Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day


Today, Sunday - Mothers' Day -  I tried to clean the bathroom.
The point I gave up at was when I was leaning over the bath with my trousers around my ankles, my nearly-one-year-old clutching my knees and joyfully wiping his snotty nose into the cellulitey cushions on the back of my thighs, while the 2.5 year old squirted my knickers with water, joyfully singing "The WHEELS on the BUS go ROUND and ROUND, ROUND and ROUND!"
It was a beautiful moment.
Not.
Ginger of hair and gappy of tooth,
he is half-child, half-goblin
I put down the Mr Muscle, pulled up my trousers and gave it up as a hopeless case. That was my Mothers' Day present to myself.

We've had a busy week and that's why the bathroom is filthy and the laundry train got derailed somewhere last Monday. The result of this was that I'd had to root around the depths of my wardrobe to find myself something (reasonably) clean and pounced upon a pair of  pregnancy jeans in desperation. Turns out, pregnancy jeans worn when not pregnant can be yanked down very quickly by thigh-high children and - it turns out - this is a hilarious exercise, especially when accompanied by 72 verses of The Wheels on the Bus. This, dear readers, is life with a one-year-old and a two-year-old.

That's right - you can hop back through the sparse entries of my blog in the last twelve months and establish that a full year has passed since I was waddling around, ready to pop. My younger son Robert is about to turn one! And Mr Gingerbread and I are at a loss as to what he should get for his birthday. The house is full of toys - he has a dozen aunts and uncles, after all - and more clothes than my poor laundry skills can cope with. And, to be honest, we tend to think babies and toddlers want this kind of thing


when in actual fact, my son would really like something like this for his birthday.

A compromise must be found.


I decided to radically attack scraps and half-skeins, and this has been my on-the-side project for the last few weeks.



 Because it's May and the magnolia is blooming and the balcony is beckoning! Hurray!




Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Terrible Twos

I learned a new word recently: threenager. It describes the delight that is a moody, irrational, temperamental three-year-old. And frankly, readers, I quaked. I have a two-year-old son and he is currently in the throes of Tyrannical Toddlerdom. I used to look at children writhing on the floors of supermarkets, red-faced and hysterical, and think, "How embarrassing! How mortifying! Why don't the parents do something?"
Oh, yes, those were the days when I could revel in smug judgement. Smudgement. When I have children I'm going to make sure they never behave like that.

 - pause for laughter -
Now I'm the mother standing off to the side, scratching dried yoghurt off her t-shirt while her child throws a conniption on the floor. I could care, really I could - but I'm often too tired to bother. And this might be the 42nd hissy fit in a three-day period; and if it's my child writhing around the floor, the cause of the tantrum might be any of the following (and many more besides):
a) the cockerel on the front of the cornflakes packet looked at him funnily
b) he doesn't want to be in the trolley, he doesn't want to walk beside the trolley, he wants to hover in the air above the trolley
c) he wants to eat a raw egg from the carton and I won't let him
d) he loves me, why won't I carry him?
e) he hates me, why am I carrying him?
Basically, sometimes I can do a SuperNanny move on him and distract him swiftly, but my son John is not easily distracted. He is eerily focussed and won't be fobbed off just like that. Sometimes I swoop him up and remove him to a quiet place. Sometimes I just let the tantrum run its course and exchange sympathetic been-there-done-that looks with parents of older children.

This morning, John woke at 6 a.m. and in a gesture of marital love that you will only understand if you have kids yourself, I swooped him up and left his father and little brother fast asleep in bed. We got dressed and slipped out into the quietness of the city. I hate getting up early, but I love being up early - if that makes sense. I love the stillness of the early morning, the lemon sunshine and the chill  in the air. John and I used to spend a lot of early mornings together, but since his little brother came along, we haven't had much chance to get out alone. This morning we walked side by side the entire length of the town.

We walked across the town square, where someone had decorated the concrete with chalk mandalas in the night:


We walked to the bakery and bought a chocolate croissant, then ate it together on a park bench.


