So I’m Not a Mom

Being a childless woman in your thirties isn’t always easy. I mean sure, I can sleep through the night, drink tequila on a Thursday and decide without any planning to go line dancing or ice-skating, if those were things I wanted to do. But there are downsides to my childlessness: namely, the presumptuous comments of some (of course, not all) mothers I speak to. Because I’m not one of them, I must have a wonderful life. I have such freedom, after all. I must have boundless energy. If I say I went out to the pub for a drink with friends, I’m met with ‘imagine being able to do that’. If I say that I feel a little tired because I’ve had so much overtime, I get ‘just wait till you have kids.’

Shockingly, there are women who are my age who simply don’t want to have children. That’s totally fucking fine. Not every woman has to be a mother. Not ever woman wants to be a mother. That doesn’t make her selfish or vain or proud. And what about the women who can’t have children? I can’t imagine how much senseless comments like the ones I hear on at least a weekly basis must hurt them.

Women who don’t have children are still loving, caring and compassionate. We’re not any more or any less selfish than anyone else. We have as much empathy as the next person. I remember telling someone once that I was anti-capital punishment and their response was ‘you’d think differently if you had kids’ as if I’m somehow incapable at arriving at a reasonable conclusion on the matter because I’m lacking some kind of empathy or sense of outrage that is unique to parents. Lately, I told some colleagues that I was re-reading the novel Room by Emma Donoghue. The plot is admittedly disturbing and the subject matter is dark and distressing. But it is also a well-written novel, about issues (kidnapping, rape) that occur whether we want to think about them or not. My colleagues (whom I really like, respect and get along well with) told me that they couldn’t even bring themselves to read the book. Fair enough, I thought. It is a tough read and not for everyone. But then the conversation turned into six mothers versus me. They told me that because they’re mothers, the thought of reading such a novel is particularly disturbing. I agree; it would be very difficult and you would naturally think of your own children in such a situation and that would be enough to cause you to avoid such narratives. But they didn’t stop there. I was met with comments like ‘you’ll understand when you have kids’ (which I probably just should get tattooed on my forehead) and ‘ god imagine being able to read books like that!’ I was made to feel as if I was some sadistic, voyeuristic sociopath who thrives on the suffering of fictional children. I just choose not to shield myself from difficult realities in life. Paintings by renaissance or impressionist artists can be disturbing and convey great suffering but they can still be beautiful. The same goes for literature and for movies. Appreciating them doesn’t make me some kind of psychopath.

And just because I don’t have children does not make me immune to outrage, shock, pain, compassion or disgust.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m having a go at mothers or motherhood. Most mothers I know (my friends and my sister and sister-in-law, for example) serve as great inspirations to me. They’re exactly what I aspire to be if and when I decide to have kids. Even the mothers that do pass thoughtless comments don’t do it out of malice or spite, I know that. Mothers can be wonderful, resilient, kind, beautiful, brave people. Non-mothers can be just as wonderful, just as resilient, just as kind, beautiful and brave.

We are all women, different and the same, and we need to support each other and each other’s choices.

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My Creepiest Experience

I decided because it’s Halloween (almost) that it’s really the perfect time for me to share a story with you guys. I really really want to stress a few things before I begin:

1. This is a true story. By that I mean that I am telling the facts of this to the best of my recollection. I have not amended or embellished any of the events. I am not claiming that the events that I am about to describe are actually supernatural, I am merely describing something that I have not been able to explain.

2. You should know that I am about the most sceptical person that you will ever meet. Really. I love science and I always attempt to rationally figure out things that I don’t understand right away. I generally don’t believe in anything supernatural, such as ghosts or demons. You could show me a picture of a ghost and I would state that there must be a rational explanation for it. Despite what happened to me, I do believe that there must be a scientific explanation for what occurred. I just don’t quite know what it is.

Okay. So I’ll begin.

It all began when I was a child. I don’t really know how old I was, but if I had to guess, I’d say I was around eleven years old. I lived in a tiny village in the south of Ireland. When I say tiny, I mean TINY. It had one shop, the size
of someone’s living room. There was one pub, a village hall and a school with an enrolment of roughly fifty pupils, including me. The school only had three classrooms, which hadn’t been updated properly since the late nineteenth century. There were even inkwells in the desks up to the 1990s.

