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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Badly bruised children, Tales from the Crypt, Rattling the Human Chain.

"She's just mean, that's all, and like I didn't do anything wrong, and and even if I had, it would have been by accident , and like not my fault, and like she hurt me, my arm,  just yanked me, by my arm, and pulled me out of the room, and like... like stood over me shouting, and making me feel bad, and like how could I have known what she wanted, " the boss tells of this  treatment by one of her teachers with pained brow, her habitual expression when wounded physically or emotionally,  attempting to  grasp the logic of events.  "Mum, you should complain" her older sister says trenchantly.  I ask the  boss to explain to me again what happened, and if her arm is marked. She is firm in telling me that she does not want me to intervene  "because, like, there will be a big fuss, and I 'll be called in, and my arm's ok now, and I don't think she will do it again because, like she was nice to me later, and she's not usually,  and... and I think she knows she went too far, and and she's not MY teacher, I don't have to see her often. And besides, SHE'S.... SHE'S  JUST LIKE THAT.". She certainly seems to have fogotten about it by the time we get home,  though I am troubled.  Should I intervene, despite her injunction? I know what she means by a  "big fuss", and I 'm also aware that schools and adults  in general  are adept at  re inventing the dynamic of what has happened,  to implicate the child  in subtle and unsubtle ways,  if faced with the choice of tackling a teacher. And what harm has been done to the boss?  I am not sure. Would I , in fact, cause actual harm where none had been done, if I make "a big  fuss" as she fears.

Teachers   these days are not permitted to brutalise children, as they have done  with impunity in the  not so distant past. In fact there is a belief  now that matters have swung too  far in the opposite direction, the teacher's authority fatally eroded.  I am not convinced about that one. The imbalance of power between little one and adult doesn't change, and teachers  like the rest of us, are adept at subterannean, suble cruelties, in place of more frowned  on oppressions. As to harm done, I was primary schooled in an era where use of a  fair degree of brutality was considered appropriate in teaching children, with an indifference to, or ignorance about,  consequential damage. The casual attitude towards  those abuses  seems almost humourous now (blackly). When I was about ten years old , for instance, I presented a medical form to a teacher, filled out as a preliminary to some  school vaccination, who read it aloud to the class (it was a slow morning) and remarked, bitingly, that my mother seemed to be under the impression that I had normal intelligence.  The other children laughed loudly, and I would have joined in had the heavy dark featured teacher required it of  me. All that was required was for me to sit there  dumb and abject,  however. And I have a sneaking disbelief in my  own intelligence to this day. Again, I recall been asked for the answer to a homework question by the same malelovolent (to this ten year old, anyway) presence. So frightened was I, that the numbers blurred on the page when I looked down, and I gave her the answer to the adjacent sum. There followed a scene at the blackboard, to where she marched me, that I carry with me to this day. Being numb with fear, I couldn't  make any sense of the figures on the board, so that she caught me by  my hair, swung me back   and whacked  my head sharply against the board.   For what seemed like an eternity thereafter, I stumbled through  the the workings  of the sum. In the end, the answer was  seven. I know that because she spelled the  letters of the word out derisivly to me, and made me write them  down, although the letters made no recognisable word for me. "Se van" I told her.   Fear had made me illiterate as well as innumerate. When I resumed the (relative) safety of my desk, she asked me what answer had I  actually written down for  homework.   " Seven" I told her.  She   snatched  the copy from my hand, and after a brief silence,  delivered herself of  a diatribe against  imbeciles.

On  the    scale of  opppressions, I was not the the most badly treated. I remember  a small child,  pale yellow urine slowly running down her leg, as she stood isolated at the top of the classroom, being berated by the same teacher. We all  watched as she cried helplessly, the  situation only alleviated  for us by the fact that it was not one of us. The teacher stroked the stick she kept to discipline the children, (she named it Jimmy,) before contemptously ordering the child  home out of her sight "with her disgusting mess". So, I am not sure what damage was done to the boss now, but I will take no chances, I suspect my own gauge  may be broken on that one, and will pay a discreet visit to her  school.

And what of all the other parents confronted with this scenario then and  now,  my own included? I suspect that the level of harshness and abuse (what else was it ?) varied from parish to parish depending on how willing or able ordinary people were to counteract the priest and the teacher, to rein them in.  It was  then a rigidly  hierarchical society,  a potentially  dangerous imbalance of power reflected in the relationship between people, church and schools. Some of this abuse was so blatant, extreme, even  ( boys, in particular being badly beaten on  a regular basis in school or most cruelly and consistantly derided.) The derision was a given, ("sticks and stone may break your bones, but words will never hurt you", we said)  and  not confined to  academic matters either . I remember one boy being  mocked about his "buck" teeth over and over  by the headmaster, a male counterpart of our Cruella.  There was at best a helpess paralysis, a powerlessness on the part of parents,  at worse a cravenly  blind eye turned. My   own childhood  experiences of this could be  matched and topped by many people,  and I have heard the stories over the years  usually in a pub setting, the only setting where this stuff is pulled out in  to the light of day, still.  The wavering  angry light  shed by  many units of alcohol  catching the damaged  child ,  buried deep, and  hastily stuffed back into the crypt,  in  sobriety. There is a shocking resignation about it all, an unwillingness to be troubled by old wounds. Which, of course works  its poison  through, one way or another.    Taking into account the more extreme brutalities of that, not so long ago, time,  it is hard to see how it  can be excused,  disposed of,  in terms of a  more delicate  modern sensibility, and /or a matter of  making judgements on  a different era.  I wonder too whether this kind of craven  blind eyed not looking (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil) is a peculiarly   Irish trait. And  if   it is now  a part of   our  heritage, working its way out  through the  generations,  like any other  suppressed  damage. It is naive to think we have left it  all behind us , in the past, or that the harm done has been healed or dealt with at all. It may even be dangerous to think that  a toxic legacy is not transferred to children,  who all  unknowing  and in a more affluent and permissive  time, will act out old traumas, bleed out from old wounds. . With the aid of  chemical and other stimulants, of course.. After all, its common belief these days that trauma is stored on a cellular level, and how can we caculate what RNA catalysed process  was caused and passed on  from old horrors,  to taint, to hobble,  future generations.?

                                                         Behind Judas Escariot.

Was it you behind Judas Escariot, you
as he slides through the door,
his  head dipping lower, and
you  carry  his coat, while you both
left the floor to the beast.
All available space
he had
Tather Tom,
when he beat the child to the floor,
til child despoiled, flower mired, could'nt take  any more.
His child's flesh too weak, so to speak
pulverised to a pulp
til nothing will ever now move
save the sad silent flow of his blood.
Father oh father oh daddy please stand
between frail flesh and beasthand.
Was it you?

Was it you who went home to cower in bed,
while Judas Escariot tightened the rope
and never once lifted his head?
The murdered child cast out with the trash.
No questions asked.
Was it you?

Are you blind to the stain that has spread
that has leached all the joy from your store,
all the hope from your heart.
Your graces departed, your houses debased and defiled,
and you dream every night of the beast
that shadows your child,
of the beast unleashed, stalks the land.

Did you claw in the ground, on your knees to seek,
in the earth to unearth,
or sorrow to find,
the murdered child, the hidden boy.
To nail the lie,
to weep, to mourn
possibility quenched,
forever gone such chance for good,
would you go back again if you could?
Was it you.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Working dogs, Misplaced Babies and a Visit with the Undead.

