Friday, November 28, 2014

Science & How To Uplift Girls...Not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



Friday, November 14, 2014

Looking Back: Children's TV & Educating in Beauty

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends.

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





Brambly Hedge

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



The Wiggles

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




Rosie and Jim

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




Elephant Show

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





Pingu

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





Bear in The Big Blue House

Well two words...Jim and Henson.




Noddy

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








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


Teletubbies




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

Animal Shelf

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



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

But lastly, I want to post the programme I'd watch every...single...day....without....fail...with my cup of coffee from 4pm-4.30.  From it I learned how to properly chop an onion, how to release a vacuum sealed jar by tapping it on the table....and that's about it.  It was just a great bit of 'adult' company when I was up to my eyes in nappies, babygros and  runny noses.  Can you believe, I don't have nappies or runny noses any more but neither do I have time to watch a half hour programme every day at 4pm!!  So much for that!


Ready, Steady, Cook





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



Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Halloween

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

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

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




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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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




Friday, October 24, 2014

So What's it Really Like?

I'm writing this from the children's hospital where at this moment my little girl is having a brain scan under general anaesthetic. I can't think of anything else to write about apart from this at the moment to be quite honest. What's it really like to have a child with a chronic health condition?

So many people since Louise was born have said things like 'you're amazing' 'I could never do it' 'you're great' 'I'd fall apart' and I can tell you now none of those things is true. I'm neither amazing nor great.  I'm no different to anybody else who does whatever it takes for your child.   Nobody ever thinks they could handle a cross, if you like to call it, like this. Or worse. And yet every day of the week I see people coping with bereavement, illness...all sorts of things they never thought they would ever be able to cope with.  

People have said to me God never gives you more than you can handle. I don't think I really agree with that statement either, because it somehow implies that his did this thing to my child. Made her wrong to make me holy. How mean would that be? We don't have a mean God and in fact a precept of Christianity is you can't do wrong even to achieve good.  God's not mean and he didn't break my child. 

However, I've found time and again that he helps you handle whatever situation you find yourself in.  Mine, a child who is broken. 

I read an article by an Irish journalist a few weeks ago about his daughter who has Down Syndrome.  I remember she was born the first time Louise was in hospital, he wrote a very inspirational piece then...including the promise that he was  going to teach her two important words: Eff and Off.  This time be was writing about the recent talk of the possible discovery of how to 'turn off' the extra chromosome which is present in Down Syndrome.  He was horrified because every cell of his daughter's body has this chromosome, without it she wouldn't be her, she'd be someone different.  She'd lose her her-ness. She's not broken and doesn't need fixed.

This made me think about Louise.  Louise is broken.  She does need fixed.  If I could turn off whatever it was that caused all this I definitely would. No, I wouldn't have turned her away for any reason as medical eugenics presses for babies like Louise, or Mary or any of the other children who eugenicists don't approve of. As my husband said the day she was diagnosed, Louise was always this, whatever she is...she never was anybody else, it's who she is. He also said that whatever her ultimate diagnosis would be, it wasn't going to become our identity.  Louise is Louise, she's not Dandy-Walker or PHACE or CHD.  She has those things, she isn't those things. If I could take them away it wouldn't change her the way taking a child's extra chromosome away would radically change that child.

To all outward appearance, Louise is an ordinary child.  This is precisely where my struggle comes in.  I know she's not an ordinary child.  There is no 'cure' for what she has.  When her consultant wrote to John as her doctor and said she was very well palliated I got the shock of my life...which is the reason consultants write to doctors not to parents! Palliative care to most minds means the dying patient.  Palliative actually means making the best of something for which there is no cure. Louise has the best for her. I'm sure of that. But the fact is that it is now embedded in every cell of my body.  It can't be turned off any more than she can be cured.  I don't treat her any differently to our other children.  I don't love her more.  But I look at her differently.  I love her differently.  The fact is she's different. I asked a mother who has two, now teens, with a chronic condition whether she ever got to the point where she looked at them the same way as she looks at her other two children. She answered she didn't and I wouldn't and why should I...she and they are different. That was a big relief for me because it was giving me a burden of guilt that I couldn't shake. I accept it now (though I still feel guilty for some reason, but feelings are only feelings.). 