I lived in a collection of small houses about a five minute’s walk from the village. I was very close friends with the other kids in my small neighbourhood.

I don’t remember why exactly I was walking to the shop on that summer’s day. I also don’t remember why I was on my own. My mother probably sent me to get something. Anyway, I was making my way to the local shop, minding my own business, when I heard noise coming from the primary school.

Now, just to be clear, the shop was twenty yards straight ahead of me. The school was about the same distance, but up a road to my right. I couldn’t see it. The school was closed for the summer so there shouldn’t have been anyone in it. What I heard wasn’t just one person, it was several dozen children screeching and laughing very loudly. It sounded like break time. This didn’t make any sense though, as there wasn’t any school in session. Even though this was strange, I wasn’t entirely thrown by it just yet. None of my friends were with me which meant that it could have been them playing in the school. We often used the basketball court or the football pitch during the school holidays. The thing is, there was only ever a handful of us at a time so that would not have accounted for the noise. So my young mind jumped to the next logical conclusion: my friends must be hanging out with other kids and there must be some kind of event going on. I remember getting so exited at this prospect that I ran as fast as I could towards the school. The noise was absolutely deafening, and it was definitely coming from the playground.

This is where it gets weird. When I got to the school, there was no one there. Not only that, but I was met with an eerie silence. The noise just stopped. I had gone from hearing maybe sixty kids playing to hearing nothing. Needless to say, I was confused. Confused and unsettled.

I went back to my housing estate and told my friend. I asked her if she had heard the noise, as our houses were just a field across from the school. She said she hadn’t. We spent the remainder of the day trying to come up with plausible explanations but we couldn’t think of any. She knew that I was not one for melodrama or lying so she was just as perturbed as I was.

It could have ended there and to be honest, if it had, I probably would have forgotten about the whole event, strange as it was.

Years later, in the middle of the night, I woke up to my mobile ringing. I was sleepy and confused but was able to see that it was my friend who lived three doors down ringing (the same friend whom I had told my strange event to). I ignored the call but then noticed that I had over ten missed calls from her so I answered the next one.

“What is it?” I moaned, groggily.
“Oh my God. I believe you. I had my doubts but…you can hear it too right? It’s been going on for over fifteen minutes!”
“What are you taking about?”
“The kids. The noise. Can you hear it?”
I went silent. I felt myself go colder than I’ve ever experienced. I know that someone could point out that maybe I now only heard the noise because she had pointed it out, but I had been shuffling around my bed and hasn’t really listened. I sat up and looked out my skylight. I could see the school was in darkness. But yes. I could hear the children again. Laughing and playing, as if on a break. At two o’ clock in the morning.
I felt sick.

“Yes I hear it,” I whispered. “It’s definitely coming from the school, right?”
“Right.”
“But there are no lights on. I’m looking at it now. It’s pitch black.”

And just as suddenly as I had heard it, it was gone.
The next morning, we discussed it at length. I don’t remember much about the following few weeks and months, but we didn’t hear it again for a long time. No one else in the village reported hearing it either, which only added to our confusion. We stopped talking about it entirely after a while.

When I was in college, I moved out of home but I used to come home at weekends with my boyfriend to stay, and my friend used to return to her house also. I remember telling Jack about the events years before, and he had been quite sceptical. He didn’t expressly say that he didn’t believe me, but I knew he felt that I must have misheard something or just been confused. He is also extremely sceptical and rational and I knew he wouldn’t believe any of it unless he actually witnessed the events himself. He eventually had the pleasure.

When we stayed at my house, he slept in my old bed under the skylight and I would sleep in the bed across the room where my sister has always been. One night, I awoke to jack hissing my name across the room. He was sitting bolt upright in bed.

“JAAAANE! JANE! JAAAANNNNNE!” He was practically spitting my name.

“Hmm?” Again, it was the middle of the night. Before he said anything, I heard it. Like the times before, it was as clear as day: children playing. And lots of them. Coming from the school.

