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Archive for February, 2010

Say Cheese

28 February, 2010 at 10:17 pm by belgianwaffle

I met a female politician a while ago. One of the things she said made a big impression on me and I am going to tell you about it. Lucky old you. Delegations regularly come to see this politician and there is usually a photo opportunity. Invariably the men stand up straight, pleased as punch with themselves and make no bones about their inclusion in the photograph. The women don’t want to be in the photograph, they want to be at the back, they protest that they look terrible. What exactly do we deem so unappealing about ourselves? Why do we feel that we are so much less worth being photographed than our male counterparts, who, let’s face it, are not necessarily the best looking people on the planet either? What kind of message are we sending to our children about who is important and who is not? In future, I will be smiling in the front row.

Feeling Elderly

26 February, 2010 at 10:09 pm by belgianwaffle

I took the Princess to see the doctor the other day. The doctor was a lovely woman maybe ten years younger than me. “Hello” she said to us holding out her hand “I’m Deirdre.” Not Dr X? Not even a surname, for God’s sake? I am an island of formality adrift in an informal world.

I will be 41 next month, I think you can tell.

Belated thoughts on Ash Wednesday

25 February, 2010 at 9:59 pm by belgianwaffle

I had one meal and two collations and I was starving all day. I would not have made a good medieval christian. Though I was quite looking forward to hearing them say “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” when they daubed my forehead with ashes. I was to be disappointed though, they went for the very post-Vatican II “Repent and believe in the Lord” which really doesn’t have the same ring to it at all.

I felt a bit self-conscious trotting about my business with my ashes. The catholic church in Ireland has taken a serious hammering of late and it seems to me that there were far fewer people about sporting ashes. That evening Barack Obama was on the news and there was Joe Biden standing beside him with his ashes on. I got very excited, I said to my loving husband “Look, look, he has ashes, I was beginning to think that I was the only person in Ireland with ashes.” He coughed and said “Well, technically, he isn’t in Ireland, of course…”

Always Winter and Never Christmas

24 February, 2010 at 9:58 pm by belgianwaffle

OK, North Americans, look away now. I am sick of this winter. It has run and run and it has been freezing for months. The Alaskans in the children’s school laugh at us and I saw Alaskan father yesterday wearing no coat which means he must be very hardy (he also speaks very good Irish – these Alaskans full of surprises – it’s not just Sarah Palin, you know). My mother says that it is the coldest winter she remembers since 1947 when her February birthday party was blighted by snow. A friend of mine whose mother is from Belfast says that the winter of ’47 was so cold that the snow didn’t melt until May. Bah.

Fear and Loathing

23 February, 2010 at 9:58 pm by belgianwaffle

You may have noticed that it has gone quiet round here. Maybe not. Aaanywaaay, I have not been near the computer at home in over a week and hence blogging has not been possible. I am in dispute with the tax people and I am debating with them by email. I sent off my last salvo a week ago and was too scared to check whether it had worked or not. I checked. It has not. Well, it is unclear whether it has worked or not. The person dealing with our case thinks someone else may have replied to me. I am to forward her various information which I have previously sent her and she will double check. I have done so but I can’t help feeling that if someone else had replied, we would have GOT THE REPLY. On the plus side, she has said that she will put a stop on the bill until matters are resolved so I now feel able to get back online as my gmail is no longer threatening me.

By absolute standards, the sum in question is relatively small and I imagine that the official dealing with us is very bitter at how much of her time it is taking to resolve a matter which will bring in a tiny pittance. However, small and all as the amount may be to the tax people, it is big to us. My sister suggested that we could cancel our summer holidays and this would cover a third of the amount. This is unappealing. Let us hope instead that all will be well. I might start trying to save as well, just to be on the safe side.