And took a bus home, just because we wanted an opportunity to sing 'The Wheels on the Bus' - well, he did the singing and I had to clap along. More about the singing some other time.


We got home in time for breakfast but even as we climbed the stairs, my son was screeching, "Papa! Mama and I went on a secret walk!", an indication that his future will not be in the CIA or diplomatic field. But the walk did us good: no tantrums, no fights. We should really do it more often (just not tomorrow. Tomorrow is Papa's turn.)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Things you should know about my father

My father's birthday was in February but we were awash in the various fluids that accompany a dose of the 'flu at the time. As I've summed up my mother, I thought it might be fair to tell you a bit about my father as well.

Things you should know about my father

1. He pushed my mother into a puddle and laughed
My father first met my mother when he was five and she was four (I think. They were, in any case, scandalously young to be running around unsupervised, but this was Ireland in the fifties. I think parents ushered their kids out the door in the morning and did not expect to see them again till supper-time). He shoved her into a puddle and laughed at her. My father claims to have no memory of this incident; my mother, however, does and even maintains that he was wearing one of my grandmother's meticulously knitted pullovers whilst doing the pushing (held at arm's length to this little beast, she was probably in a very good position to view his knitwear.) When she wants a bit of extra sympathy, she also says that he and my Uncle John were laughing ("demonically")  as they pushed her - but, as I said, this bit is only tacked on occasionally and I have a feel that, half a century later, she's just embroidering an already dastardly tale.

But the years passed and my father turned into a skinny teen with a big hat and a lot of angst, and my mother found this quite attractive (I think men in big hats and artistic overcoats were uncommon 1970s Ireland). They got married in a flurry of flares and oversized lapels and produced a plethora of children. Sadly, they do not recreate the puddle-pushing on special occasions nor, to my knowledge, has my mother ever pushed him back.

2. He saved my life
When I was a toddler, I swallowed a fish-bone and started to choke. I don't remember this, but my mother (she of the "he was wearing a handknitted jumper and laughing his head off" version of events, so take it with a pinch of salt) said my lips were turning blue and I couldn't breathe. I'm not sure if deceased relatives were trying to usher me down a tunnel toward the light, but I was certainly in dire straits. Not acquainted with the Heimlich Manoeuvre, my father grabbed me by my chubby ankles, swung me upside-down and shook me hard, as you would do a pillow and - lo and behold - the fishbone was dislodged.
I'm very grateful to him for this and to this day, harbour a suspicion that fish are out to get me.

3. He never wanted us to have pets
"We are NOT getting another pet! I'LL end up looking after it! Not a single ONE will look after this dog/cat/rabbit, you all know I'LL be the one taking it on walks and feeding it!" etc.
My father has spent the last forty years telling us we're not getting another pet.
We've had a succession of pets.
And, to be fair to him, he has in fact ended up looking after every single one of them. On a visit home from Germany a few years ago, I saw my father walk up the lane to our house with his wheelbarrow (because another thing you should know about my father that doesn't warrant a point of its own is that he has filled the potholes in the entrance to our house about a hundred thousand times) and saw him followed by a procession of animals: a Jack Russell terrier, four cats, two miniature ducks and a couple of stray chickens who were out for an opportunistic walk. I have also seen him feed the Jack Russell from a spoon, store a kitten in his coat and pick worms out of a freshly-dug flowerbed for the ducks.
But he hates pets and doesn't know why we keep insisting on having the blighters.

4. He doesn't like people touching his things
Which is unfortunate when you have nine children, because no one ever had anything to call their
This man needs a comb, people.
own in our house. There was always a young child on the rampage, your precious possessions firmly grasped in a sticky paw.
"All I have is this comb!" my father would wail, holding up a plastic comb. "It's the only thing I have, a bloody comb for my hair. I leave it here on the mantelpiece and when I come down in the morning, the comb is gone! Who keeps taking my comb?"
Ah, it was the soundtrack to my youth: my father and his comb. At one point, he got it into his head that he might chain the comb to the mantelpiece - an idea we all found very entertaining. Sadly, though, he much preferred ranting about how he was going to chain the comb to the mantelpiece more than actually chaining the comb to the mantelpiece.

