I Found My Diary…1995 We Meet Again

{Also embarrassingly features on The M Word}

Picture the scene. It’s 1995 and a 14-year-old me sits in her room, listening to Oasis and Blur battle it out in the charts. I’m trying to tame my fuzz of red hair into something somewhat presentable because GHD’s hadn’t been invented yet.

I’d probably just finished watching the new episode of Friends, after arguing with my parents about why I wasn’t allowed go to a disco, while screaming at my sisters yet again to stay out of my room and stop robbing my stuff.

I would have phoned my friends Margaret and Lisa (after waiting for years for everyone else to get the hell off the landline) to catch up on all the latest gossip after seeing them two hours previously at school. My bedroom walls are plastered with images of my hero Andre Agassi  (shut up, ok?! He was gorgeous!) and instead of doing my Irish homework I was pouring my heart out into my diary as any dramatic teenage girl should do!

It was all very important and very real at the time of course – but when I found my trusty beloved diary again recently, well, let’s just say I’d had a healthy dose of cringey mortification served cold!

Does anyone else use that app Timehop and look back on Facebook status updates circa 2008 when it prompted you to speak about yourself in the third person? And you think to yourself, why on earth was I such an absolute plank?! Reading over this diary is like that except about a million times worse, but also, to me at least, absolutely hilarious. I was beyond a plank. I can only hope I am getting less plank-y as the years go on. Will this very blog post mortify the life out of me someday?

Well I won’t have to wait until someday, this post is mortifying me as I type. So without further ado, let us take a look back at 1995 and the things I deemed important enough to write into….

My Diary –

D1

 

2nd Sept. 95. Sat.

Well, a lot has happened over the past few days.

Except it seems I didn’t deem any of it important enough to actually write about!

Yesterday we had to go back to school. I sit beside Lisa. On the 31st August (Thur) Lisa’s parents took me, Lisa + Margaret to Tramore. It was brilliant! Mam and Dad said they have to have a ‘discussion’ about me. If they think it’s going to change me, they’ve got another thing coming. Lisa’s staying over tonight.

LOLLING so hard at the thought of what the ‘discussion’ entailed. At least I was sticking to my guns anyway and wasn’t about to change myself for anyone! Go girl.

I also quite like my reference to the particular day of the week, it would have killed me to wonder what day of the week it was when we went to Tramore.

D2

 

Sun 10 September 1995

I’m totally in love with Andre Agassi. I swear, he is so gorgeous. I just can’t get him out of my head.

Ahead of my time here with that line – I wonder if Kylie was thinking of Andre too?

He won the US Open Semi Finals against Boris Becker yesterday. Right at this very moment he is playing tennis (finals) against Pete Sampras. It is 10.35 here, so in New York it is 25 to 6.

It is important to know at all times, which time zone your one true love is working in.

Sigh.

Cringe-induced Facepalm.

Me and Lisa had a fight. I found out from Margaret that Lisa has been keeping all sorts of

Frustratingly, right at the juicy moment – something must have happened and I never finished that sentence. No doubt it was highly incriminating teenage angst-y stuff anyway, whatever it was she was hiding. BUT – not to worry –

D3Aa

 

Mon 11 September 1995

Well, me + Lisa made up, but things are still a bit weird.

Awkward! Just what was it Lisa was keeping loads of?! Never mind, on to more important matters –

Margaret gave me a sticker of Andre Agassi today. Oh my God. I love him.

I did love him. Stupid Brooke Shields keeping him from me!

I’ve a load of Irish to learn – I’m dead. Till tomorrow.

Sometimes it’s best to just bullet point your worries and not go into them too much.

18 September 1995. Mon

Sorry for not writing!

Sorry to who?! An inanimate piece of paper? I don’t think it minds!

Last weekend I stayed the night weekend in Lisa’s house. It was a laugh. Lisa’s brother Gusie took us out on the tractor. It was so funny.

!! How wild were Lisa and I?!

On Friday when we were walking home from

D3b

Science class.. went out to the bog. Oisin gave me a HUGE pair of wellies. We looked hilarious. Margaret had her camera. I fell into a hole.

I FELL INTO A HOLE.

Then me + Lisa had to walk around town in our wellies! It was so funny + embarrassing. Finally, we went back to the school and got changed. Lisa Gordon gave me more pictures of Andre Agassi! Lisa says he’s folicaly challenged (bald), but he’s not!

HOW DARE SHE!

He broke up with Brooke Shiels. (YESSSSSSS!)

Yes Jen. Because now at last he can be yours! There is absolutely nothing stopping you now!

D6

 

In Pennys I got a purple-woolly top, a white thing for underneath, and platso’s (black)

I think I mean ‘Palazzo’ trousers? Anyone?? Wide legged things? Clearly fashion is NOT my thing.

for xmas. When I got home me + Mam watched “Muriels Wedding”. It was good.

In fairness that is a CLASSIC!

Today me + Margaret went to a kids xmas play

But why?? Whose kids were in it? No idea.

It was funny. In school we’re in the choir – we missed History today! X-Cell-ent!

Suddenly clear why I failed junior cert History. Also – CRINGE at my teenage-mutant -ninja-turtle influenced use of English there.

But behold my favourite line so far:

Yesterday I got a chain letter in the post – from Fiona Richardson from Dundalk – I’ll kill her. C ya.