Signs, omens, portents

12 February, 2010 at 10:06 pm by belgianwaffle

I nearly fell out of the bed reading the Irish Times last weekend. It said to me “Wednesday night at 9pm and the choice was between a Horizon documentary on BBC 1 about ageing and Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies . The latter is a new run of the series where a team of photogenic doctors – including the wonderfully unshockable Irish doctor Pixie McKenna…”. Sorry, Pixie McKenna who was years behind me in school? Pixie McKenna whose father was in college with my mother? Pixie McKenna whose older brother Johnny was an object of interest to every girl in the senior school? Pixie McKenna who, for God’s sake, can only be 14 now? It would appear so. There are only so many Pixie McKennas to go around.

My friend R, who is taking some time out from his day job to do a Ph.D rang me. He has been doing some consultancy work in Kosovo. “Off to Kosovo again?” I asked cheerily. “Yes,” he said, “I get back on Tuesday week. And then on the Wednesday I am going to Sudan for two and a half months.” Shocked noise. “Election monitoring” he said. “There’s an election in the Sudan?” I said feebly. “There’s always an election somewhere,” he replied “anyhow, I’m off to the pub, see you in mid-May.”

Suddenly my life seems very dull.

Ouch

11 February, 2010 at 11:20 pm by belgianwaffle

I got my swine flu jab on Monday and it’s still sore. The Princess got hers on Tuesday. She’s still sore too. I’m more whiny though. I regret not being more sympathetic to the boys when they got theirs. Mr. Waffle is the only member of our family still at risk from the pandemic. On the plus side for him, he doesn’t have a sore arm.

Appointments

10 February, 2010 at 11:19 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Can I book a table for two for Saturday night?
Restaurant: I’m afraid we’re fully booked.
Me: How about the following Saturday?
Restaurant: That’s fully booked too and the week after as well.
Me: Well, when do you have a table for two on a Saturday night?
Restaurant: Not until after the end of April.
Me: OK, can I have a table for two on the first Saturday in May?
Restaurant: Bookings for May, June and July only open on the first of March. And, if you are hoping for a Saturday night, I would advise you to ring early on the 1st.

What recession?

And then, at the doctor’s.

Me: Can I make an appointment?
Receptionist: When would suit?
Me: I wonder could I book something for Wednesday of next week?
Receptionist: We don’t open bookings for next week until Friday afternoon.

Really, why?

Stair na Teanga

8 February, 2010 at 11:04 pm by belgianwaffle

At primary school, I spoke a great deal of Irish. All the day-to-day interactions of the school were in Irish. My best friend from school spoke Irish at home and I spent a lot of time in her house. I didn’t think of Irish as a subject at which I could be good or bad, it was just part and parcel of life. I didn’t have views about the Irish language. It was just there, like English, something you were surrounded by. It had no status in my mind as a “language”. It was not like exotic French or German which my parents spoke when they didn’t want us to understand them. Irish was homely, domestic, natural, easy and not at all exciting. Unlike, I now realise, the parents of many of my contemporaries, my parents spoke good Irish and were fond of the language. Although we never spoke Irish at home, they would often quote bits and pieces of Irish poems and use the odd word here and there. Only the other day, I was telling my mother about a mural the boys had done in school entitled “Anois teacht an Earraigh” and she was into the second verse of the poem before I could stop her.

When I was 12, I started secondary school. A lot of things happened that year. I moved house. I moved school. My best friend dumped me (alas, but so it was): I used to follow her around mournfully like a whipped puppy/a depressed ex-girlfriend (delete as you feel appropriate). Obviously, this meant I was no longer spending a great deal of time in her house. I became a gloomy teenager. I met French and we fell in love. One of the things I didn’t particularly notice at the time was that my relationship with Irish changed too. Irish was taught very differently at secondary school. It did not in any way infuse the school environment which was firmly anglophone. The idea that you might bring a message from one teacher to another in Irish was ludicrous. My first Irish teacher at secondary school was perfectly competent but suddenly I was learning Irish in a very overt way and it was new to me. For the first time I became conscious of a huge hostility towards Irish from my peers. They hated Irish, they hated Peig though we had yet to encounter her unique brand of pessism (her book begins “I am old woman now with one foot in the grave” and goes downhill from there). Anxious to be liked and regardless of my positive experience to date, I hated Irish too. I fervently envied the girl who came home from America aged 12 and was therefore exempt from studying Irish.