The consultant just came and told me she'll be back now in a minute so I'll just say the last thing I wanted to say.  Louise may be broken, but that doesn't excuse me, John or her from the duty to rear her as best we can as the person God wants her to be.  Spoiling or mollycoddling will do her no service whatsoever.  Yes, she's here for a reason.  We all are. Yes, she's special.  We all are. 

Finally. I don't feel sorry for myself whatsoever. This post isn't to glean pity, it's just to air some garbled thoughts. I don't see Louise as something bad that happened us.  She's something good that happened us.

Here she comes. I love her. 



Friday, October 17, 2014

Food Is The Food Of Love

Food is important.

Maybe not the world's most profound of statements but after last week's 'heady' post which received an unprecedented reaction in the form of personal messages and phone calls and the sharing of some personal stories, I decided to write about something more light hearted this week.  

We all have to eat and the importance and benefit of a family sitting around a table with no electronic devices butting in, just being a family for that time, are well researched and documented.  Click here for the low down on that.

But, beneficial or not, the problem of having to eat, and eat ...like...every day...is that ahem...someone has to make the food, whether they like it or not. 

Now, having grown up in a large family myself, and making the foolish request of my mother to teach me how to peel potatoes at the age of seven, becoming champion potato peeler by the age of 7 1/4, I learned to cook as part of the course.  My mother was of the generation where bread was baked every day and apple tarts and home made soups were the norm.  

Looking back at the meals they were amazing but I'm afraid to say, not always welcomed by my childhood self.  I hated the texture of rice pudding to the point that I couldn't even swallow it.  Bacon and cabbage made my heart sink and barley and huge whole fluffy potatoes cooked in real soup just didn't do it for me.  Home-made chips fried in beef lard and the Scottish dish stovies learned from my Scottish grandmother on the other hand...just a taste of Heaven.  There'll definitely be stovies served every Monday in Heaven when we come in from school. Home made fudge, jams, cakes...we never had a bought birthday cake in our lives. No expensive presents but my goodness you got cake!! Remember the huge cake in Meet Me In St Louis? Like that, only smaller. 


Well speaking of Heaven, this story is a bit about Heaven (as usual, I know).

I've always been well able to cook.  Everything I make turns out more or less the way the recipe planned.  Dinners were healthy (apart from all the butter and cream) and more or less tasty.  However I had one problem.  I never enjoyed it.  Dinner was the one domestic task I just couldn't muster up much enthusiasm for.  I was fine cooking a fancy recipe for a special occasion or for guests but those every-day meals...oh sigh...in all those years of marriage and motherhood, constantly trying to think of something interesting to make that everyone would eat was just a drag.  I used to moan why, oh why, oh why was I born in Ireland, where every meal begins with tedious potato peeling, my skills having long been surpassed by my immediate older sister who could peel potatoes for the Foreign Legion quite happily. 

Many's the time with cranky hungry children and after staring despairingly into the fridge for some inspiration I'd admit failure (and truth be told, laziness) and rip open a bag of oven chips or ring my husband to collect a take-away on his way home.  To be honest, I still don't really enjoy take aways because I just saw them as a mark of failure.  (Yes I know, a bit melodramatic). 


I have always loved food and cooking programmes but cooking myself, not a fan. 

A million times I said to my husband if I could wish for one thing it would be to be hit with a cooking bug. 

Then I decided to pray for one.  You know, it's legitimate to pray for anything it's legitimate to hope for, such as winning the lottery, but since everybody's probably praying for that, God can hardly grant everyone's prayer so I think he probably leaves that one to work itself out.  However, I do earnestly believe that God likes families, since he was born into one himself.  And I think he likes mothers, since the most perfect thing he ever created was His own Mother.  And she made dinner...every...single...day...and since one thing Jesus didn't die of was food poisoning, she was probably pretty good.  So if I won the lottery, I'd benefit, but if I got a cooking bug, my children and husband would benefit. 

I know plenty of friends who believe that if there is a God, he's a disinterested God who really isn't concerned about our minor concerns.  I don't believe that because coincidence couldn't possibly account for the sheer number of my minor prayer requests that have been answered with finesse. If you want me to address the mystery of suffering on the world, I'll do that another day, today I'm talking about how our seemingly boring requests are important to God.  Although, it must be said, there is one thing I keep asking him for, that he doesn't seem to hear.

'Dear Lord, please send me some boredom...