"Don't be a fool! He'll love it",  "Oh... my... god,  How would you feel if we did that to you. How?".  "a DOG'S DIFFERENT YOU FOO.....". " Enough"! I bellow (I can bellow), and I  wonder how exactly we came to this, after all its only Monday,  far too early for this conversation,  there's never actually  a good time for this  particularly unseemly conversation. Oh it all started innocently enough, with my first born's (d'eldest) decision to move to Australia with his wife and three children, earlier in the year. After the sad departure, during which  there was much wailing with  d'eldest himself offered the family room,  (the crying room,) going through security,  to collect himself and his distraught children  ( apparently they have to have this now for distraught Irish  departees, emigrating with their families.)  Its one thing to leave in the short term,  single and /or on an adventure,  and quite another to leave with little ones and no return date. After they left we settled down to skyping, but now, christmas approaches, and  our equilibrium is again disturbed. D'eldest and his wife are energetic party givers and celebrants of christmas, and all such events. Christmas was a project for them, beginning in early November with a plan of campaign, and brought to a mighty conclusion on the 25th, carrying all of us in the crest of their exuberant wave.  I really dont know know how we are going to do it without them, or who they, being newcomers still , will find  to share  in   their  christmas joy de vivre , in Australia.  So we are back to the girls campaign to visit, started as soon as the plane left the ground.His parents in law are going over in April next, tickets purchased for some time.  They being  very present and  very good grandparents.  Both girls feel I am being a little faint hearted by comparison, and have  assumed a gentle nagging but as I have (patiently) explained to them, blackboards will become more blurred, (optician), dental cavites unfilled, school trips foregone, and the soles of shoes glued togeather, if we have our Australian trip now  ( after which we would have to  stay home, forswear all junk food, and racketing about, wear extra sweaters in the cold  sparingly heated house and read  library books for entertainment)  (does'nt really sound so bad in fact, depending on your point of view). Anyway, and  bringing  us back  to where we started, the boy mentioned that his  friend has small pedigree dogs, and he has squirrelled away a thousand euros earned in breeding them. I  absently reminded him that the  hound has an impressive  pedegree.  "Oh my god. thats it" the innocent elder daughter squealed." But what would it involve?". The boy told her what it would involve, in succinct and brutal fashion. "What! N0!, He's our dog. He's one of the family. like a brother, we can't take money for that.."  And so on and so forth.  "Well anyway, I have a far better idea" the boss's tone is earnest, ", its not just d'ldest's parents in law who want to see them, we all want to see them, like granny too, and all the cousins and aunts and uncles, like there must surely be like forty people or so, and like why can't we HAVE THEM OVER HERE?. and buy the flights between us, that wouldn't cost   too much. and .. and we could do it every year, and then WE would'nt have to have  jet lag, or..or  take time off work for mum, and they'd get to see everyone, and you could like text all the family this evening mum, and arrange it before christmas, WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM (the boy snorting derisively). its better than you're stupid dog idea". "ENOUGH!" I say roundly " we will neither import d'ldest and his family for Christmas, or put the hound out to work. Not that these are not fabulous ideas, but we will visit in the summer like every one else, and explore all  other suggestions  in due course. . Over time. ..And we'll see" (The great "We'll see", invaluable strategic procrastination  in parenting).

When d'ldest was newborn, I was obliged to leave him behind me when I left the hospital for a week or so, before bringing  him home. The shift from such   intense focus on this  beaming infant, the sense of mental rupture from  my obsessive preoccupation with feeding, bathing and just staring at this helpless indomitable creature, left me adrift in a fog of disorientated depression.  I visited every day of course, and was permitted by the attendant nuns to hold him briefly as they stood, blank  faced,  by. The infant handed to me  so reluctantly, wrapped in a  stiff and unfamilar  yellow blanket, began to seem more like their baby than mine  to me as the week went on, till I reclaimed him,  got him home. In our subsequent life, crowded with it incident as it was, I never revisited that week,  until driving down the motor way after the plane had departed for Australia, in another grey fog, pervasive  and entirely interior.  But equilibrium has been restored,  and I passionately believe that your children should go beyond you, so to speak,  physically,  geographically , emotionally and in any other way there is. I am pleased they have expanded their horizons in such a magnificent way, and we will be regular visitors.

The boss has agreed to go with me to see the latest Twilight movie. Well, I have been corrupted into a sneaking fondness for these movies.  I was obliged to take the girls (and a less than thrilled boy) to the first two, and somehow or other I was drawn in. And besides I have always been intrigued by vampire stories.  When younger I came across and devoured ( in vampire manner) Anne Rices's very entertaining books. I suppose its all that brooding  vampirish angst, all that dark regret and loss coupled with the irristable power of the undead. The allure of the vampire reminds me of the notion of wakem, in native american culture, or that which mysteriously is, a dark flowing energy, neither good or bad, uncontrollable  but necessary, vital,  in balance with washte (the ordinary.). Sexuality , poisons, dangerous creatures, pain, creative energy, darkness are wakem, and appeal  in particular to teenagers, and whatever inner wild child the rest of us channel. So, I asked if we were going to this one, with feigned reluctance.   I was  surplus to requirements  however, as both girls went with friends ( small gangs of blase looking tweens and teens, collectively gasping in the cinema  when the boys on the screen took of (no, flung off) their shirts.  Which  happened a lot, believe me.) Anyway, the first daughter says she can't face  this one again for a while   but the boss has agreed to take me. So,  if you see a solid, solemn faced twelve year old girl  leading a sheepish, popcorn clutching woman by the hand, in to see  New  Moon, that would probably  be us.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

speedvans, marie antoinette, buzzing boys and a kind of crucifition

"Wrong! theres only one speed van on each stretch of road, AND  he's always in the same place,  always"  the boy has emerged from his  miasmic gloom of last night ( much passionate electric guitar playing with a closed look on his face) .  He's first out  the traps into the eternal  argument on our  way to school this morning.  "But..but.. there could be another one,  further on in front of us, another one........" the boss never got to finish,  "They have a limited number of vans, how do you suppose they could EVEN AFFORD  to  have more than one in each area,  they're trying to slow you down not catch you out"  the boy is energetically working up a head of steam,  "And you know this how?" the dreaming genuis comes to life ( from  a dignified retreat on being told to pull down her skirt).   "Just look it up on the internet,  go on, they show you where the van is, in each area", the boy  is on a roll (and loud. Loud)  "But that doesn't  mean there  can't be others.."..  "It DOES,   read the stuff on the website,  they 're not trying to catch you out,  it's always,  always,  the same place". "Umm well we must check out the website darling, to settle the arguement".  "There's  no point, HE settles the arguement by shouting everyone else down". (the dreamer is bitter) "And YOU never..."    "Christmas boxes,! for people in need!" I say hastily "have we got ours ready" (a strategic change of subject) "Oh, and you know there's a lot of homelessness in town", says the boy wisely, "we see Red Willlie out side our school every morning,. Of course," chuckling, "he's not actually homeless, just comes in on the train every day  and pretends to be". "Really, mum all you have to do is look around you in town and you will spot the homeless people, its not a joke, they are there", (my pained angel)   " Yes and how do you  actually know they are homeless darling?".  "Oh , oh you do know," said the boss,  " like sometimes you see people who like have  like layers, like two jumpers tied around their wast and maybe two coats on top, and ...and... and old shoes".  "Ah" said I, "people wearing their entire wardrobe in fact ."  "Yes, ( the First daughter has gone from stern to icy) yes, and those people are cold (a slight shudder, she being a cold creature) and have no where to go".   "And mum, WHY  do we have a big house all to ourselves" (the boss is in accusative mode ).    "Huh?".  "Yes, all to ourselves when you could fit another family in  our house. At least".  I protest faintly that our house is not that big, and we have a person in every bed room, while reflecting that another family might be interesting considering that this family cannot abide each other for long  stretches of the day. We discuss tenements, where, I say entire families   had a room each in large houses in the last century, and there was huge efforts made to get them  OUT OF THAT, and  into proper accomodation. "But you can see homeless people, every day NOW" insists my   avenging angel....  "Yes" ( the boss's  tone is sadly reproachful) .. there's that man who sits outside all day long,  near  your office mum, on the doorstep, you  can see him all the time.". (I feel  as though I have told them all  to eat cake.)( And you can call me   Marie Antoinette ). "Oh " bellows the boy , "I  KNOW  him, we all know him, HUH ,  he knows what he's  doing, and he always winks at you".  "Theres is no point, NO  POINT,  in continuing with this conversation"  (the angel speaks. ).  "No, no,  go on darling, say what you want to say ". " NO  point. There is no point with HIM talking over you,ALL THE TIME.  I refuse to discuss this, while HE is allowed shout everyone down, and sneer and never be dealt with!"  There is a silence after this passionate speech. Then I tell her that, in my experience, sadly, this is how men argue  and/or debate, they compete,  they attack, it often involves  shouting. "And after all darling its good experience for you, to make yourself heard over him. When I went to university, it took me quite a while to adjust to men taking over debates and discussions and I wasted a lot of time being indignant, until the penny dropped. They do the same to each other, its not gender directed,"   "Huh, thats just unreal, mum, thats...thats just  a cop out, you just let him away with  it".  "And the  good thing (I labour on brightly, in her cold  silence)  IS THAT THEY NEVER MIND YOU SHOUTING BACK. ITS..ITS ...LIBERATING  ". I am addressing (shouting as it turns out) her back as she climbs out of the car, and unfortuately follow up with an injunction to pull down her skirt (shifted upwards again).  I say unfortunate as, according to the boss and the sniggering boy, there is a small group of youths standing nearby who overhear and are staring after her, broad grins on their faces. (OH DEAR GOD  the poor  girl is right, and I am an Inadequate. A terrible fool).  But perhaps she hasn't realised. ".  "Umm mum, I think she knows, " as we pass her by,  arms actually folded, and face set as she walks. And that my friends  is how to alienate your beloved daughter, ( fast forward to hours of appeasement later on) from sheer inadvertant tacklessness and instinctive motherly injunctions at the wrong moment. The so very wrong moment.