At age 15, I was sent to the Gaeltacht for a couple of weeks. This was a moderately successful outing. It was my first time meeting Dubliners in any significant numbers and I was astounded at how poor their Irish was – worse than mine even after three years of steady decline. The authorities said that you would be sent home, if you spoke English and I was convinced that the bean an tí was listening to our every word. This made me very nervous as an intense 13 year old Dubliner would regularly buttonhole me to talk about SALT: it was the 1980s, we all thought there was going to be a nuclear war but no one more so than him. Alas, his vocabulary was insufficient to ask for more milk at breakfast let alone talk about nuclear extermination and I was very tense as he expounded on the difficulties in English. Many Irish people have fond memories of the Gaeltacht as where they had their first kiss but I was a timid convent girl and all I can record is that it was the first place that I held hands with a boy (for clarification, not the 13 year old Dubliner but a 15 year old Cork boy). I returned to Cork, if not with renewed enthusiasm for the language, certainly with a firm sense of my own genius as benchmarked against my Dublin peers.

I have absolutely no recollection of what grade I received in Irish in my junior certificate (or “the inter” as it then was). This is startling when I recall how much energy and angst I invested in this examination at the time. I started in fifth year with no very great enthusiasm for Irish but still ready to give it a go as an important part of my plan to maximise my points for college. Fate was not destined to favour me. I did not like the Irish teacher I had for the last two years of school. He was indifferent to me. He had his favourites and on these he lavished attention. The rest of us were left to sink or swim. With the help of a grind from my cousin, I floated near the surface. Certainly, the long monologues which my teacher favoured were no help. He would, in English, tell us about his relationship with his wife “never let the sun go down on a quarrel girls” – banal advice that, frankly, was less important than that of our biology teacher who said to us, banging his metre stick between each word, “Remember BANG you BANG can BANG get BANG pregnant BANG at BANG any BANG stage BANG of BANG your BANG cycle.” Since I and many of my peers had just progressed to holding hands with members of the opposite sex, that advice was not relevant to many of us at the time but let it be noted that in all the time I was in school, only one girl got pregnant and she had transferred in from another school after the end of compulsory biology classes. I digress. In two years, we received exactly two pieces of written Irish homework (two essays, since you ask) which might have entailed some out of class work for our Irish teacher. He enjoyed speaking about relationships and made us squirm in our seats by addressing in detail matters a middle aged man ought, in my view, to gloss over when speaking to a room full of 16 and 17 year old girls. The biology teacher, mentioned earlier, covered human reproduction without a joke or a double entendre and nobody squirmed. You might be terrified in his class but, at least, you weren’t embarassed.

To be fair to my Irish teacher, the curriculum did seem to give him significant opportunities to talk about sex. We did Pádraic Ó Conaire’s short stories. They must have been very radical when they were written in the early 20th century and I am mildly curious to revisit them now, but at the time, they were dull and difficult. My teacher got great mileage out of Nóra Mharcais Bhig. If memory serves me, this is a story about a young woman who went off to London and made her fortune. Her father called his boat after her, possibly with remittances she sent home. Everything was rosy but then she came on a visit and it transpired that she was making her money from prostitution. Well, you can see that this offered scope to my teacher’s particular genius. We also did a story about Salome and John the Baptist. The teacher focussed very much on the sensual nature of the dance which led to John losing his head. Another set text was Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Gráinne. Again, to be fair, there was a lot of material for our man to work with. The plot is that a handsome warrior and a young Princess elope and are chased all over the place (material ripe for Disney, I now realise). It seems to me that a great deal of our time in class was spent speculating on when Diarmuid and Grainne might have consummated their relationship and there might, perhaps, have been scope for other discussions. My favourite set text was “Stair na Teanga” or the history of the Irish language. In part that may have been because there was so little opportunity to work sex into the discussion on the text. However, it was also about the history of language and where it came from and that is something that I am still fascinated by. I can remember the illustration in the text showing the Indo-European languages spreading over Europe and Finnish and Hungarian with their own special arrow (subsequent coversations with Finns and Hungarians have revealed, disappointingly that those roots are so far back that neither group can understand a word the others say).