I've never had that request fulfilled. 

Anyway, I did a little nine day novena, which took me a month or two because I kept forgetting I was doing it. then I forgot all about it because I figured it's just my personality thing, I was never going to love cooking. Just get on with it girl.   A good while later Hallie Lord, in her then entitled Betty Beguiles blog mentioned a new website she'd just fallen in love with...PINTEREST

This is maybe three years later now and about a month ago it suddenly dawned on me that I love cooking.  I love planning my menus, I love finding that obscure ingredient, I love knowing what I'm making and being able to answer my children's question "what's for dinner?" with something that invites the response "oh yum!!"  I love putting something different on the table that I know they'll all love.  And it just slipped up on me.

Can you believe, God is just with it!! Do you think he doesn't know all a out social media in all it's ugliness (twitter), in it's companionableness (Facebook) and it's beauty (Pinterest).  He knows I love Pinterest and the little visual holiday it provides so therein he embedded the answer to my prayers.  Inspiration to trigger a love of cooking.  Leading to a less grumpy, and I admit, somewhat resentful cook. 

Everybody in my family has benefited and it took me almost two years to even notice that my little insignificant prayer had been answered in such a fun and lovely way.  What ungrateful children we can be to that good Father. Then I guess, children often don't see or appreciate all their parents do until they 'grow up' themselves.  Just as it took me to adulthood to fully appreciate the delicious meals my mother made, so too, it takes all of us till eternity to appreciate just all that loving Father God does for his un-noticing children. And I think that maybe the beautiful Nazarene woman who so lovingly fed the Son of God might just have had a little something to do with it.  It's just the sort of prayer that's right up her alley. 




Thursday, October 9, 2014

Courage To Be Different

How do you express eighteen years of total, utter and unconditional love in one hug? Today I probably didn't manage that but I hope she understood. 

I'm not exactly sure how to write this post because I have privacy to respect, business that is ours to mind but also something very important to say, not least because more than a few of the people I have confided in with this personal tale have told me they wished their own path had taken different turns and how lack of courage had been a factor in open doors not walked through. 

Since I began writing I have been saying that I don't think any of my experiences are that unusual.  In a lot of ways I'm your common or garden Jane Soap.  But that's the thing-Jane Soap doesn't exist. There's no such thing as your common or garden person. Everybody is different, I'm different and so are you.  Nobody is repeatable, replaceable and so far (and hopefully never) cloned from someone else. We have temperament, character, dreams and talents completely different to the person next to us. And that's not nothing, it's the way The Divine Artist planned, no work of art of his is the same as the next, each complete and perfect in ways so profoundly different that only a Divine Artist could have come up with. The omnipotent Creator who delights in his creations and loves them (us) with the intensity of love a mere reflection of which I tried to portray in one hug today, if only those pesky tears hadn't gotten in the way.  Or maybe the tears expressed what the eloquent speeches of Goneril and Regan could never portray. Was it not precisely Cordelia's lack of words that most described the fullest love? 

So what was this hug?

This afternoon I hugged my eldest daughter goodbye as she stretched her 18 year old wings for her first test flight.  She's going to France for a school year.  

What's so special about that? Don't students do semesters abroad all the time?  Student exchanges and so on? Nothing different there. 

The only thing is, she isn't going to school.  And she's not coming back to school either. And she didn't finish school. 

Isn't that what you call a drop-out? I hear you think. 

Here's a story. 

When my husband and I met we knew within days this was it.  After just six weeks of dating we were engaged though we didn't tell anyone for a year because my secret fiancée was a 20 year old pre-med student!! It was a crazy commitment in the eyes of the world. We finally married three years after meeting though had we had means we would have been married in the minimum time of three months required by our diocese. 

About ten years after we married my husband was invited to take part in a TV studio audience discussion on marriage.  The presenter put the question to him why he had married at such a young age, as a student with still several years to go when it was so far removed from the social convention of his peer group.  

His answer, though improvised, as it wasn't the question he was told he'd be asked, was profound in it's simplicity. 

'Well, we knew we were doing the right thing, and why would anybody wait or delay doing the right thing?'