“Oh Jesus.”
“What the hell is that Jane?” Jack was visibly shaken. I couldn’t answer him. After a while, I whispered to him
“I told you.”
“I know. I just can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
To this day, Jack doesn’t like talking about it.
The next morning, we rushed to my friend’s house to tell her what we heard. When she answered the door, she beat us to it.
“I heard it too,” she said, ashen-faced. We all just stood there, in silence. We have never spoken about it since.
While the whole experience was no doubt unsettling, I wouldn’t say that I felt a great deal of fear. I still believe that there must be an explanation. I have never really sought one I suppose.

When I recalled the story to my sister, she said that perhaps it was foxes. We did live behind a field after all, and foxes can make some bizarre sounds. They are known to make high-pitched screeching sounds. Perhaps she is right; it is a more plausible explanation than the ghosts of fifty dead children came out to play at night. So yes, I’m going with foxes. *hides under duvet for eternity*

Anybody want to share a strange experience? Or maybe you want to reassure me that I didn’t live a quarter of a mile from a haunted school?

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Mothers Always Know Best

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*For the purposes of this post and your imagination, this is my mother

Most people see me as a paragon of calmness; a level-headed, laid back Zen Master. Except that last week, I had a freak out. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a freak out of Danny Bonaduce proportions, but compared to how I normally compose myself, I might as well have covered myself in green paint and beat my chest with Black Hawks.

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In a certain light, we’re virtually indistinguishable

It all started when I was waiting in the car for my boyfriend, who was off doing boyfriend things (code for “I can’t remember what he was doing”) and I decided to peruse my Facebook newsfeed. As I scrolled through the mundane ‘1 like=1 prayer’ melodrama, I noticed that one of my friends had gotten engaged. ‘Huh,’ I thought, ‘good for her’ as I dutifully clicked the ‘like’ button.

I continued scrolling. ‘Huh’, I mumbled again, albeit this time in a more high-pitched tone, ‘Katie is engaged too. Oh, and Emma. And Marie just had a baby.’ I sunk back in my seat. I tried very hard to feel happy for these girls I had once attended school with. They’re nice girls and they deserve to be happy. So why was I feeling like someone had punched me square in the uterus?

As my boyfriend nonchalantly sat back into the car, he noticed I was staring into space (at this stage, I was possibly imagining an older version of myself knitting clothing for my sixty cats).

‘What’s up?’ he asked me, possibly expecting me to refer to the fact that he had earlier hidden my Abba Gold collection.
I didn’t want to say anything. Besides the fact that I didn’t exactly know what was indeed wrong with me, I’m not the passive-aggressive, manipulative, reverse psychology type (you know the ones, they’re all over your Facebook) and I really didn’t want Jack thinking that this was all a clever ruse to provoke him into action.

What could I say? ‘Oh all my friends are engaged and having babies and we’re sat here eating drive-thru and debating whether we’ll watch Iron Man or Spider Man when we go home.’

All he would infer from anything I could possible say is that I was pressuring him to propose to me. And that’s not what I want. Don’t say women aren’t complex creatures…wait, who actually says that, ever?

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I’m sayin’ nothin’

We’ve been together for eleven years now. We’re in our mid to late twenties. Marriage just seems like the next step.

Except we can’t afford it. Readers, I’m being so honest with you that you might as well be cradling my head in your lap and singing lullabies to me. We know that we want to marry each other eventually, and we will, but right now, it would seem like a gigantic expense that we couldn’t justify. And marriage seems so grownup and real, sometimes I just don’t feel mature enough for it. I’d be a ‘Mrs’ for the love of Jezabel.

So I have to admit, the marriage thing wasn’t what was bugging me. Nor was the fact that my friends could now probably run a small crèche between them. No. It was the fact that their lives were taking shape; that they had a sense of direction, of purpose. (The following should be accompanied by cheesy dramatic music and narration by Cameron Diaz) I started to feel like I was in a maze and I had no idea which way I was supposed to go.

To my horror, I noticed tears running down my face. Actual real, giant, salty tears. ‘Oh Jesus,’ I muttered, as I used the end of my sleeve to aggressively dab them away. I’m the sort of person who really hates to cry, so when I inevitably end up sobbing I mutter things to myself like ‘Oh stop it, you big baby!’ which actually makes me sob more because I’m being mean to myself. And myself is quite sensitive.