On balance, however, it would be fair to say that I sat my Leaving Certificate and said goodbye to Irish without a hint of regret.

Irish popped up again when I wanted to qualify as solicitor. There was a test of basic Irish. If the idea was that this was to ascertain our ability to do conveyancing through Irish, I cannot feel that the test was in any way adequate. However, easy and all as it was, it did nearly give me heart failure and I worked diligently on the set texts and duly passed. I again said my goodbyes to Irish with considerable relief and something approaching bitterness. Why was the first national language always torturing me?

Subsequently, Irish only featured in my life as a useful thing to have, if you felt that you were being ripped off by a taxi abroad. Then you and your Irish friend could speculate on whether this was the case in the first national language secure that no one else on God’s earth would understand you.

Then, I met my loving husband. My husband is from Dublin. My experience in the Gaeltacht made me certain that his Irish would be poor to dreadful. In fact, when it came up, it turned out his interest in languages extended to Irish. He spoke very good Irish and had been a member of the Cumann Gaelach in college. You might think that I would have been impressed by this. If so, you haven’t been concentrating, I mocked him for his interest in the Irish language.

Life continued. We had children and then we moved back to Ireland. While we had been away a phenomenon had been growing. Irish was becoming trendy. Young women with glossy make up and straightened hair were to be seen on television every night of the week speaking in Irish. Parents were choosing to send their children to Irish language schools. I waw unmoved. I thought that this was madness. On our return to Ireland my focus was on maintaining the children’s French and I had no intention of sending them to an Irish language school. But then, events conspired against us. We had been imprudent; we had not put our children down for a local school at birth. There was a Gaelscoil with places not too far away and the principal seemed nice, so we decided to give it a go.

As I watched my children acquire fluency in Irish something struck me in a way it had never done before. Irish is a language. I love languages; I am fascinated by them, why would I hate Irish? Every day, I go into the children’s school and speak, very mediocre, Irish to the teachers and the principal. I attended an event where the moderator, though from Dublin, spoke beautiful Irish; I thought why would I not want to be able to speak our first national language like that? I started to listen to Radio na Gaeltachta (which is very dull and quite hard to understand and full of details of funerals in the west of Ireland, but never mind). I suddenly realised that there were two Irelands – the main one, where I lived, and a very small rural Irish speaking one. Something that really existed, that wasn’t quite the dead letter I had thought that it was (though watch this space, the death of the native Irish speaking Gaeltacht is regularly announced). I thought to myself, this is a language I can learn with minimal extra effort. I already have the basics, I just need a bit of work. The cultural background which it takes time and effort to acquire in other languages? I already have that. How lucky is that? I saw Des Bishop learn Irish. Good Irish. If an AMERICAN can do that, why on earth can’t I? I am surely starting from a stronger position than Des Bishop. My mother’s father’s family were native Irish speakers – not my grandmother’s though as she married down – her family were “above the Irish”. As you can see the status of the language has varied over the years.

So, I looked into it. Having grown up in Cork, I had no awareness at all that Irish had different dialects. The Dublin children, God help them, all know that Irish has different dialects as their teachers come from all over the country. Only Munster people teach in Cork. Munster Irish pronounces the ends of words, Connemara Irish (which seems to have superior status in the minds of Dubliners) does not and nobody can understand Ulster Irish as they don’t open their mouths while speaking. So, in Irish “he was not” is “ní raibh sé” in Munster Irish that would be pronouced “knee rev shay” in Connemara Irish they would say “knee row shay”. Now, you must understand that “bh” is pronounced “v” in Irish, so Munster Irish is, clearly, better in every way. There is a feeling abroad, however, that pronouncing every letter is a bit anglicised and really, the best Irish is only loosely related to the words written on the page and the rules of pronouciation. Insert growling sound here. Incidentally, I thought you might like to know, Irish has no word for no. You have to repeat the verb every time. Some people think that this is part of its charm.