So why would we do something that was different to the right thing just because nobody else was doing that thing?   Friends thought they were being helpful by suggesting we travel for a while, or move in together.  These weren't options we even considered because, believe me, never did a young couple put themselves in God's hands like that couple did. I'm not embarrassed to say that contrary to what sniggerers might suggest when we sat in a parked car before beginning every date, we were actually saying the rosary asking Mary for guidance.  Every single day, dear Mother, guide our path.  Moving in together was not the permanent and public commitment we wanted.  Travelling? A poor compromise.  So we waited until the first chink in that door and went for it.  Our first baby arrived a year later, our second child was born eight weeks before John's final exams and our third when he was in the throes of the nightmare of the unearthly hours of hospital rotations, our fourth decided to be due the DAY we were supposed to be moving from one country to another.  All socially unconventional moments that invited numerous inquiries into our sanity by the socially conventional. 

So we did things a bit differently.  We are a bit different.  We have taught our children that they are going to be different in the post Christian European culture into which they have been born.  To be an authentic Catholic in Europe or any western society today by jinny you'd better not be afraid to be different because it's a culturally unacceptable difference to hold. Long ago you just needed to go with the flow and you'd be carried along once you just did what everybody else did.  No challenges, no questions, no apology (as in apologetics) required.  Not so today.  Today you need to be able to answer your teenage radical atheist friends with answers that ring true. Today's teens need to be able to place their neck on the block and let their Christian difference speak for itself.  Why? Because it's the right thing to do, even if nobody else is doing it. 

So back to my little French traveller.  The  Mother Mary her young future parents appealed to with heartfelt prayers is the same Mother Mary her now slightly (and I emphasise slightly) greying parents who are starting to show a few fine lines ( and one of us is pondering whether Botox is such a bad idea after all) prayed to with no less heartfelt prayers to show us the right path.  Today I am fully at peace that she has shown us the right path.  It's the one, quite literally, less travelled by.  In fact I hope Our Lady is going to provide us with a machete because this road is pretty much virgin. 

Our daughter hasn't dropped out of school.  She has dropped INTO life.  I've heard a million times that school doesn't suit everyone. And yet when we considered all options, school was the ONLY one which was socially acceptable.  Nobody could give us any better reason apart from 'you have to'. 

Well...no. You don't have to.  Life isn't a race and we have reduced the education of our children to precisely that.  The points race.  How well can you perform in X subject by regurgitation on a set day. Don't take Y or Z subject because those...you know...arty subjects...are for deadbeats...the lazy ones...for the lazy...or the non academic. 

In the olden days the Jesuits were known as master educators.  Looking into this, it was because they were masters of temperament.  They studied the concept of temperament and were able to individualise the approach to education to best suit the educatee.  As far as I know, the original purpose of study and university was to become learned. The focus was learning and becoming knowledgable in things worth knowing.  Philosophy was valued because it is precisely only by living a philosophy can we know which direction we wish to go. As the Cheshire Cat said, if you don't know your destination then it does 't matter which road you take. Somewhere along the line, producing learned and wise adults became a secondary function of education.  My father is a long retired teacher of many many years experience.  He told me once that he felt sorry for children starting school because they started with so much spirit and individuality and came out the other end either conformed or broken. Wow! 

When an A student who is incredibly artistic (and I'm not boasting, I'm stating a disinterested fact) is quite clearly gradually drowning in (at least what she perceives) the cattle mart crowd control system which subvervetly (and probably inadvertently) punishes the unconventional and those who learn by thinking rather than by fitting into an ever narrowing corral, is it not time for parents to throw the life buoy?  And had they not better throw it regardless of what everybody else does.  Have you ever looked at those YouTube videos about crowd psychology? You know the ones where actors pose as a victim being beaten by an aggressor or as somebody passed out on a street.  How many people walk past simply because nobody else seems to be helping? As soon as one person intervenes, suddenly everybody offers help.  Well, a parent can't wait for somebody else to intervene.  They are the first educators.  It is the parent's DUTY to be the frontline. It's not their duty to follow the pack, it's their duty to study their child, to seek and listen to advice from every source, and by doing so discern that the time has come to change route. And that's exactly what we have just done.

So in case you've been wondering, or heard it on the grapevine, or behind our back...did you hear...are they crazy...I'd never have allowed...?  

Are we crazy because we suggested and allowed something unconventional?

