The peculiar Irish relationship with the definite article means that this has been a regular question since my return to the metropolis. Full of excitement, let me tell you.
We went skating with the children. My sister-in-law came too which was a mercy as she was able to help in keeping the children upright. My children appear to have no sense of balance. They tottered around the edges. I took each of them around the rink in turn. Michael simply lifted his feet off the ground and let himself be carried; herself keeled over determinedly backwards despite my hissing “lean forwards”; only, Daniel, who has the best ball sense too, showed the remotest sign of getting the hang of it. Mr. Waffle has sworn never again.
The day was rendered slightly hideous by the knowledge that Mr. Waffle’s brother and his family who were going to Sicily for Christmas (to stay with Italian relatives) were facing a very real prospect of, instead, spending the day in Beauvais airport due to poor weather. They had set off at 6 in the morning. There were regular apocalyptic updates throughout the day. But due to a Christmas miracle and a €300 taxi fare, they made it safely and texted us in the early evening to say that they had arrived in Sicily.
Later, the stockings were hung by the chimney with care and Santa was amazed to see that one had been left out for Hodge. He did what he could under the circumstances and came up with a jar of tuna fish.
She also had her own list:
Up with the lark. Fantastic Santa presents. General happiness. Mass passed off reasonably peacefully except for the bit beforehand when a weeping Michael refused to leave the car for reasons I now forget and, in what can only be called an example of excellent parenting, I threatened to stamp on his new cuddly toy in the ice unless he moved promptly. Cue more weeping and no movement. Let us draw a veil.
After a brief lunch in our own house, we moved out to the esteemed grandparents where more presents and Christmas dinner were provided – hurrah! There were also various cousins for drinks and, for once, we had the required number of presents. Unfortunately, and I say this with considerable bitterness, there was a mixup with the Kris Kindle thingamijig and I ended up presentless. However, my mother-in-law nobly stepped into the breach with an offer of babysitting during the day time while Mr. Waffle and I went out to lunch. Ours to spend in January, hurrah.
St. Stephen’s Day
We stayed over with the grandparents and left about lunch time with the boys leaving the Princess behind as her kind aunt was taking her off to the local puppet theatre. It is not clear to me how this treat of high order passed off but I fear it did not go well. Since all sides have taken a vow of omertà, we may never really know what happened.
Again, your correspondent completely failed to anticipate that although we were enjoying Christmas dinner away from our home, we might require some festive food ourselves and we returned to short rations.
We left Dublin (without Winnie and Nounours but with 2 doggies, progress of a sort) and whizzed off to Cork on the wonderful new roads. My parents, my aunt and my brother and sister had munificent presents for us and the children. The only slight downside being that afterwards Michael started to cry, if he met someone who didn’t have a present for him.
We were staying in our very kind and generous friends’ house in Garryvoe. I say this because I am very grateful and I would like to emphasise this before I start being ungrateful. It is an eco home built by sustainable energy Ireland and I was quietly confident that we would be delightfully toasty there. And we were, eventually. An hour after arrival having carefully followed the boiler instructions in Swedish (did you know that my husband speaks rudimentary Swedish, no really, who would have thought it would be so useful) the radiators were still freezing. I texted my friends in their [doubtless toasty] house in Spain asking for suggestions. R, who is merciful, suggested “follow instructions on back door of pellet burner”. Little did he know that we had already done so leading to one warm room but highlighting the coolness of the rest of the house. M, was cruel but pragmatic, he texted “Shiver. They will be fine tomorrow.” The children and I huddled together in bed and Mr. Waffle lay across our legs. We stayed there until the children were asleep and the risk of hypothermia seemed minimal. In what can only be described as very good timing, my mother had earlier given both boys thermal pyjamas and my sister had given the Princess a dressing gown. I had my fleecy pyjamas and Mr. Waffle slept in his clothes. And we are all still alive. In fact, the following day, and thereafter, the house was delightfully toasty with underfloor heating downstairs and warm radiators upstairs. The only mild complaint being the unique ventilation system which makes it sound, though thankfully not feel, as though the wind is indoors.