Shout out to Fiona, a lifelong friend since childhood. Thankfully I didn’t actually kill her. But why would she do such a thing? A chain letter!!!! Maybe it’s her fault what happened to me next for breaking that chain and millennia worth of bad luck fell on me..?!

D4

 

27 September 95. Wednesday

Yesterday (Tue 26th)

Thank God again for my reference to the weekday cos otherwise we’d never have known that the day before Wednesday is Tuesday.

Anyway, hold on tight because things are about to get emotional:

I went to the dentist. I HAVE BRACES. My life is over. I can’t even talk, or eat. Tomorrow I have to go and get TRAIN TRACKS. Goodbye, life, it was nice knowing you.

And in a break from the life ending disaster:

It was Nana’s birthday on Friday. I think she was 78/79. I love her. Even though she’s fussy! I have thurs + friday off.

But back to the doom:

I’M DEAD IN IRISH! I HATE MS NOLAN!!

THANKS A LOT FIONA, DAMN YOU AND YOUR CHAIN LETTER!!

Til tomorrow.

So as we can see, my 14 year old life was full of ups and downs, friends keeping mysterious things from me, falling out, making up, falling into bog holes, life-threatening chain letters, and above all else, Andre Agassi.

AndreAgassi

SIGH

So let’s end on a nice entry about a puppy almost called Artho, and the unfairness of life in being the eldest.

D5

 

A couple of weeks ago we got a little puppy. She’s a collie and we called him her Kim. First, dad said she looked like a pint of Guinness so we should call her ‘Artho’. Then he decided ‘Stout’!! We talked him out of it, though!

Mam and Dad want me to move in to their room so they can have my room for their built-in wardrobes. Why can’t they move Sandra?

WHY indeed, Diary, why indeed.

/END_MORTIFICATION

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The Guilt Factor

Each morning, Monday to Friday, for the last 10 minutes of my commute to work just before I walk into the office building, I try and FaceTime the boys for a chat, especially on mornings where they are asleep when I’m leaving the house and I haven’t seen them yet. Alex usually blows me kisses and babbles very important things at me. Rian, more often than not doesn’t want to talk. This morning though, when I was having chats with Alex, in the background he said: ‘ I don’t want to talk to Mama on the phone, I want to talk to her here!’.

For a moment I considered turning around and going straight back home again, giving him a hug and telling him I’ll never leave him. But I can’t, because I have to go to work – and I want to go to work too – and at the end of the day, the bills need to get paid. So I felt the usual pang of guilt that I usually feel a few times a day, except a bit worse than usual because he had said that, and finished my gurgley chat with Alex and headed towards my desk, feeling pretty crap about myself as a mother.

If I had the freedom to choose, I don’t think I would choose to be a full time stay at home mother, I just know it wouldn’t be for me. Part time would be my ideal option, because at same time, I want to be with them all the time too. It’s that very tricky, ever elusive, perfect balance.

Guilt is something I became familiar with very early on, in fact, since the start of my first pregnancy. We are IVF parents, very very lucky ones at that, our treatment worked. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant – extremely grateful yes, of course, but pregnancy for me was months of nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, extreme heartburn… ok my hair got a bit thicker and softer and my skin looked nice and almost glowy (possibly from the hot flushes!) for a while but even that catches up with you after the baby is born and your hair falls out and you’re left with these mad sticky outy bits all over your head while it grows back to normal again…!! Aaand breathe…! So no, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant for the most part. Appreciative, yes, and lots of it I did love and cherish – the feeling of Bump moving around or kicking, but not really any of the rest of it.

Anyway back to the point… so I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was tough. I felt guilty about that because of our IVF and I thought of all the women who would swap places with me in a heartbeat because I used to be that woman too. And of course the moment they’re born you’re guilty all the time, am I doing this right, did I do that wrong?

When I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave, the guilt was immense. How could I leave him every day, why was I working for a major chunk of my wages to pay someone else to see all of his ‘firsts’? And it only got worse, after I had Alex I thought I would be prepared for how it would feel to go back to work, but in fact it was worse again because what I wasn’t prepared for was Rian being old enough now to ask me, after a year of being home, ‘Mama, where are you going? Why won’t you stay here with me?’

It was very hard. I questioned myself a lot at the return to work last year. Why am I doing this?? Oh yes, then I remembered, I just don’t have the choice.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Is there a way to come to terms with this guilt or are we just destined to never be happy whatever the situation is – whether we give up work and stay at home, or if we choose not to stay at home?

I thought a lot last year about whether I wanted to give up work, assuming we could afford it and I could stay at home. It would be tight, but I think if we cut back enough we could probably get by on one wage. And is it even fair to assume that it would be me who stays home, what if their Dad wanted to stay home? I admit that thought didn’t even occur to me at the start. But even if I did stay home, I think the guilt would still find me anyway, and make me think about other things – can we afford to save for their college fund? Can we afford to give them all the things we want to?

And the other thought is – really the main reason I don’t want to give up my job – what will I do when they’re older and not as dependent on me? What if I want to go back to work then, when they’re off to school, and I have a five or six year gap on my CV – it’s hard enough going back after maternity leave,  your confidence is shaken a lot, or at least mine was. So a big gap, for me, would be very intimidating. So is it selfish of me to not want to be in that situation, to not want to sacrifice my career? Does that mean I’m a bad mother? And the guilt factor starts again.