So, I have views on Irish dialects, I attended a short Irish course. And now I’ve got a teach yourself Irish course book out of the library. I heard a good programme on Radio na Gaeltachta on Saturday. Where will it all end?

The Problem with OCD

7 February, 2010 at 4:29 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle took the children to visit his parents an hour ago and isn’t due back for another 2 hours. It’s all peace and tranquility here. In a moment I am going to take a black bin bag upstairs and fillet the children’s rooms of forgotten toys lurking at the bottom of the toy baskets.

What, you ask have I been doing in the first hour of my freedom? Did I read the Sunday papers while having a relaxing cup of tea? Did I replace the inner tube on the back wheel of my bicycle? Did I just play on the internet? Oh no, I did not. I organised the children’s lego. By colour and brick size. I also made a tractor and a police car to make sure that we have all the pieces. We laugh that we do not weep.

Reading

3 February, 2010 at 9:37 pm by belgianwaffle

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson

This is a thriller. It is also a page turner. While I was reading it in public places, two separate women approached me and told me that it was the best book they had read all year. This is not my kind of book. I read it for book club. As sales will, doubtless, continue to climb without my vote of approval, I can tell you that I did not enjoy it. It may be well-plotted but the characters are all entirely one dimensional (my husband points out that I have no difficulty when this happens in science fiction – he knew I was inconsistent when I married him). I found the grisly and explicit violence against women very unpleasant. As one of my book club co-readers said, “I am not the better of it.” Let me put it this way, I won’t be getting volume 2.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles – Volume 1: The Field Guide” by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

I picked this up in the library for the Princess and then read it myself one lunchtime to check that it wouldn’t scare the bejaysus out of her. Having decided that it was reasonably alright (big sister with annoying younger twin brothers moves to a new house and they discover ‘faeries’ – so spelt, of course), I handed it over to her. She started it and then we walked up the stairs to her bedroom and it disappeared. Probably the fault of a boggart. And it’s a library book too. Hell’s bells.

“Lord Loss” by Darren Shan/”Demon Thief” by Darren Shan/ All 12 Books of the Cirque du Freak Cycle

When I saw that the flick “Cirque du Freak” was based on a book by a man from Limerick, I thought I’d have a look. I picked up “Lord Loss” and “Demon Thief” in the Library. They are teenage page turners. A bit ghoulish but grand. Not sure that I can take the other 8 installments though, particularly, in view of the fact that a friend gave me all 12 Cirque du Freak books before Christmas and I read the lot. I read these at the same time as I was reading “Gilead” and “The Senator’s Wife”. Contrasts are good, I find. I have donated all the vampire books to the children’s school suggesting that they may be suitable for the 11 and 12 year olds. My reading age goes up and up.

“Zuleika Dobson” by Max Beerbohm

Spoiler alert – this gives away the ending. Also, a bit of a cheat but I don’t care.

Mr. Waffle recently finished this book which I read and mildly enjoyed many years ago. “A bit weird wasn’t it?” he said. “Um, I can’t really remember, some kind of light romantic comedey?” I said digging deep into the memory banks. “Don’s granddaughter comes to college and all the boys fall for her?” I proferred hopefully. “Mmm, and all of the boys committed suicide.” “Oh, I forgot that, maybe not a light romantic comedy then”.

“Nine Tailors” by Dorothy Sayers

More of aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Lots about bells. I now have a mild interest in campanology. Also quite a bit about flooding which is surprisingly topical.

