World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day

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The world is becoming increasingly aware of narcissists as more and more countries – the US, the UK, and Ireland, to name but three – have fallen prey to narcissistic leaders. As with any disorder that gains prominence, every armchair psychologist thinks they are qualified to diagnose people they know and, indeed, people they have never met, with said disorder.

Narcissism is not a glib label to be applied to every person we come across who has a well-developed sense of self-esteem. Putting yourself first is not narcissism. Having a healthy sense of self is not narcissism. Being proud of your achievements is not narcissism. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is eroding, exhausting, and can even be dangerous.

While a narcissistic partner and / or a narcissistic co-parent can be frustrating and bewildering, the most damaging narcissist is the narcissistic parent. I’ve had experience of narcissistic parents, narcissistic ex-husbands, and knowing narcissists in a professional capacity. As a result, I can honestly say that, of these, the most damage is done by narcissistic parents.

Narcissistic parents will do some (or even all) of the following:

Gaslight
Neglect
Lie – to, and about, the child
Ignore – boundaries, successes, fears, and even the child as an autonomous being
Foster dependency – emotional, financial, and practical
Guilt-trip
Manipulate


If you can tick any of these off, you have my sympathy, and solidarity. If you’re a woman who has borne the brunt of an abusive mother, and the complications peculiar to that kind of relationship, please feel free to join my online support group.

Adulting

Leap Photo

I am now the parent of an adult. And I don’t feel ready. I don’t feel worthy.

Ishthara Saoirse Larkin arrived into this world, ten weeks early, in a small town in India, 18 years ago. I’d like to say that I felt an overwhelming sense of adoration and love when I first held her. But I didn’t. I was shell-shocked. It was three days before I felt that powerful dam-burst of motherly love and – oh boy! – was it something else when it came. I’d always thought myself a pacifist but I was very shocked when I realised I would happily kill for this child.

Having spent so long waiting for her – and fighting with my own body over its refusal to get pregnant, I couldn’t quite believe it when I was, finally, holding my own child. When I was, finally, a mother! At last, nestled close to me was all I had ever wanted. For some reason I couldn’t quite understand, love didn’t flood through me the first time I held her. I was numb. It was almost as though I was in an altered state of consciousness. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was really mine, that I was really allowed to keep her. Years later, when studying psychology, I read Viktor Frankl, and the experience made sense.

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl details how he and others were liberated from a Nazi death camp. Instead of being joy-filled and jubilant, they found themselves mis-trusting their experience; not quite believing it. Frankl explains that they had spent so long dreaming of this very moment – and had their hopes and dreams dashed so many times – that now, they were not sure they could believe it. It took the men a few days to grasp the reality that their dream had come true, and was not about to be snatched from them. That’s what becoming a mother was like for me.  It took a few days for me to realise that my dream was not going to be snatched away from me.

Ishthara has taught me so much since 2002. She has taught me what unconditional love feels like – both to give, and to receive. She has taught me that I can make mistakes, and still be worthy of love. She has taught me that I am good enough. She has taught me to forgive myself. She has taught me that, sometimes, my standards for myself are too high, and I need to ‘chill Mama’ just a bit. She has taught me that I am good enough.

During the week, Ishthara’s younger sister, Kashmira, asked me how it felt to have an adult ‘child’. I told her I didn’t feel ready. She asked me why. I told her that I didn’t feel wise enough, or accomplished enough, to be the parent of an adult. I feel like I should know more, be more, have more, have done more, in order to be worthy to call myself the parent of an adult. I don’t think I’ve changed enough since Ishthara was born to be the fully-formed parent of an adult.

Kashmira (being Kashmira!) probed that.
I had to think.
‘I suppose, when Ishthara was born, I wanted the same for her then, as I do now. The fact that I haven’t evolved makes me wonder if I’m any good at this.’ I told her, truthfully.
‘What did you want for her 18 years ago?’ Kashmira asked.
‘I wanted her to be happy. And I wanted her to reach her potential. And that’s still all I want for her. It’s all I want for both of you – but we’re talking about Ishthara right now, so…’
‘And do you think we don’t know that?’

‘I think it’s wrong that you’ve grown up in consistent poverty. I think it’s wrong that you have had no support – financial, emotional, physical, or any other type – from your dad. That you have no family apart from me, and each other*.’

‘But do you not see that that has given us a unique perspective on life? That we are compassionate because we understand rather than because we have an academic, or intellectual, understanding of other people’s lived experiences?’ (Yes, she really does talk like this!!)
‘When we say to the people we work with, when we’re older, “I understand”,’ she continued. ‘They’ll know we mean it, because we will. We’ll have been there.’
‘But….’ I started again, as my inadequacy raised its head.
‘No,’ Kashmira said. ‘Just listen. We have always known that you loved us. We have always known you’ve had our backs. Even on the really bad days, we’ve always known that you would manage, that it would be okay. Even last year – when you nearly died,  THREE TIMES! in front of us – ‘nearly’ is the most important word in that sentence. We knew you wouldn’t leave us. That’s why you have an adult child.’

I was humbled into silence.

Earlier today, I spoke to my friend, Seán. Seán has known me since before I was 18, and his kids are all older than mine. I told him how I didn’t feel accomplished enough, to be the parent of an adult.

‘Don’t you get it?’ he asked. ‘The adult child is the accomplishment.’

He’s right.

Ishthara Saoirse Larkin is a wonderful young woman; she is compassionate beyond her years. She reads, and understands, people with an almost eerie awareness; she loves carefully, but completely; she radiates joy; she yearns to make the world a better place; she is intolerant of injustice; she is kind, thoughtful, generous and loving; she’s a great cook; she has a wonderful, droll sense of humour; and she saved my life (metaphorically – by being born into it – and literally – by performing first aid and calling an ambulance when I collapsed last September).  I am pleased, proud, privileged, and grateful to be her mother.

Happy 18th birthday, my Darling Girl. The world is a better place because you’re in it.

 

* My father, Christy Talbot, and my brothers, Nigel Talbot, and Cormac Talbot, sexually abused, and raped me for 15+ years between them. My brothers, Barry Talbot and Ross Talbot, support them in their abuse of me, as do their wives / partners. My sister, Tracey Talbot, who was also raped by Cormac Talbot, is in such deep denial that she actually carried files into the Four Courts for him when I sued him and his brother for their years of abuse. My mother, Philomena (Johnson) Talbot is a narcissist who – to this day – condones the abuse I suffered at the hands of her husband and sons.

Power

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It’s that time of the year again – I need to choose my word. Now, I like to think that I generally choose my words wisely. I understand the power of words, and I try hard to select words that reflect, and convey, my meaning.

Since January, 2016, I have eschewed New Year’s Resolutions in favour of a single word to guide my intentions and my actions for the coming years. A few hours ago, I was on the phone to my friend Katie and I told her that this year was going to be defined by ‘Attack’. I explained that I was a bit fed up of being a ‘soft’ feminist. I was a bit fed up of being ‘gentle’ in my engagements with men. I’m learning to get a bit more obstreperous, but finding I’m not consistent with my obstreperousness. The conditioning runs deep.

So, I explained to Katie that, when I was using the word ‘attack’, I meant ‘dive in with enthusiasm’ rather than ‘aggressively assail’ or to deliberately injure. She understood. I admitted to having been influenced by Mona Eltahawy and her entreaty to stop being ‘nice’.

‘Attack’ I decided, was a good word to guide me through 2020. But. It didn’t really sit right. It sat ‘okay’, but not ‘perfectly’. I was happy enough to go with it. When I sat down to write this post, however, ‘Attack’ was no longer good enough. ‘Power’ sprang to mind.

So I’m running with it. I don’t want to be empowered in 2020 – I have power, I want to use it. My intention for 2020 is to prevent other people from blocking my power. My intention for 2020 is to ensure that I use my power fearlessly. My intention for 2020 is to use my power ferociously. My intention for 2020 is to use my power to attack.

Me Time

What is ‘me time’, and when do I get it?

I became a mum at 28 – after nearly ten years of trying to start a family. My daughter lit my life up even more than I could have imagined (and I have a reasonable imagination). The love I felt for her was matched only by the arrival of her sister two years later. I was amazed by how much love was inside me. I still am.

By the time I was two weeks pregnant with my younger daughter, I was a single parent with a seventeen-month old, and another another on the way. I was very lucky, though; I had a fantastic live-in nanny with whom we had a great relationship, who was a great cook, and who adored my child (and, later, my children).

When I moved back to Ireland (worst mistake of my life, but complex and complicated – a whole other blog post!), I was completely on my own with the two girls. I started to hear about ‘me time’ from other women.  I started to hear about how I needed to make time for myself, how I needed to find time to get away from my children and indulge myself with kid-free time.

I was never really convinced. Until I had them, my entire life was – more or less – focused on trying to become a mother. Once I had realised that ambition, I wanted to revel in it. I wanted to enjoy every minute of it.

Here’s the thing; for me, ‘me time’ is time spent with my babies – who are now 13 and 15 – it’s where my joy is. Where my bliss is. Where I feel happiest. I don’t want to ‘escape’ from that; why would I? Why would anyone spend their lives trying to achieve something, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to get away from that same thing?

I adore my girls. I am very grateful for the relationships we have; I am delighted with the fact that they they have a wonderful relationship. They are best friends, as well as  being sisters.

 

Of course, I understand that it makes sense to spend time away from other people – even people you adore, people you love to spend time with. But if ‘me time’ is meant to be a reward, if ‘me time’ is meant to be something you do for yourself, then my ‘me time’ is the time I spend with my girls; enjoying their company, sharing experiences with them, encountering the world together. It took a long time for me to realise this: I felt like I was failing, somehow, by wanting to be with my girls as often as I could. I had my children because I wanted to. I had my children because I wanted their company – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Manufacturing time to be away from them is inauthentic, though of course, as they get older, they find themselves wanting to spend less time glued to me; which is perfectly age-appropriate. The thing is, though, that they are choosing to separate from me, rather then being pushed away. Rather than being told that I need to be away from them, they are telling me that they want to engage with the world on their terms, which often means I’m not invited. As my girls age, I will have more and more time without them. I’ll have more ‘me time’ than you could shake a stick at. I don’t need to find it – it will find me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Love That Grows

Ishthara & Kashmira Baking, October 2007

 

I love my kids. That should go without saying, but not everyone loves their kids (as I know from my personal experience of growing up in a house of horrors).  Every day, I go about doing what it is I have to do, and am aware of the fact that I love my girls. In much the same way as I am aware of the fact that I am white, Irish etc. It’s just there. It’s just a fact.

Every so often, however, I fall in love with them all over again. Or fall deeper in love with them. I suddenly get gripped and overwhelmed by how amazing they are, and how they are containers for so much goodness, and joy, and love, and understanding, and kindness, and gentleness. I am overwhelmed by how awesome (literally, not colloquially) they are. I am humbled by the fact that they have allowed me to parent them, that they are so patient with me, and allow me to bear witness to their unfolding into adulthood.

 

It reminds me of when they were babies, and all I could do was gaze at them with gratitude and admiration. Now that they’re teenagers, I love that feeling of heart-swell I get, that feeling that my heart has to grow to accommodate the love I have for them. I am delighted that my love for them continues to grow, that it doesn’t stagnate, that there is more, there is more, there is always more.

 

Pic: Ishthara and Kashmira baking, exactly ten years ago – I didn’t think I could love them more, but I do! 

Terrible Teenagers

Girls in Masks
My Tremendous Teens & Me

About an hour ago, I heard an advertisement for an article in tomorrow’s paper. The piece promises ‘experts to tell you how to deal with your terrible teens’ and it really annoyed me. Why would anyone talk about ‘terrible teens’? Why would anyone tell parents that their teenagers are ‘terrible’? More importantly, why would anyone tell their teens that they are ‘terrible’?

 

I was so cross. Why would anyone tell anyone that they are ‘terrible’ – unless it was in that jesting way of ‘oh stop! You’re tehhhrrrrible‘ ? And why, oh why, would anyone tell a sensitive teenager that they are terrible? Why are we so happy to shame teenagers? Could you imagine if the same language was applied to older people? Imagine if there was an advertisement on the radio for a piece in tomorrow’s paper that would tell you how to deal with your ‘Problematic Parents’, or your ‘Exasperating Elders’? would that be okay? I hardly think so. Why is it permissible – even expected – to tell our teenagers that they are difficult? I’d also question the credentials of any ‘expert’ who would suggest that teens are ‘terrible’.

 

Here’s the thing; teenagers will live up – or down – to the expectations placed on them. Given that, how about this for an idea; instead of popular culture telling our teens they’re ‘terrible’, how about telling them they’re ‘terrific’, or ‘tremendous’? Instead of writing articles about how to deal with ‘terrible’ teens, why don’t we have experts writing articles about ‘terrific’ teens?

 

I would also respectfully suggest that any parent who thinks their teen is ‘terrible’ might want to look at their parenting first.

Cut Child Benefit to Punish Parents?

So, I read this afternoon, that some GPs are in favour of reducing child benefit by half in cases where parents don’t have those children vaccinated.

I think this is an appalling idea. Child benefit is a monthly, non-means-tested payment made, by the Irish State, to ease the financial costs associated with raising children in Ireland. Many households here rely on Child Benefit to help pay recurring monthly bills; gas, electricity, insurance, mortgage etc. You can’t argue that children don’t benefit from those bills being paid; or that they aren’t necessary for the child’s well-being. In other households (like mine), that €140 per child, is ear-marked for educational purposes. Other people use it for shoes or clothes. A few, a very lucky few, save or invest in order to have a lump sum for that child on their 18th birthday, or to help with costs associated with third-level education. Whatever the money is spent on, the clue really is in the title – the money is for each child in the country to help defray costs associated with raising that child. Cutting the benefit will not punish the parents, it will punish the children.

To suggest that a financial payment for a child should be cut if that child is not vaccinated against childhood diseases is a display of angry, lazy thinking at its worst. If the desire is to increase the uptake of vaccinations, then surely a better approach is to educate parents, to address their fears and concerns around vaccinations? Then – and I know this might appear radical – how about allowing parents to, you know, parent? By that I mean provide them with information and then encourage them to decide for themselves what is right for their particular child, and their particular family, at that time.

The idea that child benefit should be halved for children whose parents don’t act in the way that a certain group of people think they should act is patronising, paternalistic, and arrogant. It indicates that the group calling for this diminishing of the benefit believes they are absolutely right. In this instance, a group of doctors think that they should be able to wield a financial stick at parents who don’t agree with them. Missing the point entirely, of course, that such action would impact more on the children than on their parents. It also further encourages the myth that child benefit is a boon to parents – that it can (and should) be rescinded for non-compliance with a particular directive. What next? A slashing of child benefit if they don’t go to school? A further cut if they’re not breastfed? Another if they’re obese?

I would point out to this group of GPs that to punish a child for the lack of action on the part of their parents – which you view as negligent in the first place – is, by your own logic, punishing the child twice. Don’t do that. Don’t suggest that your frustrations be taken out on an already vulnerable group.