Being a working mother, it sneaks up on you on a regular basis. When a work commitment clashes with an event at their creche or playschool, and we’re faced with missing it. Guilt. At Rian’s playschool Sport’s Day back in June, I took the day off work. Within the first ten minutes, three other mothers had mentioned to me that they hadn’t realised that our childminder, who they see every day dropping off and collecting Rian, wasn’t in fact his mother. Ouch.

Recently, our childcare situation  changed, and I was forced again to consider all of these points. I really struggle to come to some sense of peace with the fact that I’m gone all day from them. Today was their first day in a creche – Alex in particular has never been minded outside his own home until today – and I wasn’t there to drop them off. Guilty. They’re fine of course – the staff are amazing and sent me little updates and photos of them happily playing away, but my guilty mind goes into overdrive and I wonder what will they think of these decisions I’m making now when they’re all grown up? Will they think I’m selfish? Will they resent the fact that I ‘chose’ to leave them with someone other than me while I ‘chose’ not to give up my career? Ultimately, I suppose I’m thinking – how will they judge me? Am I ruining their childhood?!

I don’t know how to make the guilt go away, but I have decided to make some rules for myself.

  • I am not a bad mother. I am doing my best, along with everyone else. Yes, I go to work for myself because I enjoy it, but also of course so that I can give them everything I possibly can not just now but later in life too. I’m doing my best, and I have to tell myself that my best IS good enough.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives – instead I will focus on the times I am there. Their little faces when they see me coming through the door each evening, and the fun we can have all weekend. It makes me more grateful and appreciative of those times.
  • Most importantly of all: I make it my mission that they know they are loved. I know they know. And once they know that, I know I’m not failing completely.

Whatever way I look at it, mother guilt is here to stay, no matter what type of mother you are. There’s no point in questioning why we beat ourselves up over it, but in the end all I can suggest is that we get off our own backs, get off our own cases, and make the most of whatever situation we’re in. Guilt is not a choice, but how we deal with it certainly is.

My 21st Century Boys

{Also features on The M Word}

There was a video doing the rounds online last year where these kids were handed a cassette tape and had no idea what it was. It got me thinking, and wondering what other things my boys will grow up not knowing. Not just things either, but experiences.

Take Spotify as an example. In December Spotify happily told me that my yearly stats were in and it proudly presented me with my most popular track listings for 2017. Top of the list was ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ by Randy Newman. Toy Story. Next up was ‘ Hakuna Matata’ and ‘ I Just Can’t Wait to be King’. The Lion King. Now I won’t pretend to have a supercool taste in music myself, but still. These kids are ruining my street cred. Or online cred anyway, if that is actually a thing!

But anyway, it’s more than just them corrupting my cool playlists, it got me thinking about the vast differences already between their childhood and my own. If you think about it, they have access to millions of songs under one roof in Spotify, available to them at any time without any waiting. There’ll be no saving up their pocket money to buy a single or an album, and listening to that album to the death because it was all that would fit in your walkman at any one time anyway. No waiting for the DJ to stop talking to press record when your favourite song came on ( Atlantic 252!) and hoping the end of the song wouldn’t get interrputed by them either. Nothing worse! So by default then, it’s unlikely that they’ll sit and listen to whole albums at all, unless it’s by someone they happen to really like. But do you see what I mean? You could go deeper and question whether as a whole piece of art, is the art of albums as they were, dying? Will people appreciate them as a whole piece of work the way they used to anymore?

Another aspect is the patience. They don’t have to wait for anything, it’s all just there at the tap of a screen. Recently I recorded a Disney movie that was on one of the tv channels (even that in itself feels retro now with the Netflix lifestyle), and while Rian was watching it, the ads came on. He didn’t know what they were or where his movie was gone. He went looking for the remote control to hand it to me to put the movie back on. At first I went to fast forward the ads but then I thought, no! You can sit and wait and watch them, just like I had to! In fact you’re still doing better than I did in the 80s – we didn’t get movies until they were released about 2 years later on VHS, so be glad! And so he did watch the ads. Which resulted in him asking me about 3 different toys, so I still lose in this scenario, but still. It’s the  principle of the matter! And they’ll never have to worry what time something will be on at. It will all just magically be there waiting for them whenever they are ready to watch it.

So I wonder is this the 21st century version of the whole ‘Back in my day we went to school barefoot’ type stuff that my parents used to come out with? (Not that they actually went barefoot but you know what I mean). How have I become my parents already?! And on a more serious note, what effect will this lifestyle of no waiting actually have on shaping them as people? Very deep, maybe, but very apt too I think.

Another thing is your basic memory. Kids will never need to have to remember a list of different phone numbers the way we did, everything will be stored for them. And on that note, will they even ring people when they’re old enough to have phones ( which will be 18 if I have my way!)? Nowadays it’s all texts. Do teenagers ring eachother at all anymore? I’m aware I sound 90 even asking that question. When we had no internet to keep us occupied, we would ring our best friend from school and chat away on the phone about all the important teenagery things in our lives. Ugh didn’t you hate when you rang your friend and someone else in their family used to answer the phone? Or even worse, if someone else in your house was already on the phone and you had to wait until they were finished.

I wonder is there any other generation before us where such changes were so vast between parents and their children’s childhood? I’m not sure. Maybe every generation thinks this type of thing – well it’s even a cliche isn’t it, ‘you don’t know you’re born’ type of comeback your parents used to throw at you if you complained about anything.