I  drove into town  to collect the boy from  meeting up with his friend on Friday  evening. "But surely, darling, there were only two of you when I left you in?" as I extracted him from a buzzing ball of at least twenty boys. " Oh" he said airly "we just kind of picked them up as we went along,  you  know,  fellas all on a half day from school, hanging around, we sort of gathered them up and kept going. "going where dear boy? "Oh, nowhere, not really, just  walkin and talkin, just hangin around".  The entire gathering seemed to have vanished when I  looked back .. As though I had unravelled a ball of wool when I extracted the boy. "Where have  they gone  now?".  "Home" he said laconically before asking me what was for dinner. I had a sudden arresting vision of a vortex,  a boyball rolling through the town sucking every pubesent boy into its ever increasing energy field, emptying   the town and hinterland  of laughing,  care for nothing boys, til I and a few other parents extracted a handful, and the rest fell out, seeping  home to their tired, bemused and  (no doubt) relieved  parents.

The boss has won an inter schools art competition on Monday.  Her second win this term, her earlier poster win going forward to represent the county. She is a prolific prize winner of art and other childrens'  competitions. The school encourages it, its good for them and good for her. And,  as I think I may have already mentioned , I bask.  Her first painting competition  win occured when she was seven years old. That  competition was sponsered by the parents of a small child who had died,  a pupil at the school, a silver cup given  to the winner  in her memory. When she won, the boss brooded much on whether this would make the childs parents feel any  better, and why and how the child died. For a time,  it seemed she could not think about her win at all without thinking about this child. There was much discussion about what happens when we die (such  a long story) and why, and why  that particular child and not another.  I struggled  to explain, as you do, to put some safe shape on the realities of death and loss.  You never feel you are actually qualified to offer these( halting)explanations. And you never are.    The boss herself caused me a few heart stopping moments. When she was two months old, as I tiredly  descended the stairs , a footslip and she flew from my arms,  a precious fragile thing  (so recently and with such brooding  careful thought , such labouring energy,  brought into the world)  falling down endlessly, getting further and further away from me to as I watched,  useless. (useless)  (useless). "I think we were lucky this time,  She must have bounced on her nappy, not a bother on her," the doctor told me later with grim humour.  I had a similar sensation two years later, when she  fell under the reversing  car of a horrified neighbour, the sense  of increasing, forever stretching distance as I ran  on and on  towards the car pinning my silent  child. It is as though you have already taken on board an eternity of consequences and loss in an elongated second, a lifetime of guilt accepted, a desperate bargaining with god, fate,  or something, being offered in arrested time.    And  we were lucky that time too, a clean break in her leg, her precious head and vital organs safely clear of the wheel. I was hysterical, unravelled for a long time afterwards.  I  sometimes access those desperate slices of frozen time,  of  watching  at the top of the stairs,of  the endless never to arrive race towards the car,  a  head trip  for  darker moments.      She has forgotten about the child who gave her name to that early art competition   now,  she glories in her win, plots on the spending of a generous cash prize as she ought,  though  I have not. All her  subsequent wins, briefly and poignantly  bringing this child to mind. Her sister had , in fact, brought home a  sad little story  the year before, about a child in her class, headscarf wearing and often absent, who  didn't run about with the other children in the yard  "cos she's not allowed, mum", but who was always smiling "cos she's nice mum".  I began to check  on  whether this child had had come to school  from time to time. One day, she said to me "Oh no, mum, she never comes in now". I made some enquires,  and it was as I had apprehended. My daughter  never mentioned the child again, forgot about her , I suppose,  but the fate of those  two children merged in my mind, a  waking   nightmare, the small hostage to fortune given with each child,  lost ,  the  haunting fear of  all  parents,    the unthinkable thing if you are to carry on with reasonable  confidence and the energy required in rearing  children. . This poem is about agony.  And the  unyielding  love  of parents.


                                                            unbearably slender thread,
                                                               an egg shell head
                                                                   is all ,between my baby and the void.
                                                   Inadequate membrane of pink and bone
                                                          to house
                                                                my jewel, my care, my own,
                                                                    that cruel chemicals exposed.
                                                   The soft brown down that grew
                                                        and stirred our hopes
                                                           not enough
                                                              to keep my sweet one warm.

                                                  We wrapped her up in cotton wool,
                                                      in  layer on layer on layer of love.
                                                  The drugs they said,
                                                        we spoonfed
                                                             from her poisoned cup.
                                                   We took her back to school
                                                            the glory days
                                                                 we knew she could.
                                                    I held her ghosthand fast
                                                        the long way there
                                                            the long way back,
                                                               oh fool, remember not to hold too hard.
                                                    Her face and open beam of glee
                                                            to be
                                                                with her own kind.
                                                    So rough, so rude, so everyone of them alive.
                                                    My face a mask,
                                                               I mimed goodbye,
                                                                    I mimed
                                                                       dont crush, dont push
                                                                            dont be too much
                                                                                dont let her know you know,
                                                                                   on this day let her be a living child.
                                                     Her tense and radient face
                                                                  dreams of beginning
                                                                        willing to start.
                                                     The memory,
                                                               slow corrodes my heart.
                                                     It trails to mock my struggle through nightsdark.
                                                     I carry you
                                                            you carry me
                                                                 between us two she lies.
                                                      I am without compass
                                                                     this husk.
                                                      The small white coffin has the rest.
                                                      (We let them, take her, coffin with the rest)

Epilogue:  she stood beside me a few minutes ago,  the boss, at the lift  in the multi story car park telling me about how she played  the same  traditional songs over and over   on the accordian in the school band,  for the school open day ( Open Days, even in primary schools these days, such is the competition for pupils and precious grants) "and.. .and I had to give my red band jacket to Roisin,  mum, cos  like she forgot hers, n only mine would fit her,  and they gave me  another  too small one, and my arm was bent in it as I played,  n  like I couldn't straighten it, and it was so funny, n we had to play the same songs over n over, and we couldnt stop laughing, n it was brillant, like so much better than class, n Mrs Ryan was pleased with us,  even though  we kept laughing, n even though my arm was achy n we had to keep playing the same ones over n over, like, like KEEP PLAYIN GIRLS! SHE SAID,   n  even tho we laughed,  n laughted,  n laughed" and  she was off, away from me,  running down the up moving  escalator, her solid twelve year old frame  a blur of motion ,   hair streaming behind  "cos the lift is  so boring mum, an this its faster, n the boy  n me always come down this way you know , n  you should try it yourself Mum" she breathlessly tells me  when I catch up with her down below.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Violated teddy bears, hauntings, an unapology, a benidorm dream and Clare De Lune.

"No! Sorry. There's only one christmas day, 25th December, only that day. I am not accepting any other possiblities". The boy's lively tone has an edge to it. "Oh, oh no, in fact it could have been another day, like, like, some people think it was in April, A theologian visiting our school told us , they just picked the 25th in order to have a day to celebrate".  The rest of what the boss has to say is drowned out by a resounding "No" from the boy  "I mean, right,  we will agree to differ on this " ( the parental solution, imposed on extreme arguements is  now adapted by the boy) "but"  (sotto voce) its the 25th. Only one." Poor boy, brain of ungiving cut and thrust, muscles of steel, instincts of a scrapper, and heart of mush. He it is who digs out halloween and Christmas decorations every year, sternly upholding family traditions. He discovered this year, at Halloween, that one of our large witch posters had vanished,  disintegrated as I  explained  (after seven years hard haunting) and I rushed to find the remaining one ( lurid orange with hook nosed, pointy chinned, leering witch.). "Oh, at least you kept that one. That one's sacred. You will keep that one, wont you?". I am an abandoned  declutterer, ruthless and reckless in dispatching stuff  via bin , blackbag and recycling plant. It is the only way, I find, to hold back the tide of stuff  that comes with stages, interests, and essential needs of three children who are as sentimental about stuff as they are fickle,  forever moving on to the  next  irrisistible thing. They mistrust me deeply, of course, suspect me if stuff can't be found. I am blamed, even as I tell them  I should cast out more! more! to save  us all and the house being engulfed in a tsumani of STUFF..

