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It Begins

June 6th, 2018

Herself is sitting her very first state examination this morning; the first person in this household to do so since 1988. The man to clean the gutters is arriving at 8.30. It’s all happening here.

Wish her luck.

Alas, Alack

June 5th, 2018

Daniel made dinner this evening.

He rang me about 6 as I was heading home from work.

Daniel: How do you use the blender?
Me: Ask your sister.
Him: She’s out.
Me: Is your father home?
Him: Nope.
Me: Well, it’s a bit tricky…[accidentally drop phone on the road and it is run over by a bus – he tried his best not to but the back wheels got it]

Despite the absence of my phone I was anxious to tell Daniel not to use the blender unsupervised so I pulled out my work phone. Do I know my home number off by heart? I do not. Any of my children’s mobiles? Nope. So I rang my husband who was a bit stressed trying to finish up at work and told him to ring Daniel urgently and tell him not to use the blender. He was baffled and a bit peeved.

Dinner was great in the end.

Do I have insurance on my new iphone that I got in April? I do not. I will take its mangled body to the shop tomorrow to see what they can do. I wouldn’t describe myself as optimistic.

Also I have a blister on the top of my left middle finger from a splinter I can’t get out. Woe is me.

Not with a Bang but with a Whimper

June 3rd, 2018

Last Friday was the boys’ last day in first year. They were both quite miserable with colds and we kept them at home. So there was no real celebration. Herself has the Junior Cert starting next Wednesday so she isn’t finished her school year for a couple of weeks yet.

On Friday night everyone was recovered enough to go out for our traditional end of school celebration in Milano’s. Traditionally, this was a lunch time event but since the boys were a bit under the weather and herself wasn’t finishing school until mid-afternoon, we left it until dinner time. I would not recommend Milano’s in Temple Bar on the Friday night of a bank holiday weekend. There was a large hen party at the table next to us and the noise was deafening. The combination of wavy wallpaper and a light on the blink created the perfect conditions for a migraine to develop. It was all a bit hideous.

However, we have got through the boys’ first year in secondary school and, all in all, it hasn’t gone too badly, I feel. It was a tough transition from primary school but they got there. Michael has just been chosen for the student council and he is quite pleased with himself, thank you very much. Daniel has found himself just the wrong age for school sports teams which has been deeply frustrating for him but something that will be remedied from September. Academically, they’ve both been fine despite some misgivings on my part because they were so young.

Herself seems to be very on top of the whole school thing now – it’s always so hard to judge but she seems to be very relaxed and well able to deal with anything the system throws at her. The teachers love her. She cleaned up at the school prize-winning again and came home laden down with trophies and certificates.

Notwithstanding the relative success of the school year, we are all delighted that it is over. Roll on summer holidays.

Choices

June 1st, 2018

I chose to work and not stay at home with my children. When herself was a baby, I stayed at home, not from choice but because I was looking for a job. I was out of the work force for nearly two years. Those were two tough years. I was living abroad which doesn’t help when you have a small baby. I was a nervous first time mother and I had two friends who were parents and weren’t working and no family in the country. I was really lonely most of the time and really tired all of the time. Babies are demanding and, in my experience, not great company. I can remember counting the hours until Mr. Waffle got home and I still remember the misery of Armistice day which is a holiday in Belgium but not for those who work in the European institutions (they have Europe Day on May 9 instead). So basically, a full day, in November when everything is closed and there is nothing for you and your baby to do except count the hours until Daddy gets home. It’s not a coincidence that I started my blog during this time and it played a big role in saving my sanity. Look, it was basically fine, we had enough money, we were living in a nice part of the world, I was able to fly home to Cork and stay with my family reasonably regularly; but it was hard.

I found a job before the boys were born. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world in terms of content but its relatively low demand level was a blessing and my colleagues and I were running the Brussels outpost of UK organisations; we were young (at 36, I was the oldest person in the building); we were left to our own devices and we had a lot of fun. I am still in contact with people I knew there and think of my experience very fondly. When I went out on maternity leave with twins, I think they thought that I would never come back. They were so wrong, I’d learnt my lesson.