‘Love, what is wrong?’ my boyfriend asked again, this time showing genuine concern. I can imagine a montage of all his misdemeanours playing though his head: toilet seat left up, clothes balled up on bedroom floor, pizza box in living room, expensive conditioner used as body wash, again…

‘I don’t know really. I just… Sometimes I see other the lives of everyone else taking shape at our age and we’re just kinda stuck in this never ending cycle of debt and takeaways. I feel aimless sometimes, I suppose. I know I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a conventional person, but I have to admit Jack, sometimes the conventional looks pretty comfortable.’

I could see Jack’s eyebrows rising and falling, which I know means he as confused as Kim Kardashian in an art gallery.

‘Sooo, I didn’t do anything?’ he asked gingerly. I leaned over and kissed him.

‘No,’ I smiled through my tears ‘you didn’t.’

Great, I noted wryly to myself, now he thinks you’re on your period.

As we continued our journey home silently, Jack dispensed some pretty good advice.

‘You should talk to your mother. I think it would help.’

At the time, I wasn’t sure. At my age, Mam had a house that she fully owned, a child and she was married. I don’t even own a subscription to my local video store. But as I mulled over whether I should ask my mother for advice that night in bed, I resolved to ring her the next morning. I told myself that she’s a pretty good listener and if anything, she would comfort me.

So I called her and told her that I was doing good but that lately I’d felt a little down. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m known for being the one in my family who normally dispenses the advice rather than receives it, so my mother was a tad surprised. I also felt slightly guilty that this didn’t exactly appear as a ‘real’ problem. There are people out there in debt, suffering from depression or ill, and I’m just some middle class white chick with first world problems. Still though, I knew she wouldn’t want me feeling so aimless and underwhelmed with my life.

‘I don’t know how this has really happened’, I began (although I did know, and I silently narrowed my eyes at an invisible Mark Zukerberg) ‘but lately I’ve just been feeling like I’ve, I don’t know…like I’ve wasted my twenties. Like my life hasn’t really even begun yet. I mean, I love Jack and I’m so happy with him, but I feel like a home for us, and children and all that, is so far out of reach. And everyone else seems to be settling down. And when you were my age, you were married, with a house and a kid and you had everything. I just feel like I’m missing out on all that.’

There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. Great, I thought, I have literally bored her to death.

I heard her take a sigh. She began: ‘firstly, when I married your father it was 1980. In Catholic Ireland. I had a job but I felt I had to leave it. Times were very different. I was expected to get married. There was no such thing as living with someone first, and women were expected to have children.
You don’t have those expectations anymore. You get to keep your job, which you love. You don’t have to have children by a certain age to keep your parents happy. And you’re angry because these societal expectations are gone? What is that?!’
She was half laughing, half incredulous.

She continued:
‘You are so lucky. You’re not tied to a property. You’re not expected to play the part of dutiful housewife. Don’t get me wrong, I love the three of you (my siblings and I, I’m guessing) more than anything, but my god how I would have loved some more time. I would have loved to eat pizza on the floor (how does she know?) and come home at eight o’ clock in the morning after a house party, but I couldn’t. I had responsibilities. And I was so young.
And, my dear, you are forgetting the most important fact of all: if my life was so perfect, why did our marriage break down? Hmm?’

She was right. My father and her had separated a few years ago. Was she saying that it was because they married too young? Was it because she didn’t get to experience enough of life in her twenties?

‘Look’, she interrupted my reverie ‘I was happy. I was. I had three beautiful children. And you can have that too. Except you can also go and live some of your life first. Who says marriage and kids qualifies you as an adult, hah? Ok, so yes, you still wear Minnie Mouse onesies, but you’re a grownup with or without marriage and babies. And you’re doing a pretty good job at this adult malarkey. You have a career, a stable relationship with a great man and you seem happy, most of the time. What more could you want? The grass seems perfectly green where you are.’

‘Oh Jesus.’

‘WHAT?’

‘Im crying again,’ I mumbled. And I was. The warmth of her words surrounded me like a blanket. As I say there, ensconced in her rationality, I knew she was right. She’s my mother; she’s always right.

I need to be thankful that I live in a society and in a time where I’m free to do as I like (within reason of course, yes I’m talking to you: the guy removing his clothes and planning to run naked through Walmart). I also realised that I just need to calm the eff down. I’m twenty-six. I still sleep with a nightlight on after watching horror movies. I don’t think I should be thinking about babies juuuust yet. Of course, it’s a personal thing, but I have to admit, I’m pretty content with life at the moment. There’s plenty of time for marriage and children. I don’t need to waste these years by inventing societal pressures.