 

‘Don’t Use Words I Don’t Want You To’ – Irish Minister

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As if running the Department of Poverty wasn’t a big enough job for Leo Varadkar, he’s decided to elect himself Minister for Mansplaining, and give himself cabinet responsibility for correct terminology as well.

Leo has decided that for every person, everywhere, who is ever pregnant, the correct word to use to describe the contents of their womb is ‘baby’.

‘Foetus’ Leo mansplains to all of us who have ever, will ever, or might ever, be pregnant, is not a word that we should use. Nor is it a word that should be used in reference to our pregnancies by mere mortals without a medical degree. ‘Foetus’, according to Dr V, is a medical word. The implication being that those of us who don’t hold medical degrees should not use medical words. We should not refer to our fingers as ‘digits’, either, he cautions. Presumably in case we lose the run of ourselves entirely, and start having a go at performing craniotomies during our lunch-breaks.

I only wish Dr V had been around 13 or 14 years ago, when I started telling my daughter that her vulva was her vulva, rather than her ‘fanny’ or her ‘front bum’ or her ‘butterfly’. I hope she doesn’t get notions above her station as a result. Idly, I wonder if Leo referred to his penis as his ‘passion pencil’ until he was a fully qualified medical doctor. Or if he’d be chagrined if he heard me talking about a migraine, and explaining to my GP that it had started occipitally? Would he chastise me, do you think, and tell me I should talk about the back of my head, instead? Except, referring to the back of my head is not as precise as referring to my occipital bone; and sometimes it is necessary and useful to be precise.

Does Leo not understand that women are allowed to refer to the contents of their wombs however they please? If a woman wants to refer to the product of conception inside her as ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘peanut’, ‘sprog’, ‘alien’ or any other word she likes (the last time I was pregnant, my daughters referred to the contents of my womb as ‘The Minion’), it is not my place to tell her that she is using the wrong word. I would respectfully suggest that Dr V adopt the same attitude.

I find his diktat that all women should refer to their foetuses as babies – and that their friends and families should, too – to be more than vaguely unsettling.  If women aren’t even allowed, by Leo, to use the language which feels most appropriate for them, at a given time, what else does he think they really shouldn’t have a choice about? Or that they should only have limited choice about?

There is an element of nuance involved in this naming business. For a lot of women, when a pregnancy is wanted, they talk about their ‘baby’ even though they know it is not, actually, a baby. Every woman who wants to be a mother, wants to have a baby; but knows that first, she will have a blastocyst, then a zygote, then an embryo, then a foetus, then – if she’s lucky – a baby. We project our hopes onto our wanted pregnancies. We imagine what we’ll have at the end. We invest in them.

Every woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, doesn’t want to have a baby. She knows that she is well within her rights – even if not well within the law in Ireland – to decide what happens to her body. She will refer to it as an embryo or a foetus when discussing it because she is using the correct terminology, whether Leo likes it or not.

Leo also mentioned asking his pregnant friend if she knew what sex her baby was going to be (thank God he used correct terminology and didn’t ask her what gender) and I’m a bit horrified by this, to be honest. It’s none of his business. If his friend wanted to tell him, he should have left it up to her to disclose, and not gone prying. Is it just me, or does this interrogation assume a level of entitlement that he doesn’t deserve?

I also find it interesting that Leo decided to speak for his friend and his sisters by telling the world that if he had used the word ‘foetus’ when referring to their pregnancies, they would have been offended. Why? Because he thinks it’s a ‘medical’ word. I find this deeply disturbing; that a man would assume a woman would take offence because he thinks their thoughts and feelings should match his own? Is this more evidence of entitlement? Or am I over-thinking this?

When I speak to friends who are pregnant, I never say ‘How’s the foetus?’ (I reserve that for when I’m gently joshing friends who are in May-December relationships). Equally, though, I never say ‘How’s the baby?’ Instead, I ask ‘How are you?’ The person I’m addressing is free to choose whether or not to interpret that as second person singular or second person plural (do you think Leo will object to my using such technical language?), and answer accordingly. I don’t decide for her what word should be used in this context. It’s not my place.

 Maybe I’m over-sensitive. Or maybe I just don’t like being mansplained at by a privileged male with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

Breaking the Cycle

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Safe Ireland held a seminar with distinguished speakers from around the world. They discussed things I know a lot about – abuse, violence, trauma and the effects of same. I wasn’t at the conference, because (frankly) it was out of my price range, but I am very grateful to those who live-tweeted the event using the hashtag #safeirelandsummit

 

One of the things that struck me was the fact that John Lonergan (former governor of Mountjoy Jail) was reported as asking ‘How do we prevent? That is the challenge’

 

I can only assume he was asking how we might prevent domestic violence. Part of me is shocked that someone would even need to ask, but I’ll get over that and focus instead on the fact that, if you’re asking, it means you’re interested. So, here, are ten things that you can do to work on the prevention and elimination of domestic violence.

 

  1. Stop calling it ‘domestic’ violence. It’s family violence. It’s intimate partner abuse, it’s family abuse. ‘Domestic’ makes it sound less serious than it actually is. Calling abusing your partner ‘a domestic’ makes it sound innocuous, and makes it less likely that anyone will intervene.

 

  1. Start respecting women. All women. Not just the ones you’re related to – and not just because you’re related to them. Women deserve respect because they are alive, not because of their relationship to you or someone you know. Personally, I’m sick of hearing / reading ‘Imagine if it was your wife / girlfriend / sister / mother / daughter’. Woman are valid regardless of their kinship.

 

  1. Don’t tolerate sexist language. If a colleague makes an anti-woman ‘joke’ or statement, call them on it. Remember when it was okay to tell anti-Irish jokes? Why is it not okay to do that any more? Because people stopped accepting that casual racism as ‘humour’. Do the same with sexist jokes.

 

  1. Don’t tell your sons not to hit girls. Tell them not to hit anyone. Telling boys not to hit girls implies that girls can’t take care of themselves, and are easier targets than other boys. It also reinforces the notion that hitting females is an easy way to control them. We don’t want violence in our lives, no matter who it’s directed at.

 

  1. Teach the males in your lives that it’s not okay to talk over women, or interrupt them. To do so is disrespectful. Respecting women is key to not abusing them.

 

  1. Don’t take up more space than you have to: For example, ‘manspreading’ on public transport, and expecting a woman to move out of your way when you’re walking down the street. It’s aggressive and disrespectful. By taking up more space than you need, you’re forcing us to take up less than we need. You’re treating us as if we’re invisible. Invisible women don’t feel safe.

 

  1. Recognise that abuse is more than physical. Often, it’s the bruises that can’t be seen that cause most pain. Emotional, financial, psychological and sexual abuse cause (at least) as much damage. The threat of being hit, of knowing that the man you’re with, may strike out at you at any stage, is hugely damaging. Gaslighting is highly abusive.

 

  1. Make sure there is information about where help can be found prominently displayed in your office. Often, women who are gaslighted and otherwise abused, have no idea that what is happening to them is wrong. Often, they don’t see themselves as abused. Sometimes because a part of them believes they deserve the treatment they’re getting. Informing them otherwise may empower them to get help.

 

  1. Many women who are victims of their intimate partners are re-victimised. They have already been traumatised. They have grown up seeing their (step)fathers abuse their mothers; they have been sexually assaulted, they have been conditioned to expect nothing else. Be kind. Kindness – given freely, and without expectation of ‘payment’ – is the opposite of abuse.

 

  1. Finally, we will stop men hurting women when we stop accepting and excusing it. Stop saying ‘But he’s a pillar of the community’, stop saying ‘But he’s a great GAA man’, stop saying ‘But he’s a good provider’, stop saying ‘But he’s very good to his mother’. Stop insinuating that because he has done one good thing, he is incapable of hurting the woman he lives with – and their children.

 

Break the cycle. Don’t accept, excuse, or refuse to see, intimate partner abuse.

Dear Ireland

Dear Ireland

I don’t have long this morning to make my point, so I will be brief (we all know I can bang on a bit, so I know you’ll be a bit relieved to read that.)

I seem to be in a perpetual state of annoyance with you, but if you’d keep your word on the important things, then maybe I wouldn’t be quite so cross.

What’s been really annoying me lately is your treatment of refugee children in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. Actually, ‘annoying me’ is an understatement. I’m actually spitting fire.  Ireland, what is wrong with you? These are babies. And you are turning your back on them. These are young hearts and minds and souls that you are deliberately failing. The damage that abandonment and trauma does to young minds is irreversible. It is. I’ve studied this. I know what I’m talking about. (I’m also an adult who was traumatised as a child, and had that trauma compounded by the state, so I have lived experience, too.) You, Ireland, by refusing to act, are condemning these children to a lifetime of psychological pain. And many of those lives will be cut short because of your inaction.  A generation of little babies damaged beyond repair. On your head be it, Ireland, because you are standing idly by and doing nothing more than wringing your hands and – I’ll bet – counting your blessings that Calais is not just outside Cork or Dublin or Galway.

I am disgusted, ashamed, and appalled by your treatment of these children who need help, and need help now. Honestly, though, I’m not surprised because – let’s face it – your track record on looking after babies and children leaves a lot to be desired.  But I don’t have time to list your past failings, I think what’s most important today is to address your current one.

Ireland, I know your memory for certain things is a bit poor. (Except the potato famine and the 1916 Rising, of course.) So let me take this opportunity to remind you of a document you signed, and then ratified on September 28th, 1992. That’s a while ago I admit; 24 years, one month and four days ago now. Let me remind you what it was – a wee thing known as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. You signed this, Ireland. You signed this as a solemn pledge to be bound by the contents of the document. You signed this, agreeing that it was right and proper and correct that children should be treated in accordance with the Convention.

Let me jog your memory a bit, Ireland, and remind you of your obligations under this Convention. Article 38.4, if you want to have a look at it, says that countries who sign up to the Convention

‘shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.’

Article 39 is a commitment to

‘take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.’

Now, Ireland, can you honestly say that you are honouring your commitment to these children? And don’t start whining about ‘looking after our own’ first or any of that nonsense, because I don’t want to hear it. Not least because these children are our own. Every child is the responsibility of every adult. Really. If a child’s primary carers are unable to care for them, for whatever reason, then the rest of us need to step up and mind those babies and treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve. And, yes, love them. Love them fiercely and unconditionally and without reservation.

Do it now, Ireland. These children can’t wait any longer. Do it now and argue about it afterwards. Don’t be the country that saves banks, and sacrifices children. Step up, Ireland. Grow a pair. Open your doors and your heart and welcome these children. Hold them close, nourish them, help them to heal as much as they can.

I said I didn’t have long this morning to fire off letters to you, Ireland, but these children have even less time than I do. They need you to act now.

 

 

 

 

Timing is Everything

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One of the things I struggle most with is getting enough done in a given day. I go to bed every night upset with myself for not having been productive enough. I wake up with anxiety because I haven’t done enough the previous day and, therefore, I have even more to do ‘today’.

I’ve tried ‘to do’ lists – but they are always impossibly long and become a stick with which to beat myself. I’ve tried ‘have done’ lists – but they always seem impossibly short and I am sure I’ve been too lenient on myself and wasted time. I’ve tried not bothering with lists and just ploughing through the day, but find that means I don’t always prioritise correctly and I often end up finishing the day with an important job that hasn’t been taken care of.

Last week, I tried something different and put myself on a schedule. I even scheduled a few breaks, time to eat, and I was ruthless with the cold turkey app. This all resulted in a more productive me, but I still wasn’t getting through everything on the to do list. I was interrupted by unscheduled phone calls two days last week, that I took because I felt I needed to. (One was from a recruiter, and the other was work-related, but also slightly social: It, therefore, went on for longer than it would have, had it been just work-related.)

 This week, I’ve been managing better. I have a to do list. I am writing a schedule every morning before I get started. BUT the difference this week is that, for every hour of productivity, I am adding on an extra twenty minutes. So, for example, if I schedule a piece of work at 10am, expecting to finish at 12.00pm, I don’t schedule the next piece of work until 12.40pm. Most days, I’ve been ahead of myself, which makes me feel under less pressure, less anxious and – to be honest – just that little bit pleased with myself.

I’m sure there are thousands of people out there who stumbled on this little nugget of time management long before I did, but in case you’re not one of them, I thought I’d share!

 

In the Flesh

Last night, I became that mother. I became the mother who looked at her beautiful daughter and said ‘You’re not going out looking like that.’

Except I didn’t say those words, exactly. I said ‘Can you please find something else to wear? I’m not comfortable with you going out exposing so much flesh.’

She glowered at me in a way she started doing when she was about eighteen months old. Now, twelve-and-a-half years later, she has that glower perfected. What she’s feeling rolls off her and comes at you in waves. You always know how she’s feeling, even if you’re not exactly sure why. Last night, as she rifled through her drawers in search of something less revealing, I knew exactly why. She was not one bit happy at her frumpy old ma insisting she put on clothes that covered more flesh than she was currently exposing.

I wasn’t happy – and it wasn’t Ishthara I was unhappy with. It was myself I was unhappy with. I felt like a hypocrite. All her life, I’d been teaching my daughter about bodily autonomy, about how her body belongs to her, and her alone. I’m also of the belief that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, when they like, where they like, and not be subject to abuse, intimidation, assault, or body-shaming of any description. I have mentioned this belief, several times, to my daughters. Yet here I was, telling my gorgeous 14 year-old that she needed to cover up before she went out.

I fumbled through my first attempt to explain myself to her.

‘It’s not that you should be ashamed of how you look,’ I started. Then I tried again.

‘You’re beautiful – because of how you are, more than because of how you look – and I don’t want you to feel that you should have to hide your beauty but…..’

I stopped. What the fuck was it I was trying to say? I couldn’t find the words, and I didn’t have time to dwell on finding them because I didn’t want her to be late for the disco. She’d been excited about it for weeks and her bestie was standing on the landing waiting. and I was making everything worse.

I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.

‘You’re gorgeous and I love you more than my own life and…you are all that matters…and people judge, and I’m sorry that they do, but I don’t want people to judge you on what you’re wearing….’

I was close to tears at this stage because I knew I was bollocksing this up. And I knew it was important. And I knew it was important that I didn’t bollocks it up.

‘Teenage boys are bastards!’ burst out of me before I could stop it. I was horrified at myself. ‘I didn’t mean that. It was horribly sexist of me and a gross generalisation. What I mean is, some teenage boys are bastards and…some of think that they can touch anything they see, and the more of you they see, the more they think they can touch.’

That was no better. I was still making a complete pig’s ear of it.

‘I don’t want you to have to change what you wear because of what other people will think but that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do. I’m sorry…’ I was so conflicted, I was tormented by it. For a fleeting moment, I wished I was one of those parents who just lays down the law, and rules with a hard heart and an iron fist.

By now, Ishthara had found something else to wear and was keen to change and get going.

‘I don’t think you should have to hide yourself away, I just…’

She sighed. A deep, painful sigh.

‘Let’s just go.’

As we were heading out the door, I put my hand on her shoulder and turned her to face me. I didn’t want to make things more awkward for her than they already were. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable around her best friend. But this was really important and I needed to get it right, no matter how many attempts it took.