Anyhow, the boy puts up his sacred pictures every year, and has an ancient teddy bear in his room, a hostage to fortune, who from time to time is seized and borne off by our Hound of the Baskervilles , to a corner of the house to be violated. The hound is entirely addicted to the raiding and carrying off of soft toys, all the cuddlies and fluffies from the girls bedrooms, and the boy's bear (positively the only soft item in his bedroom). The hound knows his transgression is heinous indeed, but he can't help himself, the wild light of addiction, the reckless thrilling joy of being bad, in his eyes as he streaks past you on the stairs, a fluffy  between his jaws. He has removed the eyes and nose of the boy's bear, in various attacks, before being cast out into the garden by a distraught boy. And I can tell you that your heart would have to be a cold and stony place indeed, not to be  yourself  undone by  the boy's raw sorrow,  his anguished demands that you repair the bear. He left it behind him  in a hotel when he was younger (couldn't holiday without it ) and I had the  guilt racked sense of having carelessly misplaced a child until we got the  lost  one  back (messy detour with distracted boy). Least I ever forget,  the boy needs his ediface of sacred days, and bears  and holy pictures,  even as  I work on   regulating his profanity.(a work in progress)

I am all aglow on Tuesday after the boss's parent teacher meeting.(Her last one in Primary school)  Is it too fanciful to think that the universe gave me boss's  parent teacher meetings  to make up for all the rest?  (the horror, the horror!).  It's all good, no , it's all superlatives, let's not be modest here. Well I don't actually take credit for it, she came onto the planet fully formed, already superlative (I have the baby  pictures to prove it, her large intelligent face looking benignly at the camera,  like a visiting alien from an altogether superior species, whose intentions are, more or less,  altruistic) So, no, I don't take credit but I do bask in reflected glory, the boy asking me why I am grinning broadly  (like a crazy person) when I return to the car.

On the way home, she asks me if  I want to know something really annoying and JUST WRONG  about the broadcaster, Pat Kenny. "Umm yes, why not" (surely nothing sordid?).  "Well he gets  paid €90 per hour, every hour, EVEN WHEN HE IS SLEEPING,  while, like,   people in the world and maybe even in his own country now are starving."  "Pardon?"  "Yes, even though  he ONLY (heavy irony) gets paid €730,000 now, and...and he used to get  €900000, thats still €90 he gets  every hour EVEN WHEN HE IS SLEEPING. And,  and, like,  he must surely know PEOPLE ARE STARVING.   "Oh.  I see." (I guess Pat Kenny's not sleeping the sleep of the just, so ). She asked me last week whether I had a pension plan in place, (an extremely distracting line of questionng when  you are driving. I can tell you )(particularly from a strong minded person not easily fobbed off). "I mean" she went on, "how do you plan to have money mum, when you retire?" (Her uncle retired recently, and it was discussed.)  The boy snorted and I thought, ( an interior rant) retire? retire! I am never retiring.  Expiring  maybe,  when the three are launched and paid for, my ghost to walk the road between home and town (the  local metropolis where it all happens,  shooling, work and three burgeoning social lives) , screeching nastily at those cars with double headlights that blinded me when in my  earthly shape, and   flashing a ghostly boob from time to time   at boy racers .(as you do ). Retirement is for wimps,  civil servants, and politians.  However, and particularly after her impressive outing of Kenny, I am handing the management of my financial affairs over to the boss, (as soon as it is legal).

"Its just completely unaceptable using that sort of language att this hour of the day, mum, and I am tired of being subjected to it , and I'd like to know what you are going to do about HIM"  the first daughter glares at my back (I can feel it), as I attempt to get the car out of the estate on to the road on Wednesday morning.  "What? what? what did he..."  "He told me to shove it up my arse, when I asked him to move his schoolbag (both sitting in the back), at this hour of the morning!, something has to be done about him!"  (I sometimes expect an American accented director type to reveal to me that we are actually in an extended version  of the movie Groundhog Day)  "Apologise" I order the boy hastily ( the delicate eared one is not going to let this go ) "For what!, she said stuff too". "Apologise! Now".  "Uh ah em   sor (sic) (its the unapology !, a boy special).  "Apologise PROPERLY "    "Sorry. I'll never ever say that again.  Never. Until later on in the day ". The delicate eared one begins a long lament on her misfortune in being connected  to such as the boy, and   doubly afflicted  in having a mother who LETS HIM AWAY WITH IT, while I reflect on how I told the boy last night that I was climbing on to the roof  to signal (any) passing aliens, who might be interested in taking him off for a good probing , after another round in the   war  of attrition between himself and his sister, while we were watching Speilberg's alien saga, Taken.  "APOLOGISE, SINCERELY AND AND NICELY RIGHT NOW". The boss sighs deeply into the silence that follows, and remarks on how impossible it is to disscuss thing with the boy's noise. "Shush " I hiss at him, as he gathers his verbal forces (I can feel it) (he knows she is an unstoppable force once she gets going) and she's off (he subsides, in the back) (I can........). The boss is afire with a school project where they set up a mini company in small groups, she and her friend plan to create a website to sell tee shirts and other items with her own designed logo, but,  like, her friend wants to sell things very cheaply, and , like , I told her we had to make a profit, and she said, what? whats that?and I told her,  and she said Oh.  And then, like,  she wanted to sell teeshirts with the twilight logo, beause, like, the movie is just out, but I said we could not, because there  would  be ,like,  legal problems , and she said Oh.  But I said I have worked out a design we can use, and, like, now we have to figure out what we need to buy , to, like,  transfer the design on to the teeshirts,  and, like, we could like  use your credit card mum,. and ...."    and I said "Oooh. Well anyway darling here we are, at school and I daresay we can discuss this later".

And still, I though afterwards , driving solo (bliss) one shouldn't dismiss any of the boss's ideas out of hand. I suspect she will be generating  shed loads of  money some day, and may syphon some of it off  to me (as a sort of afterthought). I don't  exactly stay up nights tormenting my poor head  about  retirement plans  ( see para four  above), but one should always have a fall back plan. Probably.  Well in fact I had a vague plan about taking myself off  to Benidorn, in Spain,  because it is sunny,  cheap and there's a grand view of the beech, if you take the precaution of renting  an apartment on the top floor of one of those high rise blocks, which I presented to my incredulous siblings on a night out recently, my vision deepened by pints of carlsberg.(oh yes)   After all, money is mostly needed in the rearing of children, and after that, what DO  you actually need, other that a supply of books, a decent sound system, a kitchen to cook in,  the odd bottle of wine and walks on the beech?  I used to think of this, when driving past Benidorm, (to somewhere more salubrious) on spanish holidays, I explained, and if one was lonely there would always be lovely english expatriots to talk to  and ...and  karaoke!  I can say accurately , at that point, that    my Benidorm dream  fell apart at the seams,  thrashed by my loving family's amused jeering at my low class vision for the future. (my negative equity inspired lateral thinking)  Still,  Spain sounds  a deep cord in  me, the tatty  and the sublime, the  lilting murmer of  spanish voices, the landscape baked all summer long, the complex tragic history and I may get  there yet (Benidorm or elsewhere), if  there is a lull before the Expiring that is, and I manage to keep my wits from wandering too far astray (probably requires a good sheepdog).

And besides, Karaoke, what's not to love? It has everything, freakshow, beauty and the sweet sweet music of good natured ,allowing  humanity. The earnest young girls, veterans of high school musical and  glee, who know all the words and sing without misgiving; the vibrant, disinhibited,  comrade in armed hen party girls shouting in perfect harmony, the startling solitary diva (always one) who takes you by surprise, making  the hair stand up on the back of your neck, with her  note perfect purity, (its  like  panhandling for diamonds really)(with the muddy bits being far more fascinating) the middle aged, shedding sense, discrimination and timing in an out pouring of  damp eyed  sentimentality and lets not forget the begrudgers  wallowing in a pleasurable orgy of distaste.   Its all good my friends.