It’s kind of frightening too. I genuinely worry at the thought of my two as teenagers, living a life so vastly different to how mine was. Will I be able to relate to them at all? Will I be able to understand any problems they might have growing up in certain situations, online social aspects that I have no experience of? Even Facebook is a dying breed, as far as I can tell no self respecting teenager is seen dead in there any more. It frightens me to think of potential dangers that might lurk that not only I can’t protect them from, but that I don’t even know to look out for them in the first place.

It’s not all bad of course, there are plenty of aspects of technology that makes parenting so much easier, from ‘HOW DO I DO THIS?!’ type frantic Google searching, with instant answers, to apps and online support groups for, well, support but also for fun too. But in lots of ways, I can’t help thinking that despite the advances of technologies, my sons will miss out on lots more than I had growing up – using our own imagination, anticipation – having to actually wait for things….real life fun! So in an effort to replicate part of my own childhood for them I have made it my business to regularly expose them to 80s and 90s music. I’ll be damned if my kids don’t grow up knowing all the right cheese! They’ll thank me for it I’m sure…. won’t they….?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chair

The Chair arrived before either of you did. I remember the day we picked it out, the day we went to do the Baby Shopping – the same day we had our 20 week scan with you, Rian, and found out to our immense relief that you were growing perfectly. We left the hospital clutching the miraculous scan picture of you, something we never thought we’d ever be able to hold at one time, and arrived at the baby shop almost giddy with disbelief that the seemingly  un-achievable,  impossible dream of parenthood was actually happening for us. Little did we know it would actually happen twice for us. Our frozen twins.

I sat in The Chair, at first just to get a bit of a rest while we waited for a shop assistant to become available. It’s tiring work growing a baby. Of course, the minute I sat in it, I was able to imagine hours of gently rocking you to sleep, and feeding you in it when the rest of the world was fast alseep.

‘We’ll take it.’

As soon as it arrived it became a little spot of peace and calm in the corner of your room. I used to sit there, with you in Bump form, and wonder what you might look like and who you might be. Would  you have hair and would you look like me? A boy or a girl? Tall like your Daddy? Wondering of what adventures lay ahead.

I sat in The Chair as I watched your Dad put together your cot. Laying out all the pieces on one side and the toolbox on the other. I read from the instructions with what bit goes where, with one hand on The Bump and felt you kick in agreement when we figured it out.

And one after the other, you both arrived. From the start, The Chair was where we sat, you and I, you and your Dad. Gently rocking away the sobs and cries from colic. Gently rocking, persuading sleepy little eyes to close and nod off. And gently rocking while we stared at your miraculous, perfect little faces and wondered, what do babies dream about? Breathing in the beautiful soft, sleepy, milky baby smell and wondering, how did you get here? Just how on earth did we get so lucky, twice?

How many nights have we sat in that chair together? Sometimes it felt like endless hours. Please go to sleep…please don’t cry…. please, please just sleep, even just for a little while! Some nights felt never ending, some weeks felt like decades. Sitting rocking in that chair, trying to figure you out. Wishing the teeth would hurry up and come, rocking, shushing, patting your back gently. Wondering would we ever see sleep again?  Feeling like surely  you were the only person awake in the whole world at that time, willing sleep to come.

Thinking about the early baby days and hours rocking in The Chair, and how they changed into less and less hours there. I imagine it like a video collage in time-lapse mode in my mind of us all moving in super fast motion in and out of the room, up and down from The Chair, the time whizzing by yet slowly passing at the same time. The video in my mind shows each of you starting off tiny, slowly growing bigger. Sitting in that chair at the start, resting on my shoulder with your head nestled into my neck and your tiny little legs only long enough to reach my chest. Whizz on a bit and your legs stretch all the way to my lap. Whizz on some more and your face still nuzzles into my neck, your little arms wrapped around me, but you’re almost sitting sideways now as there is nowhere else for your legs to go. You’ve grown so quickly.

I wonder now, the sleepless nights long enough ago now,  exactly why did I wish away those endless nights? All those beautiful baby snuggles, rocking together in the chair as I stared at your eyelashes and wondered at how they were so long. The two perfect little button noses, and those drooly little mouths twisting in various ways depending on what little dream you were having and what amount of wind you had in your pudgy little bellies after a feed. I could close my eyes right now and draw each little face perfectly, I have memorised them so well, all those hours of sitting and rocking in The Chair.

And only in the last week, for the first time in almost 4 years,  a change arrived. The Chair was made redundant, nobody needing to be rocked gently in order to fall asleep for the night. I sat on the other side of the room and looked at The Chair, and realised: I’ll never need to sit there again. I remember reading something a couple of  years ago about not realising when the last time you do something, is the last time you’ll do it. I didn’t know that my last time rocking a baby to sleep in The Chair would be the last time I did it. What would I have done differently?

I probably would have stayed there all night.

I’m that mother who feels a bit emotional packing away the baby clothes that don’t fit anymore, holding them up and wondering how either of you ever fit into them in the first place. Were you really that small? But there’s something different about saying goodbye to The Chair. It’s more of a permanent goodbye. It’s saying goodbye to an era, not just to a small section of time where you used to fit into a particular babygrow. It’s saying goodbye to a section of my life, a section that was longed for so hard. A section of our lives that we wondered if we’d ever get to experience, and we did. And it just whizzed by so fast.

The Chair was there for it all, from before we even met you both. It rocked us through the rocky parts of becoming new parents, and rocked us calmly through the most peaceful parts too.