Oh yes we did. We went to the pantomime. Aladdin in the Everyman. I don’t think that the children have ever enjoyed a pantomime more and they are still singing the songs. An added bonus was that, as we arrived slightly late, I wasn’t forced to spend the price of a couple of tickets on random tat (pantomimes are now accessorised by windmill torch yokes).
After the pantomime, we met an old friend of mine who lives abroad and very generously gave the Princess a beautiful dress which she said thank you for very prettily (not, alas, a given). The boys were given a Horrid Henry book each and, to my horror, tossed them aside in disdain saying that they were stupid books. The shame, the shame. And they like Horrid Henry.
My friend, the heart surgeon, was home from Vermont for Christmas with her American husband and her four children under 5. The youngest of whom was just six weeks. We went to visit them at her mother’s house. Her mother confided that she was slightly relieved that the days of having 14 to dinner were about to end as they were going back to America the following day. The baby was very good and I was suitably impressed but his mother was very worried about him. Her worries were not ill-founded as, alas, the following day, after they had flown home to the US, he was in intensive care in Boston with whooping cough where he is still. The misery for everyone. Poor little mite. This cast something of a pall.
The children and I left Mr. Waffle to wander the quaint streets of the old town and took ourselves off to Limerick with my mother. My mother is from Limerick. As a staunch Cork loyalist, I try to forget this but blood will out. My friend the best dressed diplomat, also from Limerick, says that I use a lot of Limerick phrases and I am far better at cards than my Dublin husband (a low bar – he had to double check the rules of beggar-my-neighbour over the festive season). I am not horsey, though, we take what comfort we can from that.
It is about an hour’s drive from Cork to my aunt’s house in Limerick. In the course of that drive, the children were unbearable. My mother was appalled and I have seldom seen them behave worse. The problem is, of course, that you can’t do your worst in the matter of threats, cajolery and bribery when in the presence of your mother. A low point was when Daniel, maddened by the Princess reaching out from the seat behind and pulling his hair and unable to reach anyone from his car seat, used his gun to hit Michael over the head and draw blood [gun subsequently confiscated until return to Dublin]. We had to stop for toilet breaks, we had to stop twice to pick up offerings for the relatives. My mother tried to ring to say that we were nearly there but pointed out reproachfully that the noise from the children was such that she had no idea whether anyone had picked up the telephone or not.
By the time we got there, I was beside myself. My mother suggested that I tell them about my aunt. I mentioned for the first time that she owned a shop (a small one, crucially, attached to the house). This news was greeted by rapt silence. When we went into the house, through the shop, the children nearly died of happiness. My cousin brought them into the shop and let them choose a drink each. The joy. They were so overwhelmed by being in a strange house and, more particularly one with a shop attached, that they were very silent and well behaved leading my saintly aunt to remark that they were very good children. I hadn’t been in that house myself in maybe 20 years and what I found very peculiar was that it had hardly changed at all. A picture of my cousin’s horse had appeared on the wall where there used to be a holy water font (did I tell you I once looked for a holy water font in IKEA, no sniggering please) but otherwise it was as though the house had been frozen in time when I left it. In an arrangement that used to be traditional in rural Ireland (and may still be for all I know) the house was split in two and my Nana had her own rooms on the other side of the house. My cousin asked if I wanted to see my Nana’s room and, of course, I did. A lot was the same: the old piano, the dining room table and chairs but in front of the sofa, there was the largest television I have ever seen alive in captivity. I suspect she would not have approved. I looked into her kitchen which has become something of a store room for odd things. I have a very vivid memory of helping her make brown bread there.