On Friday, I am commissioned to download the musicsheet  for  Debussy's Clare De Lune, by my delicate eared one. Having recently taken her grade six piano exam, she needs a piece for a pending  provincial  piano competition. We went to open night at the boss's chosen secondary school on Tuesday night, where she and I trailed  exhausted after a   bouncing boss, determined to vist every nook and cranny, unearth every possible activity on offer, so that she could plot and plan  the next six years itinerary. As we trudged past yet another open doored, brightly lit classroom, the first one grabbed me by the elbow "Oh listen"! I extracted my attention from its  fug of overload and observed  a small girl playing Clare De Lune on an enormous piano with the most delicate timing and lovely competency to an entirely empty room, unheard except by my subtle, music loving girl. "Ah" she said "thats been in my head for ages, before I even knew the name, that's what I'm playing for  the concert. Oh listen! That's it. I am so happy." And she is, at the prospect of learning something really hard to master, of torturing herself  in obsessive and determined fashion with her  will of iron and  her able flexible fingers, till she gets it right, its beauty as suble, ordered and demanding as her own.

(the memory of the small girl who played the piano to  an empty room with such passion and delicacy, and I wish I could share the exquisite sound of her playing in those few moments with you my friends,  now stored in my gallery of mysterious, haunting and magical things (a  gorgeous mystery wrapped in a beautiful enigma) for all time ).

Footnote: dispatches from a roof, basically no show by the aliens.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Spare lines, the slaughter of the swans, and going over to the dark side.

"You gotta sign this Mum"" the boy presents me with his school journal, on this first morning back to school after mid term break, as I climb into the car, lost in some strategic planning about shopping and dinner.  The page is enscribed with  at least three notes from his class  teacher reproaching him for , variously,  talking in class, sticking paper up his nose in order to amuse  his fellow students, and (more)  chatting in class.  "Oh"  he says airily when I protest, "I was just being sociable, before the break, and she said to do one hundred lines about... um why I must not do, you know ...stuff, and I ve done them, so... I'm punished !, mum".   "Huh?, like when did you like (I'm talking like them now) do one hundred lines? You ve been away, surely".  The boy grins ebulliently, "Oh I have a few spare pages of lines, ..well you know they sometimes forget to take them off you and I keep them for the next time.  And I write a few during free period when I have nothing else to do,  just, you know, to have".  Now I have to say I'm intrigued,  bemused too.  " But,.. but how do you know what to write? before you ve actually "?.  "Oh, well I keep it general" he pulls a crumpled sheet out of the murky depths of his school bag and proceeds to read it to us   " must never behave like this again....very bad.....have very bad effect on my future......should never had done it....... "    "Well, surely, I mean surely you would'nt have the...the temerity  to hand that to a teacher".  "Oh , well they never actually read what you have written, you know mum, so I  just keep a few handy".  Now there is a silence in the car (while I digest this) into which  he tells me that I needn't worry,   he intends to be blameless this term, as I have promised to reward him with an MP3 player if he has a clean record and pretty good grades at the end of it.  " And, you know"  he says,  "its only seven weeks til christmas holidays,  cant wait!".  (he has moved on  entirely now from the subject of  the  keeping of spare lines, while I am beset with the image of the grinning boy whisking out his tattered sheets with  a"here's one I did earlier" flourish, and am nonplussed as to the  appropriate parental response.  " No, no, says the boss, its actually seven weeks in fact".  "Huh,  maybe in your world, but I 've only six and a half weeks to go".  "NO, NO, NO" says the boss, and they are off.

The older one sits silent during this exchange, except for a grudging grin when the boy explains about the lines. She is cross with me, and distance is her weapon of choice. I have let her know what I actually think about modelling as a career, the evening before, having held my tongue for a lengthy period on this one. I'm not sure why exactly she decided this was her career of choice,  I think someone may have made a stray comment on her suitability. She has grown tall and lissom  over the year too, and is full of talk about portfolios, agencys, and the like, whilst worrying obsessively about whether she will grow another inch, and whether her bone structure is right. And then there's  the Next Top Model shows on television, reality style programmes featuring an endless stream of narcissistic whinging vacent faced (more often than not) young women, who would seemingly slice and dice each other, egged on by manipulative hard as nails presenters, to be CHOSEN.  All this I have endured, until last night when  the dam burst. I believe it was after she asked me what my  in seam size was?  My what? "Your  in seam size mum,  surely you know your in  seam size, every one knows their in  seam size. "Wait a minute",  I hiss, "would this be  more model  lore gleaned from the modelling sites"?  It was, and whats more she needed  to know her own in seam measurement  because she would like to put together a portfolio, up in Dublin,  if  I will let her trawl around the agencies,  as time is a wasting, and her modelling peak will have been come and gone  by the time she is  twenty two. Yes, that was definately it.  "I mean why",  I asked , "why , why would a clever gifted girl like you want to be doing with   such people. Why not  just enjoy being lissom and striking, and aim for a career of actual value. in... in medicine ,say, or science, or in both fields seeking cures for cancer and the like (She is a good science student and had previously expressed an interest in this) (Before the fledgling model appeared stage left), or..or write, and add to the sum of human awareness.  "Had I ", I asked ," poured greens. fish oils, fruit, and filtered water into her since she was weaned, so that she might become a glorified clotheshorse? so that she could swell the ranks of the  half starved, grim faced (they never smile), slighly inhuman catwalk striding  attention seekers?  Perhaps there might be some excuse for girls who were plucked off the streets and presented with the gig, but to seek it out when she had so many other options.".... I had to stop myself at that point. She could not have radiated any more icy outrage." Well , well anyway, just think about what I have said", I called to her ramrod stiff back as she stamped upstairs.

"Why is there a little packet of swansdown on the inside of your new coat, Mum?" the boss struggled into her own coat, the last to be dropped off to school, as she asked this.  I explained that there was a little swans down in the coar for warmth,  incautiously.  "Whaaat, you mean swans were...were KILLED to make your coat",  her fingers froze on the buttons of her coat,  " Eh, nooo, they  died of old age and then..."  "oh Mum you know quite well  thats not true."  "Well, no I mean, the swansdown  was carfully gathered after they eh eh shed it by the lake..." "Mum!, How do you KNOW  that's true"?   "Darling, no one  but a crazy person would breed beautiful swans to make coats (I hope) and and anyway swans are very cross you know, and would probably bite you in the ass if you messed with them or their down.  (I know, pathetic) but she seems to accept this, or is simply bored.  I watch her striding off to meet her friend., her pearl grey wollen hat with the  knitted sticky out  ears, antenna like,  (de rigour this winter)  rather like a well fed lion cub.  Kids know how to live in the moment, my friends. And that gets us safely past the moment  when I,her own mother, uncaring  purchased a coat padded by at least ten (maybe more)  abused swans.

The boss is being confirmed this year and we did the enrollment ceremony on friday  night, ( where I sat , snivelling incontinently, as they called out each child's name, the child standing up on being called.) Why is naming   so shockingly affecting?  This is a by  now familar rite of passage for us , from primary school to secondary school,  from tween to teen, my last little one crossing over to the dark side.  She is already showing signs of the hormones blasting along  the brain wiring, colonising  personality, reconfiguring the clean, ordered, childmind,  manifest in her growing absentmindedness,her  shifting definition,  in the long slow transformation, bewildering, chaotic and unstoppable.  What a good thing it is that we parent smaller families these days,  in the  tremendous demands of this  task of support to the beseiged one, who, busy shedding your beloved child,  is consumed in  a raw and mysterious  hatching into a person   beyond  your reach or control.. And you have to be there, every step, the protective shell, only effective if shed as soon as it becomes redundant. A dynamic role with a fine sell by date. A mental focusing, as opposed to the intense physical sheparding  presence require for little ones. Anyway, speaking as a stray member of a good old catholic Irish family of elevan,  a child who set a high value on being left alone, a  product of intense mothering in matters of nutrition (feeding) morals, (engaged catholicism) and the  absolute insistance on kindness, ( though adrift at stormy  sea with all the rest,  rudderless in a small  boat regarding  sex, neurosis, and  the deepest cognitive reaching after self actualisation,)  I struggle (mostly) with being an adequate mother.  I hope  to be forgiven for unbecoming levity, clumsiness,  the unreasonable mourning after the loss of each eccentric, self contained stubborn child to all the proud, multi faceted adolescents who now live, breathe, stamp through and have their being  in my house.