5. He like a rant
The index finger will go up.
"I'll tell you something," he says, leaning in. And he's off. Frequent topics for rants over the years have included: People (more about that in a minute), Not Getting Another Pet, Disappearing Combs, A Packet of Biscuits Not Being Shared Fairly, The State of Ireland, People. It's a very diverse list and it changes, with some points remaining constant (People).

6. He doesn't like people, especially people visiting him
No, don't get the wrong idea. My father's not a xenophobe. He doesn't like most people, regardless of where they're from or what they look like or do. They're loud and they can be rude and a select few of them (most notably - the cheek of them - his family) have the audacity to want to visit him and make him make ... small talk!!! Sometimes when he sees the lights of an approaching car and scarper off down to his shed, conveniently forgetting his mobile phone, leaving my mother with a bunch of unannounced visitors to entertain. (And a short note on this: in Ireland, people still pop in for a visit without calling. Why call and ruin the surprise? Think of the joy you'll give someone by just turning up at their door unannounced, looking for tea and biscuits. Ahhhhh. Maybe I've just been in Germany too long.)

7. He paints pictures in his shed
My father is an artist. Nowadays, that's a mildly interesting statement to make, but when my father was young, I believe saying you wanted to become an artist was about as ludicrous as wanting to become an astronaut or a lion-tamer. I don't know how my grandparents reacted, but I'm sure rosaries were said to save his soul and get him back on the straight and narrow path to the civil service or a nice job in the laboratory of the local roof tile factory. But he painted anyway. And now he does it professionally, as a graphic artist, and semi-professionally as a painter, intrepid blogger and YouTube fiend. By day, he's a mild-mannered (though given to an occasional rant) visitor-hating, animal-loving father of nine; by night he paints pictures and has a cyber-life that includes video channels and fan posts.


8. He paints pictures in his shed (II)
Before my father became a graphic artist by day, he did actually work in the laboratory of the local roof tile factory. But he and my mother decided that the laboratory of a roof tile factory is a very good place for a soul to die, so they set up their own business. Two weeks before a global recession, oh dear. It was a grim time, a lean time and a very hard time. But in the middle of this very awful, grim period, where we were constantly tiptoeing along the line to bankruptcy and losing - oh, everything, one of my teachers said, "You know, your parents have given you the greatest gift you could possibly get. They took the road less travelled and gave up a steady job to do something they're passionate about. You'll never be afraid to do the same, because you'll come through it and see it can be done."
And she was absolutely right.
Twenty-five years and two recessions later, their business is still going. Bravery is a very good thing to pass to your children.

9. He will wear a fake rabbit in his pullover
... because that's what good parents do. When my brother William was small, he had a soft toy called Baby Rabbit. Baby Rabbit tended to get lost, so my father was given to wearing Baby Rabbit in the V of his v-neck jumper so Baby Rabbit go to see what was going on, while remaining in a safe place. This seems like a random thing to remember, but the other day my husband ate imaginary cake out of Lego blocks at a teaparty for Papa, Wuffie the toy dog and my two-year-old son, and it reminded me that saving a child's life is a magnificent piece of parenting, but eating fake cake and wearing soft toys is just as important, and maybe more.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fifty Shades Astray

Some time ago, before the book 'Fifty Shades of Grey' became well-known in Germany, I came across it in the English section of our local bookstore. I picked it up, read the names of the two protagonists (Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey), instantly became overcome with the scent of cheap Harlequin romance and returned it to its heap. See, I am a notorious cover-judger, despite the proverb's exhortations to the contrary. On a bad day, I have flung books back on their pile for bearing the two most pretension-laden words in the publishing industry: A Novel. As in, 'Ballyhoo. A Novel'.

Now a film based on this book is hitting the cinemas over here and, sadly, there are abundant clips of two (to me personally) unattractive actors (though I'm sure they're very amiable people) bonking their way through a pedestrian plot. I have no intention of reading the book or watching the film: aside from the fact that I don't want to assault my eyes, my own life reads like a chapter from the aforementioned Novel. At least, I think so - I haven't read it, so I'm not entirely sure. But I'm the only female in a house full of males (albeit, two under three years old), surely that's something similar?