‘Isha…’ I started again. ‘You are beautiful – and, of course I’m going to say that because I’m your mum, so that’s not empirical – but you are 14 and you look 20. You have the figure of an adult woman. And you have the poise of someone older than you as well. You look 20, but you’re not 20. You don’t have the life experience of a twenty-year-old. That’s nothing to do with being mature, or responsible, or anything other than the amount of years you have been on this planet.  What that means is that you don’t know how to react when people treat you like you’re a lot older, or a lot more worldly than you are. I don’t want you to go out exposing any more skin than you are now because I don’t want you to be in a position where someone else says or does something that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t know how to deal with it.’

Ishthara nodded.

‘Okay,’ she said, less sullen than she had been earlier.

‘D’you remember, last year, when the man on the bridge started hitting on you?’

She nodded again.

‘And do you remember how you felt? And how it wasn’t very pleasant?  And at least I was there, and I was able to deal with him?’

‘Yes.’ I could tell she was listening, taking it all in.

‘Well, when you’re older, you’ll be well able to cope with that kind of attention because you’ll have been around long enough to figure out how to deal with it. It’s the same with the kind of attention you’re going to get by dressing in a way that shows more skin, that is – for want of a better way to but it – sexier than what you’re wearing right now. I don’t want you to feel you have to change anything about yourself, not even your clothes in order for you to feel comfortable, but for now, until you learn how to cope with the attention, how to handle it, I’d prefer if we took care to avoid it.’

Another nod, and this time, a smile.

‘I get it,’ she said. ‘I really do. Now, come on, can we please go?’

Later, as we prepared hot drinks and snacks in the kitchen before bed (she’d been too excited to eat before going out), Ishthara told me she was glad she’d changed before going out.  Apparently, she felt more comfortable in a place with nearly 2,000 strangers when she was wearing more rather than less.

‘It’s okay, Mum. I know you love me,’ she finished.

As long as she remembers that, I think we’ll get through these teenage years intact. In spite of my propensity for foot-in-mouth disease.

 

World Prematurity Day

Yesterday was World Prematurity Day: A day to celebrate the babies born around the world well in advance of their ‘due’ dates. Technically, that means a baby born before 37 weeks’ gestation. The further out from 37 weeks a baby is, the slimmer their chance of survival.  Things are not as grim for these ‘early-borns’ as they were 20 or even 15 years ago.

My own early born came into this world 10 weeks early, and so many of the stories I read yesterday resonated with me. I’m not, however, going to reproduce a blow-by-blow account of her early hours and days. Instead, I’d like to offer hope to parents struggling with tiny babies. I was told my little girl wouldn’t last the night. I was told my little girl would have severe learning and developmental delays. I was told my little girl would never ‘look right’. I was told my little girl would always be small for her age.

Now, at thirteen and eight months old, Ishthara has defied the odds. She is narrow and fine-boned (like her sister) and she will always be petite. But she’s not tiny. Not any more.

Ishthara is a bright, confident, sweet young lady. She is kind and thoughtful and good to her sister. (She’s good to her mum, as well!). She is responsible and polite and loves her friends. She loves to cook and loves make-up and crime shows on Netflix. She is a normal thirteen year old girl. Because miracles do happen. They happen every day – and they happen every day in the lives of early-born babies and their families.

Girls World Premie Day

My Simon Cowell Moment

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I’m not going to win any friends with this post, but sometimes, some things need to be said.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times. I’m deliberately not going to link to it because if you really want to read it, you’ll go and find it yourself.

The piece I’m talking about was written by a very young person. The headline did its job and drew me in – excited to read what followed. The headline was, at best, slightly mis-leading. It suggested that the young author of the piece had written a novel. She hasn’t. Which is fine. No one would think she was a slacker for not writing a novel at such a young age. The young girl in question likes to read and she likes to write. She has started to write a book, which she hopes to finish and is wishful of getting a publisher for. A section of her book is reproduced at the end of the article and (here’s my Simon Cowell moment) it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful. I’d expect more of any 13 year old and I’d expect a lot more of a 13 year old who was published in a national newspaper.

I am delighted this child likes to read. She should be encouraged to read every spare moment she has. She should be given a torch to facilitate reading under the covers when she’s supposed to  be asleep. She should be given lovely stationery and taken to the pen shop to buy herself a fabulous writing instrument. She should be encouraged to read books about writing. She should be encouraged to love language and love manipulating it. She should be told to keep at it, that writing is a craft and benefits from daily practice. She should be sent on writing courses and workshops for children her age. She should be encouraged in her endeavours. She absolutely should.

I don’t think, however, her parents or the editor of the newspaper should have allowed her to publish a few hundred words of a book she has started writing, hopes to finish and hopes to publish. Especially when it’s not very good. I think it’s an awful thing to do to a child. She’s 13 and she has started to write a book. Newsflash! That’s not unusual. I’d say in an average class of 30 average 13 year olds in Ireland today, you’ll have at least five who harbour a desire to write a book. Most of them are probably scribbling away in journals and copybooks and on laptops. And they are quite right. But most of those books will be abandoned long before they are finished. New projects will be started and (perhaps) not finished either. If they are finished, they will be re-read and the writer will realise that they have better in them. They may start to write another book. Or they may not. This is all perfectly normal.

The difference is that all these children have the safety and security of writing away in their own homes until they have finished something they can be proud of, and are ready to show to the world. If they don’t end up, at 13, with something they are proud of and want to share with the world, that’s perfectly fine. The world is not waiting for them to.

Unlike the girl in yesterday’s paper. What kind of pressure – internal or external – will she be under now to produce a novel worthy of publication in five months’ time? What if she can’t? What if she changes her mind? Every school has bullies. Has this girl been encouraged to give the bullies in her school a stick to beat with her with? I hope not. I hope she finishes her book and that, as she edits and re-writes, it improves. I hope she finds herself a publisher and gets her book published and has a fabulous book launch and some famous people say lovely things and she’s fit to burst with pride. But I worry about what will happen to her and her self-esteem and sense of self if things don’t work out for her.

I am reminded of something a tutor told us when I was studying Theatre 110 years ago.

‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it’.

There’s wisdom in that, and I just wish this enthusiastic girl with her love of reading and writing had been protected a bit better by her parents and the editor of the paper who published her.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Review

I’m a bit late with this post, but better late than never, I suppose?

My girls and I were lucky enough to score front row tickets to the  opening night of The Abbey’s current production last Tuesday. In the middle of last year, Kashmira (the ten year old) declared A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMSD) her favourite Shakespeare play. It was the first she’d read that wasn’t a tragedy and I think that may have swayed her somewhat, as well as the whimsical nature of the dream scene. Ishthara (the 12 year old) and I are still staunch Romeo & Juliet fans, but are open to good productions of any of the Bard’s plays.

From the moment we took our seats, it was obvious that this was going to be a production with a difference. The mobility aid just beyond the diaphanous curtain was a bit of a giveaway.

The play opened with a gang of elders dancing around their care home to the strains of Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders which is every bit as amusing as it sounds. Instantly, we knew that we were in a telling of the tale that had been catapulted into the 21st century. There were several nods to modernity and technology that were as clever as they were funny (I won’t give details, for fear of spoiling the surprises).

I loved that there were so few cast members under the age of sixty, and I loved their fluidity at portraying a version of their younger selves during the dream scenes. It was a touching reminder that we are only as old as we allow our spirits to become. And that love is not the preserve of the under thirty-fives.

This was Gavin Quinn’s directorial debut at the Abbey but I sincerely doubt it is the last time we will see the work of  this talented director at the National Theatre. When I was training years and years (and years!) ago,  I learnt that a good director is one who casts well and then stands back and lets the actors do the job s/he was convinced they would do well in the first place; who has a grand overview of how they want things done, shares that with the actors and allows them to play with the script interpreting as they are moved to. A great director is one who is available, yet not intrusive; who is supportive, yet not  overbearing; who offers suggestions rather than dictates absolutes. Someone who holds the space and allows the magic to happen. A bit like a good midwife, really.

You can tell when actors have been well directed – they are more believable in their roles because they believe it themselves; so much so that they become the characters. I felt that very much with this production. The actors were so comfortable with the language that it was secondary. The language was a vehicle for the production rather than the production itself. In fact, the meaning of the language was conveyed so effortlessly that both my girls double-checked with me that they were listening to the original text and not a ‘modernised’ version. We were watching a play that had been written by Shakespeare, rather than actors ‘doing’ Shakespeare. There is a difference.

I appreciated the yellow and blue theme in costume and design that peppered the stage throughout the evening: Declan Conlon’s touch of midnight blue make-up served to accentuate his chiseled features and added a touch of menace to his Oberon.   Although I was distracted by Shadaan Felfeli’s (yellow) langota when his (yellow) lunghi fell prey to gravity in the middle of his yogic headstand. I’m still at a loss as to why the yoga was there to start with – unless it was some sort of physical metaphor for how upside-down everything was?

Anyway.

As ever, with recent Abbey productions, it’s difficult to single one actor out for praise. They work so well together supporting each other in order to allow everyone to shine that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. That said, I loved Peadar Lamb in his final scenes. He had me crying with laughter. Daniel Reardon (who made me feel dirty just watching him in Sive) made a refreshing Puck. Gina Moxley was a delight as Helena, while Máire Hastings, Stella McCusker and Máire Ní Ghráinne were delightful in their roles as Cobweb, Peaseblosssom and Mustardseed respectively. I could not take my eyes off Áine Ní Mhuirí and John Kavnagh in their roles as Hermia and Lysander. They rendered a touching tenderness for each other that melted my heart. Fiona Bell played Titania with a lightness of touch and an elegant grace that chimed beautifully with the lyricism of her lines. (Oh! And her dress, her lovely, shiny, sparkly silver dress!)

If you put a gun to my head, however, and told me I had to single one actor out, it would be David Pearse as Peter Quince in the play within a play. For me, Mr Pearse confirmed his comic abilities in She Stoops to Conquer so I knew I’d laugh when I saw he was in AMND as well. What I hadn’t expected was to react to his efforts when he entered to deliver the prologue to the metaplay towards the end. Struck with a bit of stage-fright, he stumbled over his words, stopped, started and squirmed. I felt for him, exactly the same way I’d felt for a young Donegal stand-up comedian in a comedy club years ago who totally forgot what he was supposed to be saying and completely corpsed. I sat in the audience, all those years ago, rooting for that young lad and willing him to go on – even to repeat himself if that’s what he needed to do. For a few seconds on Tuesday night David Pearse wrangled the same emotion out of me. Until I reminded myself that it was the character not the actor who was busy dying in front of my eyes. Then, with everyone else, I chuckled, giggled and laughed. A lesser actor would have milked that bit, and played for the laughs. But David Pearse is like the gifted painter who knows that one more brush stroke will ruin his masterpiece.

Look, I’ll stop gushing now, but suffice to say that this production is a terrific evening’s entertainment for all the family. We hadn’t left the building before my girls were asking how soon we could return and which of their friends they could bring.

A Thousand Germans

I learnt something tonight.
After WWII, there was fierce hardship all across Europe – including in Germany. People were starving.
Ireland, under Dev, made the humanitarian gesture to home 1,000 German children. They were welcome to stay indefinitely.
Many went home to their families when things in Germany improved.
Many more stayed here – because their families were dead, or couldn’t take them back, or couldn’t be found. This is right and proper. These children were not monsters. They had done nothing wrong. They were children.
Anyway, the Irish gov REFUSED to take Jewish children from Germany or anywhere else..
Eventually, under pressure (from the UK, I believe), they ‘gave in’ and said they would take 100 Jewish children. No, that’s not a typographical error. One thousand ‘Christian’ Germans. One hundred Jewish children.

But these children were only welcome for one year.
After that, they had to go back to Germany or wherever they had come from – never mind that their families might well have been exterminated by the families of the one thousand German children who were given succour. Never mind if they had nowhere to go.
I am so ashamed. I am so ashamed that this was how my country treated a people who had been tortured and belittled and shamed and stripped of everything they possessed and even their dignity. People who had been beaten and starved and abused in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.

Do you know who told me?

A Holocaust survivor.

He wasn’t bitter. Just hurt. It came up in conversation after dinner as we sat and chatted about what he and his beloved had been up to since the last time we’d seen each other. He didn’t go out of his way to tell me in order to make a point.
‘Ireland took 1,000 German children. That was good….humanitarian….the right thing to do.’
Then his voice dropped.
‘But they could have taken 1,000 Jewish children too.’

He is right, of course.

I am ashamed. We are not a decent people. We try to tell ourselves we are, but we’re not. This is how Ireland treats those who come to her desperate, frightened, weary, starving. Our attitude to vulnerable people has not changed. If you don’t believe me, take a trip out to Mosney some day.

Special Deliveries

Today’s post is part of the Moods of Motherhood blogging carnival celebrating the launch of the second edition of Moods of Motherhood: the inner journey of mothering by Amazon bestselling author, Lucy H. Pearce (published by Womancraft Publishing).

Today over 40 mothers around the world reflect on the internal journey of motherhood: raw, honest and uncut. To see a list of the other contributors and to win your own copy visit Dreaming Aloud.net

Moods of Motherhood_cover_front_300


I do not remember a time when I didn’t want to be a mother. It was a longing I was born with; not a desire to replicate my genes or a want to have a ‘mini-me’ that I could dress up in things I’d have liked to have been dressed up myself. No. I wanted to be a mother because I wanted to mother.  I wanted to raise children who would be loved and who would know it; children who would be happy and confident and encouraged to take their rightful places in the world.

I had always assumed I’d have at least seven or eight kids. (When I was between the ages of 4 and 12, my ideal number of offspring was fourteen – clearly I was raised Catholic!).  When I married, at 20, all I wanted was to have a baby to celebrate our first anniversary with.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. It would be eight years, two husbands, three surgical operations, bucket-loads of pills, months of injections, invasive procedures and every ounce of my considerable determination before I held my baby.

The agony of being denied motherhood devoured me from the inside out. I ached, sometimes physically, for a child to call my own. My arms longed to hold a baby that they wouldn’t have to return to its rightful owner. My heart overflowed with un-shared love. Love for a child I was desperate to have, desperate to love, desperate to parent, desperate to raise. I read books on pregnancy, homebirth (having decided, by the time I was 18, that the only sensible, logical and safe option was to birth at home), breastfeeding, parenting and children. I dreamed of what it would be like when one of those infernal pregnancy tests eventually gave me the result I was looking for.

Sometimes, I would dream about holding my own baby and the dream would be so vivid that I would awake from it and still have the scent of a small baby lingering in my nostrils; would still be able to feel the silk of a tiny child’s hair on my cheek; the near-nothingness of a baby’s soft skin; the sweetness of a baby’s breath on my neck. I questioned the love of a God who could create such longing in my soul, and who could equip me with a certainty that I would be a great mother – and then deny me the fulfilment of my longing. It was analogous to creating a singer with a voice to rival that of Maria Callas, then ripping out their tongue and wiring their jaw shut. Every time I got my period – which was far from a regular occurrence – it was as though my womb was directly connected to my heart and, distressed by its own emptiness and failure, was shedding tears in synchrony with my eyes.

