Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Easter Snow

Five years ago, in the week following Easter, I sat down at our kitchen table in the Holly Cottage to write a story. I had been enjoying writing my random pieces in the Holly Cottage blogspot – tales of ordinary life, gardening, changing seasons etc. But I had a story rattling around in my head and it wouldn’t let me go. So I sat down, I opened my Mac, and I let it flow.

The story revolves around a nursing home. Not quite rock and roll I hear you say, but it’s certainly a setting in which all phases of life pass through at some point and therefore perfect for this story.

And the inspiration? Well, my godfather – Paddy - suffered a serious stroke back in 2007. The poor man never recovered and spent half a year being cared for in the nursing home local to where I was living at the time. I went to visit him once a week. Sometimes he knew me, sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes I was his sister who died when they were teenagers, sometimes I was a nurse. When I walked in those doors, all carefree and able, I walked into another world. And every week I left knowing my health, youth and freedom and how precious that is.

A few years earlier, the ashes of his sister – Lily - who had emigrated to the USA back in the 1940s were returned. Paddy buried her ashes in the graveyard near their home under the shadow of the Hill of Uisneach. I had met her in New York about ten years previous. She was a doll – pure New Yorker, twang and all - lover of cats and friendly neighbour to all who lived in the crammed-with-tiny-apartments building that she called home. She died on her own and after her leaving sixty years previous, they were never to meet in person.  When he collected the lunchbox that contained her ashes at the airport in Dublin, he stepped right up and he hugged it tight. They are together now, buried with two of their three sisters, and their father and mother.

Both of them were to the fore of my mind writing The Easter Snow. She died penniless, after working in a fashion industry that paid little enough. Though he must have thought she had made it. He died with those few of his family left around him that would hold his hand or wipe his mouth dry, when he drank from the strange plastic cup with built in straw that was filled with milky tea in the nursing home for him.

I guess I needed to re-unite them in a way.

And that’s the story behind the story. Five years later, after a few sincere attempts at getting it published the right way, I decided to just put it out there. I use Createspace. If you feel inspired, here's the link: go find it. And then tell me what you think. Does it make you smile? Does it make you think? That’s all I ask.

The Easter Snow is a tale of love and loss, regret and awakening, and finding ourselves where we are. It’s a simple story. Enjoy.

C xxx 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Learning to Fall

"When will it be Oscar's birthday Mummy?"
"When all the leaves are back on the trees Alannah".
"But I've been waiting ages" (mega sulky face)

This time last year I was as impatient as the blonde bombshell. Every twinge, every that it? Is that the baby coming?? So I can't fault the three year old for being impatient for his first birthday to come around, especially not at the prospect of cake with sprinkles and icing and jellies and smarties...and and and...and all the things important about birthdays for the single figures people. And then it came around and happened, and now we wait for something else to happen...with more sprinkles :) 

Daily Stumbling Ground

I guess I felt like I had been waiting ages too. Almost a year since the little man (not so little anymore, weighing the same as the threenager) came into the light of day, just over a year since I stepped off the threadmill of the day job and a full year since I surrendered to the world of full time mother/householder/domestic goddess (note to husband and children: all three role titles loosely applied and open to debate/reward negotiation). 

There's something magic that happens when you give birth to your baby, something magic that changes your heart and your mind and stays with you through the constant attention and devotion that a newborn requires and the challenging (some might say debilitatiing and soul crushing) broken sleeps and nighttime waking. Not forgetting the buckets of nappies and snot. The magic of course is nature's wonderful way of sustaining the mother through all of this, and endorphins are wonderful. Over time however, the magic gradually starts to fade and mother must learn to sustain herself through a sense of humour (preferably a good one) and quiet acceptance of the work at hand. Add a threenager that's going on sixty four, into the mix and that's when things really start to stretch and that seemingly benign word - challenging - takes on a new meaning entirely.

It's been an interesting year. And so many times I thought of my own mother and how I am in complete awe of her. And I tell her, even though she left us five weeks before Oscar was born. She would have fallen head over heels with him though, I know this.

