A Fish on a Train

FISHToday I took the train and worked a 9-5 shift in an office.  These two events, while seemingly insignificant to your average individual, somehow felt pretty huge to me.

I have spent the best part of the past 18 months working on a freelance basis from the comfort of my own bed. Completely undignified and, to the casual onlooker, utterly unproductive, I established for myself a sweet little gig doing what I love: writing content. But just as all good things must come to an end, that blissful spell of crumb filled computing and nap laden deadlines too ended.

It’s for the best. Really, it is. I mean, who could live like that?  I could, and quite well it seemed, but arguably at the risk of losing my sanity, will to care, and ability to communicate with the outside world. Overrated qualities I grant you, but completely essential to a fully functional adult life.

This relaxed “freelance” lifestyle suited pregnancy, raising a new born and, if I’m honest, my slightly insecure disposition but as my son reached almost one, it was time for a change. I felt ready; ready to do more than just tend to my son; ready to be more than just a mother.

And so the day came. The day to answer to an alarm, wear a dress and get public transport.  I couldn’t help but feel entirely out of place and on edge for the first six hours of the day.  All of my comforts – my baby, my sweats, my makeshift desk bed – were nowhere to be seen.

It was time to face the real world, where people wash their hair, wear shoes and have adult conversations.  There were points I could feel my dry-from-washing-dishes hands shake with nerves as I tried to perform even the simplest of tasks.  Like the proverbial fish out of water, I felt truly out of my depth.

It wasn’t until the journey home, when I had time to reflect upon the day’s events, that I achieved some kind of clarity. I surprisingly didn’t feel drained or overwhelmed. In all honesty, all I could feel was excitement. I couldn’t wait to get home to be reunited with my boys and my beloved surroundings.  It occurred to me that this step might in fact be good for me, in spite of the heightened levels of anxiety.

Can you really experience the joys of home if you’re forever cooped up in it? Can you see those moments with your child for what they really are if you never experience anything outside it?  Perhaps we need those new pressures and uncomfortable butterflies in order to appreciate the beauty of our personal lives.  While raising a child is far from a walk in the park, there is a sense of security that few other pursuits in life can offer.

I am incredibly lucky in that my new role is part-time and I am able to spend the majority of my week at home with my son but I believe this experience will be all the more special given this new distraction.  So, while I might have these initial unsettling feelings of misplacement and discomfort, it seems to me that this new balance will make for a much more wholesome and appreciative way of life. I now look forward to my next day at work, if nothing else so I can experience that wonderful feeling of looking forward to going home.

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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

The Nightmare Before Christmas: Where Halloween Meets Christmas

“Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams; For the story that you are about to be told took place in the holiday worlds of old.

Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.”

The question “Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas film?” is probably old hat by now, but as that time of year draws near, I can’t help but continue to wonder when the most appropriate time is to indulge in this annual right of passage.  Even if we asked Burton himself, I doubt we’d come to any kind of unanimous understanding.  It is, I believe, entirely subjective.  If you’ve never seen the film before (shame on you), this piece of narrative will be as useful to you as a pumpkin on Christmas day. It is the quintessential example of “love it or hate it”.  In fact, I will go as far as to forbid you to watch this timeless tale and feel nothing. 

The_Nightmare_Before_Christmas_25184

Twenty one years on and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has lost none of it inherent charm.   One of the few popularised stop-motion pictures of our time, the animation automatically gains “classic” film status.  This aspect of the film, while truly captivating, is purely superficial.  What makes the movie a masterpiece is undoubtedly the singular story at the heart of it.  It is here where you’d imagine we might be able to ascertain the true categorisation of the film:

Enter Jack Skellington, the protagonist and King of Halloween Town.  Adored by his loyal subjects, he struggles to understand why he is unfulfilled.  It seems there’s a hollowness that transcends even beyond his physical pumpkin form. This might best be illustrated by his annual attempt to reinvent himself, which provides the memorable opening to the film.  Unhappy with his latest transformation, we follow Jack to the outskirts of Halloween Town.  As he casually laments in the company of his sidekick Zero (some kind of Ghost dog with a coincidentally bright red nose), he inadvertently stumbles into another seasonal dimension: Christmas Town.  Inspired by curiosity and his own personal crisis, he endeavors to make Christmas his own and bring it to Halloween Town.  With every best intention, the diabolical plan is doomed from the start.  The sleigh is a coffin led by a crew of skeleton reindeer; the presents are wrapped in what only can be assumed to be Beetlejuice’s wallpaper; and the stockings are filled with surprises designed to either scare or ensnare the children of Christmas Town. 

While the story largely takes place in Halloween Town, a grim setting consumed by distinct images of darkness and horror, and the majority of characters in our acquaintance are ghosts and ghouls, the underlying message is warm and fuzzy as opposed to being in any way chilling or bleak, thus laying the foundation of an interesting paradox.