Poisoned by my desire I found it increasingly difficult to rejoice with people when they announced that they were expecting a baby. I got more and more resentful of others when they shared that they were pregnant – I  felt that I had been longer in the ‘conception queue’ than they had. I deserved that baby, not them. It was almost as though there was a finite number of souls who chose to incarnate in a particular year and somebody else, by getting pregnant, had snatched one of the souls that otherwise would have come to me. I could still smile to someone’s face and congratulate them. As soon as I was alone, however, I would cry tears of pain, sadness, jealousy, anger and fear. Fear that I would never fulfill my destiny to become a mother; that all the babies would be allocated to other people and I would be left without one. It felt as though my pain was bigger than I was. It was such a great thing that I was unable to contain it.

But it finally went away: On March 13th, 2002 in Pune, India, my beloved daughter, Ishthara was born. No words can express my joy when I held her in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t quite believe it. I was a mother! Finally, nestled close to me was all I had ever wanted. For some reason, love didn’t flood through me the first time I held her. I was numb. It was almost as though I was in an altered state of consciousness. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was really mine, that I was really allowed to keep her. Years later, when I was studying psychology, I read Viktor Frankl, and the experience made sense.

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl details how he and others were liberated from a Nazi death camp. Instead of being joy-filled and jubilant, they found themselves mis-trusting their experience; not quite believing it. Frankl explains that they had spent so long dreaming of this very moment – and had their hopes and dreams dashed so many times – that now, they were not sure they could believe it. It took the men a few days to grasp the reality that their dream had come true and was not about to be snatched from them.

On the third day, Ishthara reached her bony arm up and touched my cheek with her hand. She looked in to my eyes and I swear I saw all the knowledge of the Universe in hers. Love surged through me stronger and more overwhelming than anything I had ever known. I knew true happiness for the first time in my life. Finally, I knew what love was. I discovered a bottomless well of love that I had never thought could possibly exist – much less that it could exist inside me.

Everything about Ishthara sent joy and love surging through me – and nothing had prepared me for that. I knew I was prepared to be a parent but I wasn’t prepared for the love that being a mother brought me. I found that I instinctively knew what she needed and wanted. I found extreme joy in being with her, in responding to her needs – in pre-empting them, even. Holding her little body close to mine, keeping her body alive with mine, watching her flourish and grow and thrive filled me bliss and peace. For the first time in my life, I felt as though all was well in my world.

When I held Ishthara in my arms, and breathed in the scent of her, I felt as though I had come home to myself. It felt that I had spent my entire life preparing to hold a child I didn’t have to give back. This little splinter of God had made my biggest, greatest, grandest dream come true. She had turned me into a mother. 

Not long after Ishthara’s first birthday, I left my second husband. Then the unbelievable happened – I discovered I was pregnant. Without even trying!! How did that happen? I was shocked and delighted. I was also worried about how I would love the baby I was carrying. I had no doubt I would love her, but I loved Ishthara so much – she was the child I had always dreamt of, the child I had always longed for, and she and I had such a tremendously tight bond – that I was sure I wouldn’t possibly be able to love my second child as much. I felt sorry for her, coming into a family where she wouldn’t be loved as much as her elder sister. I couldn’t conceive that there could be enough love in the entire world – never mind in me – to love my second child the way I loved my first. 

Kashmira was born on the 18th of May, 2004. When I held her in my arms and told her I loved her for the first time – I was lying. I knew I should love her, but I felt the same way I had when I’d first held Ishthara – kind of shocked and numb and waiting; waiting for waves of love to wash over me. I fretted that this meant my fears were correct, that I would never love this child as much as I loved my other one. Three days later, however, I woke up and looked at Kashmira and a feeling of adoration for my child flooded through me. I was overcome with relief and profoundly grateful that this little person had chosen to turn me in to her mum. 

Special delivery

Pic: Ishthara and Kashmira, aged 38 and 18 months, respectively

It’s a feeling I have felt, for both my special deliveries, and the privilege of being their mother, every day since.

NaNoWriMo 2014

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – turns 15 this year. I did it for the first time back in 2004. Actually, I started it in 2004. I didn’t make it across the finish line. In hindsight, it was gloriously optimistic of me: I had just (a few weeks beforehand) moved continent and ended up in a place I hate; I had a five month-old and a two-and-a-half year old and no practical or emotional support with raising them, and I was trying hard to figure out what my Next Move would be.

So I got to about 10,000 words and left it.

This year, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo again. NaNoWriMo has changed in the intervening ten years. It’s now a very sophisticated affair – a slick website with FAQs, forums, discussion boards and lots, lots more. I’ve signed up because, to write consistently on a specific project, I need a prod. I’ve discovered that much about myself in all these years of writing. Whether that prod is the deadline imposed by a TV studio, a magazine or newspaper editor or a conference organiser. Or even a friend.

I wrote the first draft of my memoir with the prodding of a friend – who happened to be a newspaper editor – in India. We had a deal that I would write a minimum of 500 words a day and email them to him. If he didn’t get the words, he’d ring me to find out where they were. The strategy worked. Not least because there is a five-and-a-half hour time difference between here and India and if I didn’t turn in my words, I’d get a call at Stupid O’Clock to ask me where they were.

That book got written because I committed to writing a minimum of 500 words a day – because 500 words is easy; it’s doable. I set out to write 500 words a day, but often wrote 3,000. If I’d set myself a target of 2,000 words a day, I doubt I’d have lasted a week.

There’s an idea for a novel that has been rattling around inside me for more than two years now. Some days, I feel that if I don’t sit down and write it, I will wake up some morning and it will have written itself on my skin from the inside out. So that’s my NaNoWriMo project for this year.

I was exhausted yesterday after just 3 hours’ sleep the night before, and was sorely tempted not to write – to put it off until ‘tomorrow’. But I’ve got a writing buddy this time around. A real-life, real-world friend who has signed up as well – and there was the prod I needed. For extra pressure, Kashmira (who is not quite ten and a half) has signed up as well and she got off to a cracking start yesterday.

So I knuckled down and wrote a modest 1,123 words. I’ve started. I’ll let you know if I finish.

If you’d like to join the madness (it’s not too late!), you can sign up here.

Being Gay and Breastfeeding

In recent weeks, I’ve had a few messages from people who follow this blog wondering – variously – if I’m dead, if I’m stuck for something to say, or if I’ve stopped writing.

I’m happy to report that I’m no deader than usual, I’m definitely not stuck for something to say and I certainly haven’t stopped writing. I have been writing – I’ve done (another) final edit of the book; started volume two; jotted down a few thousand words for a work of fiction as well as a few ideas for a radio play that’s been knocking around inside my skull for a few months. I’ve been writing for the Gifted Ireland website and I’ve been doing a bit of academic writing as well (oooh! Get me! 🙂 ). There are even several drafts of posts that I’ve started, but haven’t finished for various reasons….but enough of this ‘dog ate my homework’ stuff, let’s crack on.

For the past four weeks, Ireland has been having a national conversation about homophobia. For those of you who don’t live on this island, let me give you a brief outline:

Rory O’Neill has this wonderful, funny, alter-ego; the amazing Panti Bliss. On a (fairly awful) programme on Saturday night four weeks ago, Rory alluded to homophobes in the public eye. He was pushed to name names, and he did. Within days, RTE (the broadcaster responsible for the programme) had received solicitors’ letters and decided to pay eighty-five thousand euros to those named individuals. An apology was also issued (though, so far, Rory hasn’t received one).

Later, Panti Bliss was invited to The Abbey Theatre (the world’s first national theatre) to answer the Noble Call*. What she said was stunning:

Yesterday (February 9th), Rory spoke to Miriam O’Callaghan on the radio. He spoke about what it’s like to be a gay man in 21st Century Ireland.

‘The time that I’m most jealous of straight people,’ Rory told us. ‘Is when I am with a boyfriend and I am walking down the street and the most natural, ordinary thing in the world is to hold his hand, or put your arm around him. The way couples do….the way we see straight couples on the street every single day, so often that you don’t notice…’

Rory went on to explain how, even if you’re a very out, very proud, very confident gay man in the most comfortable arena possible for being gay – the Men’s Department in Brown Thomas’s – being affectionate can be difficult:

‘Even then, it is different for a gay couple.’ he says, because even then, it still feels like it is not a normal sign of affection.

‘It feels like you’re making a political statement,’ Rory continues. ‘You’re forced into it being this big gesture. It’s not just about you. It’s not a small private thing between you and your boyfriend. It becomes this political statement. And even nice people in BT’s, who want to say “oh isn’t that nice – look at the gay couple holding hands”, they’ve turned your private moment into this public moment because they’re being supportive and nice but it just means that your private moment isn’t a little private moment, it’s on display…’

Now, I am probably the furthest thing you could get from a gay man but suddenly I understood. I knew what Rory was talking about. I was no longer sympathising – I was empathising. Suddenly, I got it.

It might sound odd, to draw parallels between a gay couple kissing in public and breastfeeding in public – but I’ve had the same experience with a hungry (or tired or generally discombobulated) baby. I’ve had what should have been a private experience politicised and commented upon. I’ve had people sit not two metres away from me and discuss that I was feeding my child as though I was deaf, as though I didn’t understand English, and as though they had every right to discuss, and have an opinion on, what I was doing.

I’ve had people gawp in disbelief – not so much when the baby was only a few months old, but definitely when she was one or two or three (by the time she was four, we no longer breastfed in public). I’ve had people (young women, usually) make known their disgust that I was using my breasts for the precise job they were created for.

Like a kiss between lovers, breastfeeding your baby or child is more than a physical act – it is an expression of love. There’s an intimacy to it – even when it’s automatic.  I’ve had people smile warmly and even give me a thumbs up when I’ve been feeding my baby. I’ve had perfect strangers go out of their way to let me know that they ‘approve’. It feels a lot better than the disgust – and it’s lovely to have people’s support and to have them being nice – but it still feels like they need to make a point about how ‘accepting’ they are of your ‘oddness’.

I now have a much better understanding of how it feels to be a gay man in twenty-first century Ireland. It feels like being a breastfeeding mother in twenty-first century Ireland. Thanks, Rory, for sharing your gift of communication and helping me understand how you feel every time you feel you need to check yourself.

 

* In Ireland, at a party a noble call is when it’s your turn – to sing, recite or otherwise entertain. You can’t refuse. You can plead neither illness nor insanity. You must perform. The recent play at the Abbey ‘The Risen People’ (which dealt with the 1913 Lockout) had a Nobel Call performed by a different person whose own story bore relevance to the broad themes of the play.

Lock up Your Daughters (And Your Sons)

The Irish and international media has been reporting, in the past few days, on two cases this week where children were removed from their families and put into the ‘care’ of the Health Services Executive. Thousands of children are taken from their families in Ireland every year and put into care – and there is very little outcry from either the media or the general public.

These two cases, however, were different because the families were Roma and they children were blonde. Because of their colouring, it was assumed that their dark-haired parents could not possibly be their ‘biological’ parents. The Gardai became involved after a member of the public posted the following message on the Facebook page of a TV3 journalist:

According to reports, up to 20 Gardai arrived at the house to take the child into the ‘care’ of the HSE.

In an attempt to prove their child was, in fact, theirs, the parents of the  little girl in Tallaght offered her passport and her birth certificate. The Gardai weren’t satisfied with these documents: It is unclear why they doubted the veracity of the birth certificate, but the passport was on old one and the photograph was of a baby. We are told a member of An Garda  Siochana rang the Coombe Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where the couple claimed the baby had been born, but the hospital was unable to confirm holding any record of the birth. So the child was removed from the family home until DNA tests could prove whether she was, indeed, where she belonged (i.e. with her parents and siblings).

Every time I hear a story of a parent losing a child – whether through death, abduction or any other way – my imagination inserts me and my kids into the narrative. This story was no different. I wondered what would do if the Gardai arrived to take one, or both, of my kids from me.  It could happen.

Imagine if one of my neighbours or someone who knows me and knows where I live, decided to get the hump with me and reported me to the Gardai on similar grounds as the Roma family was reported: That I have children who are not of the same colouring as I.  This is a fact. My girls have Indian dads. In the event that the Gardai ‘acting on a tip-off’ arrived at my house (a house I haven’t been living in for as long as this Roma family has been living in theirs), I  could produce passports for my children:  But the passport I have for my eldest is 10 years old (she got one of the last ten-year passports issued to a child in 2003), and she’s not quite two years old in the photograph. My other daughter has a more recent passport, but you could debate whether or not it is she in the picture.

As for birth certificates – I have both of them in the house, but they are laminated (one was handed to me that way in Singapore when I registered the birth, the other, I was advised to have laminated ‘for safety’).  Now, it’s a little-known fact, but a laminated document is not, legally speaking, an original document in Ireland. So, on a technicality, a Garda could refuse to accept the veracity of the birth certificates I have for my children.

I suppose they could call the hospitals where the girls were born – except my girls weren’t born in hospitals. There is no dad for the authorities to call and check my version of events with, either. I don’t have contact details to provide and India is very big place if you’re looking for someone. Also, checking with the authorities where my girls were born (India and Singapore, respectively) could be time-consuming. There is a five-and-a-half-hour time difference between here and India, and an eight-hour time difference between here and Singapore. This means that in this nightmare scenario, if my children were taken after 9am, we’d be apart for at least 24 hours. By which stage, I’d be driven mad with grief and fear and worry. And I’m sure my kids wouldn’t be far behind me in the traumatised stakes.

If the word of a member of the public and the fact that your child has different colouring to you is enough to have your child taken from you by several members of the police force, then maybe I have every reason to be worried. Unless, of course, the lessons that Alan Shatter says ‘might’  be learnt from this frightful episode, are actually learnt.

Mind Yourself

Today is World Mental Health (awareness) Day and I was honoured to appear on TV3’s Midday programme (you can see it here – from 13 minutes in), talking to Sybil Mulcahy about my own experiences. It was a short interview (about 3 minutes) so I didn’t say a lot!! I was also interviewed for The Five-Thirty – news round up on the same station.

 

Tonight, I’m taking my girls to see ‘Box of Frogs’ in the hope that it helps normalise the discussion of mental health. And also, to be completely honest, because I know and love the actors in the play.

 

Earlier this week, I was privileged to meet with the Chair of the Expert Group to discuss new capacity and mental health legislation. This was the final element in the body of work I worked on with Amnesty International. So, it’s been a good, and busy week from the mental health point of view.

 

Today is a good day. I feel useful – and for me, that’s key to my own sense of well-being. My girls are well and happy and nothing nasty has arrived in the post, by phone or by email. I have lovely plans for tonight. I’m on an even keel. I know that it would take very little to tip the scales in the wrong direction. I know that it wouldn’t take much to knock the wind out of me completely – but I’m not dwelling on that possibility. I am, instead, dwelling on the fact that today, all is well. Today has brought me nothing I can’t handle. Today is filled with love and friends and brightness and coziness and good food and laughter and happy children.

 

Those of us who have mental health issues aren’t defined by them – any more than a person with asthma is defined by their asthma. Like asthma, mental health issues can be controlled and they don’t affect you every day. Our mental health difficulties don’t manifest every day – there are good days as well as bad days. There are fantastic days as well as terrible days. There are days filled with love and joy and peace, as well as days filled with fear and pain and despair.