My uncle and aunt have six grown-up children and two were there the day we visited. One, S, had been home for Christmas and was going back to America the following day, the other D, lived locally. The Princess pointed to D and asked in an awed whisper whether he was the cousin who had pulled my teddy’s head off. In a family of six, I suppose, it was always likely that it would be the child nearest to me in age who would fight me for my teddy bear and tear off its head leaving my Nana to stitch it back but I had told the Princess of his transgression in such dramatic terms (not in preparation for the visit, I hasten to add, just in general) that it stayed in her mind. I nodded grim confirmation and poor D blushed to the roots of his hair for the sin of 37 years ago. At this point I took my mother and S to the nursing home where my uncle was recovering from an operation and left D and my aunt to the tender mercies of the children. When I came back, it was to the sound of delighted laughter as my cousin had used the time to send them up and down the stairs on my uncle’s chair lift thingy. Upon my mother’s muttering that these things cost €35,000 (really, can that be true?), the fun had to end but even that did not quench their joy because while I was away, my aunt had let them loose in the shop and they were allowed to take three things each. The Princess and Daniel had gone wild on chocolate and Michael had taken a packet of cream crackers.
We then pushed on another 25 kilometers to where my other aunt lives on the farm which my grandfather had owned and where my mother’s fear of cows had acquired legendary proportions (if your father is a dairy farmer, a fear of cows is both unusual and awkward). We arrived at 4 and my aunt had been waiting with lunch ready since 2. She was resigned as she commented that my mother’s family was never on time for anything (my husband will be pleased to know where that gene comes from). The children ate almost nothing (as ever) but my aunt expected this as they were city children. I protested that I had eaten everything as a child and I was a city child. “No,” she said, “your mother was from the country and that made the difference.” Perhaps it did but, if so, I can only wish that she had passed on the knack to me.
After dinner, although it was dark and sleeting, my lovely, saintly cousin who runs the farm, took the children out to have a go on the tractor. I had brought their wellingtons for this very purpose. The Princess, looking out at the weather, thought better of the adventure but the two boys were keen. They sat up in the cab beside my cousin: he let them blow the horn (somewhat to my shock but we were miles from the nearest house, of course – see, city girl), move the fork thing on the front, turn on and off the lights and, best of all, sit on his lap and drive the tractor. They drove up and down the long drive to the road and I went back into the house to find my mother and aunt chatting by the fire and my daughter staring at the ceiling. My aunt was telling my mother a long and gloomy story which was deeply inappropriate for the ears of a six year old but try as I might I could neither lure the Princess out nor lead my aunt to happier topics. It reflected my own experience – a quintessential part of my childhood was going to Limerick and hearing deeply inappropriate stories for children my age (hotel owner who murdered his wife while children begged guests to come and save their mother, anyone? yes really – Limerick is the centre of national gloom). Eventually, I dragged the Princess out and when she actually saw the splendid nature of the tractor for herself, she insisted on getting up too. Then they took out some milk for a five day old calf which they had the privilege of naming. After much deliberation, they called him Tommy.
When they all came in from their labour on the farm, I asked my cousin how long Tommy was likely to be with us. He cocked an eye at me and said “About two years.” “When he dies, can you tell me where he’s buried so that I can come and visit his grave?” asked the Princess. I think that I may have an incipient vegetarian on my hands.
Then a long very wet drive back.
Day spent recovering from the exertions of the previous day. Mr. Waffle and I went to bed at 11.05 which, he pointed out to me, is New Year in Belgium.
In the morning as part of our new year’s resolution to get out more, we prodded the children out of the house with pitchforks and made them walk on the beach which they actually quite enjoyed.
Alas, when it was time to clean the house before leaving, the children were placated in less wholesome ways. Consider this model of good parenting:
Then a hideous drive back to Dublin. We completed half the journey in a record 1 hour and 21 minutes admiring snow on the Galtees. Daniel swung his hands round and said, “Look Mummy, Alaska.” There is a boy in their class from Alaska (really) and he has made a big impression on our boys.