What did I learn? Many things. Many things that I could never have imagined were there for the learning. Like, how much conversation a three year old can fit into the waking hours of any given day. Like, you can't reason with them either. Like, you can't expect to win an argument with them. Like, you are very likely to regress to their level of reasoning with lack of sleep and continued erosion of your inner calm (think: no inner calm). Like, you need to maintain perspective and get outside on your own every day. Like, be open to no planning other than manoeuvering between dawn and dusk with all bodies intact. Like, being grateful for each of those mornings and evenings that we are all together (even though we may/nay - probably -  spent the day squabbling over b***s**t - and that we are growing and changing together as part of our own unique, quirky and  family unit). Like, how getting an afternoon nap even just once a week can be the one thing that saves your soul. Like, how much I absolutely relish the precious, natural rhythm of it all.

I often thought that it was the right thing to try to 'find the balance' - the elusive, exclusive, evasive balance in life. Some seemed to have it. Shouldn't I be going for it? Find it and hold on to it smugly like it was the life bouy to my existence. Find it, grasp it and never, ever let it go, and then tell everyone else how to find it too.  

What fool was I? I wisely gave up on that. Now I stick with what works to stop me from falling over, as much as I possibly can.  I still fall over - for sure - daily. I lose my temper with the threenager, I wallow in self pity after I've had an epic night from hell with a teething baby. I lose heart.  I crumble. I feel lonely and isolated as I'm building lego houses with the threenager and the bouncing boy at 5.30am in the morning (an every-morning ritual - somehow strangely meditative in those silent times). I didn't get my annual performance rating, I got puked on instead. I fall down.

And then I find my way back up....crawling, hobbling, flying, powering forward, on good days maybe even straight into a headstand and a mind-bending scorpion pose. And then I fall, again. 

And then I just breathe. And then I am balanced. A walk in the woods, a hug from the man, a smile from the boyscar, a tummy rub from the blonde bombshell, time wangling with an overgrowing garden, a text from a friend - somehow it gets delivered. I don't find it or grasp it or cling to it, or stick my nails into it, it finds me. If I let it. 

So the last year has been interesting, to say the least. And I am grateful for all that the journey has given to me. Instead of finding balance I am learning how to fall, with grace. And how to pick myself back up again, and again, with humble gratitude and hopefully some more grace. Instead of that elusive 'finding of the balance', I am loving the realness of falling and I embrace it. 

Of course, if I need any reminding, I just watch the boy stepping his way from chair to fridge, and table to floor with the cutest and plumpest of un-shoed feet...and I bow to the immense beauty and fragility, and yet strength and steady force of it - his learning to walk, by learning to fall.

P.S. The Holly Cottage garden is amazing right now - as is the magnificent/awesome Irish countryside - some updates on the way, soon.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

November is Crossing Over

Baby sitting solid - head wavers, up on his own
Princess of pink can finally say his name.

Golden friend's deafening heartbeat
Falling leaves whisper your name.

Gentle mother, sorely remembered - 
Two babies that never saw the light.

A host of sadnesses passing under darkest nights.
Bewildered child - now to you - carry the light
For others, for life.

November is crossing over
December brings the light 💞

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Letter to Alannah: Part 3

Dearest Alannah

You are sleeping now, curled up in the small double bed that all four of us bipedaled creatures of the Holly Cottage share since the arrival of Oscar four months ago. You are lost up in a ball of quilt, or maybe spreadeagled across the pillows where you especially love to be in the middle of the night - despite the protests and resistance of your dearest, loving parents. The rest of us will join you there in that space in just a little while, claiming corners and edges of bed space for the precious few hours of sleep that might be. 

You are a most beautiful child - picture perfect with white blonde kiss curls, striking blue eyes and perfect, clear skin that has been air brushed golden by summer's sun. But you barely let me touch, let alone brush your hair. You've worn a dress possibly twice in your life - and both those times probably lasted only a couple of hours. While you do crave adornment as any little princess might, you don't have the time or the patience for bobbins and slides. You are gone in a flash of blonde bombshell in your wellies and hoodie to explore and splash and run and hide. 