 

People with asthma are advised to be aware of their triggers; to avoid them whenever possible; to take action as soon as a trigger becomes apparent and to give themselves enough time to recover after an episode. In the same way, those of us with mental health issues (and I believe that’s everyone) would do well to be aware of our triggers, to avoid them whenever possible, to take action as soon as a trigger becomes apparent and to give ourselves enough time to recover after an episode.

 

Mind yourself!

 

 

Austerity Bites Gets A New Home

For those of you who only pop by here for the Austerity Bites series, I am delighted to tell you that Austerity Bites has a new home.

While I initially thought I’d only blog about food and cooking for six days, I found I enjoy it so much, I really want to continue.  From now on, my recipes and musings on food can be found at http://www.austeritybitesblog.wordpress.com

Come on over!

Austerity Bites – Jackfruit Curry

We descended upon our local Asian shop the day before yesterday and stocked up on some of the things we needed. Fortunately, there was a bit more in the coffers than usual, so I went a bit mad.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I just decided to buy food rather than pay my phone bill.

Anyway, the main point is that stocks were replenished. I picked up  12 tins of tomatoes for €3.99 and paid €4.99 for a dozen cans of chickpeas. Chillies were €5.99 per kilo – I got about 30 of them for €0.24 – way cheaper than even the cheapest supermarket. Economies of scale, I think it’s called.

In the middle of all this cheapie-cheap stuff, I got us a treat: Jackfruit. If you have been to South East Asia, chances are you’ve come across durian. This is a large fruit (about the size of a basketball) that  very prickly on the outside and, when cut, smells similar to cat’s pee. In colour and texture, it is similar to custard and it’s an acquired taste. A taste, I hasten to add, I never acquired.

The reason I mention durian is because jackfruit is its Indian first-cousin. Less cat-pee, less prickly and less custard-y, though – I love jackfruit. It’s in season at the moment and we picked up 1.5kg for €5.

Jackfruit

After we’d had our fill of the fresh, raw fruit, I suddenly remembered that when I’d been pregnant with Kashmira (ten years ago!) our nanny used to make me a jackfruit curry. Normally, if you’re using a fruit in a curry, you use it when it’s slightly under-ripe. Jackfruit is an exception, though – you can use the under-ripe or the ripe fruit.

To the best of my recollection, this is the recipe Nishanthi used to cook for us:

Jackfruit Curry

150g Ripe Jackfruit

1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Salt to Taste

100mls of Water

20g grated coconut (I use dried because I can’t get it fresh)

2 Fresh Green Chillies

1/2 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

1/2 Teaspoon of Mustard Seeds

1 Red Chilli

3-4 Curry Leaves

2 Teaspoons of Coconut Oil

Cut the jackfruit into bite-sized pieces.

Cut Jackfruit

Put jackfruit, salt, turmeric, chilli powder and water into a medium-sized saucepan.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

While the jackfruit is cooking, make a paste using the grated coconut, chillies and cumin seeds (grind with a blender, adding a little water as necessary).

When the jackfruit is done – it will be tender but not mushy and still holding its shape – add the paste to the fruit and bring the lot back to the boil.

Heat the coconut oil in a small pan, and add the chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter, remove from the heat and pour over the curry.

Jackfruit Curry

Cooking the fruit changes the texture completely.

The raw fruit is quite sweetly pungent – though not unpleasant – it hits the back of your throat rather than the tip of the tongue. It has a thick texture – similar to that of raw mushrooms. Cooked, it’s more like stewed apple before it gets pulpy.

If you can get your hands on a bit of jackfruit, it’s an interesting addition to the dinner table.

Austerity Bites – A Reflection on the Recipes

I posted my recipes this past week pretty much as I cook them, so I thought I’d add a few words here about things that go on in my kitchen that I didn’t address properly/at all in the recipes I posted.

 

First, a word on… salt: At the moment, I’m using Pink Himalayan Salt – because it’s pretty (!) and because it’s inexpensive – but otherwise I use Maldron Sea Salt.  That table salt stuff I buy to use for cleaning and for salting certain ‘squashy’ vegetables – courgettes, aubergines etc.

 

We need salt. We don’t need lots. The pink salt I use is very ‘salty’, so a pinch is enough. Otherwise, the average adult needs about 1.5g of sodium per day, and we all need more in the heat (when we’re perspiring more than usual).

 

Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt

A word on…..portions: I’m a big fan of cooking once to eat twice. The recipes I used last week allowed us to do just that – and even have some left for sharing/freezing. Few things were finished. The exception being the masoor (red) lentil dish on Day 6.  You could easily halve the ingredients I listed and feed an adult and 2 kids with moderate appetites.

 

A word on…..utensils: We don’t use non-stick utensils in our house. For years, we kept pet birds. Teflon is not kind to little birds (in fact, it kills them) and Kashmira reasoned that if it’s not good for them, it can’t be much good for us, either.  In order to ensure things don’t stick, I don’t increase the amount of fat I use – I just cook a little more slowly, and add a bit of water if I need to.

 

A word on…..chilli: I don’t use buckets of chilli. I think that the purpose of chilli – and other spices – is to add flavour to dishes, not mask the flavours of the food you’re cooking. Being able to eat really hot food is not a sign that you are ‘hard’, ‘tough’, or ‘cool’. It means you need to find a new hobby. And possibly that you’re lacking in zinc.

 

Chillies

A mixture of dried and fresh chillies.

 

Finally, a word on…..spices: Spices are wonderful to add something special to your food. Don’t be too heavy-handed, though. While a little is good, more is not necessarily better. Again, you want the taste of the spices to enhance the taste of your cooking, not overwhelm it.

 

When it comes to buying spices, don’t forget that they are far more expensive in supermarkets than in Asian stores. In Asian stores, however, they can often come in larger quantities than you’d like. If you don’t use spices a lot in your cooking, why don’t you consider buying with a friend or two (or three)? For about a fiver each, you could buy a bag of each of the basics and divide them up between you.  That way, you can each get ‘starter’ packs of all the basics for way less than you’d get them in a shop with a well-recognised name.

 

Spices

 

Back left: Fenugreek Powder

Back Right:Turmeric Powder

Centre: Ground Cloves

Front Left: Cardamom Pods

Front Right: Coriander Seeds

Austerity Bites – A Reflection

Six Days of Austerity was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed sharing my recipes with you – and I was delighted by all the support you gave me in my endeavours.

 

The first post in the series felt like the bravest post I’d ever published. Braver than talking honestly and openly about my own mental health issues; braver than talking about sexual abuse, spousal abuse or other family issues. Braver than taking an unpopular stance on political or parenting issues. Braver than anything else I ever wrote about because, in that first Austerity Bites post, I admitted to being financially insecure.  I have always felt that Ireland is a land of inveterate snobs, where people are judged by material possessions and looked down on when they are in financial difficulties. I’ve always felt that, in Ireland, there was nothing worse than being poor. So to come out and admit that I was trying to raise two kids on next-to-nothing felt like the bravest thing I’d ever written.

 

The kind, supportive reactions of people who read and commented on this blog turned that from ‘brave’ to ‘liberating’. So thank you all for your kindness and support.

 

Of course, after the social welfare cheque hit and I’d paid (a bit) off  (some of) the bills, I realised there’s  not much more this week than there was last week. The thing about this past week – which was particularly punishing – is that I used up much of my reserves. I went in to the six days knowning that there were still certain staples (lentils and tins of tomatoes, for example). They have been used up now. The cupboards are bare. Before heading into the next week, I have to sit down and think how on earth I will manage to replenish the stocks somewhat in order to provide nourishment for my girls.

 

Given all that,  I have a feeling there will be more Austerity Bites posts and recipes in the near future.  Stay tuned! 🙂

 

There will be reflections on the recipes to follow.

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 6

Pancakes

200g Plain White Flour

2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

3 Teaspoons of Sugar

400mls of Coconut Milk

1 (precious) Egg

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.

Add the salt and sugar.

Crack in the egg.

Mix in the coconut milk.

Stir the lot together, adding water by dribbles until you have a smooth (though not runny) batter of dropping consistency.

Heat a drop of oil in shallow frying pan.

Drop a soupspoon-full (or dessertspoon-full) of batter on the pan and spread it slightly with the back of the spoon.

Cook over a medium-high heat until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn them over and cook for another minute or two.

There is so much you can serve these with – yogurt, berries, fruit, ice-cream, cream, sugar & lemon, honey….. 🙂

Red Lentils

200g Red Lentils

1 Litre of Water (approximately)

1 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Pinch of salt

1 Tablespoon of Ghee

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Panch Phoran*

400g of Tinned Tomatoes

Rinse the lentils. Put them in a sieve and run cold water over them until the water runs clear – otherwise, the lentils will be scummy.

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.

Leave them to steep for about half an hour.

Drain the lentils and add about 1 of fresh cold water – really, you just want enough water to cover them and come about another 2 cms over the lentils.

Add turmeric and salt.

Bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils, covered,  for a half an hour or so – until they are soft, but not mushy.

If they are still too ‘soupy’, take the lid off the pot, raise the heat and boil rapidly for a few minutes. You’re looking for a more like ‘porridge’ than ‘soup’. A bit like this:

Cooked Dal

While the lentils are cooking, prepare your masala:

Peel and chop the onion.

Heat the ghee in a frying pan.

Add the onion and caramelise over a low heat.

Add the panch phoran and cook for another five minutes, until the spices release their fragrance.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes.

For divilment – and so I can call it fusion (!) – I added a splash (about 1 teaspoon) of Balsamic vinegar.

Add the drained lentils and, stirring, cook for a further five minutes.

*There’s a recipe for this spice mix on Day Two of Austerity Bites 

Austerity Bites – Day 6

Well, we made it! Six days of budget meals has seen us all still in one piece and nary a hunger pang between us.

For breakfast on this final day of Austerity Bites, I used up our one remaining egg to make pancakes. As we had no cow’s milk, I used coconut milk instead. My one can had been in the freezer for a few days (I’d intended using it for ice-cream or something, then changed my mind) and spent another fortnight in the fridge, so it was still quite solid. This meant I had to use a bit of water to make my batter better.

Now, a word about coconut milk – the stuff found in cans in German supermarkets is every bit as good as the stuff in premium British supermarkets – and only half the price. It’s cheaper again in Asian supermarkets where you also have the option of dried coconut milk that you then reconstitute with water.  Even though it works out a bit pricier to buy the canned rather than the dried, it is worth the extra few cents. Reconstituted coconut milk has a more mucous-y consistency and lacks a little of the flavour. Finally, don’t use coconut cream instead of coconut milk because they’re not the same thing.

These pancakes are more substantial than crepes and are very filling (the girls had them with sugar and the last of our lemons, while I had mine plain). There’s enough batter left for tomorrow’s breakfast as well. 🙂

Pancakes, Breakfast, Day 6

I must confess, I didn’t cook lunch – Ishthara (my 11 year-old) did. She used up the last of our 500g bag of pasta (bought last week) and cooked it to perfection before adding in our last jar of olives (again bought last week) and the second of the two Mozzarella balls we bought last week as well as the second bag of rocket I bought a few days ago. The final dribble of olive oil in the bottle finished the dish off.

Pasta, Day6

Dinner was one of my favourite comfort foods; a lovely, easy way to cook red dhal (raw red dhal pictured below).

Raw Dhal Day 6

It takes very little to turn that to this:

Prepared Dhal

We had the dhal with rice and the 200g of frozen broccoli that I was holding on to for just this purpose.

I don’t have a proper bamboo steamer anymore – so I ‘steamed’ the broccoli by putting enough water to come half-way up the vegetables in the pot and brought it to the boil. I then simmered it for 6 minutes and took it off the heat and drained it.

Broccoli Day 6

The drained water I added to the remaining carrot & orange soup the girls weren’t fond of on Day 2. This will be watered down a little bit more with other ‘extra’ water from vegetables over the next few days. I will then add an onion, boil the whole lot up and call it ‘stock’. Then, I’ll freeze it in an ice-cube tray and have stock cubes for the next while. 🙂

A grating of nutmeg and a grinding of salt and pepper rendered this broccoli delicious. Also (would you believe it?) there was enough of the spiced molasses cake left for a slice each after dinner.

Ishthara and Kashmira managed to have fruit today as well – there was about 100g of frozen berries left in the end of the bag we bought last week and they polished the lot off (leaving it in a covered dish in the sun for about twenty minutes first so it defrosted). Also, in the middle of the afternoon, my friend and neighbour Susie dropped in a bunch of radishes – which the girls demolished as a snack.

As usual, recipes will follow…..

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 5

Hummus

1 Tin of Chickpeas

8 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

10 Tablespoons of Tahini

2 Cloves of Garlic

1/2 a lemon

2 Teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout

Salt & Pepper to taste

100mls Water

 

Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Peel the garlic (this is the only time I’m not heavy-handed with garlic; because it’s not cooked, the flavour really can overpower the dip).

Juice the lemon.

Pop all the ingredients into a bowl (again, I find 1kg yogurt pots excellent for this purpose) and blend with a stick blender, adding the water as needed until you have a smooth – but not runny – mixture.

 

Paprika is generally used in hummus, but I substituted ras-el-hanout because I happen to like it. A dash of chilli pepper will give a slightly spicier hummus if that’s your thing.

 

Rasa

2 Onions

400g Tin of  Tomatoes

60g Dessicated Coconut (unsweetened)

2 Teaspoons of Garlic-Ginger Paste

8 Whole Cloves

8 Whole Peppercorns

6 Dry Red Chillies

1 Teaspoon of Poppy Seeds

1 Teaspoon of Fennel Seeds

4 Tablespoons of Oil

1/2 Turmeric Powder

Salt to Taste

 

If you’re using eggs, hard boil one for each diner. Maybe you know this already, but a few years ago, I realised that boiling eggs works best if you start with cold water. (Even if you don’t keep your eggs in the fridge, boiling water can shock them into cracking. Using cold water means the water and the eggs rise in temperature at the same time) When the water comes to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave them for ten minutes. When they are done, take them off the heat and drain them. When they are cool (covering them in more cold water can speed the process up), peel and halve them. 

While the recipe calls for 2 onions, I only used one because I only have two left, and I want the other for tomorrow’s dhal.  

With regard to the oil, we are down to a dribble, so I used 3 tablespoons of mustard oil instead. It gave a lovely sharp taste to the mixture.  

I had two green bell peppers, so I added them to the pot as well. 

 

Drain and rinse the kidney beans.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the cloves, peppercorns, chillies, poppy seeds and fennel seeds. Sauté the mixture until the spices yield their fragrance.

Add the onion until it’s softening then turn the heat down and add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry until the vegetables are browned, but not burnt. Garlic burns really easily, so you’ll need to stir the mixture continuously.

Add the coconut and continue frying until it browns.

Add the tomatoes and continue frying for about five minutes.

Grind this mixture to a paste – adding in a little water if you need to.

Prepare the peppers – top and tail, then quarter and cut out the white membrane – and cut into chunks. Sear them in the wok/frying pan and then leave them to one side.