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson

This book has no plot to speak of. I hate books without plots but I loved this book. I found it very hard to read. The prose was beautiful but almost every sentence expressed a new insight which I needed to think about before going on. Probably my book of the year for 2009. Immensely rewarding but hard, hard going. It is an affirmation of the importance of spirituality in prose which is not cliched, patronising or sentimental. It’s easy to make make readers cry, it’s much harder to make them think. This book achieves the latter.

“The Senator’s Wife” by Sue Miller

I read a good review of this over on litlove and picked it up in the library. It’s about two women; one old and patrician, the other younger, just married and a bit insecure. I found it very readable (welcome) and entertaining but, ultimately, a little empty. It seemed to be all about life style and choices somewhat at the expense of character. Interesting life styles and choices admittedly. I thought her writing about the isolation of being with a small baby was excellent. Still, I wouldn’t be rushing out for more.

“The Music Room” by William Fiennes

This is a book about a beautiful castle where the author grew up and his relationship with his brain damaged epileptic brother. I was really looking forward to reading it but I was disappointed. It is very well written but I found it cold and distant. As a child, he seems to love the house far more than his brother and he makes very little apology for this looking back through adult eyes. It is strange as he makes his parents seem like lovely warm people but he, himself, is like a deep freeze. Much too chilly for comfort.

“Smile or Die” by Barbara Ehrenreich

This is a polemic about the positive thinking industry. The author looks at positive thinking in cancer treatment, in religion and in the workplace and concludes that it’s a load of old tosh. The book reads slightly like a magazine article that has been tugged to inordinate length. Her thesis is one that, I suspect, is a lot easier to sell to an Irish audience than to an American one: we are already embittered cynics who think that positive thinking is daft. This was a bookclub read and absolutely the best thing about it was receiving this email from one of our number copied to all of us:

“I am very sorry, but unfortunately I will not be able to make it this evening…

I’d just like to let you know if you’re interested that in my role as coach, myself and a colleague … from Colour Me Beautiful are running a Look Good/Feel Good seminar in the X private members club on … if any of you can come along. The club is lovely and funky and … and I will be giving you tips advice on how to radiate inner and outer confidence. There’ll be canapés and wine too. I’ll send you on more details including how to sign up and the price over the next few days. If you know anyone who might be interested please feel free to send this on to them.”

I’m guessing that she hadn’t got around to reading the book.

Trains, planes and automobiles

1 February, 2010 at 10:54 pm by belgianwaffle

I took the children to visit my parents in Cork at the weekend. The whole thing was hellish.

My friend the portable DVD player ran out of battery an hour and a half into the train journey to Cork and for the remaining hour and a half I had to entertain the children using only my own mental agility. The train was packed. The children whacked each other; they shouted; they cried; I cringed. I had contemplated not bringing the Princess to Cork at all as she had a nasty cold and had been off from school for a couple of days. During that long journey, I frequently wished that I had not brought her. She announced to the whole carriage in her piercing tones that if we wanted to treat her so badly she was leaving and then flounced off. Several times. She fought with her brothers and whacked them. At home, the Princess has largely foresworn physical violence even when very much provoked, alas, this was not to be the case on tour.

We had timed our trip to Cork to coincide with my mother’s birthday and visits by my brother and sister – the idea being that they would help me to child wrangle. My brother was due to arrive on Saturday morning and the boys and I went to collect him from the airport. Unfortunately, he had given us the time his plane left Dublin not the time it arrived in Cork so the boys and I spent 40 minutes in the car waiting for him to arrive. Tense times. Lunch was late. Further tension and some lying on the floor and screaming. After lunch, my brother, in an effort to atone for his sins, nobly took the boys out to the back garden and played football with them. Unfortunately, due to his exciting social life, he was rather tired and went off for a restorative nap shortly afterwards. My sister meanwhile had been stuck late at work on Friday night and then Saturday slipped away from her and it was afternoon before she was on the road and then she got a flat tyre (in case you ever need to know, the nuts come off anti-clockwise as you look at them) and with one thing and another, she wasn’t going to arrive until Saturday evening. I took the boys to the park. I tried to lure the Princess out of the house also but she wouldn’t come. I knew she would enjoy it once she got there and that it would be good for her but I just didn’t have the energy for cajoling and then shepherding them all to the park so I left her behind telling her that I wanted the bedroom tidy when I got back (which, to be fair, it was). The park went fine actually and by the time we got back, my sister had made it to Cork.