You are a wild and a defiant spirit. You truly are. You thrive on the muddiest of puddles, you exalt in throwing your head back in deep, (and surprisingly) bellowing laughter as you are carried like "a sack of paytos" over your father's back around the garden. You torment the Holly dog and tease her with your brown bread and honey sandwiches. You love your brother fiercely, and so much so sometimes that I anguish in your breath-taking hugs to him. You love chips and sausages, and jelly and strawberries. You savour the home baked scones and bread that you help us to make. You run through the dark woods as we retell the antics of your hero, Peter Rabbit. You delight in movies like Rango and 101 Dalmations, again and again and again - strangely loving the most villainous of characters that are written off as the bad guys. Knowing every word of that ode to the infamous "Cruella, Cruella.."

You are three years old, plus about thirty six hours. You arrived as a bright eyed and startlingly alert baby girl and you have kept me on my toes ever since. We have journeyed together, you and I, through blissful babymoon and daily walks in the woods phase, all the way past wobbling toddler and determined twos. I can count on two hands the days we have been apart. We still breakfast together and share each breaking dawn. And while we tend to separate over the course of the day, we still end each day wrapped up together in a knot as we relive the highs and the lows in our own reflections - "Mumma, tell me the story of the day...". 

And everyday, as you oscillate through your own extreme peaks and definite lows, everyday you break my heart. You tear it right down to its bare threads and then you build it right back up again only to begin the cycle again and again, and yes, again and again. You are my joy and my pain. Your joy is intoxicating and your fierce spirit and defiance stare rudely in the face of my own. 

The Holly Cottage blonde bomb-shells
Three years on this Earth for you, and three years a mother for me. My greatest learning of life, yet. And we learn together. You - seeing, feeling, understanding - for the first time. Me - seeing, feeling, understanding, appreciating - for the second time. But this time, differently, this time with the sense of my own dear and stoic mother. 

What an amazing love, what amazing loves. And I continue - daily, hourly - to be humbled, astounded, and torn wide open.  

Three years ago, I thought I knew everything. I really knew nothing. 

All my love to you Alannah, and a happy happy birthday!

Your Mumma, forever xx

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Call the midwife: a Home Birth in the Holly Cottage

Right so - those of you who are squeamish or who have no interest in the intimate details of getting a baby out of a woman's body...feel free to stop reading right now. All others, continue at your peril...

So. You're having a baby. You'd like to have a natural birth. You're forty. You've read all the stuff about how the scale of interventions and C-section in hospitals in Ireland are on the rise, and the odds of having a natural birth plummet sharply once you walk through those gaping doors of the nearest maternity unit. You're still wincing from the memory of the episiotomy (Google it boys...and cross your legs in solidarity with your women folk) first time around. Where do you go? Who do you turn to?

Call the midwife. 

And I did. I called a few in fact. And they were all wonderful. Forget the consultants. They are useful for when there are problems, real problems. The midwives are the superwomen, and supermen (of course). 

Having explored a few different avenues I settled on Neighbourhood Midwives, now known as Private Midwives Ireland. From week 30, after a few very debilitating and frustrating visits to the consultants in the HSE (I promised myself I wouldn't go on a rant about that here but I'm open to hours of such ranting if anyone wants to indulge me!!!) all my antenatal visits were held in the kitchen of our home, Holly Cottage. Tea being one of the important opening rituals of all the appointments, this was quickly followed routine checks, paperwork and the wonderful listening in to the baby's heartbeat. That was my favourite bit. Relief, joy, love - all those emotions rolled into those precious moments when baby Oscar - who was just baby at that time - was revealed to us by wonderful technology. No long hospital queues, no impersonal rigmarole, no processing line. The midwife visits were as easy and as casual as that, yet markedly professional and deeply respectful. I also have to mention the support from UK Birth Centres team - Linda in particular. This is the mothership behind Neighbourhood Midwives and the backbone for the limbs in Ireland. Even when my mother passed away five weeks before Oscar was born, Linda was there supporting me in my decisions and being a welcome friend from afar. 