Transfer the paste back into the pan and add the salt and turmeric and a splash of water (if needed) to make your desired consistency.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes and add the peppers, after another 5 mintues, add the kidney beans.

Serve with boiled rice, chapatis, or baguettes.

Austerity Bites – Day 5

Well, we’re nearly there. Today is the second-last day of rationing in Larkin Lodge – well, until the next time, that is. 🙂

Today, we finished off our one sliced loaf of bread for breakfast – toast and cheese, supplemented with dry cereal. There’s still coffee in the pot for me, so all is well on that front.

I’m drinking tea during the day when I would otherwise have coffee. But when this is what you’re making tea with, it’s a greater pleasure:

Tea, Day 5

My tea set is a beautiful hand made set brought back from Korea by my lovely friend and former neighbour, Howard. It goes perfectly with the Oolong tea that he brought me back from China.

Lunch was hummus, carrot batons, olives and some of the lovely fresh rocket I bought last night,  and some more chapatis.

Lunch, Day 5

Later, when I was cleaning under the stairs (in times of plenty, I store extra tins, bottle of water and spices in the cupboard under the stairs) and I found a tin of tomatoes and two bottles of water. Result!

For dinner, I made an Indian dish that is typically associated with the state of Maharashtra – where my eldest daughter was born – and which always makes me nostalgic for Pune whenever I cook it. The dish is usually served with boiled eggs, but my girls don’t like boiled eggs – which is just as well because we only have one egg….. So I substituted a tin of kidney beans (bought with 21 cents from the €2 I found in my jeans).  We had two green bell peppers in the fridge from about two weeks ago, which were still in good shape, so I added them, too.

Rasa Dinner, Day 5

Fruit bowls were harder to assemble today. There was a nectarine and 20 cherries left (I thought they’d polished the lot off yesterday, but I was mistaken) and they had another orange each. I’d have preferred to have given them more, but it wasn’t there.

I’m hoping that their fruit bowls, carrots, olives, tomatoes, onion and chickpeas will all combine to make up their five-a-day.

Tomorrow will mark the end of our six days of “Austerity Bites”. I can’t say I’ll be sorry.

Recipes to follow…..

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 4

Kashmiri Aubergines

Vegetable for shallow frying (I’ve little  oil left, so used ghee)

1 large aubergine

4 green cardamom pods, bruised

1/2 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp tumeric powder

1/2 tsp dried ginger powder

Pinch of asafoetida (hing)

300g natural yoghurt

Salt

I salt aubergine before I use it (unless I’m roasting it). This is seen by some as ‘old-fashioned’, but I find that it removes excess moisture and ensures that the vegetable  crisps up nicely when fried, and doesn’t go ‘spongy’ when you cook it any other way. Often, people who don’t like aubergine find the texture objectionable, not the taste. Anyway – to salt the aubergine, top and tail it, cut it into discs and pop the disks into put it in a plastic sieve or colander (metal, salt and water not being the best combination). Shake a generous amount of salt over the eggplant (you can use cheap salt like Saxa for this job!). Leave it to drain over a bowl or in the sink for about half an hour. Then (and I know this seems counter-intuitive) rinse the salt off under running water and gently squeeze the discs against the sides of the sieve to get all the water out. If you like, you can pat the discs dry in kitchen paper or a tea towel. 

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan until it is very hot.

Fry the aubergine on both sides until it’s golden brown in colour.

Drain on kitchen paper and keep to one side.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of oil.

Drop the cardamoms, spice powders and asafoetida into the oil.

Add the yoghurt immediately.

Season with salt and heat through, stirring constantly, until the gravy is heated through.

Add the fried aubergine and serve immediately. If you have coriander, it’s nice to garnish the dish – I’ve none the moment, but we survived. 🙂

Urid Dhal 

There are two types of urid dhal. One is whole urid – which is black – and the other is split urid – which is white. For this recipe, I used the split urid, which doesn’t need much soaking. 

1.2 Litres of Water

150g Urid Dhal

1 Onion

1 Teaspoon of Ginger

2 Green Chillies

1 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

2 Bay Leaves

3 Cloves

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric Powder

Pinch of Garam Masala

Squeze of lemon juice (I’ve loads of lemons – they were on special 2 weeks ago!)

1/2 Tin of Tomatoes (I still had half a tin in the fridge from Day 2)

Wash the urid dhal – put it in a sieve and run cold water over it until the water runs clear.

Put the lentils in a pot with enough water to cover them and soak for about 15 minutes.

Change the water on the lentils and bring to the boil.

Simmer the lentils until they are soft, but not mushy – 30-40 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the masala.

Peel and chop the onion.

Cut the chillies into small pieces  (I use a scissors).

Bash the ginger with a pestle in a mortar. If you don’t have those, bashing it on a chopping board with a rolling pin or wooden spoon works just fine.

When the dhal is nearly cooked, start the masala.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the cloves, bay leaves and cumin seeds.

When they start to splutter, add the onion and ginger and green chillies.

Fry for a few minutes then add the dhal, lemon juice and tomatoes. Stir gently over a medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add in the garam masala and serve immediately.

Naan

I’m not sure I should post this seeing as I didn’t get it right, but I will anyway! 🙂 

300g Plain Flour

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Powder

150 mls Hot Milk

120 mls Hot Water

2 Teaspoons of Nigella (Onion) Seeds

Take the racks out of your oven and cover them with tin foil.

Turn the oven on to maximum.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

Mix the baking powder into the hot milk and leave it for about a minute. When a few bubbles pop up on the surface of the milk, add it to the flour and mix well.

Knead the mixture, adding the water to make a soft dough. Keep kneading until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Keep it covered, in a warm place, for 3-4 hours, until it rises.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls.  Shape them into oblongs and pop them in the oven for about 15 minutes. The bread is done when it rises slightly and brown spots appear.

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day Three

Carrot & Orange Soup

6 Carrots

1 Orange

10g Fresh Ginger

3 Spring Onions (or one onion)

Knob of Butter

1 Litre of Water (or stock, preferably)

Salt and pepper to season.

Peel and slice the carrots.

Juice the orange.

Pound or grate the ginger.

Melt the butter in a pot.

Snip in the spring onions and sauté them.

Add the ginger and stir for another minute.

Add the carrots, orange juice and water (or stock) and bring to the boil.

Simmer for ten minutes, until the carrots are al dente.

Blend the whole thing and serve. We had it with rice because there isn’t much bread left and because we tend to eat soup with rice.

Rogani Kumbh

1 Onion

3 Medium-sized tomatoes (I used canned because we have no fresh)

2 Green Chillies

5 Cloves of Garlic

10g Ginger

1.5 Tablespoons oil (I used ghee – stop laughing down the back!)

1 Teaspoon Coriander Powder

1 Teaspoon Cumin Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Chilli Powder

Pinch Turmeric Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala

250g Mushrooms (I used chestnut mushrooms)

Salt to taste

3 Tablespoons of Natural or Greek Yogurt

Halve (or quarter, depending on size) the mushrooms.

Peel and quarter the onion and blend it with the tomatoes, chillies, ginger and  garlic.

Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the blended mixture and spice powders.

Stir – being careful not to let the masala stick or burn – until the oil begins to separate from the rest of the mixture.

Add the mushrooms and stir gently.

Season with salt and add a splash of warm water.

Cook for about ten minutes until the fungi are soft but not pulpy.

Take off the heat and stir in the yogurt.

Chapatis

450g Atta Flour (plain flour is fine)

2 Teaspoons of Melted Ghee (or oil)

Warm Water

We love chapatis and they are quick and easy to make. I have friends in India who pride themselves on how perfectly round their chapatis are. I don’t get it – I think they taste the same no matter what shape they are. 🙂 

Mix the ghee (or oil) into the flour and slowly add enough warm water to make a soft dough. (The amount of water you’ll need depends on the type of flour you’re using and how hard or soft your water is – so apologies for being vague!)

Now comes the fun bit – knead the dough for about 10 minutes. I know this sounds like a long time, but I normally only knead it for about 5 minutes. Last night, however, I lost the run of myself and kneaded it for at least 10 (could have been 15). The result? The best chapatis I’ve ever made.

You need a flat pan to cook these on. I’m lucky – I have a purpose-built tawa that I got in India which does the job perfectly.

Tawa

Separate your dough into between 12 and 15 lime-sized balls. Dust them with flour and then roll them out until they’re quite flat.

Dry fry these on your flat pan.

When they bubble/puff up, turn them over and use a clean tea-towel to gently press them down. Each one only takes about 3 minutes to cook.

Keep the chapatis warm in tinfoil and serve straight away. If you’re keeping them for later, re-heat quickly on the stove or in the microwave if you have one.

Dhal

There are many ways to cook lentils. This recipe is for a Red Lentil Curry

200g Red Lentils

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Oil

3 Teaspoons of Curry Paste

2 Teaspoons of Curry Powder*

1 Teaspoon of Ground Turmeric

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cumin

1 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

Pinch of salt

3 Teaspoons of Ginger Garlic Paste**

200g Tomato Paste

Tip the lentils into a sieve and rinse them under cold running water, until the water runs clear, otherwise the lentils will get scummy).

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to the boil over a high temperature.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils until they are soft but not mushy – about 40 minutes.

Combine the curry paste, all the spice powders (including the curry powder) and salt in a bowl.

While the lentils are cooking, caramelise the onions.

Add the spice paste and poweders to the onions and cook over a high heat for about 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and reduce the heat. Allow the curry base to simmer away while the lentils finish cooking.

There should be little or no water left on the dhal when it’s finished cooking. If  they are very watery, drain (most of) the water off – you don’t want the curry to be sloppy.

Tip the lentils into the curry sauce and mix well.

Serve with chopped coriander, if you have any.

*I make my own curry powder. It’s easy and cheap if you already have the spice powders

3 Tablespoons of Coriander

2 Tablespoon of Turmeric

1 Tablespoon of Ground Cumin

1 Tablespoon of Chilli Powder

1 TAblespoon of Fenugreek

2 Teaspoons of Amchoor (mango powder)

2 Teaspoons of Ground Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cloves

1 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cardamom

Mix all the above together and store in an airtight container.

** Ginger garlic paste can be bought in any Asian shop, and in some supermarkets, but it’s easy to make your own. Just take equal amounts of ginger and garlic and pound them together in a mortar and pestle.

Austerity Bites – Day Three

This morning, Kashmira made the smoothies for breakfast. She added ground almonds to the mix we used yesterday.  I think she enjoyed it:

K with Smoothie on her face

 

 

I decided to make soup for lunch. We had a bag of carrots and plenty of oranges so it seemed obvious that I should make carrot and orange soup. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was serving it up that I remembered the last time I’d made carrot and orange soup, the girls hadn’t really liked it. Still, they were hungry, so it was eaten. But no one went back for seconds.

 

Soup, Day 3

 

 

Fruit in the afternoon was melon and pear with a good grinding of nutmeg.

 

Fruit Bowl Day 3

 

 

Dinner was dhal (lentils) with rogani kumbh (mushrooms in tomato & onion gravy) and chapatis.

 

Dinner, Day 3

 

 

During the day, there was chocolate and a slice of the molasses cake made on Day 1.

At this stage, no one is going to bed hungry, but I am a bit worried that there hasn’t been a green leafy vegetable eaten all week. I’m also aware that we don’t have nuts in the cupboard and “eating a rainbow” on a daily basis  is beyond our capabilities this week.

 

We’re also rationing – I want to make naan for Day 4, so I had to measure out milk from the one carton we could afford this week, and caution Ishthara that there’s not much left for her cereal.

 

Ishthara had wanted us to make pancakes later this week, and was disappointed we mightn’t have enough milk. But we have coconut milk so that will do beautifully. Also, we have one egg (again, not enough money to buy more this week),  so we’re trying to figure out the best way to use it! I had wanted to make an orange cake yesterday – but the recipe I use needs eggs. I can’t experiment because our resources are too scarce to flirt with the possibility of wasting ingredients.

 

We have precious little yogurt left, either. We go through about one and a half kilos of yogurt (natural or Greek) every week. Then I remembered how I used to make my own when we lived in Asia. So I made the decision to use a few drops of our remaining milk to revive that tradition.

 

I’m also a bit concerned that even with rationing, I’ll run out of coffee. I have a terrible coffee addiction and suffer awful withdrawal headaches (akin to migraines) if I don’t get my ‘fix’. I know that green tea contains enough caffeine to sort me out if I get desperate, but I love the taste of coffee and  I’d like not to get desperate.

 

Recipes from Day Three to follow….. 🙂

Austerity Bites – Day 2

Day two of Austerity Bites started with a breakfast of smoothies – made with frozen berries, Greek yogurt and honey – for Kashmira and I, while Ishthara had a bowl of cereal with a splash of milk.

Lunch saw us polishing off the left-overs from the night before (apart from the roasted tomatoes, there was a bit of everything) and supplementing that with toasted cheese sandwiches.

Even after we’d gorged on them twice, there was still plenty of the patatas bravas left. I dropped the remainder into my friend to supplement supper for herself, her partner and their two kids. Only fair, really, considering she gave me half a bottle of olive oil yesterday, when I ran out.

Lunch, Day Two

My girls had a chocolate bar each mid-morning, and in the afternoon, their fruit bowls contained a sliced fresh nectarine and 125g of cherries each (both on special offer in Aldi this week).

Dinner was puy lentils with feta and olives, served with pasta.  Apart from the pasta and the olives, everything else I needed for dinner was already in our cupboards.

Puy Lentils

Before bed, Ishthara had another bowl of cereal with milk. I managed to survive on just three mugs of coffee. I had several cups of Minty Moroccan tea, and one of peppermint to keep my mouth happy throughout the day.

Here are today’s recipes:

Berry Smoothie

9 Tablespoons of Greek Yogurt

200g Frozen Fruits of the Forest/Berries

3 Tablespoons milled linseed

1 Tablespoon Clear Honey

Put all ingredients in a bowl (I find the pot from a kilo of yogurt works well) and whizz with a stick blender. If you use the berries while they’re still frozen or semi-frozen, the whole thing ends up being deliciously chilled.

Puy Lentils With Olives and Feta (Serves 3)

125g Puy Lentils

90g Olives

100g Feta

1 Large, Dried, Chilli (optional)

For The Dressing:

1 1/2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

1 Teaspoon of Dijon Mustard

1/2 Teaspoon brown sugar

Salt & Pepper to season

Put the lentils in a pot with cold water and bring to the boil. Let them boil for a minute and whip them off the heat. Drain the lentils (I just pour them into a sieve and let the water run off). Put them back in the pot with the dried chilli and add just enough cold water to cover them.

Put the lentils back on the cooker and bring them to the boil.

Turn the heat down so the lentils are very gently simmering. Simmer for 30 minutes until soft but not mushy.

Meantime, make the dressing. Take all the ingredients and combine them in a screw-top jar. Shake well.

When the lentils are cooked, take them off the heat and drain if necessary. Tip them into a bowl.

Halve the olives and add them to the lentils.

Crumble the feta over the olives and lentils.

Pour the dressing over the dish. I used a spatula to make sure I got every last drop out of the jar!