Do you know that hammering a square peg into the round hole IS actually possible? Oh you can do it all right. The only thing is, your beautiful square peg will be very badly damaged in the process.  We're taking a different route to success.  Yes it may be slower...equally it may be faster...not one of us knows the future.  All roads begin with where you are today and all roads lead to Rome.  

One of the many wise people whose judgement we trust said two things to us.  Firstly...the most prolific phrase in the bible...

Be Not Afraid.

The second one, we can't plan the entire expanse of our lives, but you'll find that when we turn to God with heartfelt  prayer (like we did) doors you never even could have thought of will present themselves to you, but you have to be willing to open them and forge paths that are different. 

Well this door is something we couldn't have dreamt of last year.  And as I was busy a few days ago ironing the last few clothes helping her squash her life into Ryanair's restrictive allowance I looked at my daughter with great admiration.  

This girl has a helluva neck!! To calmly do what she has done-gone against the 'you have to because they say' (who are they, by the way...you know...they...the ones who say things?) and had the courage to be different.  Courage to be different by remaining steadfast in her faith, courage to be different by speaking up for it even though mockery.  Courage to know that the hole was round and that the square peg needs to take the path God has designed for the square peg.

And back to Jane Soap.  Every one of us is a square peg.  What other people think or say or do should never never be the criteria for our life's decisions.  If you are a parent you should not be choosing school subjects for your teenage child against their desire.  Most definitely YOU should not be filling in university course choices or pushing a child down the path you always dreamt they should take (or even worse, that you would have liked to have taken) as I know several parents who have done exactly that.  Remember that your child is not a peg, she's a thousand piece jigsaw, and she has to fit those pieces in herself. 

So while my heart broke in the airport today, it was the sentimental break of a mother launching her first child into the world.  Yes, I'm fully aware that there are still five in my nest, but people aren't
 birds who can't count and don't notice that there five mouths instead if six.  There's an R shaped hole in our home just now and there's a gapingly empty chair at our table.  

 Be reassured that she's not gone off like Dick Whittington with a pack on her shoulder facing the unknown to make her fortune.  She travelled along with her Dad (who will come back in two days lol)  to a very safe home from home environment to people we trust and where her life view will be nourished and her faith respected and where she'll hopefully become fluent in the world's most beautiful language. Next year we'll look at the doors of school and college and exams, or maybe the year after that or maybe like this, a door we never imagined,  but today...I love her, I miss her and my tears are pretty close to the surface, but I am completely at peace that God has given us the courage once again to be different. 

My brother wrote a song when he was in his 20s...the words go like this:


Believe and keep on dreaming
That who you are will see you through.
Why follow someone else's star?
Why change the person that you are? 
Believe and keep on dreaming 
That who you are is where you're going to. 


Jennifer 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Tiny Time-On Waiting In Cars.

You know that story about the professor with the container of rocks that looks full up, then he fits in pebbles, sand and finally water to demonstrate how we can fill so much more into time than we think we can?

Well here I am sitting outside ballet class having miscalculated the pick up time by half an hour.  Yes I know, how can that happen? Between six children, changed class times and today trying to get every...single...item of laundry washed today in advance of Ireland's new water charges kicking in tomorrow I got it all wrong.  

I actually don't really mind doing the drop offs and pick ups because I have my classic hits stations on tap, no real distractions and my back-hugging ergonomic car seat to keep me company. Little interjections during the day to recollect.  Ages ago I mentioned making good use of tiny time, for example throwing on a load of laundry while the kettle is boiling and so on.  It's amazing what we can achieve.  But at this moment I'm looking at other Moms in the cars near me, and a few dads and seriously, every one of them, (and usually me too) are just staring into space. No doubt they're all listening to the radio. Same here, Michael Jackson is asking the Man in The mirror can he change his way. 

Can I change my way? Well, while up to this I've been making good use of the time it takes for the kettle to boil, I'm afraid I can't say the same about the time I spend in the car. I usually just stare ahead and listen to my music. 

If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a ..chaaangeee...

My father spent a lot of time sitting in cars outside supermarkets and such like waiting for my mother. With neither mobile phones nor house phone in those days she had no way of telling him when she was ready. Especially since she had the infuriating habit, as I thought then but now realise it was a real gift, of meeting someone she knew and immediately entering into long conversations with them literally every few yards.  As a child and young teenager I'd wait at a respectable distance wishing she'd hurry up and sighing deeply to myself, but inconveniencing her children came second place to the person who needed my mother's incredible wisdom and empathy and her gift with words.  To this day, 14 years after she died,  people stop me in the street (or shop, where I meet someone literally every...few...yards, to the great inconvenience of my children) and tell me how my mother's words impacted on their lives.