I know when it’s not sitting in the corner anymore, that space will remind me that I no longer have two little babies, but will remind me of you both, our two amazing little boys.

 

image1

Before I Ever Met You

When I discovered I was going to be a mother, I sat and wondered about lots of things. Practical things like what things do we need to buy? What should we name you? HOW WILL I GET YOU OUT?!

But more than just the practical things. What would you be like? What kind of person would you be? Who would you look like?

What can I teach you?

But I never expected for it to work the other way around. What would I be like?

What do you teach me?

Before I ever met you, there was so much I didn’t know, things I didn’t know existed. Like the pure strength of the love I have for both of you. Imagine how it’s possible that you can love someone before you even meet them? You can sense and feel their life begin, and with it this amazing bond begins, with someone you’ve never even set eyes on. And then you both arrived bringing this amazing, new type of love, so strong it almost scares you in case someone takes it away. And when you both arrived, I evolved into something else.

Someone else.

Someone, who before they ever met you, never knew they could actually survive on so little sleep. Night after night, sitting up, cuddling you, rocking you back to sleep. Getting up again, battling away imaginary monsters from your curtains, soothing pains in tummies, sore gums….. kissing away the things that wake you from your sleep. But I did.

Someone, who before they ever met you, used to think I’d never be able to do lots of things. I could never manage to get out of the house with one baby in tow… two babies in tow. I could never feed a baby in one hand and make a hasty sandwich for myself with the other. I could never keep one baby entertained, whilst soothing the other off to sleep for a much needed nap. And the ultimate goal, I could never achieve the all time achievement – dual naps. A thing of sheer beauty! But I did.

Someone, who before they ever met you, never really knew too well the pure sense of pride. The feeling may have come now and then at different points in time, if I achieved certain things in life; when I got my first paycheck.. when I took a great photograph. When I married your Dad. And eventually you both arrived. We fought hard to get you, now you’re both here, all I need to do is think of you. I just think of you, and feel overwhelming feelings of pride, as if my heart could burst with it. When it happens, I turn to whoever happens to be near me, and tell them of you. Something you did, something you said. A look you gave, an example of your amazing little personalities. I tell the stories of you, and feel immense pride. I just think of you, and it’s there. I never knew I could do anything so amazing to feel all this pride. But I did.

Someone, who before I ever met you, never really knew fear. Fear of all the things I immediately knew I had to protect you from, and of all the things I know I’ll never be able to shield you from. The hurts and disappointments that are bound to eventually find you. The absolute fear at the thought of you not being my babies anymore and having to send you out into the big scary world – it seems a world away from us at the moment but I’m learning at a rapid pace just how quick this journey is going to fly past. I can still call you my babies now – always – but one day you’ll be brave enough to do things without having to hold my hand. I just hope I can teach you to be strong enough and wise enough for each step of the way. I never knew fear could be this strong at the sheer thought of something. It makes me feel stronger, to know I will do whatever it may take to protect you from as much as I can. I never thought I could take that fear and use it to strengthen my love for you. But I did.

Someone, who before I ever met you, never really knew patience. Ok, honestly, I’m not going to be winning any awards for my levels of patience any time soon. But you have both taught me how to be more patient than I ever knew I could be. You keep us up all night, night after night. You throw tantrums for the most random, ridiculous reasons. You make us try and figure new things out every single day.  You change the rules constantly and consistently, lulling us into a false sense of security feeling like we finally might know what the hell we’re doing, before changing things all over again. You make us watch the same film a million times, or listen to the same song on repeat every hour and somehow we manage to keep our sanity. You bring us right to the edge of that sanity, and yet somehow, at the end of it all, you make us love you even more. I never knew I could display such levels of patience. But I do.

Someone, who before I ever met you, never really knew what hard work was. Hard in the physical sense sometimes, but absolutely hard in the mental sense of the word. Holding it all together, keeping everything going. Working together as a team, learning new things every day and learning new ways to figure things out every single day. I never knew I could work this hard without ever having a day or even an hour off duty. And what’s more, I never knew I could work this hard without ever wanting a day off from it, never wanting a day away from you. But now I do.

All these things you have taught me about myself, all these things I didn’t know I already knew.

Before I ever met you, I never knew I could be this person, so proud of you both, I will carry you always, learn from you always, love you ‘more than all the twinkly stars’…. always.

Who will I be, who have I become?

A Mama.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!

In particular, to my sister Katie and my sister in law Joanne, who both celebrate their first Mother’s Day tomorrow after Joanne gave birth to my gorgeous niece Emma on the 15th of July 2017, and my little sister Katie gave birth to my beautiful nephew Liam on 26th February 2018. Welcome to the world Emma & Liam! I can’t wait to learn new things from each of you too as an Auntie. No doubt your cousins Rian & Alex will be on hand to teach you both the tricks of the trade in torturing… I mean teaching…your parents of all the adventures waiting for them.

 

 

Beautiful Boy
John Lennon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello 37

Today, I turned 37.

T H I R T Y  S E V E N.

It’s not that I feel old. I remember turning 27 and for some reason, to me that age seemed like a milestone kind of age to reach. At that time, I thought I was positively heading for the proverbial hill, I saw 30 looming in the close distance and I remember thinking that was ancient. I can remember thinking, right, maybe it’s time to start thinking seriously about what it is I want to do with this life of mine.