On Saturday night, my sister cooked a birthday dinner for my mother. All very pleasant. At about 10.45 she brought in the birthday cake. The Princess came racing downstairs to partake of the goodies and stayed up until 11 eating chocolate cake. The inner voice which (as someone once said) seldom adds anything to my happiness warned me that no good would come of this. I parcelled her back to bed and decided to let the morrow take care of itself. At 11.30 my sister dropped my brother down town (that social life again) and came back at 11.45 suggesting we should play cards. Weakly, I decided to stay up for one game. It’s funny how quickly one reverts to old roles in these situations: my mother recklessly overbid; my aunt was the sage expert; my father always held the best cards but got slightly carried away by the sight of the ace of trumps and the ace of hearts in his hand; my sister won; I got cast. as ever, as the weakest link in the chain of cards. Gall and wormwood. The errors of others are overlooked as they know the right thing to do but just neglect to concentrate; my errors on the other hand are regarded as showing a startling ignorance of the basics of the game. This must be why I particularly enjoy playing with my husband as he must be one of the world’s worst card players and I shine in his company. Anyhow, with one thing and another, replaying hands and so on, it was well after one o’clock when I extricated myself, glumly handing over cash to my sister. I understand that the others kept going until after my brother came in at 2.30 in the morning.

So, as you can imagine on Sunday morning at 7.45 when the children rose to meet the day, I was not my bright and beautiful best and no one else appeared at all. I heard them tripping down stairs and clumped after them. The three of them were sitting on the sofa in a darkened room staring hopefully at a blank tv screen. Reprehensibly, I turned it on and crawled back to bed without even offering them breakfast. At 10.00 I came back down and they were still watching eagerly. There were howls of protest when I turned it off and the scene rapidly descended into chaos. Then next hour and a half was hideous. Michael lost the plastic lid of his Thomas watch and cried lustily as the household searched for it and only stopped crying when it was restored to him a good half hour after its initial loss was discovered. They all fought like nobody’s business. I carried a howling, flailing Princess to one room and a howling Daniel to another and told them to stay there until I said they could come out. Michael clung to my leg crying piteously “My brudder, let my brudder out.” My mother followed me about saying in the slightly hushed voice she uses when the children are misbehaving “Is there anything I can do?” Much snapping on my part, leading to further unhappiness.

There is a certain inevitable dynamic which plays itself out when I take the children to Cork. I want my parents to see the children at their best; the children appear to have no very clear idea what their best is; I love my mother but we have, ahem, how can I put this, high expectations of each other; finally, and not negligibly, my parents have a stool that doubles as a small ladder – the children like to sit on it, they fight to sit on it at mealtimes and the lucky winner bangs the steps on the floor at regular intervals despite increasingly hysterical requests from me not to do so. My father is one of life’s pessimists and has no expectations of anyone. Though I disapprove of this, I cannot but find it extremely restful when my children are misbehaving and he is quite resigned to it rather than saying in shocked, subdued tones “Do they normally behave like this?” It was also useful, incidentally, when I was learning to drive and he sent me out with gloomy prognostications that I would crash the car. When I actually did crash the car he was quite sanguine on the basis that it was bound to happen.

Throw the following facts into the mix also: my mother loves to feed her family. My children do not love to eat. She asks me anxiously “what will they eat?” I say snappily “If I knew, I would tell you, I am not deliberately keeping this from you.” Unhappiness. It is a grandmother’s prerogative to treat her grandchildren. I know this. However, since my children will not touch anything savoury, we are thrown back on biscuits, sweets, ice creams, waffles. I feel I am constantly saying no to my poor mother as she spells out the food options and the children, of course, knowing that these things are there, whine for them, so I yield. Everyone is happy for five minutes. Then the cycle starts again. Then their teeth fall out and they grow obese.