Well, back to my father...while my mother was shopping and changing lives while choosing tomatoes, my Dad was sitting in the car minding babies and learning French!! He never to this day at the age of 86 wastes a minute.  He plans his day and what he's going to achieve and then he does it. Often when he's leaving my home after a morning brunch he'll say, I'm running behind now, I'm off to do my morning prayer, his half hour of contemplating God, many's the time through the medium of Esperanto, the international language in which he is fluent.  He doesn't say Oh it's too late now, I'll leave it out...that's not even an option.

It's embarrassing sometimes when I think of how much time I waste either procrastinating, or looking at the Internet without any real purpose or sitting in cars doing nothing but listening to oldies and I compare it to my father's productivity or my mother's living for other people. 

So here's my plan...I'm taking Michael Jackson's advice and make a changeee.

Tiny time in my car can be put to much better use. 

I have a load of reinforced A4 zipper folders left over from the children's school supplies. I'm taking one and in it I'll put:

Learn French in Your Car.



I bought this with the idea of copying what Galbraith of Cheaper by The Dozen fame, not the crazy funny movie with Steve Martin which portrays him as a loveable but incompetent Dad, but the book by his son and daughter documenting the amazing life of this very loving and funny efficiency expert who invented Time and Motion which is used today in every single workplace in western civilisation. He'd put French lessons on the gramophone every morning while his 12 children breakfasted...all 12 became fluent.   My resolve lasted about a fortnight but since my eldest is heading to France for a school year next week (don't mention it to me, I wondered would I blog about empty nests but I'd be a basket case and probably ruin my computer with the floods of Mommy tears, I'm so sentimental! so we'll leave it at that lol)


I have some motivation to improve my own French as my attempts at fluency while in France have been known to make the entire staff of a pharmacy burst into laughter.  I have no idea what I said. 

If my father can learn French this way, so can I.

A Pretty Notebook for Menu Planning.  

The single thing that reduces stress in my life as a mother of a large family is menu planning.  Is there anything more depressing as opening the fridge at 5 pm wondering what you can make with no ingredients and no motivation? 

Pinterest has been singularly responsible for the dramatic improvement in my family's culinary life. Here's my Pinterest Board on dinners, I just pin anything I think I'd probably make and the family will probably enjoy and then choose from there each week.  It's a Godsend.

Some Notelets and a Few Stamps.  

There is always, always someone who could do with a little note to say you're thinking of them, or you need to thank.  Emails and texts just don't say it quite the same as getting a little note or card through the letterbox.  Packing the stamps increased the chance that you'll actually post it by about a million percent.

A Small Prayer Book.  

I think we'll all agree it's something we tend to neglect until we hit a big worry or need a favour ( like dear Jesus, look after my girl in France, oh sniff sniff sob) but what about the daily interactions and companionable chats like we have with our family or friends.  Is Jesus not our family? Not our best friend?

There are lots of lovely inexpensive little books you can find for little more than small change. St Josemaria Escriva's classic The Way has been my constant companion since I was in primary school, it's timeless and so apt in simple one or two line points. 



CTS also do lovely ones which can often be bought in church porches.



A Pen (that works).

Some hand and nail grooming supplies.  My life involves a lot of hand washing and household chemicals and since I cannot stand rubber gloves, my hands take the brunt.  Sometimes it's nice to dedicate a little time to treating them to some extra care.

A Classic Book.  

My reading time is much less than I'd like and since it's so limited I have a policy of keeping it only for books that will stay with me forever.  After my little girl's big operations I thought I needed some mindless chick-lit for some escapism.  After two or three books, rather than escapism I just ended up with a bad taste in my mouth.  That's when I made my resolution and I'm loving ever so slowly ticking off must-read novels of all time from my list. I'm leaving a book just for the car as I'll either forget to bring one or remember the book I'm reading is in the cold dark car just as I'm snuggled in bed.  So I've two on the go now.



Well that's it, my little in-car kit. Maybe next week I'll tell you about my empty nest? Though as my husband keeps saying..."She'll be back".