Tell you what, you decide. And, because everyone I know who actually read 'Fifty Shades of Grey' claimed they only "skipped to the good bits", we'll just skip to my good bits as well. Brace yourself, readers.

* * * * * 
Our eyes met across a cluttered room. I approached him slowly, my bare feet almost soundless on the unswept floor. Wordlessly, he reached out and tugged at my t-shirt. He touched it to his lips and let it fall on the floor.
"Please," I whispered.
He didn't take his eyes off me, but pulled the straps of my bra, his fingers playing with the clasp. He tossed it after the t-shirt.
"You can't do this," I said.
But it was too late. He grabbed my knickers and held them aloft, triumphantly, then bit at the lace with his teeth.
"Enough!" I cried and pulled it off him. "I've just folded those clothes!"
I really shouldn't let the baby play with the laundry basket.

* * * * *
 I lay spread--eagled on the bed. He towered above me, a glint of menace in his eyes. He lowered his face to mine, so our eyes met, lashes almost touching.
"Bouncey-bounce," he said in a threatening voice. His breath smelled of cookies. I cowered beneath him.
"We've spent the past twenty minutes bouncey-bouncing," I protested weakly. "Mama's exhausted."
He cupped my face in his sticky hands. "Bouncey-bounce," he repeated. It was not a question, it was an order.
There was no way out.
We bounced.

"Aren't you a bit old to be jumping on the bed with a two-year-old?" my husband enquires casually from the door.
"He made me do it," I say.

* * * * * 

"No!" I cried. Relentlessly, he pushed it in, deeper and deeper.
"Stop!" I said and tried to push him off. He was remarkably strong and I only succeeded in shifting his weight a little.
He grinned and wriggled it around. I shrieked and cried for help.
None came.
Finally, summoning all my strength, I pulled his finger out of my nose. He laughed evilly, his chubby digit extended triumphantly, the bald head of this nine-month-old brimming with possibilities: Mama's face was just full of stuff to explore.
So he poked my ear.

* * * * *

It was quiet. I breathed deeply, afraid to make too much noise in case he would find me.
I hoped in vain.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" he thundered. He had a paintbrush in one hand and a rubber duck in the other.
"How did you get in here?" I protested. "The door was closed!"
"Oh, yes, he can reach the door handles now," my husband called from the kitchen. "So remember to lock the bathroom if you want some privacy."
Privacy? The very word seemed to inflame him. He looked at me, outraged.
"ARE YOU ON THE LOO?" he asked. "WEE-WEE?"
I tried to get up, but my ankles were bound by the underwear pooled around them. I struggled to pull up my clothes and replace the toilet seat before the rubber duck and the paintbrush went for a swim.
Incredibly, I succeeded.
"Maaaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" he roared.
I had to do it: I used the safe word.
"Elmo," I said. "Will we listen to an Elmo song instead of playing with the toilet?"
Sniffling, he marches off, leaving an upturned rubber duck lying forlornly in his wake. 

* * * * *
And so on for another thirty chapters. I'm thinking it would have a widespread appeal for parents and parents-to-be. I think the protagonist - 40-year-old woman with yoghurt-stained trousers and the vestiges of a bad haircut - would speak to many people on a lot of levels. What do you think? Should I be prepared for Hollywood to come calling?



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Falling in love





When you've had a baby, you're supposed to love it. Often, unbidden, you do. Sometimes, it's just plain old love and not Love love, though. It can happen that, in the madness that follows the appearance of a baby, you're absolutely bewildered by what has just happened to you. It feels like parts of you have exploded, there's a room full of people, and noise, and - paradoxically - silence, the kind of silence that sets in when you're about to faint, a drowning out of everything that's going on, as your mind tries to pull itself together. You have to figure out what's just happened; if you're all right; if the baby's all right. What time of the day or night is it? (because the day you give birth becomes a weird kind of non-day in which time seems to stand still and you give not a single, solitary fig about anything that happens outside your delivery room.) You're given a baby and, while some women immediately fall in love with their child, others (like me) look at it and try to figure out what on earth I'm supposed to do with it and, goodness, doesn't he look strange and what are these people all doing to me?