When we came back to Ireland, the children were 5 and 3. We actually needed my salary as Mr. Waffle was starting up on his own and had no money – possibly the only time since we met when I earned more money than him. We had a complex tapestry of childcare arrangements and it held up alright. When my salary was cut (thank you economic crisis), we had to send the boys to school earlier than we would have liked (they were 3 years and 11 months) because we couldn’t afford the creche fees and the child minder but it was ok. Then when Mr. Waffle started earning a bit more money, I was able to work a 4.5 day week pattern and take four weeks parental leave in the summer. I’m trying to remember when I started doing that, maybe summer 2011. So I had a reasonable balance, I felt. But I wonder whether for the children, it was ever enough. They have all said to me that they really, really wanted to be collected by me every day not just once a week. At some point, we reached a stage where I could have stopped working and we wouldn’t have been financially ship wrecked. We seriously thought about it. But we didn’t. I’m out of parental leave but I am still working a 4.5 day week which is better than many people manage. And I am excited about my new job and, I suppose, the children need me less than ever. But yet, Michael was sick recently and we left him home alone. He wasn’t very sick and Mr. Waffle was able to drop in on him during the morning. As I left for work, Michael said to me, “Sorry to be an inconvenience.” I have to say, I felt absolutely heartbroken. As Mr. Waffle is self-employed, he does almost all of the appointments and events during the day so I don’t even cover that kind of stuff very often. He tells me, as he returns wearily from another trip to the dentist or whatever, that I’m not missing much, but I do feel that I am.

On the other hand, my own mother worked when I was a child. We had a live in childminder and my memory is that sometimes I was collected from school by my mother, but this was reasonably rare and we regarded it as a treat. Mostly I was on the bus (in primary) or on the bike (in secondary). Often, it seemed my return home would be the signal for my mother to depart (sometimes to play golf, I feel). She was an academic and so had more flexible hours than I have. I don’t ever remember being unhappy with the arrangement but then I don’t ever remember my mother feeling even slightly guilty about it either. I wonder whether these things are related. I enjoyed an excellent relationship with my mother and spoke to her pretty much every day of my life until her dementia got too bad to make that possible a couple of years ago. So, you know, I don’t feel that I missed out or that our relationship suffered.

Anyhow, I still think about it a lot. I think I was put off by staying at home with a small baby which is not for me but I did love staying at home with the children when they were slightly older and those summers off seem halcyon in retrospect (though the children do remind me of the time I was so angry with them all that I pretended to drive off in the car and leave them – so maybe not entirely halcyon, can I say that I only turned over the engine and didn’t leave the driveway? Is it still bad?). Am I doing the right thing? I just don’t know, I am trying to do my best for everyone but I do wonder whether I am succeeding.

Incidentally, time Mr. Waffle has spent wondering whether he should give up work to spend more time at home with his children? None.

Gloom of the Exile or Slightly Self-Indulgent Reflections

May 31st, 2018

When I was growing up in Cork, I always wanted to leave. It seemed too small, too cramped, too confined. It was full of people I knew, people my parents and siblings knew and you could not go anywhere without being observed. Everyone cared about your business. Also, I grew up during a time when all Irish university graduates were expected to emigrate at least temporarily, often permanently. My own parents both emigrated and returned to Ireland eventually. In my 20s, time spent living in Italy and Belgium, confirmed me in my belief that the best fun was to be had away from Cork. When I moved back to Ireland in my late 20s, I moved to Dublin. I liked Dublin very much, I still do. Among its many virtues is that it’s within striking distance of Cork. Also, Dubliners are not picky, everyone is assimilated. In Cork, my mother who came from a neighbouring county and whose own parents were actually from Co Cork, has been living in Cork for more than 50 years and she is still considered a blow in.

When we moved back from Brussels, we did consider moving to Cork. Mr Waffle (a Dubliner) proposed it. I considered it but a number of factors militated against that choice. Firstly, I had a job in Dublin but no job in Cork. I suppose Mr. Waffle could have started on his own with no money in Cork as easily as he did in Dublin but somehow the prospect of no money at all was unalluring. I remind myself of these things when I miss Cork.

But yet, when my oldest friend, another Corkonian, said to me recently, “I always feel sad when I leave Cork.” I knew exactly what she meant. Of course, this is the loveliest time of year in Cork and so it is at its most missable. I was cycling around the city on one of my weekends at home recently and aside from enjoying the far superior cycling infrastructure which Cork offers, I was struck again by how attractive the city is. While Dublin turns its back on the river, choking the quays with heavy traffic in both directions, Cork is practically all river and while there is plenty of traffic, there’s a lot of the city where you can enjoy the river.

UntitledI feel that I know Cork in a way that I will never know Dublin.

I know the schools and I have feelings about them. When I was an apprentice solicitor, myself and a friend from school were having a cup of tea and a bunch of Scoil Mhuire girls came in and she hissed at me, “Look at them, they’re in their school uniforms and we’re trainee solicitors and they’re still better dressed and better made-up than us.” I know where I would have sent the boys to school – they would have gone to the primary school where my cousin was the principal; they would have gone to the secondary school that their uncle and grandfather went to. I would have considered a range of options for herself in relation to all of which I would have had very firm views; I wouldn’t have sent her to my old school and probably not to Scoil Mhuire either. In Dublin, meh, who knows really? They have Dominicans and Loreto nuns, we had Presentation and Mercy.