Footnote:       In seam  - ankle to hip measurement. (dont do it if home alone!)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

No fools, Noddy gets lost, bad Mummy and voting

YOU CAN PLEASE ALL OF THE PEOPLE SOME OF THE TIME...........there is a discussion in the car on the way to school about Christmas.  All three  young people have been giving the matter some though, as it turns out. The boss and the boy have already done an in depth study of  electronic stuff in the Argos catologue, decided which  items they want, cut out details of same   for my information, and want to know if thats alright with me. (ie will I deliver the goods)  The first daughter emerges from her cloud of abstraction to say that she too  has decided on a very fancy phone indeed.  "But ..ah .. yes...but! we have not actually had halloween yet."  "Christmas is  only two months away Mum, gives you time to get organised!"  "And ..ummm...we have to look at our  budget " (it does seem like an awful lot of  stuff). "Thats all been worked out, mum," says the boy, "you and dad can get all the items between you, and its within the  range of the usual amount you  each spend" .  "Oh ...ah....(oh stop fighting a loosing battle )... um right so" I offer, to smug smiles all around.

YOU CAN PLEASE SOME OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME, ......I settle down to watch the road when the boy announces that the boss has called him an amadan  ( a good Irish fool) and what am I going to do about it?  Do about it? Yes, because if it was him, he would be  heavily sanctioned  for this.  It is true that the addressing of anyone as a fool, an idiot, and eejit, or imbecile, is a crime rather than  a misdemeanour in our universe, and he has lost television viewing time, and been dispatched to his room more often than his sisters for this,  as he is delivers himself energetically of the most insulting invective, in his dealings with his sisters and I strongly  dislike the conviction and contempt he puts behind these words, in particular.  I  even got biblical on all three about this  "Who soever shall call his brother a fool  shall be condemned to the fires of hell") (Its astonishing what you can recall, badly, from a catholic childhood) ( and can quote at your eye rolling children) .  Adults, and particularly teachers  didn't  hesitate to call children fools, or even stupid when I was a child, I suspect because there was a poor understanding of childish brain processes and indeed, what might be  involved in a learning curve.. Also, children had to be cowed, as a preliminary measure. Now, children have license  to say most things and do, freely calling  each other spas, gays  and worse, without a clear understanding  of the words meaning or implication.  Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, ....comes darkness assimilated from more guarded parental prejudice, intolerence and fear.

"But" say the boss, slyly, "You never forbade me to say amadan." Over   howls of protest from the boy, I tell her that, for future reference, she is forbidden to calll him a fool in any language . She asks me if I know the word in other languages for an idiot, because "you would have to know before you could get  that you had been insulted, wouldn't  you?". (I don't).  She apologises profusely to the boy, and both sit back satisfied, she with a speculative look in her eye.

BUT YOU CANT PLEASE  ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME.......... The first daughter has been listening to all this, as it turns out.  "I would like  something to be done about HIM" she throws out, " HE stuck his bum in my face and... and  farted  last night and got away with it . As usual.  I want something done about him." Huh,? it turns out that this all happened the night before, when the boss constructed  a haunted house in the play room in honour of halloween, (Which she did, most imaginatively and scarily  with  shadowy tunnels cunningly constructed with the use of blankets and furniture and christmas lights draped around corners to give an eerie glow, ) and summoned all three   to come inside AND PLAY HEH HEH.  This involved a great deal of crawling and   an shrieking to the great entertainment of all concerned.   Now I did hear delighted howls  and roars, and observed that they had all regressed to about three years old, but it turns out that there was a blazing row bwtween the  older two, in the end. So,  what am I going to do about it? Well I tell her, the   statute  of limitations has  run out on this one , its a long time since last night  in terms of arguments, discussions and general fooling around, I think she gave as good as she got, and I am going to do nothing  about it other than drive this car and deliver them each to their respective schools. And arrive at work in a relatively calm condition,  ie,  no further adjudications, where the adjudged have infinately more energy and  passion than you have, and are  loudly severe if YOU ARE BEING UNFAIR.  She preserves an offended silence, as she exits the car, and  I watch her walking  towards her school, hair swinging, back stiff with protest, emanating her favourite  aura of lost  princess, being inadequately reared by peasants.

AND YOU SHOULDN'T TRY.............The boss of bosses is offended with me.  This is manifested in  a slight diminution in the free flow of her chattiness, an interruption in the  habitual and   lucid vocalisation of her stream of conciousness. There is  also a slight crease on her  brow. (subtle). I have said No, to her taking on another evening class (in singing this time), and I am now trying to sidestep  her reasoned and guilt inducing  reproaches. The truth is that I am in and out of the town, a distance of 12 kms or so,  almost every single evening, having  already ferried all of us  to various  schools,  work, and then home again, and I am beginning to feel like Noddy in my little car, bobbing   up and down the road all day long, at a steady pace (don't forget the speed vans), though  unlike Noddy, without  benefit of fares from my passengers. (I think  Noddy got two shillings a time). The evening trips have built up over time, to cater for  drama classes, singing classes, music, and social outings for all three. It was all very manageable at first, but I realise  I have a problem, when I occasionally find  myself, in transit, wondering  (for a nanosecond)  where exactly I am going,  I mean , which trip is this?  She does not see the problem "like its only fifteen minutes in, Mum" but there's out as well, and   the collateral damage, where dinners have to be hurriedly cooked and eaten, and the driver must either hang around town,  pale'ly loitering, or go home and come back again.  And of course, when we return,  to deal with homework, the debris accumlulating in the kitchen sink, and the need for some imput on the laundry assembly line. Now, when I am home, I will do these things at my leisure, and delegate to  the fearsome three, having broken the news to them that they are not hotel guests.  I can  even enjoy the change of pace and being at home, but that all goes by the wall when the available time  to deal with the myriad of domestic tasks contracts, and you don't have the time or the energy to galvanise the children  (an inevitable faceoff  with  iron willed and pasionate individuals who will not do it if its NOT MY TURN). Basically you are down to multitasking, doing your famous peeling off into two people act, whilst humming the theme tune from Noddy (little did I know, as I watched the show on TV with my toddlers) in your poor addled mind. So,  I have taken myself aside , and given myself as good talking too. I have left nothing out, including the fact that they are unlikely, all,  to become world famous and renowned musicians , singers, actors, or indeed, if they do , it will  be  as a result of an irrisistable talent from within, and  probably inspite of  any imput of mothering. . Also, it will be of more value for them to have  a non babbling and demented mother, to see them to adulthood. As to socialising, there is a lot to be said for all of us being, simply, at home. Particularly when you take into account that most of their time is spent in school anyway. So, occasional outings then.  And my parenting will be so much more calm, measured ,  considered even, in this  brave new scenario.  So , we are cutting back drastically  on extra curricular activities. And  I will have to sit out the boss's formidable disapproval. .  And now, all I have to do is maintain my own determined selfishness, the trickiest task of all. (My   greatly valued homeopath likes to say that it is very good for children to learn about self preservation and selfishness  in mothers , by example .)

Thursday was presidential election day. I planned to exercise the democratic right (and privilege) later on in the day, when I could squeeze it in. We had a dash to the shops for the boss, to purchase black and white make up, nail varnish etc  for her undead goth wild child halloween party persona, the make up  to be shared with the sister    who is  going for a bad angel look. All this embracing of polarites is interesting, light and dark, pretty and bad, beautiful and interestingly deviant, incorporated.  Anyhow, I had to factor in the bad angel's singing class in the evening, and delaying discussions about the choir's being filmed for TV the next day. I stood beside the car beforehand,  considering when I would make a dash to the polling station. "You are going, aren't you Mum, the angel said stern ly, "You know  that people have been shot so you can vote"!  "Like who," asked the boss,  "like surely Emily Pankhurst (her hero) wasn't shot. ?"   "No, no, no, said the impassioned angel, I mean Michael Collins, and the men of 1916, and the least SHE can do is go down and vote.