Until then, I’m going to continue putting dresses on my male Westie because, well, I can.

And also, this is me:

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The truth about Christmas

I know a lot of people won’t want to read this today of all days and might call me a kill-joy but I think it’s an uncomfortable truth for many people: Christmas is an anti-climax.
From the end of October (and sometimes earlier), ideals of the “perfect” Christmas are thrust upon us. Adverts on television tell us that this involves consuming as much as possible: expensive gifts for our loved ones, tables laden with mounds of food and alcohol and households full of friends and family. The picture of the perfect Christmas is pretty standard. It usually involves smiling faces, lots of expense and a Frank Sinatra soundtrack. The issue I have with this is that any deviation from this used to make me feel inadequate in some way.
My parents broke up three years ago. Before you picture me lying on a therapist’s couch weeping like James van der Beek, I’m fine. Our Christmases as a family had become gradually more and more depressing (on our last Christmas together I suffered a seizure and my brother left the meal after about twenty minutes, eat your heart out Chandler Bing) but the breakup of our family was a huge change in all of our lives. It was Christmas 2010 that we all decided that it would be best to go our separate ways at Christmas. My brother spent it with his girlfriend (now wife), my sister spent it with her fiancé and daughter and I decided to spent it with Jack.
Between the three of us, we decided to split up going to both parents over the day. It was messy and unconventional but we got through it.
What affected me most though was the expectations I put on myself to provide the perfect Christmas for Jack. I know now that Jack didn’t expect it himself, it was all me. And it mostly came from movies and adverts. I know this makes me sound like some gullible and highly suggestible idiot but who can blame me? Images of the “perfect” Christmas surround us. And what upset me was that I would no longer have any of this. Instead of a table surrounded by family members both young and old, it would just be Jack and I. Instead of a succulent turkey, it would have to be something more suitable for two. And I’d have to cook it (although we both cook now). Instead of party tricks, crackers and watching the children play with their toys, I would just be with Jack. I have no issue with that at all, but it felt just like any other day of the week. And that’s it. Christmas Day is just another day of the week. But I remember feeling huge pressure and I don’t remember actually enjoying that first Christmas together, which is a pity.
I don’t want to be a buzz kill. I enjoy Christmas, I really do. But I think we put far too much pressure and expense on ourselves in order to have the most perfect experience. We don’t need to spend large amounts of money or spend hours toiling in the kitchen to create a nice day. Think about it: the more and more you build up Christmas and the more and more pressure we put on ourselves to make it “perfect”, then the more disappointed we will feel when it doesn’t turn out quite as we had expected.
This might seem like a pessimistic outlook. I don’t believe it is; I think it’s sensible. Today, Jack and I had a lovely meal, we watched Toy Story 3, we played with our pets, we called our families and we snuggled in front of the fire. We decided, after years of panicking about what the other wanted, to negate buying each other gifts. Instead, Jack made me breakfast and I cooked the dinner.
Right now, we are comfortable and happy. We are not surrounded by fairy lights, turkeys, elves, people or Frank Sinatra. And that is totally okay.
I hope, whoever is still reading this, that you have the Christmas experience that YOU feel comfortable with, not the one you think you should have. It’s much more relaxing and peaceful this way.

Poem: A Christmas Childhood

This is a beautiful poem that I learned when I was in school that will punch you square in the feelings. It’s by poet Patrick Kavanagh and it’s called ‘A Christmas Childhood’.

My father played the melodion

Outside at our gate;

There were stars in the morning east;

And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called

To Lennons and Callans.

As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry

I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother

Made the music of milking;

The light of her stable-lamp was a star

And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,

Mass-going feet

Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,

Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters

On the grey stone,

In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,

The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over

Cassidy’s hanging hill,

I looked and three whin bushes rode across

The horizon – the Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:

“Can’t he make it talk” –

The melodion, I hid in the doorway

And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post

With my penknife’s big blade –

There was a little one for cutting tobacco.

And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,

My mother milked the cows,

And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned

On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.