Of course, you love your baby. You do. But at that point, you love it the same way you love a puppy or kitten - in fact, puppies or kittens have the advantage of being cuter than most newborns. My midwife always warns mothers not to worry if they don't feel the  Love love they're "supposed" to feel straight away. Sometimes you just don't - sometimes it takes a while. But you will learn to  Love love your child. It'll sneak up on you, never fear. One day you'll look into your baby's eyes and you will think, "I would die for you. I would gladly lay down my life for your tiny soul." And that's it: the little sucker has you hooked. The word 'bond' explains it perfectly: you're glued together for life.


How do they do it? What happens? I think I've figured out their modus operandi. Look:

1. They learn to smile
This is a sneaky move. They're just plopping around, leering cross-eyed at anything that moves and then, suddenly, they focus on you (or your partner: Baby Robert decided that his father was more smile-worthy than me) and grin. Was it gas? Was it an accident? Was it ... a smile? After that, you find yourself doing remarkably stupid things without a trace of self-consciousness to get another one, competing with your partner for a token of affection from a 6-week-old.

2. You want to eat your baby.
I don't know why this strong love develops side by side with an inclination towards cannibalism. You have a handful of baby chub - a fat leg, a pudgy arm - and you just have to lean in for a nibble. You find yourself nuzzling a jabbery jowl while making "Nomnomnom!" noises. Rather than be alarmed by this, babies tend to find this hysterical. They laugh, waving limbs madly, and setting off ripples of cellulite (because, yes, babies have cellulite. There's no hope for the rest of us.) Spurred on by the recognition of your natural funniness (finally), you just have to dip down and nibble a toe. Hiccup-inducing mirth follows. This is how stand-up comedians feel on a good night. It's a heady feeling: regardless of your level of slapstick, your child will find you hilarious.

3. Your heart melts
Yes, you get a warm melty feeling in your chest region. It might come when your child is doing something remarkably cute, like sucking a tiny thumb in his sleep or pointing at a kitten or whatnot. In our case, it came at moments slightly less idyllic. Recently my husband stood side by side at our bed and watched our youngest baby suckle the pillow. "Awww," we said. "The poor little nincompoop." Similarly, we watched his brother topple over into a puddle (wail!) and exchanged fond smiles: "Awww. Isn't he a proper little eejit?" Bless their little socks. Occasionally the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I know I'm being watched. I turn around to this face, the face of a child who does not understand what I'm doing but knows one thing: he's not in the middle of it - and he genuinely doesn't understand why not. We've bonded, we're joined at the hip, Mama + Rob 4 ever. He's right, you know, though I do expect him to lead a reasonably independent life at some stage. But I'll break that to him later.



So if you're having a baby or have just had a baby and you're not feeling the Love love, don't worry. You will. It might take days or weeks. Or even months. But don't worry, that baby will reel you in. It's just a matter of time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pattern: Granny with a Twist



This is a very simple variation of a traditional granny square. I think it works best as a four-round square, so the contrast in the colours is best seen.

The instructions use American terminology, the British terms are in [brackets].

Foundation ring: chain 5 or 6 stitches and join to form a ring. If you are a beginner or teaching a beginner, it's good idea to mark this ring with a stitch marker, paper clip or just a piece of scrap yarn. It helps the crocheter see where you're supposed to work the stitches (can be confusing when you're doing it for the first time.)

1st round: chain 3 (this counts as your first treble) and do 2 DC [TR] into the foundation ring. *Ch 2, 3 DC [TR] into ring**, rep. from * to ** twice. You should be back at the beginning. Join the stitch on your hook to the start of the round with a slip stitch.


2nd round:  3 chain, 2 DC [TR] , 2 chains and 3 DC [TR] . This forms your corner. Work *3 DC [TR], 2 chains and 3 DC [TR]** into the next corner space. Repeat from * to ** twice more. Join with a slip stitch. Do one more chain, yank yarn tight and cut a tail. Weave in your tail.