So we got to know each other, a little bit at least, the midwives and the residents of Holly Cottage. And that was important, as delivering a baby is a pretty intimate act and one certainly needs to feel safe in the hands of the ones doing the delivering. And I did, we did. Sure there were moments when the scaremongering peeked it's ugly head into my steady thinking - but that's why I told only those few people around me who knew us best and knew to trust our decision. Who needs negativity at a time of such positivity?

And so, the due date came and went. Despite strong opinions that he would come early, Oscar arrived fashionably late on a bright and sunny afternoon. When the pains started at 3am, I called our primary midwife, Madeleine, immediately, and she was over in a flash - although I'd love to say she flew as superheroes do, she did arrive by car. And she watched and waited, and watched and coached patiently and discretely as I continued in very casual labour up until about midday...and that was when the fun began. 

Love Love Love
Pain is relative and while some would say it's in the mind, it sure as hell is manifested in the body. What worked for me? Breathing through the pain, letting go of each contraction one at a time, not thinking about the last one or the next one, not thinking, just being. Just breathe. And pressure from the man on the main action area for me, my lower back. With a few hours to go I sank into the birthing pool. OMG. These should be mandatory for all births - home and hospital, and anywhere in between. Such sweet relief and comfort in all that balmy heat. So I stayed there for the next couple of hours, breathing and doing plenty of oohing and aaaahing. Thank the universe there was no video! Tea was made and drank, the neighbours kids went and came home from school and I could hear them playing in the garden next door as Oscar pushed through for his final descent. Surprisingly and incredibly, I actually did try to escape in those last minutes - to who knows where, and to what purpose not even I know, but I did - it seemed perfectly rational at the time. And just as all about me had convinced me that an escape might not be such a good idea, the final descent was over and our little man was there in my arms. All eight and a half pounds of him. He was expertly guided out at 3.59pm on May 16th 2016 by Midwife Madeleine (no tears, no dreaded episiotomy - phew!) while Midwife Gail whispered affirmations in my ears and held me steady. Literally. 

And once he was out...well there was only great joy and celebrations. More tea was made, a placenta delivered and cord cut only when the last of the goodness was transferred back to Oscar. Holly finally relaxed outside once my distressing vocals subsided, Alannah came home from the minder and wondered why mumma and dadda had been messing about in a paddling pool in the kitchen without her all day, and who the hell was that bundle of joy pressed against my breast? And life just settled back quickly to its easy pace from there on and we all stared as the tiniest and newest of us quickly captured our hearts and our minds and it was like he had never not been there before. Baby Oscar. Beautiful, beautiful John Lennon might sing. 

And as we settled in to the music of his coos, our beautiful midwives packed up their bags, tidied up everything, and said their farewells. Midwife Angela tidied up the main man Oscar and checked him over - that was the last bit - and then they were gone. And four became five.

There's plenty of detail glossed over here but for the purposes of this piece here's the take home message: call the midwife. If in doubt, call the midwife. If not in doubt call the midwife. Call them anyway. They have the power to ensure that one of the most important events in your life is one that is safe, calm, peaceful and natural. What a gift and what a great skill to have. Use it! 
Beautiful Oscar

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

We follow the sun

It seems like 'transitioning' is the buzz word in our house these days. Everybody is doing it...Alannah is transitioning to her new room in play school - very grown up with a proper big slide and what's this? No more nappies? Phew, sighed The Earth as it is relieved of even one of its contributors to the heaving stockpile of soiled nappies toddlers can create. Mind you, Oscar is making up for it...

It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting here in the Holly Cottage, in blissful ignorance I might add, for the arrival of our own little princess and my own transitioning to mother. And now she is climbing the stairs without assistance to a new classroom, running on ahead into the 'dark woods' as I struggle to follow with a thriving babe in arms. 

Oscar is transitioning too - he is aware now of his surroundings and he knows the benefits of making his voice heard. When the princess isn't here he is quiet, sleepy...and chats away to himself no end. But when the storm returns, he observes keenly...watching her every move, waiting his turn and drinking in all the fun that being a mobile unit will bring him in the future. 