I assured her I was off directly, and I was. I brought the boss with me. She had taken part in a simulated vote for president in her school the day before, and seems to have grasped the workings of the proportional representation voting system.  I'm getting her to explain it to me on the way.  Dana won their election, she told me,  with David Norris a close second.  "Why Dana"? "Cos she is a girl, and she is nice, and she was unfairly treated" she says firmly. As to David Norris, he is funny, he knows lots of stuff and would be able to talk  impressively to other important visting people, and its not the point that he is gay. And the other girls voted for Dana cos she is a girl, and David Norris cos they copied the boss, not knowing any of the other candidates. (And not cos he's a girl).

I'm not decided til I have the stubby pencil in my hand, about the president. The two referenda are easy. Decreasing Judges's pay....yes, yes, yes.  giving powers of investigation to elected representatives in matters of public interest....emphatically NO. I swerve from Michael D  to David Norris and tick. I think the  (empty) office is an anachronistic hangover from our dated constitution, and a wicked waste of cash, the candidates nearly all  hubristic seekers after a sinecure, but, if we must have it, and I must vote (and people have been shot),  I' m having David Norris because it does my heart good to, at least, vote for a witty urbane eccentric gay man for president, in place of the chosen ones of monocultured ,repressive, cowardly, ruthlessly self interested  power elites who run this shop (they havn't gone away you know.)  Burdened as we all are with guilty knowledge of the magdalen launderies, the torture of children in  industrial schools,  the savage inhumaity to the mentally ill and other vulnerable people, since the founding on the state and within living memory; to elect Norris would  truly mean the past was another country. And it is true that  we have most recently  had the magnificent marys, Robinson and MacAleese, and I would not gag at the prospect of President Michael D, ( to whom I gave my number two vote)  as I certainly would at the rest. (sorry Dana).

Saturday, 22 October 2011

singing sisters, women priests, and sniggering (not drowning)

The girls and ad myself went to mass on Sunday morning. This is a weekly gig since being ambushed by my pius first daughter, as we were haing a pleasant stroll and a chat  (I thought)  on a Portuguese beech, during the summer.  We were actually having a barbeque on the beech that day, as part of a cruise along the coast, and I was post a very nice lunch (which I did not have to prepare myself) and a largish glass of white wine.  I was pleased to be walking on a most beautiful beech with my beautiful daughter, chatting of this and that, when the conversation took a turn for the reproachful,  as in ,  "why do we never go to mass  anymore mum, (she, having had a challenging year, with the junior cert exam amd various teen related matters. had been attending mass on visits to her beloved grandmother, and felt that  this was the way to go, spiritually speaking. ) But back to why.  Though born into Irish catholicism, so to speak, I shed the practice  in my teens, after some shattereing confrontations with  my father, as being  or not being a  catholic was  certainly not an option,  a choice, in those days.  I left the church by degrees, as a young teenager, a slow shedding, which started with the  surreptitious  non taking of communion.  In time this was noticed by my father who told me that every barrel of apples has one bad apple, which CONTAMINATES THE REST.  (parents in those days  were armed with an endless supply of sayings like "if you lie down with dogs, you get up with flesa" or "birds of a feather flock together" , or "children should be seen and not heard"  most  of which was quoted to myself , solemnly.) ( the birds of a feather one was certainly true in my case)  I persisted though,  driven by a a teenage  imperative to be my own person.   And also because I found the religion to be oppressive and sometimes terrifying, the mass itself  tedious and irrelevant. The attitude to sexuality and women was deeply damaging. I felt that then and I know it now.

Like I say, I persisted, and never again took communion. (never forgot the contamination remark either)  Which is not to say that I did n't  set out for mass with the rest of the family on sundays, and  sit in the  family car reading the sunday papers in the church car park, on weekend visits home, even  after  I left home .  Not to do so would have involved tearful scenes with  parents.  Another Irish solution to an Irish problem I guess. And, when my own children came along, I found myself actually sitting IN the church on a sunday morning, in the months leading  up to communions and confirmations, not wanting to make waves for the child.  I made my own accomodation with it , as you do.  It is a peaceful space,  and there is one priest I  particularly like  whose sonorous   voice is positively  soporific, and it is  restful.   (and I need the rest ,  I REALLY DO) and , I like watching the children playing their part in a  gentle  harmless  play, and it  is light years removed from the church of my childhood.

So, when the first daughter wrecked my buzz on the beech,  I resolved to renew attendance for a while, particularly as the boss was to make her first confirmation this year.  Which had the dual affect of taking the pius one aback, as she now has to extract herself from the bed of a sunday morning, and of  putting myself beyond reproach on at least that front. There are certain battles you should always concede,  save your firepower. And, as I telll my children regularly (to major eye rolling),  I did n't get to where I am today by failing to learn  to bend with the breeze.

Today, we listened to a rather sad and reproachful  (more reproach) speech from the alter,  the priest was having to move house to cover two parishes effectively, due to a shortage of personel. (priests)   But Why? Why is there not enough priests when there are enough people going to mass to neeed them? asked the elder daughter.  Yeah,  The eternal why.  "Well ..ah.. uh"  I puzzled over  how to pitch this  (its complicated) until I decided what the hell,  its not actually complicated at all." WHERE ARE THE WOMEM PRIESTS,"  I asserted." that would surely solve their  problem for them , why , I can think of any number of women  who might be interested.   And what possible reason could they have not to recruit female priests. It is,  in fact, deeply insulting to all women, when you think about it,  that they do not".  "But why.? Why wont they allow women priests"  my first daughter asked plaintively,  now that it actually occurred to her that THEY  would not.  " Why? Why? Becuase they are an hierarchical anachronistic male club, incapable and  unwilling to adapt to current realities, not even to save their own motheaten pathetic scandal staintained  hides. That's WHY. "  My daughter blinks and asks why this is never mentioned by anyone. After all people clearly need to have recourse to a church, a spiritual space thats organised and accessible to them. " Why dont women INSIST. ."  A good question that.  There was some debate about this is the nineteen sixties and seventies, I think. But no more  as , probably, the debaters have left the building in the past few decades. In fact,  I really dont know why I aqm getting so excercised about this, as I was  there under sufference anyway, but, as I have said , and when you think about it (dont think about it) the continued exclusion of women IS just plain insulting.

"Besides" says the boss sternly "WHY  would women be considered unsuitable",  as the first daughter looks at me indignantly. WE have been down this road before, the why oh why WERE women excluded from work, public life,   financial matters etc  in the past, and could that have  really been  true?  My answer is a work in progress, but the overall bullets points are,  that men did it because they could,  that they, (my girls and all their little friends)  owe their liberation from such exclusion, and from a permanent  proximity to   the kitchen sink, to  some  grim faced  persistant   and heroic  women  who wouldn't know  Jimmy Chou from a hair extension,  and that they might not believe me but the price of freedom is eternal vigilence (they dont). My first daughter tells her now red faced mother, serenely,  that anyway  people should insist on women priests, and she might take the matter up herself. Hmmm

The boss wants me to buy a ticket  for the church lotto. She is very insistant. Because she explains it is not for too large a sum, and she would like to win it. She want to win enough to pay my debts, send her sister to Harvard,  and have a stash for her own college years. (until she gets her fabulous JOB, gets her various business ideas up and running)  "Eh My what?"   "I mean your  mortgage, and your car loan". I think she may also  have decided that she and I will  go travelling  together in comfortable companionship, when I have got rid of  (launched) the others.  And, in her opinion, too much money, winning millions,  might DRIVE YOU MAD MUM, I mean like you would not need to have a job, or a career, and like there would be no point, and it would be boring,  and you would not know how many cars or houses to buy, cos you wouldnt like  need anything, if you won millions in the lotto, would you?".  The boy, who has been shifting impatiently in the back seat, mutters  "s ok, take the millons, you are mad already"!  "Muuuummm". I reflect that she never offered to do anything for him, as I pour oil on proubled waters.  Dear Lord, let them be long grown and not in the back seat of the car should the day come when she is allocating a lotto win, and I wonder if, in fact, most people don't  actually want to win fantastical sums, and so they don't.