And now for some reason, 37 is also a birthday that prompted me to stop and think, and sort of take stock. How have these last ten years flown by so fast? I used to wonder – will I settle down and get married? Will I have any children? It was impossible to think of myself adult enough to do either thing. And here I am, a 37 year old wife and mother of two young sons.

I’m really lucky to be able to say that. And I’m really proud of it too. It wasn’t exactly an easy path but as they say, the things we work hardest for bring the best rewards.

So with that in mind, now I’m 37 and hurtling at an alarming pace towards 40, I have decided that my next project will be myself. For as long as I can remember now, losing weight has been a never ending thing I want to acheive. I’ve done it, then lost it, then done it, then lost it. Then I was doing really well, then I did IVF treatment, then thankfully got pregnant. Then I had Rian, and tried again, and started doing really well again. Then more treatment, got pregnant, and here we are back at square one.

A couple of years ago, shortly after I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave and 3 stone heavier than I was before I had him, an opportunity came my way to take part in a health programme run by a local fitness studio called True Fitness. I applied for a place on a course, where 20 spaces were available. I filled in the form, convinced I wouldn’t win a place, and congratulated myself for trying anyway and thought that was enough effort for one day. At least I tried.

To my alarm I actually did win a place on the course – and sure then I had no choice but to complete it! It petrified me. But I’m so glad I did because it was the thing that completely and forever changed my attitude to exercise, and why I want to do it regularly now. Then, we decided to try for Alex again so in a way I suppose I would say I put myself on hold for a while too.

And here we are. Life with a toddler and a newborn was full on. It still is, with a toddler and a bigger toddler. Despite getting back to regular exercise as soon as I could after our gorgeous Alex arrived, I never got back into the swing of it properly. It’s more than just losing weight – life was so busy and there were other things to focus on, I never really got back to finding myself again. It’s kind of hard to describe.

But since being back at work, things have been full on. I am convinced, the year between a baby turning 1 and 2 years of age, is the hardest one. (So far at least!) Give me the newborn stage any day. It’s tough going, of course it is. Coming up to Christmas I felt so worn out I kept finding myself skipping going to my training sessions, work was busier, I didn’t even find time for myself to write here, which has always been my way of escaping to myself for a few minutes. The ironic thing was, by skippping the training, I was only helping myself to feel more tired.

And so the New Year came around, and something in me clicked again. This is going to be my year, I will do something purely for myself. I don’t mean to make myself out to be another Mother Teresa – big deal, I had kids. So do millions of people. But I wasn’t happy in myself. That’s not to say I was unhappy in my life, far from it –  but I was piling on weight again, and with each pound I gained, I was less and less happy with myself mentally too.

And out of the blue I discovered that True Fitness were launching a Part Two for the original course I did three years ago. Pretty much straight away I put my name down again – the kickstart I needed just landed right in my lap. This time I filled in the form with no fear of what I was signing up to, in fact the opposite.

Before I even started the course this time around, I felt better. The biggest thing I learned at the very first one, which was a complete revelation to me, was that losing weight wasn’t to be my goal, but a side effect of a different goal. At the time I thought, yeah ok fine, that sounds great and all, but really I’m only here to lose the weight. But slowly I realised I wasn’t only there to lose the weight.

We constantly set goals for ourselves in life thinking if we can just reach this one thing, this one milestone, it will make us happy. But do we ever stop and wonder what we’ll do if we actually achieve it? What will we choose as the next thing to make us happy?

There’s a sort of freedom I found when I entered my thirties, which was that I discovered I give zero shits about what people think. And that just seems to strengthen as I go along. I can totally see how I’ll probably end up being a total embarassment to Rian & Alex the way everyone sometimes thought their parents were. Being uncool around their friends by insisting they consider sensible things and all that sort of stuff. They’ll be morto, I won’t give a shite!

And at the ripe old age of 37 it has finally dawned on me. I need to focus on the things I have and enjoy them, to not assume I’ll have them on my way to get the things that I think will make me ‘happy’. Even the things in life that aren’t so great – figure out ways to either make them great, or learn to accept them for what they are. And I need to do this within myself too.

So 37 years old, this will be my year. I might not make it all the way to skinny, and maybe I will. It doesn’t matter. But three weeks into the course and it has already uncovered bits of the old me. I am already so much happier in myself. This is my goal, maybe the weightloss will follow, that will be nothing but a bonus. After the last few years of IVF and then thankfully getting to grow two perfect babies, I’m taking myself back for a little while. Happy Birthday to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George the Cake – An Adventure

A few months ago with Rian’s first birthday approaching I decided to start planning a little party for him (ie us!) to celebrate it. Given that he doesn’t even know he has a nose, I couldn’t exactly ask him what sort of theme he might like, so off to Pinterest I went to find some inspiration. I stumbled across a very cute Friendly Monster theme which I loved, and from there the plans got underway.

In rare wave of determined ambition I decided that I was going to become the next Mary Berry and make my own cake, based on a picture I had seen on Pinterest. Enter my baking expert good friend Will, who was appointed as my chief baking consultant whether he liked it or not! Of course, him being as lovely as he is seemed glad to help. Maybe not on the day of baking after panicked phone call number 264, but being the legend that he is he never once complained.

Why 264 panicked calls you might wonder? Well let me explain the baking adventures of that Saturday!

Firstly, here is the picture of the monster cake I had seen on Pinterest and this was what I was basing mine on.