The garden is transitioning also - winter green manure cover is well established across the most of it, courgettes have possibly passed their peak and tomatoes are blushing nicely. Ambitions were low this year in the Holly Cottage garden, and to be truthful I'm glad we got to where we did, not knowing how the new arrival would impact on moving about the place and all that comes with that. Spuds are all out to avoid the attentions of the greedy slugs and vibrant beetroot awaits daily encounters with goat's cheese. And that's it, pretty much. A few apples to fall and of course the odd delight squirrelled away in the freezer for the darker days. But we are pretty much on the wind down (to you know what).

It's one of the main drivers in the lives of us living this far north - we follow the sun. She comes and she goes and she wondrously lights up the night in summer while keeping her glare low all through the winter. We respond accordingly and this year flip-flops graciously won out over summer wellies, hurray! And sure, it's not over yet...but we are transitioning. 

It's the sunflower that beckons the change. And I must change too, as newborn becomes bouncing babe that wants more entertainment and princess wants to stay in play-school forever. A quick check in the mirror and I delude myself that I am the same as I was at the start of the summer. But that's certainly impossible. Daily clashes with the threenager and four months of broken sleep have taken their toll. But yoga prevails and has the power to restore. And on this day when I learned of the passing of a truly inspirational woman and dear friend - not much ahead of me in her years but miles ahead in her wisdom - I am grateful for every diminishing minute of this Irish summer, its highs and its lows. Because life is for those of us who are, living. 

So, welcome sunflowers, welcome the change that's coming, welcome transitioning. Farewell summer, farewell newborn stage, farewell toddler princess and bittersweet farewell darling, beautiful Judit. 

We followed the sun, in life, in work, in nature, together. 

For Judit. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Because Life begins at...

Today life begins, again, at 41. Isn't it great?! The day started in the blurry regions of 5.30 am as the little princess snuggled in to say 'Can I rub your tummy Mumma?'. Poor thing thinks that there are more babies waiting in there to come out...mind you, it may appear a bit like that... And then the 10 week old wriggled on the other side and let a yelp out of him - cat like - not to be forgotten. A few doors away I could hear the rustle of Holly's tail, picking up on the waking sounds - ears pricked, waiting for the door of her sleeping quarters to open and her breakfast to arrive. 

Birthday bouquet
Morning is a strange time in our house, for me anyway. It kind of creeps in, steadily and stealthily from about four-ish when Oscar wakes for a feed. After that I don't really sleep...I generally just hold him in my arms or on my lap and lie back and enjoy the moment for it's immense peace and silence. He sleeps, in that blissful space that only a well fed newborn can sleep. Is he dreaming? And we sit or lie there for a couple of hours, until herself awakes around the six mark and then it's full steam ahead for the next fourteen hours, until she fades again back into the mess of quilt and pillows left over from the night before. 

Smile! And the whole world...
Today is my birthday. And what a lovely day it turned out to be. Instead of bemoaning the fact that I was another notch on the 40 decade, instead of freaking out about the three silver hairs that have invaded my fringe, instead of tainting the day with downbeat and defeatist thoughts I decided to go with the positive and run the risk of joy. Oh happy day! Cuddles and smiles abounded, only a few moments of angst with herself near bedtime and no sudden clothes changes where Oscar's nappies just couldn't take it. A precious shower early in the day, a sneaky coffee before 11am, a nap with cutsie newborn, baking with the princess, and candles blown out more than four times with small people, and dearest brother and father. And wildflowers on the window filling the room with heady scent Meadowsweet, every shade of green in the garden and a homegrown blackcurrant enlivened smoothie startling my tastebuds. Simple pleasures. But pleasures nonetheless. And a whole host of other birthday pleasures yet to be enjoyed with friends and family, not least of all when the man gets home. 

Life beings when you decide to live it. Usually only when you realise how easily it can be taken away. And that probably meant a painful experience and some serious soul searching. Well, the measure of pain only amplifies that of joy when it comes, and when joy comes in simple daily pleasures, well...then life surely has begun. 

"Just another little stretch baby brother..."