Yesterday, I made mention of panch phoran and one of you queried what that might be. It’s a mixture of five spices (panch is five in Hindi) that are used to give flavour to many Indian dishes. You can buy it in Asian shops – or easily make your own by taking equal parts of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, nigella seeds and fenugreek seeds, mixing them together and storing in an airtight container.

Panch Phoran

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 1

Grapefruit & Avocado Salad *

1 Pink Grapefruit

1 Avocado

1 Green Chilli

2 Spring Onions

Teaspoon of Fresh Ginger, grated

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

Holding your hand over a bowl to catch all the juice, peel the grapefruit and pop the segments out of the pith.

Peel the avocado and cut it in strips off the stone.

Chop in the spring onions and chilli.

Add the ginger, sprinkle salt and pepper over the fruit and drizzle the oil over the salad.

Honey & Garlic Roasted Tomatoes *

500g Cherry Tomatoes

5 Cloves of Garlic

1 Tablespoon of Honey

3 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 180.

Cut the tomatoes and put them in an ovenproof dish, cut side up. They should be slightly squished in the dish, with little or no space between them.

Pound the garlic before adding the salt and pepper. Beat in the honey and olive oil. Spoon this lovely, icky-sticky mixture over the tomatoes. Don’t panic if you think there’s not going to be enough – there will be just enough to cover the fruit.  Roast them for about 30 minutes until they are soft and juicy. When you’ve finished eating the tomatoes, the oil and juices will be perfect for mopping up with bread.

Courgette & Mozzarella in Garlic Lemon Oil *

2 Courgettes

5 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Garlic Cloves, slivered

Grated Zest of 1 Lemon

1 Ball of Mozzarella

Salt & Pepper

Trim the courgettes. Then, using a vegetable peeler, slice them thinly. Put the slices in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Mix them up with your implement of choice (I used my hands) to ensure the strips are all oiled.

Heat a large frying-pan over a fairly high heat and sear the courgette (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer to a dish and take the pan off the heat.

Add the rest of the oil, the garlic and lemon zest to the pan. Heat gently for a few minutes. Pour the infused oil over the courgettes and season. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, the Mozzarella  and a few fresh mint leaves if you have them.

Toss together and leave to stand, at room temperature, for about an hour before serving.

Dry Roasted Chickpeas With Lemon Juice & Panch Phoran

1 Can of Chickpeas

Juice of half a lemon

2 Teaspoons of Panch Phoran

Drain and rinse the can of chickpeas.

Pop them in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the lemon juice and panch phoran over them.

Stick them in the oven (which is already pre-heated to 180 for the tomatoes) and roast them for about half an hour.

Patatas Bravas *

1kg New Potatoes

5 Tablespoons of Oil

Sea Salt

For the Tomato Sauce:

2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Onion

5 Garlic Cloves

2 Chillies

400g Tin of Tomatoes

2 Teaspoons of Ras El Hanout or paprika

1 Teaspoon Jaggery or Brown Sugar

Sea Salt & Pepper to Taste

Make the sauce first. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli. Cook, stirring, for a minute

Add the tin of tomatoes, ras el hanout, sugar,  salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Put the spuds in a large pot, cover with cold water, add salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are nearly done, but before they start to fall apart, drain them and tip them onto a clean tea-towel to absorb excess moisture before frying them.

I melted 5 teaspoons of  coconut oil in a large frying pan, and sautéd them for about 15 minutes, until they were lovely and crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside.

Drain the potatoes on some kitchen paper and  tip them into a bowl. Pour the sauce over them and serve warm.

Spiced Molasses Cake 

The oven was on for the tomatoes and the chickpeas, so I thought I’d make a cake. The molasses in this cake ups the nutritional value, so it nearly counts as healthy. 

2 Tablespoons of Butter (Softened)

50g Dark Brown Sugar

1 Egg

200g Molasses

150g Plain Flour

1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger

1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

120mls Hot Water

Grease a loaf tin or 9″ cake pan.

Beat the butter and the sugar.

Add in the egg.

Stir in the molasses.

Sift the flour, baking soda and spices into a large bowl.

Add the egg and molsses mix and the water.

Stir the whole mixture together and pour the batter into the greased tin.

Put it in the oven (pre-heated for the tomatoes!) for about half an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.

* These recipes were adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg every day!

Austerity Bites – Day 1

I went grocery shopping shortly after I’d published my last post. Before leaving the house, though, I warned my daughters that there probably wouldn’t be any chocolate this week. My eldest ran upstairs and returned with the contents of her purse for me.

“I don’t want to take your money!” I told her.

“I don’t need it for anything right now,” she replied.  “And now you can get some chocolate. And maybe some ice-cream?”

The forecast was for weather in the mid-twenties for the next few days. Definitely ice-cream weather.

As I added her money to mine, I discovered another €2.70 in my own wallet, bringing the grand total at my disposal to €37.96.

Money

Putting my mental maths to the test, I went to the first supermarket and spent €19.72. In the second, I spent another €14.89 before stopping in the last place for chickpeas and ice-cream; a total spend of €37.84.

Lidl receiptLidl receipt

For breakfast, I had coffee and the girls had cereal.  Lunch was pasta and fresh pesto (which was already in the fridge).

Pasta

At 4pm, the girls had a bowl of ice-cream and some frozen berries each. I tried to soothe my coffee-craving with various types of teas and infusions.

Ice-cream & berries

Dinner was a mezze of sorts: I made a grapefruit and avacado salad, honey and garlic roasted cherry tomatoes, courgette & mozarella in garlic lemon oil, dry-roasted chickpeas with lemon & panch phoran and patatas bravas.  Pudding was spiced molasses cake.

Mezze

Grapefruit & avacadoMolasses Spice Cake

I’ll post up the recipes next in case you want to recreate the veggie-fest.

Austerity Bites

So, this morning I found myself with the grand total of E23.66 to live on until Thursday of next week. That’s twenty-three euros and sixty-six cents with which to provide 18 meals for myself and my two daughters. Time was, I’d have spent more on a round of sandwiches.

 

Most weeks, I do have more money to spend on food, but this week one of my daughters needed a medical procedure that Crumlin hospital expected her to wait a few years for.  I made the informed decision to have the procedure done privately and don’t regret it. But our gas bill and the house insurance went out today, resulting in the afore-mentioned scant few bob left in the bank.

 

I’m not daunted, though, we’re vegetarian and I love to cook – plus, we do have a few staples (lentils and spices mainly!) in the cupboard.

Vegetables

 

I’ve decided to blog our meals this week and let you know how we get on. Will we end up eating the furniture by Tuesday? Or will we eat like kings? Will our foray into austerity eating see us missing out on vital nutrients? Or will I be even more aware of our nutritional needs now there is so little to play with?

 

Stay with me and find out! 🙂

 

Photo credit: Photobucket http://i364.photobucket.com/albums/oo83/vannessave22/fruit/Vegetables.jpg

Mental Health Awareness Month (The ‘Turning’ Post)

The response to my last post was overwhelming – both online and off.  In truth, I’m not out of the woods yet. Yesterday was a good day, though and today hasn’t been too terrible.

Many of you were curious to know what ‘turns’ things around for me.  There are a few things.

I do keep a gratitude journal and that helps. I think. At the same time, acknowledging all the things in my life I am grateful for doesn’t mean that the stuff that troubles me goes away, or troubles me less.

Friends. People just picking up the phone or calling in or sending an email of support and compassion makes a huge difference. I’ve been overwhelmed by expressions of kindness. The concern of others is enormously uplifting.

Acceptance. For years and years and years I used to beat myself up and tell myself I was, somehow, a lesser person for being sad. These days, I allow myself to ‘own’ my sorrow and accept that it is real.  I make an effort to be kind to myself. Taking to bed and letting the sadness lie on me like a blanket actually works better than beating myself up for being that way.

Indulging myself. Knitting. Reading. Walking. Cuddling my girls. All the things I love to do, I do. I don’t belittle myself in my own head by telling myself how bad I am for not doing more ‘worthy’ things.  (Okay, I try not to belittle myself for how bad I am for not doing more ‘worthy’ things).

turn off the radio. I love the radio. It’s my favourite medium. But it’s full of doom, gloom, contention, argument and discontent. When I’m not feeling great , it agitates me (in a bad way) and I feel like I need to respond in a very concrete way to what I’m hearing. My feeling of helplessness is exacerbated. So I stop listening. I put on an audiobook, or listen to music or drama (thank you, BBC Radio 4) instead.

If people ask how I am, I honour myself by being honest and saying ‘not great’.  I’m careful not to overshare and if people want to follow the line of conversation then they can. If they don’t then they don’t have to. I’m mindful that I have no idea (generally) what other people are going through.

I do as little as I can. The house is a mess, I haven’t written as many words as I should have, I haven’t finished making those cushion covers……The list of things I haven’t done is as long as my leg. It serves to do nothing but further overwhelm me. So I take a deep breath and decide what is vital – then break that task down into it’s smallest components and call each of them a job. I don’t set out to clean the house. I set out to empty the dishwasher.

Above everything else, my kids keep me going. I am uncomfortable with the idea of giving someone else the job of keeping me alive, but the truth of it is that there is no one else to mind my kids. If I was hospitalised for a short period, someone would be able to take them for a few days or a week. After that, however, there is no one. I have no family who could take them and the ‘care’ system in Ireland would kill them. Figuratively, if not literally.

Also, a few years ago, I made my children (pictured below) a promise. I had one of the worst times ever and ended up – calmly, logically and with extreme clarity (so I thought) – ‘realising’ that the best thing I could do was kill myself. When I got out of hospital afterwards  promised my kids I’d never leave them until they were adults. I take promises very seriously and only make ones I am sure I can keep.

Beautiful Girls

Perhaps the hardest part of this overwhelming sadness is that there is no end date. I have no idea when it will be over. I can’t say to myself “just another week, Larkin and then it will all be over”  or even “this will be over in six months”. I have no idea when things will improve, but I have leaned to tell   myself that this, too, shall pass. I’m getting better at believing it.

Mental Health Awareness Month (The Scary Post!)

This month – May – is Mental Health Awareness Month. The initiative is being supported by See Change and there is more information about the campaign on the Green Ribbon website. (Green ribbons being the symbol for the campaign).

It is true that there is more awareness around mental health and mental ill-health and smashing stigma, but there is still a long way to go. Getting people to talk and to listen and to engage with the conversation is just the beginning. It’s a bit like feminism, starting the conversation doesn’t mean the job is done.  It means the job has started.

I hit a bump this week and found myself flooded with all the usual detritus that goes with such bumps.  It’s torrential when it happens and – like a torrent – it overwhelms. I could cry for hours straight. I can go to sleep late and wake up early just to fit in extra crying jags.

My children write me notes to tell me how much they love me in the hope that that can cheer me up. It does. And it doesn’t. It makes me feel better because I feel wrapped up in their love. It makes me feel worse because I don’t think it’s their job to make me feel better. My nearly nine-year old shouldn’t feel she has to spend 20 minutes writing a list of all that is good in the world to try and keep me in it. Because, of course, at the back of my mind is the guilty knowledge that – a few years ago – they came very close to losing me.  I worry that every time I am sad, upset or in tears, they worry that I will turn them into orphans. At those times – and at others, when all is well in my world – I remind them of my promise not to leave them.

They think I don’t notice that one of them has her eye on me at all times – as though they have discussed it with each other and agreed this between themselves. Which, in truth, they probably have. They think I believe them when they say – as they position themselves either side of me at night, like two guardian angels  – that they just want company and to sleep in a bigger bed tonight.

I was in conversation with a very dear friend during this latest bump and he put his finger on it.

‘Don’t be scared,’ he entreated me down the wobbly line from his part of Asia. ‘You’re not on your own.’

I was scared. I hadn’t realised that until he pointed it out to me. From ten thousand miles away, he could hear my fear when I – who was feeling it – didn’t even realise it was there.

I can’t speak for everyone who has an episode of mental ill-health, but here’s what it’s like for me:

I just don’t feel like I deserve to live. I feel like I’m a burden on humanity. I am an offense. Feeling like this about yourself is scary.

I offend myself. I do not know how to redeem myself in my own eyes and this, too, is scary.
I feel like I can no longer go on like this – yet I have no solution. Feeling like I don’t have the solution to a problem scares me (I always have a solution!).
The stress takes a physical toll – I have been hospitalised on more than one occasion with migraines born of stress. My neck, shoulders and upper-back feel they are made of steel.
I feel like I’m fighting a war – that I have been fighting a war for more years than I can number and that, while I have won a couple of battles, I am losing the war.
I feel scarred and battle weary, which is scary.
I can’t stop crying. Not even in public. I feel as though, by losing that amount of control over myself, I have no dignity. Feeling as though you have no dignity is scary.
I look like shit and I don’t care. It scares me that I don’t care.
I feel as if I have no anchor. Feeling like you are blowing in the wind is scary.
Failure is the biggest, most overwhelming feeling when I’m like this. Failing at life, failing at being ‘normal’. Feeling like you are failing is scary.
Feeling like the world has no use for you is scary.
Feeling like the world would be better off without you is scary.
Feeling like your whole existence has no value, no meaning and no importance is scary. Because if those things are true of you, then you have no right to exist.  And the alternative can be equal parts attractive and scary.
Feeling that everyone knows the secret to life – except you – is scary.
Feeling that you’ll never be good enough to be told the secret is scary.
Feeling that, somehow, you deserve this is scary. (Even when you know that’s not how Karma works.)
Feeling that you can’t even speak – can’t even advocate – for yourself is scary.  Especially if you like to tell yourself that you’re ‘normally’ reasonably articulate.
Wondering if this is your new normal is scary.
Wondering if you will ever be able to manipulate your brain into cohesion again is scary.
Wondering if this is the time that will prove unbearable is scary.
But scariest of all is when it stops feeling scary. When there is no feeling. When you rummage around inside yourself to figure out the name of what you’re feeling; and you come up with nothing. Because that is how you’re feeling. You are feeling nothingness. There is no word in the English language to describe the emptiness.
I’ll be wearing my green ribbon this month to invite people to start the conversation. Don’t be scared to engage in that conversation with me.

Would Not A Rose By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

The decision, by the government in New Zealand, to ban certain names has led to titters on Twitter and prompted much water-cooler chatter on the subject of names and naming.  Irish people have written about how hard people in other countries find it to pronounce Irish names.  The Daily Edge beautifully illustrated this difficulty.

When you think about it, their name is the first social token a person receives.  Levitt and Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics devoted much ink and paper to musing about the social capital of certain names, predicting which would be popular with the next generation and why certain parents give certain names to their children. (Much of it is to connected to the desire to sound as though they belong to a more affluent sector of society than they do).

When I was 16, I changed my surname by deed poll.  My old man is an arse, and there was no way I was going through life with his name. It was only then I realised what a difficult thing it is to give yourself a surname. Naming my children was a doddle comparatively. I called them Ishthara Saoirse and Kashmira Meadhbh (Kashmira means The Abode of the Goddess and also the name of a flower that grows on the Malay Peninsula, where we lived when I was pregnant. Meadhbh means intoxicated with joy) .