OriginalMonster

I hadn’t a notion of what tools I might need – my extensive list of baking paraphernalia include a rolling pin (not needed), a square cake tin (not needed) and a sieve with no handle, but I did buy a mixer I had seen in Aldi a few months ago during one of my rare baking moods, which was still in the box…

Will to the rescue. He very kindly gave me a lend of his 8inch round cake tin, and also provided me with a fool proof recipe for a chocolate fudge cake and expertly directed me to what other utensils I would need for the cake and icing, and off I went.

The first hurdle I encountered was my oven. It’s an old oven we inherited when we moved into our house, with no manual. The recipe called for the oven to be set to 180 for fan. The problem was that I had 7 different fan options, all pictures of fans but they each had random lines around them, or circles around them. What the hell. I figured once there’s a fan on somewhere we can’t go wrong. So I picked the one we know definitely works for when we cook the Christmas turkey cos this is pretty much our only need for the fan oven. That’s how experienced I am at baking! So I set the oven to preheat and off I went.

Will had advised me to make sure I take the butter out of the fridge long before I actually started the baking so that it would be nice and soft. I helpfully only remembered this piece of advice at the very second I needed to add the butter. Oops. Be grand, I thought, I’ll stick it in the microwave. Then I thought, wait, Will made a point of saying this to me so maybe I’ll check with him. So I sent him a message, but as he is a normal person with an actual life, he didn’t reply within the first 5 seconds. Such a crap chief consultant!! So I thought ah feck it what harm would the microwave do. Just as the microwave dinged after 30 seconds of melting the butter, Will replied and said to use the microwave but stressed ‘ONLY FOR 5 SECONDS’!

OOoops.

Oh well. I ended up pouring the butter into the mix, but sure what harm could that possibly do at the end of the day. Instructions Shminstructions. Anyway, I’m the new Mary Berry and Mary knows what she’s doing. Proceed!

The recipe said to mix the cocoa with water and then to add the rest of the ingredients. I just basically threw things into the mixing bowl. It did strike me that maybe I should mix them or add things gradually, but in my defence, this is what the instructions said and I’m a stickler for instructions. (Except for when taking butter out of the fridge in advance). Despite this, things were looking good and my confidence grew a bit. I left it mixing for a few minutes while I battled with the cake tin and the baking parchment trying to line the tin. That was fun. Eventually the tin got lined and in went the mix, I gave the cake a little blessing to send it on its way to the oven and prayed I would see it on the other side. In it went.

Meanwhile back at Baking Headquarters, I needed to wash all the stuff to make up a mix for cupcakes. I just googled ‘cupcake recipe’ and happened to find Donal Skehan’s basic cupcake recipe so I used that. It seemed easy enough, so I repeated my expert method of putting everything into a bowl at once and mixing it. Just as I was getting smug about how good I was turning out to be at baking and wondering how I might go about applying for next year’s Bake Off, I detected a whiff of something burning.

When I opened the oven and pulled out the cake – it was not a good sight. The top of the cake had sort of set and was starting to burn, and underneath that bit was still basically chocolate goo. Panicked, I rang my chief consultant. I had to explain about the random fan buttons on the oven and I ended up sending him photos of each one of them! Obviously as he is not an oven technician he basically had to tell me what he thought each one probably was, we picked a new one, covered my poor cake with tinfoil and I stuck it back in. The smell of burning went away and was replaced with the smell of chocolate cake so all was well with the world again. For a while.

Cupcake mix complete, I stuck them in the cases and put them in with the cake. 20 minutes or so later and they were done – Mary Berry was back. Shortly afterwards (and many openings of the oven door to check which I now know is not a good thing to do) I took my cake out and stuck a knife in it. I vaguely remembered from my Home Economics days that if it comes out dry the cake is done. It was dry, yay! I managed to get the cake out of the tin (I now also know you’re supposed to leave it to cool a bit first), and I stuck it on a wire rack to let it cool. As my monster cake needed to be quite tall, I was planning to make a second cake and put them on top of eachother. As I only had Will’s trusty cake tin this meant doing all of the above again. But now I was an expert so I figured it would all be grand.

Utensils and mixers all washed again and off we went. This time I had taken the butter out already so no microwaving was needed. I even remembered to take out the butter that I’d need for the buttercream icing. Such a pro.

Second cake made, cake tin lined again, and off we went. This time seeing as I was still unsure about the fan options, I decided to try a different one. What’s the worst that could happen? After 5 minutes I checked the cake and there was no burnt bits forming on the top so I left it in and went off to decorate my cupcakes. For these I had just bought pre made orange and green buttercream icing in Aldi that they had in for Halloween. I had an old icing gun from years back so I just spooned the buttercream into it and squirted it out onto the cupcakes. I then used my monster cupcake kit that I had bought and decorated each one, and job done!

Cupcakes

Back I went to check on cake no 2. I opened the oven and peeked in and it looked absolutely perfect! The knife test confirmed it was done, however, this time when I tried to remove it from the tin it was a lot harder to get out. Eventually I got it off but only to discover that the entire base of cake no 2 was actually cremated! Stupid stupid multiple fan buttons! Don’t panic, I thought, I’ll just let it cool down and then I’ll cut the burnt bits off, nobody will even notice.