I know College (other people called it UCC or the College but as my parents both worked there we were more intimate with it); until I was 11, I lived on campus and I have spent my life walking in and out of there. I spent endless hours playing bad tennis in the lower grounds and lost innumerable balls forever in the river over the fence.

I would have wanted to buy one of the houses up in Sunday’s Well where the gardens slope down to the river; maybe we couldn’t have afforded that but maybe we could have bought a house in town, on the North Mall, a persistently underrated street by the river in the centre of town. I know where to look and what each location is like with a degree of intimacy and certainty that I will never know in Dublin.

My father’s family were all from Cork. I know the place where my grandfather was shot at by pro-Treaty forces (or the State as we now think of it) during the civil war (they missed); I know the house where he died in the 1930s. I cycle past it regularly. Between us, my father and I have been cycling along the Western Road for nearly 100 years (at 93, I concede he has done a lot of the heavy lifting on that). I know Murphy’s brewery where my great grandfather and great uncle worked as clerks. I know the South Infirmary where another great-grandfather worked as a caretaker and my father put in time as a junior doctor. I know the house that my great uncle Dan built in the suburbs (containing Archangel pine imported from Russia) when he won a (small) lottery. I know the Lough where he skated when it froze over in the 20s (skates still in my parents’ attic awaiting the next great freeze along with Uncle Dan’s gas mask from the Emergency, just in case we need it). I know that my grandmother ran a newsagent which also sold cigars called “The Cuban House” up on MacCurtain Street (and I think someone very unlikely like the Duke of Westminster had the ground rent on that one, you don’t get to be unbelievably rich without having interests everywhere, I suppose). I know the two hotels that were designed by architect cousins (a little undistinguished perhaps – maybe I am bitter because when my mother asked one of them about her extension, he said it was “OK, if you want a bowling alley” – it was long and narrow and he was ultimately right about how dark the middle room would be). I know the stained glass window that my grandfather played in an exhibition hurling match to fund.

UntitledI know who the merchant princes are, the solicitors on the Mall, their families, their connections. I remember the lovely rather glamourous lady who was one of the Roches of Roches Stores a friend of my parents who had painted nails and smoked a cigarette in a cigarette holder and who on one, never to be forgotten, Christmas Day gave me a present of a Sindy doll – my third that day. My mother wanted to give one or even two back to the shop but I staunchly resisted and hung on to them all.

Look, I knew everyone, I knew where I belonged, I knew the city like I knew myself. I often think now I threw that all over for Dublin, for Brussels and for anonymity and adventure. It was a bargain that was well worthwhile in my 20s and 30s but now that I am in my late 40s, I am feeling something perilously close to regret. I think it is probable that Mr. Waffle and I have had more success at work than we would have had in Cork and probably more interesting work too. On the other hand, work isn’t everything and Dublin swallows up money in a way that Cork is less inclined to. My children are all Dublin children. Even if I moved to Cork in the morning, their identity, their loyalties, their sense of home and who they are would all be bound up with Dublin. On the other hand, Mr. Waffle would always have been a blow-in until the day he died and all of my Cork credentials would not have dislodged that. But I would have been near my own family and I can’t help feeling that the pace of our lives might be a little less frenetic.

With the benefit of distance and middle age I feel a permanent small sadness that I do not live where I am from.

To Dust We Will All Return

May 30th, 2018

Mr. Waffle’s aunt died a couple of weeks ago; she had been ill for a while and it fell into the category of merciful release, I think. We brought the children to the removal and I was surprised that Daniel was quite upset. Of course, I should have realised that she was the first person my children know who has died. I had also forgotten that it would be the first time that they would see a dead body and I think Daniel, in particular, got quite a shock. With my constant funeral going, at this stage, I feel barely a week passes without my seeing an embalmed and jaundiced corpse so, I perhaps underestimated the likely impact.

The funeral was small but Mr. Waffle’s cousin read a nice eulogy and over the lunch afterwards, Mr. Waffle was rather pleased to meet an old schoolmate of his aunt’s who was able to tell him what she was like when she was young. His aunt, who was somewhat eccentric, had planned her own funeral (many years ago, memorably, she rang Mr. Waffle while he was shopping with the children in Tesco to discuss her choice of coffin) and, to be fair, it seems a pretty good idea as the service really was very nice. She was very Catholic indeed so, if you are of that persuasion, do say a prayer for her.

Brace Yourself

May 29th, 2018

Herself got braces last Friday. I am quite sad. She had this adorable snaggle tooth that I loved but I think it probably has to go before she grows up. I blame the Americans and their obsession with dentistry. And also myself.

The Pain Quotidien has opened in Dublin (be still my beating heart) and we went on Saturday morning but her poor mouth was so sore that she really couldn’t eat anything. Oh dear.


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