So, where were we? Oh yes, on Sunday morning. I decided that I just couldn’t take the children to mass with my parents. The children would behave so badly, it would be appalling. We would all die of mortification as they raced up and down the aisles and climbed under the pews and I would have a nervous breakdown trying to keep them silent in their seats. I just couldn’t face it. My mother was horrified. I said tentatively that I might go to the church across the road with my brother later. My brother went out to mass. The children calmed down and I decided to chance it. Unfortunately, my parents have one of these very secure doors where you need a key to get out as well as to get in. Had I thought to provide myself with a key? I had not. So we stayed at the house by ourselves. The children behaved perfectly. They didn’t fight, they played nicely together, they sat down and ate lunch. Then, before any further trouble could break out, we said goodbye, gathered ourselves up and had my brother take us to the train.

The DVD worked intermittently on the train. In one of its off phases, the Princess and Daniel started to fight and she kicked him on his head under the table. There were two very virtuous children sitting opposite us. In a silent rebuke they sat quietly in their chairs for the three hour journey – no toys, no books, just civilised conversation. Meanwhile, it was world war three and a host of cracker crumbs across the aisle. My mother had given them each 2 euros on leaving the house (too scared by me to give them sweets). I thought that this would be good as I could substitute cash, if they lost it (yes, I know, I am weak) but they spent their money on the tea trolley and got change as well as crisps and sweeets. Then they crawled around the floor saying – where’s my 20cents, where’s my 5 cents and so on. At one point Daniel announced “I want to do a wee.” So, I took him off to the bathroom threatening the other two with dire consequences, if they misbehaved in our absence. I stood in the queue on tiptoes which allowed me to see the other pair and when we got to the top, Daniel insisted on going in alone which suited me. As I stood outside, a little voice came from inside “Mummy, can you get me down from the toilet, I’m stuck.” Since he had locked the door this was going to be a challenge so I cajoled him down and there were sounds of great shuffling and heaving inside. When he opened the door, I darted in. Before we washed his hands, I said “did you flush the toilet?” “No, because I didn’t do a wee,” he said. “Why didn’t you do a wee?” I asked. “Because I was only joking that I wanted to do a wee.” Of course. The other two were still alive on our return. Very daringly, I sent the Princess to the restaurant car alone to pick up supplies. I was a little nervous that she might get lost or get overlooked in the queue but she returned bearing a bottle of water triumphantly aloft. I was very proud. But then she started fighting with her brothers again, so I got distracted.

By the time we got back to Dublin, I was fit to be tied. I consigned them all to the care of their father and took public transport home. When I got home, they were reproachful: why had I gone away? Alas, they were also utterly ignorant that they had played a role in my chagrin (Daniel seemed to have the glimmerings of an idea). A lengthy discussion with each of them in turn yielded only the information that they had had a great time in Cork. They appeared to only have the mildest awareness that their behaviour might have been in any way unpleasant: ranging from Michael, who denied everything, to Daniel who conceded some sins and the Princess who said “I hate it when you use your sad voice, can we draw a veil?”

Let us draw a veil. I do wonder what I am doing wrong, though. I appreciate that at ages 6 and 4 responsibility for their poor behaviour is much more mine than their’s. Do they, in fact, not understand what behaviour is expected of them? Do I yield too easily to them? Is it just because there are three of them so close together in age (I can’t help noticing that supernanny spends more of her time with families with twins than would be statistically expected)? There is something about all of them together – there are never problems, if there are only two and it doesn’t matter which two. Will they ever learn to be polite and well-behaved? Sometimes I despair – of course, sometimes I am filled with hope and delighted by them. Just not at the moment. Anyway, one thing I have learnt, I will not be taking the three of them to their grandparents’ house together again, if I can help it.

Now, how was your weekend?


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