Once we left Munster for Leinster, freezing fog descended and the roads became horribly icy. We crawled to Dublin and, when we got there, we crawled into our beds.
2 January/3 January/4 January
All a blur mostly dominated by the wretched cat. She greeted our return with modified rapture. This may have been because she was being fed hot milk in number 4 every night we were away and had actually been taken into the owner’s bed in number 5 (because she was crying on the street). In an effort to salvage my reputation, I pointed out that someone came in every day to feed the cat and that she had free access to the house via the cat flap. The cat, not realising that she is not a dog, followed us all the way to mass on Sunday. The children and I went into mass and Mr. Waffle carried her home. On his way back he met three young thugs who asked whether he had any cigarettes. When he said no, a thug punched him and cut his lip. At 11.30 in the morning. Somewhat unnerving. As I was relating this in hushed tones to a neighbour, the Princess overheard me: “Did Daddy really get hit?” “Yes, I’m afraid he did, sweetheart.” “Well, it’s a good thing Hodge wasn’t hurt too.” Quite. On Monday afternoon we went round to a neighbour’s for tea and the wretched cat followed us again. The Princess roared at her “You’re supposed to be independent”. My feelings precisely. The cat took it amiss and ran into yet another neighbour’s house – they had unwisely left their door open – so I had to penetrate the interior and haul her out. Great was her outrage when we reached our destination and she was excluded. When our hostess opened the door for someone else, Hodge shot in. I put her out. She stayed peering in and meowing pitifully on the drawing room windowsill for a while but eventually gave up the struggle. On our way home, one of our elderly neighbours was ahead of us clinging to the fence and struggling to stay upright on the icy hill. When I caught up with her, I discovered that part of the reason why she was struggling was that she was carrying Hodge who had clearly decided that she would prefer not to get her feet wet.
I ventured into work. Michael hung on to me in a most affecting manner and said “stay, Mummy, stay”. I felt really bad about going to work (even though I was leaving him with his father for heaven’s sake) and thought, he needs his Mummy. Then I kissed him goodbye and he said “Yeuch, slimy kiss”. So I suppose we are both ambivalent.
Aside from slipping on the ice and falling on my bottom, work was uneventful.
The last day of Christmas brought “extreme weather conditions” to Dublin. Stop sniggering North Americans. There was snow. We were scared. Our little family drove into town for lunch because we are stupid. After lunch, we were going to buy wellingtons but the children were cranky and I said that I would take them home in the car and leave Mr. Waffle to buy wellingtons and walk home. We set off in a flurry of snow. A journey which normally takes 15 minutes took an hour and fifteen minutes. It was absolutely terrifying. Cars were sliding, buses were sliding, twice I had to stop on a hill and very nearly couldn’t get going again. The children were unable to see the danger as we were inching along in heavy traffic and ignored my petrified pleas to be quiet and let Mummy concentrate. Picture the scene. I am on a hill, the bus in front of me has its hazard lights on and is lurching forward then slipping back. I am in first gear with my foot to the floor and my wheels are spinning and the engine is groaning. Daniel is bellowing that his shoe has fallen off and can I pick it up off the FLOOR. Michael is whining that the Princess is KICKING. And the Princess announces, I want to do a WEE. By the time we got home, I was shaking all over (though uninjured).
Mr. Waffle arrived in the door ten minutes after us having had a nice walk in the snow and carried out all kinds of errands. He took the children round the corner to test out their new wellingtons and to play on the road where all the neighbourhood children had gathered and a man was skating. Yes, with skates, down the very hill I had driven down, oh so cautiously, only a short time earlier. It was all very nice really (once I was out of the car). I have never in my whole life seen snow like this in Ireland. The children are enjoying an extended Christmas holiday as school is now closed until Monday or possibly beyond as extreme weather conditions continue.
So, that’s how we got over the Christmas.