spent so much time.

It was you, wasn’t it? Yes, I’m sure it was. Perhaps you’ve missed me just as much as I’ve missed you, though I suspect you’ve been keeping an eye on me without my knowing so. That would be like you – mischievous in your own special way.

When you left you unknowingly took, what was, a huge part of me with you. The promise that time heals all wounds has been true to its word but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t still a void. A hole of sorts amongst the rest of me which is fortunately filled with the assurance that your are in an eternal state of happiness and peace. I doubt this vacancy will ever be filled until we are reunited – for longer than a dream.

I expect you’re busy, visiting us all in the night, and I understand that you can’t join me more but, on the off chance that you ever think I might be too occupied with thoughts of today or worries of tomorrow, know that there is an open-ended invitation for you and you alone.

Some may say “It was just a dream” but we know better. Little do they know, we’ve been meeting in secret for some years now in this quiet place.  Our encounters are brief and we can never seem to make plans but isn’t that the beauty of our impromptu meetings?

I am happy to say that I am at peace and while tears will inevitably be shed throughout the years – at birthdays, anniversaries and those other unpredictable moments when memories catch us off guard – I live in the certainty that you are there and you are taken care of, just as you should be.

So, my dear friend; I patiently await our next encounter in my restful and hazy slumber.  Who knows where we’ll be, what we’ll do, or who will join us.  In the mean time, don’t forget to visit the rest of them. They miss you an awful lot, you know.

“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.

All Who Wander Eventually Find Home

UnknownWorking with the homeless was a mixed bag. Between the devastation, frustration and seemingly endless feeling of getting nowhere, the entire experience was exhausting. I admit I couldn’t hack it and, after one year as a Support Worker and a further year and a half as a volunteer, I threw the towel in.

There are so many occasions I look back on with total fondness and others, in all honestly, that I can almost feel with heart palpitations. I saw things I didn’t want to see and remember things I wish I could forget. I realise now that, while I naively wanted to make a difference, I wasn’t cut out for it. My desire to do good was overpowered by my self-confessed soft nature.

Contrary to how this may have sounded so far, I in no way regret this experience and believe it has helped me grow as a person and, if nothing else, given me greater self-awareness. I can recall events where I might have played a small part in someone’s temporary happiness and feel an overwhelming sense of warmth and somewhat “purpose”.  It was, all in all, just too much. Lives that had such apparent potential seemed wasted, by no fault of their own, but by the cards life had dealt them. People seemed doomed to repeat the vicious cycles that had led them to their current unfortunate circumstances.  There were, of course, success stories but these seemed too few and far between to maintain my sense of hope.

I am taken back to this time in my life by the recent loss of a “service user” – a term which seems particularly cold and disconnected in this instance.  While I’m sure it is probably an unwritten rule not to admit to favouritism within these sorts of services, I admit I had my favourites. This is not to say these people were better or more deserving of our help but simply that I had a connection with these individuals for some reason or another. Anthony, or Tony as I knew him, was one such.

I remember my first time meeting him. It was within the first few days of joining The Welcome Organisation and I was on outreach duty that day. Being as friendly as he was, he took an immediate interest in me, “the new girl”. We went through the usual: my name and where I was from, both of which struck a chord with him. Like me, he hailed from North Antrim and, as many of us do, knew a lot of the same people. At the time it was unnerving for me but, when I look back on this event now, I have a new sense of clarity and appreciation for Tony’s soft-spoken and gentle-hearted ways.

My family had suffered two tragic losses in recent times and he knew of these. He looked at me differently. From that moment on, we had an unspoken bond.

Tony’s behaviour was sporadic and we would go months without hearing from him or knowing his whereabouts. He never relied on us in the way that others did and rarely asked for help. When “service users” telephoned the centre, it was standard practice that they would ask which staff were on that day and, from that, would choose who they wanted to speak to. If Tony called and I was there, we would talk.  I regret now that there weren’t more of these phone calls.

I’m not sure whether my association with his former life in Dunloy – a much happier time for Tony – made him particularly receptive towards me or if it was simply just the familiarity of a country accent living in Belfast, but we had a mutual understanding.

I have no interest in delving into the circumstances surrounding this tragic and unjust affair. I wanted selfishly to find some relief for myself and in writing this I have found comfort. All I can do now is pray for Tony and his family. My prayer is that this very lost soul is now finally at peace and that his family may have the reassurance they have always wanted – that Tony is safe and warm and loved.