In the end, both Christmas and Halloween triumph.  Santa Claus makes amends for Jack’s disastrous efforts and secures a Merry Christmas for his people, while the message of Halloween prevails as Jack finally comes to terms with his true calling as Pumpkin King.  The final scene depicts this perfectly as we watch the snow fall for the first time on Halloween town and a medley of  “This is Halloween” and “What’s This?”, the two most polarising songs of the film, plays.  It is perhaps in this ambiguity that the real splendour lies.  The film has the ability to cross boundaries and appeal to everyone – or at least almost everyone.  Halloween holiday makers and christmas fans alike can indulge in their seasonal preferences and equally fantasize about concepts of Christmas everyday and a perpetual Halloween.

After having just watched it, I feel suitably excited for both occasions and it seems this wasn’t too far off Burton’s intention.  The 1982 poem on which the film was based was reportedly inspired by the director having witnessed a store replace their Halloween display with a Christmas one, signifying that once Halloween is complete, we’re already in pursuit of the next “thrill”.  His Nightmare Before Christmas grants us rare permission to appreciate and anticipate both events simultaneously and with equal excitement.  Burton becomes both our Bogeyman and Santa Claus all wrapped in one.

So, if you’re feeling particularly Halloweenie, I suggest you turn out the lights and treat yourself to the horrors of Halloween Town and it’s inhabitants.  The eerie scenery and macabre characters truly put the “eek” in freak.   Alternatively, if you’re on the home straight to Christmas, curl up by the fire and indulge in the festive undertones of this delightful feature.  The scene in Christmas Town alone will warm the cockles of even the hardest of hearts (just wait until you hear that snow crunch). Or if like Jack, you need an excuse to occasionally escape to another land, do what I do and watch it all year round.

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…

The Imagination Question

Unknown

In dedication to Joseph Brolly.

My nephew’s imagination astounds me. I’ve seen him turn cushions into cows, the shower into a barn and his baby brother into a bag of turf (it’s pretty obvious what this kid wants to be when he grows up). We play regularly but I have recently found myself stumped, almost embarrassed, by his level of creativity as a three year old.  Every game we play or scenario we fabricate is all down to my nephew and his imagination.  He sometimes asks, “Becky what can we play?” and to this question, I rarely have an original answer. If it’s not a preconceived game – jigsaws, tig, hide and seek – i’ve got nothing.  It seems his aspirations are already greater than mine.  He sees every day tools as tools to play out his imagination.  What we might use as a hairbrush or a spoon, he can conjure up something much more magical.  He sees the extraordinary in the ordinary.

This got me thinking: where did my imagination go? Surely, I had one once.  I can recall as a youngster running a chip shop with only lego and newspaper and saying Mass using my granny’s tea set and smarties.  It seems we are all born with the ability to be imaginative but at some point this capacity begins to slip away from us.  Do imaginations come with expiration dates; are they meant to last a certain amount of time and then fade away into obscurity as we grow older? Or is it a case of “use it or lose it”? 

“Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination.  But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.” – Walt Disney

It would appear that, just like any other skill, we must learn to foster our imaginations.  They can not be tossed to one side, unused, and picked up at a later date.  The problem with this is that it becomes the social norm to remove ourselves from our more imaginative tendencies as we begin to mature.  Obviously, there comes a point when building forts and befriending imaginary people aren’t conducive to real life.  At some stage, we all have to grow up. We are encouraged to keep our head out of the clouds and our feet on the ground, and rightly so, or who knows where we’d end up.  But does something special get lost in this process?

I recently read a piece from a fellow blogger on the perils of the imagination, taking the view that some of us are either blighted to have one or blessed to be without.  Those “unlucky” enough to have been cursed with one, spend most their lives in pursuit of perfection, desiring the unattainable.  They are doomed to a life of falseness and disappointment.  Perhaps, it’s a classic case of “the grass is always greener on the other side.”  What you have, you don’t want and vice versa. Interestingly though, many in the comment section of her blog stated that they daren’t trade in their imaginations for the world. 

Admittedly, the improper use of our imaginations can, on occasion, serve to undermine us. Consider the proverbial daydreamer.  They spend more time dreaming than doing and in the end can never fulfill their wildest imaginings as they are too busy well, imagining.  Similarly, if our imagination can lead us to places centred on notions of progression and goodness, it also has the potential to lead us down darker paths.  Ultimately, though I believe the world would be much worse off in its absence than in its abundance. 

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

Some of life’s greatest achievers – Einstein, Disney, Picasso, Wilde, Newton – were all advocates of the imagination. While knowledge teaches us ‘what is’, the imagination reveals to us ‘what might be’.  Relying on our own knowledge can, therefore, only take us so far; we must allude to something greater in order to create greatness.  Take even just a peak back at history: any discovery, invention, or work of art were all borne of someone’s imagination.

The problem with so many of us is that we lack imagination.  I include myself in this.  We find ourselves bored and yet have more to occupy us than ever before. We have no idea what do with our lives because we find it difficult to conceive ideas beyond the “normal” or “practical”. We’re taught to make decisions rationally, to measure the pros and cons.  And while i’m not advocating abandoning reason, there is little encouragement to consider the more daring, adventurous routes in life – the routes that actually mean something to us.

If we don’t imagine or dare to dream, then what does our future hold?  Complacency? Stagnancy? Boredom?  The question is then, can we reacquaint ourselves with our once so active imaginations? While children have a lot to learn from their elders, it seems to me, we have a lot to learn from them.