3rd round: Join your new yarn in the space between corners. Work 4 chain, 2 DC [TR], 2 chains and 3 DC [TR]. 

Chain 1, * then do a slip stitch in the corner space of the previous row and chain one again.

 

In the next space between the corners, do 3 DC [TR], 2 chains and 3 DC [TR].**
Repeat from * to ** twice.

4th round: continue as for a traditional granny square, i.e. a cluster or shell of 3 2 DC [TR]  in each space, with corners made of 3 DC [TR] , 2 chains and 3 DC [TR].


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fearbook, Ice Buckets and the Selfie Generation

I'm not old, am I? Not that I'd have a problem if I were properly old, i.e. 90, but I'm barely forty and in my head I'm still really young. My body's ticking along, doing what it's supposed to do. I have small children. I listen to music that's in the charts. I even know the words - some of them, anyway. I have a Twitter account - okay, I don't use it, but I still have one, just in case I felt the need to summarise the minutiae of my daily existence in 140 characters (but, obviously, this sentence alone shows you that this is something I would most likely be incapable of.) Yet somehow a rift has emerged between me and the people coming behind me and it's social-media based. I think I've figured out what it is.

First off, I like Facebook - even if Mark Zuckerberg knows more about me than I probably do - and I even have two accounts, for my Irish and German lives respectively. But certain aspects of it are beyond me: it serves as a means of frightening the bejabbers out of a person. I mean, I never realised there were so many things just waiting to kill me till I joined Facebook. There I was, just raising my children and minding my own business, then suddenly, I am made aware - by way of badly-punctuated memes - that I am slathering them in carcinogenics on a daily basis. Suncream! Fabric conditioner! Water!!! See, I thought I was feeding my children but instead I am stuffing them with chemicals and plastic which will render them one-eyed, senseless and impotent. Instead of going out to work to pay for our mortgage, I should be at home scrubbing my counter-tops with baking soda and vinegar, making bread from wheat I grew in my flowerbeds, dunged only with the contents of our loo.

The stress is immense.

The most disturbing thing about Facebook - from the point of view of my rapid ageing - is the marked difference between me and my little brother's generation. My youngest brother was born when I was eighteen: he could've been my son (and was, to our mutual annoyance, often mistaken thus). In social media terms, he is an entire generation - which accounts for millennia and several billion light-years - away from me. I spent my youth trying to avoid being photographed. In my day, it was considered the sign of successful teenagerdom if you managed to spend the decade without your likeness being captured on film in any form. God knows, there are thousands of Irish households with family photos devoid of teenage offspring. But this generation - this generation delights in taking photos of themselves! They do it constantly and everywhere! Social media are splattered with photos of young ones pouting and posing and making funny shapes with their fingers into the lens of their mobile phone - hundreds of photos, readers, hundreds! (And mobile phones, people! Mobile phones!!! Remember when you had 36 photos on your film and you thought carefully before you pressed the button of your camera? Uh-huh.) Young people in need of a hair cut, wearing Granddad glasses and excessive make up, duck-bumming in front of national monuments, natural phenomena and nameless other objects. When they're not doing that, they're trying to get as many people behind the lens as possible, creating a photographic equivalent of the clown car at a circus: pile in a whole heap of friends Having Fun and Being Awesome and post it on social media so the three people who haven't managed to squash into your picture will know that they weren't there when fun was had. People can't eat food any more without photographing it. No one can go anywhere without tagging themselves (and I might mention that in my world, farmers tagged cattle so they could find them if they wandered off. Now we're tagging ourselves. Good grief.)   It's enough to give old farts like me palpitations.

And I am a proverbial old fart because lots of people much older than I are hip to the new media.The Queen, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and even the Pope are not averse to photo-bombing or selfies (see how casually I bandy about these new words, all confident-like?) Oh, dear. That's all I can say to that. I don't think the Internet is ready for my mug: there's been enough turmoil in the world without adding my visage to the mix.