I must admit I was getting pretty tired now, frazzled if you will, but I thought the worst bit was probably over now and I could get on with the fun bit of icing the cake. Off I went to get my special nozzle and the cheapo piping bag I had bought in the Euro shop the week before. It hadn’t dawned on me to check the nozzle fitted the bag until approximately 10 minutes before I needed to use it. And naturally enough – it didn’t fit. The hole in the bag was too big. Of course it was. So, I thought, what would Mary Berry do? Naturally, Mary would fashion herself a new piping bag out of some Ikea ziplock freezer bags, what else?? So that’s what I did. I felt like I had evolved into some sort of Mary Berry/Bear Grylls baker survivor extraordinaire. Just call me Bear Berry. Or Mary Grylls sounds a bit more baker-y.

While the cakes were still cooling I needed to make the filling for in between them. It said to melt some chocolate and mix it with double cream, and when it has almost set, spread it on the cake. But before that I had to warm up some Apricot jam and spread them on either side. BUT before I did all this I had to cut off the burnt bits from poor cake no 2. Halfway through that job and disaster struck – the cake started to fall apart and so I had to abandon that and I used my apricot jam to sort of glue it back together. Nobody would notice a thing…..!

Meanwhile my filling was not setting as it should and was still very runny. I had no idea how to thicken it up but I had about 500 bags of icing sugar in stock (6) so I thought I’ll add some of that to it. After about half an hour it was still the same and the cakes were cold by now so I just slathered it on and stuck cake no 1 on top. Gradually the chocolate sauce was oozing out and onto the cake stand – disaster – so I ended up coating the sides and the top with chocolate sauce too and that seemed to do the job.

FINALLY it was time to make the buttercream to ice the cake – the fun bit! Off I went to get my butter which I had taken out of the fridge hours ago, only to discover that being the genius that I am, I left it right beside the hob where it had melted while I had been melting chocolate over a saucepan of hot water, and had basically melted into a huge puddle all over the top of the gas hob. Husband was dispatched in a panic to the shop just before it closed to buy more butter. At this stage stress levels were quite high so I was quite surprised he actually chose to come home instead of hopping on the first train out of there!

Will had given me very simple instructions for the butter cream: 1kg of butter (2 blocks) to 2kg of icing sugar. He said to cut the butter into smallish chunks and gradually add the icing sugar to the mixer. Easy. So off we went.

By the time all of the butter and icing sugar were added my poor mixer was under a lot of pressure and eventually came to a standstill. Panicked, I rang my chief consultant again who advised to split the mixture and if it was too stiff to add a drop of milk to make it easier. I split the mixture, and kept half in the mixer and decided to use my parent’s old electric whisk from the 80’s on the other half. Because I had no free hands by now, I recruited Hubby to come over and pour a drop of milk to mixture two for me. However – I crucially forgot that his idea of a drop of milk usually equates to half a pint. Over he came and despite my clear instructions of ONLY A DROP he proceeded to glug half the feckin pint of milk in. Not gonna lie, there was almost killings. Hubs was sacked. Add in 2 more 50g bags of sugar and a bit more butter and I reckoned I had rescued the situation as well as I could have. I added some mint green food colouring to each portion of icing sugar and FINALLY I could get going on my favourite bit!

First I spread some of the buttercream around the outside and on top of the cake cos I thought the chocolate sauce might not help the icing stick to it. That resulted in an interesting mix of butter cream and chocolate which kind of looked like a melted mint Aero. Be grand, I thought, sure who is going to see that bit anyway.

Off we went with my home made Ikea ziplock piping bags. It worked! I started to pipe the monster ‘hair’ onto the cake, starting at the bottom along the edge all the way around. Just as I finished the first row of piping my trusty Ikea bag burst and I had to cut out my nozzle and make a new one, this time I sellotaped the bag to the outside of the nozzle. By the time I had half of the cake done, I was on my 5th Ikea bag. Getting a bit worried, I counted I had 7 bags left and prayed to God I could get the cake done before they all burst on me! The pressure was on.

Eventually, after making no less than 10 piping bags, the icing was done! By this stage the room was so warm after all that baking that bits of monster hair were starting to fall off, so I quickly cut out the shape of his mouth from some black ready to roll icing with a pizza cutter, along with three small triangles from the white block of ready to roll icing for the teeth. I had edible icing glue so I used that to stick the teeth to the mouth, then I stuck the whole mouth onto the side of the cake and hoped it would stick. Then I emptied half the fridge out (much giving out from Hubs – from a safe distance – about how his beer would get warm) and stuck the whole cake in, cake stand and all, then I left it to set for the night. The last thing I had to do for the cake was to roll out 3 balls of white ready to roll icing, with three black dots to make the eyeballs and I left them overnight ready to add to the cake for the party the next day.

My last job of what is now known as Epic Baking Day 2015 was to make little Rice Krispie bar monsters. Again, advice from Will was to melt some white chocolate, add some food colouring, and dip the bars in. I just used the Kellogg’s marshmallow Rice Krispie bars, dipped them into the dyed melted chocolate, then stuck little monster eyes on them made by ready to roll icing. Done!

Krispie

Next morning I was very relieved to find that the buttercream had hardened a bit and the cake was still intact! I stuck my three eyeballs on some baking wire and stuck them into the cake – and my masterpiece was born! I was as proud as if I had given birth to the damn cake. So much so that I felt a strong emotional attachment to him and I named him George. I was so proud I almost shed a tear. When the guests arrived and saw George I was like a proud parent basking in all the praise. I knew people would want to eat him, and when the time came, I have to say I cried on the inside. Poor George! He was dead and all that remained were his three beautiful eyeballs.

RIP George, you’ll live on in my heart forever.

 

George