The first one smiles seraphically at her would be benefactor. She sits beside me in the front of the car, and I make a silent resolve to bring her shopping as I glimpse her bare legs, and inadequate tee shirt from the corner of my eye, on this cold winterish  day.  She is so little engaged with such practical matters as warm or, God forbid,  substantial dress,that I am constantly  plagued with the  urge to cover her up and keep her warm.  She will not wear anything heavy, loose or warm, beause it feels.... heavy loose or warm, and or might make her LOOK FAT. She returns with some ethereal, impractial though oh so  pretty item, when sent off to buy some clothes.  She is one of those peoople who have a favourite  outfit,  worn day in and day out, for years,  if left to herself. There was a skirt, in primary school that I eventually stole away. These days theres  a white hoodie  donned with everything, washed till  the fabric has worn thin. Of course I should simply buy an identical one, (like replaceing a sadly deceased hamster) and I will, when I track the identical one down. I shiftily introduce more practical garments (warm coats, stout boots) with a mix of threats and blandishments, and she is coming round to a broader range of dress as she gets older. She is a commited vegetarian, for the past three years, despite the  raucous cynicism of her meat eating family (Irish farming folk don't DO vegetarianism), who decided to go the full hog, and become a vegan about a year ago,. This I would not allow, and we are agreed that that decision will wait until she reaches her majority.  I had , barely, enough  authority to enforce this stay, but she  carried out extensive research of  the subject  on the internet, mostly,  and decided against a range of animal based products, like, dear lord,  leather shoes.  As a result , her schools shoes are shabby and exhausted, purchased as they were in the good old days when animal products were an unknown, and she loved to buy new shoes like the rest of us.  Even then , however, she was simply  not  particularly acquisitive, never a girl who wanted a lot of stuff.

Back at home she askes the boss to come sit with her , as she eats a scone, at the kitchen table.  She hates, as she tells the boss, to eat alone. The boss  rolls her eyes but sits down, and proceeds to talk at length, while the older one sits listening quietly, as she often does, chin in hand, her beautiful brown hair brushing  the table.  Later on she takes out her guitar and  asks the boss to sing with her, which the  the younger one  agrees to,  from her vast store of good nature, though complaining that they sing at a different pace and pitch, which they do, the older one a soulful soprano and the boss a rich contralto.  They sound incredble when they get it together. I know you might think I am biased, but   they really do.  One of my more embarrassing mummy masks is stage mummy,  who first had an outing when they persuaded me to let them enter a national talent competion, at the regional stages. Well I  started out as tolerant, obliging amused mummy, who brought them to the venue, and sheparded them through the day, becoming  misty eyed mummy as they sang like angels when their turn came,  and on to enraged, muttering madly, stage mummy when they didn't win. (they were yery young at the time). On holiday , in the summer, I sat with them at the hotel  on karaoke night,  the boss being dispatched up, from time to time,  to the host with the chosen songs  on   slips of paper,  me swelling with pride like a lovesick frog, as they sang all night long. The first daughter brought down the house with "Hit me baby ine more time" (Britney) (cringe) but it was quite simply fabulous, to hear this reserved softly spoke girl harness the firmly contained inner  power,  to sing like a gradually building hurricane, startling in range and power. The boss belted out a string of songs, note and word perfect,  like  a pro.  Hanna Montana/Milet Cyrus  graduates both. Oh yes, they might not spit on her now, but many was the car journey enlivened by tuneful renditions of the entire  Hanna Montana cannon. Why, even I can sing the song "The  Climb" from start to finish,  a song for which I have a sneaking regard, so beautifully did they sing it.  Alas poor Miley, whose concert we went to see on one never to be forgotten occasion, when we sat wondering and stunned at the scantily clad, raunchily gyrating  teen ( Where oh where was sweetly blonde and wholesome  Hanna Montana,  where?, whom we had seen on TV only the day before, and what had this over sexed womanette done to her ). Quite  discarded as she is now,  Hanna/ Miley languishs  in the graveyard  of discarded fads,  along with  various boy bands,  TV shows, once favourite toys, beloved books,  (Barney lies there too)  tended  only by my sentimental nostalgia.

Anyhow, the singing duo break apart, today,  in a flurry of mutual recriminations,  because the soprano keeps going off into  her own version, says the boss, and she is  NOT  singing any more because she JUST DOESNT WANT TO.  I remind them that they are lucky to have a sister to sing with, which is true I think.   I myself have four sisters , and have found sister hood, to be an unbreakable bond, regardless of differences in personality, tastes  or worldview,  probably on account of having survived childhood together, and the whole other little shop of particularly female horrors tha you first experience together,  from  the insane longing of first love (infatuation) to relentless visitations of zits,  and a communal  briefing  (pooling of incredibly inaccurate information ) in THE FACTS OF LIFE,  as sex was refered to in those days. My older sister certainly minded me, and delivered periodic admonitions tactfully ( me being easily roused).  Sisters in general,  know more about you than you might like,  remember things about you that you have decided to forget, and this I suppose is not a bad thing.  At least one of my sisters, who speaks sparingly, delivers herself , from time to time of the devastatingly caustic comment about the past, which, while it may or may not be true,  rips  through  the unconcious gloop you do not have time to visit so often,  like a dose of salts.  "Sisters, Oh sure its better to have one, than not,  I tell the my warring  girls , as they glare hatefully at each other across the  kitchen table, or pass icy messages through the sniggering boy (Ah yes, we do schadenfreud in this house,  never doubt it),


                                              Pink and Red,
                                                                                 my daughter merge.
                                              Leaning in to
                                                                 a sister
                                                                           they stride to school.
                                              Tethered each to the other
                                                                            they lumber, they lurch
                                                                                         till they flow.

                                              Blood sings through a circuit, sustains, as they fall into time.

                                              This elastic heart cuts its infinite slack on the shore.
                                              (Don't look back to the shore)

On Sunday evening, on our way home, we stop at the drivethrough (Supermacs). This is a testing operation. I have to break off a heated discussion on the relative merits of the Presidential candidates in the up coming elections. The Boy:  "I am voting for Martin Mcguinness,  a lot of (real) men are  voting for him you know."  Me: apoplectic tirade, ending with a thank you to the lord that he can't actually vote. The Boss: "Why s everyone picking on Dana  Mum, I think she speaks so nicely, don't you think everyone is being so mean to Dana Mum? dont you think she is a very NICE person......don't you Mum? Mum? "Eh......well darling , of course she  does have a nice voice, and ....and yeah she's an ABSOLUTE SWEETIE.  Now tell me QUICKLY what you all want"  as I break hard , roll down the window and aim my face at the intercom, from which the electronic voice is already emanating  "Yes"? ...."Yes?   "And remember, no ten ounce triple burgers now, this is junk food with a caution" I warn. "Well? What? What?"  The boys yells for the forbidden burger anyway, the boss humms and haws and lets sees on a loop, the first daughter faintly agonises between a zero coke and nothing, because its ALL just  unhealthy,  fattening. " Right," I say and shrilly order the usual permitted ration of junk, against a cacaphony of protests from the back.  "Sorry? pardon?"  the electronic one intones  . I firmly repeat the order to howls of laughter. (apparently I am shouting ). This is a well oiled groove for the terrible threesome, the hilarity, the screwing with the asylum  keeper, oh yeah,. I swing around to the serving booth and shove an old electricity bill at  the middle aged woman whose smiling face looms over  me, puzzled,  instead of the fifty euro note I was aiming for,  from the bowels of my handbag, quite lost in the crowd of bills, receipts,  combs, brolly, papers from works,  lip salve,  notes to self  and about a ton of small change. "I am sorry, " I say, "my children have driven me quite quite mad". "Oh I know dear, I know all about it" she  smiles kindly at  me. I want to step out of the car, take her hand and go home with her where she 'll tell me all night long that she KNOWS.  Anyway. she tells me that the boy's order will take eight minutes, and we'll have to park and wait.  "Oh hey, is this  a drive through, or a park through" barks the boy.  I park the car and deliver myself of an enraged speech on how I cannot be expected to drive under these conditions, and no one could be expected to drive while a bloody war of attrition is going on in the back seat, and it is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. And  it had better stop.. And I will not tolerate this appaling carry on...... I will not...DO YOU HEAR ME?....WHEN I'M DRIVING. And. Silence, then tittering. "Mum" said the boy, you 're  all right, you 're not actually driving (snigger) You 're parked. (snigger)
Oh, snigger
I ought to have  gathered the mud encrusted potatoes from the field, hunted down  the cow, and cooked the meal in the deep deep peace of my own kitchen.
Snigger. (not drowning, I'm sniggering).