The conversation about names yesterday and today,  made me think of interesting names I have encountered.  In one class I taught in Singapore, I had a Tan Wee Ping and a Hu Lee Ping. Their personal names were Wee Ping and Lee Ping, respectively.  I have also taught three brothers named Nixon, Regan and Clinton as well as sisters called One, Two and Three.  Their dad wasn’t going to bother using a ‘real’ name until he had a son.

When I lived in Indonesia, I knew quite a few  men called ‘Shah’  (one of them intimately). Under the new naming laws of New Zealand, they would not be allowed to use the Anglicised version of their name because it means ‘King’.  Likewise, the Indian women I have known called ‘Rani’ – meaning ‘Queen’.

In India, my daughter and I had a neighbour named ‘Dimple’ and one of the nurses at the hospital we attended was called ‘Pinky’.  In Malaysia, Azlan is quite a common name, and it took years before I stopped thinking of lions every time I heard it.

The prize for most unusual/discomfiting name still goes, however, to a seven year-old who was in the first class I taught in Singapore. His personal name was Kun Ting.  I called him ‘Darling’.

Let Sleeping Babies Wake

The other day, I was really saddened to hear the mother of a baby giving thanks for the fact that her child had slept for ten hours straight. She was delighted that – with a little bit of ‘professional’ help from a soi-disant sleep nanny – her baby hadn’t disturbed her all night. This woman was bemoaning that her life was different since her baby had arrived.

 

Well, newsflash! Babies are supposed to change your life. If they don’t, you’re doing it wrong.

 

I am fed up of hearing people talk about their babies as if they (the babies) were evil little demons trying to rob them of sleep or peace or ‘me’ time. If you have made the decision to have a baby, it is up to you to change your life to fit in with the baby – not the other way around. And that isn’t as hard as it might sound; most babies are extremely accommodating and won’t put too much of a stop to your gallop. I’ve brought mine to work; I’ve taken them for trips in trains,  planes and boats; taken them to the cinema, the doctor, the dentist, lunches, brunches, dinners, launches  and anywhere else I might have to go. They’re very portable, I find.

 

But let me get back to the sleeping thing because I actually meant this post more as a public service announcement than a rant. (No, really!). It’s actually dangerous to have your babies sleeping away from you. The fad for having babies sleep away from their mothers is a fairly recent – and a fairly Western – one.

 

With this separation of baby from parent/s, began the rise of SIDS.  In Africa and Asia, children sleep with their parent/s for at least the first two years (in some places, even the first five years) of life. Cot-death is unheard of.  There is more on that here and in Meredith Small’s book ‘Our Babies Ourselves’ .

 

But, quite apart from the science and the evidence – let’s be practical about this.  I am a great proponent of lazy parenting. I am far too lazy to get out of my bed in the middle of the night and wander around a dark house into another room to pluck a crying baby from her cot before feeding her (or comforting her if she doesn’t need a feed), putting her back in her cot and stumbling, bleary-eyed, back to my own bed. I love my sleep too much. So my babies slept with me and found the breast as and when they needed it. (That didn’t work so well with my eldest, who was early born and unable to suck.  I expressed and fed her every hour for the first few months, then every two hours. I kept her in the bed with me, though.  It was still easier to feed her that way.)

 

Apart from when they were sick, I never had a broken night’s sleep when my children were babies. I expect they’ll come – along with the ten-hour sleeps  – when they’re teenagers.

 

 

Regrets? I Have But One…

This day – March 28th – was the first day I landed in my new home of Singapore many years ago. I was with my first husband and was convinced that this move – from one side of the world to the other – was the best thing I’d ever done.  I was convinced that it was the beginning of the rest of my life.

 

I was sure that my husband I were destined to live our lives out under the tropical sun, working hard, contributing to society, raising several children and generally living a ‘normal’ life.

 

It wasn’t to be.

 

He was abusive from the start, but eventually, there came a straw that broke the camel’s back and I left him. Not long afterwards, I met my second husband – who was equally abusive – but in slightly different ways, so it took me a while to see it.

 

Not long after I left my second husband, and just before I turned 30, I realised I was pregnant with my second daughter. The father of this child ‘suddenly remembered’ he was married the day after I discovered I was expecting.

 

I was a single mother, with two children and no support – emotional or financial – from the fathers of my children. I was desperately trying to be all things to both of them, do my best for both of them.  I was trying to do the impossible; work full time to earn enough to pay the bills and have a reasonable life-style and still be a full-time mother.

 

But I regret none of this.

 

My one regret is returning to Ireland at the end of 2004 with my children who were then two-and-a-half years old and five months old, respectively.  Persuaded by people who claimed to have my best interests at heart (be wary of people who claim to have your best interests at heart – they usually only have their own best interests at heart) to leave Asia and return to Ireland, I did.

 

It was the biggest mistake of my life and the only thing in my life that I regret at a deep soul-level.

 

Ireland was never kind to me. Not when I was growing up here, and not in the years I have lived here as an adult with children of my own. I wish I had never come back. I wish I had analysed my situation, in 2004, closer and found a way to stay out of this country and keep my children safe (part of my reason for leaving was that my second husband had threatened to kidnap my eldest daughter and take her back to India. I couldn’t afford to under-estimate him).

 

But I didn’t. I didn’t look hard enough. I beat myself up for that. I took flight and took my children back to a country where they were not welcome. A country that bewildered me. A country that did not enfold me to its bosom and welcome me ‘home’.

 

Part of my biggest difficulty with living here is that – in spite of seven years tertiary education and nearly 20 years of work experience in various sectors – I have not been able to find paid employment here. It’s not for the want of trying, I can assure you. I went back to education when my girls were still babies and earned a BA (Hons) in psycology. Two years later, I had an MA. Nearly six months after graduating, I am still unemployed and sick of hearing that I need to stay positive and keep looking that ‘something’ will turn up.

 

After eight and a half years of hearing that, it rings hollow. Anyway, all I want to do is find a job that will enable me to move abroad again – either by dint of a transfer or by saving up enough to leave.

 

All those years ago, when I awoke to  new life in a new world, nearly ten thousand miles away, I thought it was the first day of the rest of my life. My life certainly didn’t work out the way I expected it to.

 

But guess what? All these later, today is the first day of the rest of my life.

A Sorry State

Recently, Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister apologised to women who had been incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries.  He had to apologise twice, because the first effort was so lukewarm, people registered their outrage and demanded better. The second effort, which you can read here was, to my ears, fulsome. He didn’t sound like he meant a word of it.

 

There is more about the Magdalenes and their cause for complaint here

 

 

By contrast, the Australian PM – Julia Gillard –  apologised for forced adoptions that took place in Australia as recently as the 1970s.  Enda could learn a few lessons in sincerity from Ms Gillard.

 

Sorry may be the hardest word to say, but I reckon it’s something future Irish Taoisigh will have to get used to uttering. They will have to apologise to:

 

1. People with mental health issues who have had medication/treatment (including ECT)  forcibly administered.

2. Women who were denied their human rights with regard to choice in childbirth.

3. Asylum seekers who have waited more than three years (and in some cases up to nine years) to have their cases heard.

4. Asylum seekers and refugees who were kept separated from their families as a result of Ireland’s laws.

5. Children with special needs who did not receive an adequate education (and I include highly gifted and talented children in that group).

6. The families of people who were left to die because our health service is terminally ill.

7. Children who should have been fostered, but were left in abusive homes because the State chose not to intervene.

8. Child offenders who were incarcerated in adult prisons.

9. Children with mental health difficulties who were kept in adult wards.

10. People who were left homeless after banks (of which they owned part) repossessed homes for which they lent too much money in the first place.

 

This list is incomplete. Please feel free to add to it.

 

Iron Lady

At the risk of proselytizing with the zeal of a new convert, I want to share with you my latest discovery. 

 

For the past few months I have had very little energy. I think of myself as the kind of person who has high energy: I feel I have lots of things to do, but am blessed with all the energy I need to do what needs to be done. It’s been several months since I felt that way, though. In retrospect, I’ve been slowly running out of steam.

 

Casting an eye over my ‘to do’ list has had me nearly in tears at the thought of all I have to do and of how I’ll never manage to do it because I simply don’t have the energy. Even looking at the list made me feel tired, overwhelmed and like an immediate failure.

 

That was bad enough. What was worse was the sudden, inexplicable weight gain. All the clothes I like in my wardrobe are a size 10. I am not. Not any more. Since September of last year, I have gone up a dress size. This depresses me no end. You’d want to hear what I’ve been saying to myself; out loud, under my breath, and in my head.

 

Sharing my despair with a friend, she suggested that I might have a difficulty with my thyroid gland. My symptoms were a match. I spoke to another friend who was diagnosed with hypothyroidism two years ago. The symptoms she spoke about – the extreme fatigue the weight-gain, the brittle nails, the life-less hair – were very familiar to me. Too familiar. Depressingly familiar. But, at the same time, I was excited. If it was hypothyroidism I was suffering with, then a simple blood-test would let me know. After the diagnosis, there were pills that would put all in my world to rights. I presented for the blood-tests and had myself convinced I was suffering from the condition and would soon be happily living with it.

 

Imagine my surprise when, a week later, my doctor told me that my test results showed nothing to worry about in the thyroid region. I was disappointed. I know, it’s a bit mad to be disappointed to learn you don’t have an incurable medical condition, but I was desperate to have an answer – a reason for all that was going ‘wrong’.

 

But there was more. Drawing my attention to a line of red data, my doctor informed me that my iron levels were alarmingly low. Usually at around 15, they were currently showing up at a decidedly low 1. She suggested that this might be what was robbing me of my zest for life. I was doubtful. I had all the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism – how could mere anemia account for all that ailed me?

 

Suffering a bout of extreme scepticism, I started my course of iron tablets.

 

Oh Lordy! The difference those pills made in a matter of a fortnight! I wish, wish, wish, wish that I had gone to the doctor for a blood test months ago.  I have found that I am waking up refreshed and raring to go after 6-7 hours’ sleep. I am looking at my ‘to do’ list with delight and zest. I am staying up past 7pm in the evening not because I have to – to supervise homework and send emails etc. – but because I feel I have the energy to. I don’t guilt trip myself out of bed in the morning, I rise full of excitement at what the day might bring. 

 

My brittle nails and less-than-bouncy hair are also easily explained away by a lack of iron in my blood. Iron brings oxygen to the cells in the body. None of which can function well – or even properly – without oxygen.

 

I’ve even figured out the weight gain issue. My sub-conscious was convinced that my lack of energy was due to a lack of food; so encouraged me to eat more than I needed to. I have noticed feeling inclined to eat less and less in the past ten days or so.

 

As if in any doubt, I knew all was well when, on Friday morning, I was up humming and happily scrubbing toilets at 5.30am.

 

Lifesavers
Lifesavers

 

So I’d urge you – if you are no longer feeling yourself, instead of trying to figure out why, head to your doctor and ask her to figure out why. That’s her job, after all.

 

No Country For Pregnant Women

Yes, yes, I know…..you’re sick of hearing me banging on about pregnancy and the state of maternity “care” in Ireland.

But it’s getting worse, not better.  I heard from Jene Kelly at AIMSI (the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services, Ireland) today. She told me a shocking tale. Alas, I have to report that I am shocked, but not surprised. This is how women are treated in Ireland. We are still second class citizens, we are still treated as though we are incapable of making informed decisions for and about ourselves. We are still subjected to a patronizing, patriarchal maternity system that, crucially, is not evidence-based

This past weekend, as the nation celebrated International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, an Irish Maternity Hospital initiated an invasive procedure on a pregnant woman against her will. ‘Mother A’ was denied patient autonomy and the right to informed refusal when the drastic and unprecedented measure of an emergency High Court sitting was called in order to compel her to undergo a Caesarian section. The risk of uterine rupture was cited as one of the main reasons for the urgency in this case but this risk is widely reported as being 0.1% or 1/1000. This is what Dr. Michael Turner, Obstetrician at the Coombe Hospital has called: “exaggerated, professional scaremongering…and it must stop” (VBAC Conference, 2012).

State-sanctioned coercion of medical procedures on pregnant women or any other competent adult is not only unacceptable but it is also unlawful in other jurisdictions, such as the USA and the UK (Re AC [1990] & Re S [1998]). ‘Informed consent’ and ‘informed refusal’ abuses are common issues reported to AIMS Ireland by women.

Imagine if ‘Mother A’ was your mother, or your sister, or your cousin, or your daughter, or your friend, or your partner or your wife, or you.

Jene Kelly, of AIMS Ireland, states: “there is an overwhelming acceptance by the public and some maternity service providers in Ireland that a pregnant woman’s right to informed consent, or informed refusal, is not reliable and that women who exert their rights are selfish. It is this mentality that has allowed atrocities such as symphysiotomies, miscarriage misdiagnoses, unnecessary hysterectomies by Dr Neary and all the other reported assaults against women by our maternity system to continue to go unanswered in Ireland for so long. This is no country for pregnant women. ”

 

AIMS Ireland reports that women who are bullied into consenting do not fulfill the principles of informed consent and therefore are entitled to sue the doctors for assault. For example, a woman who was forced to have a caesarean section against her wishes in the UK sued the doctors (Ms S v St George’s NHS Hospital Trust, 1998) and was awarded £36,000 damages. It is time that Irish women did the same. Threatening women, bringing women to the high court, removing women’s rights and choices – these bullyboy tactics do not promote trust between women and their care providers. How can you trust a system that doesn’t acknowledge your rights? Women are choosing to leave the system as a result.

Annette is one of these women. She is lobbying the HSE for a homebirth following a previous Caesarean section. The HSE currently does not recognize informed choice for homebirth for women who fall outside strict exclusion criteria in site of a European Court of Human Rights ruling recognizing a woman’s right to decide how and where she births. Annette does not meet criteria following her previous Caesarean, despite having subsequent successful vaginal births. Annette asks: “Is it HSE policy to use the High Court as a method of intimidation and coercion, when a patient tries to exercise her right to informed decision making, as laid out by the European Court of Human Rights (Ternovsky v Hungary, Under Article 8)? We are humans, with great intellect. We are capable of informed discussion and decisions regarding our pregnancies and births in the best interests of ourselves, our babies and our families. I feel anger, disappointment and bewilderment. Today as a woman and mother, I grieve.”

Self Harm Awareness Day

I didn’t mean to write this post.  I was popping onto WordPress to write a piece about how Ireland treats a certain group of people. But that’s been shelved.

 

Because today, Twitter informs me, is Self Harm Awareness Day. Or Self Injury Awareness Day – I’ve seen it referred to as both.

 

So I thought I’d write about that instead.

 

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this post – I’m just doing it off the top of my head and on the fly. I have no statistics, I have no ‘hard facts’. I just have what I know. I just know what I know. And that is this:

 

Self harm, self injury, self mutilation, cutting…it has a number of names. But at least it is named. When I was busy cutting lumps out of myself, there was no name for what I was doing. At least none that I was aware of. Now there is awareness that people – young people predominantly, but not exclusively – hurt themselves physically in a number of ways.  Given that I hold the belief that the more people who talk about something (like mental health), the more people will talk about it. So here goes.

 

I can’t speak for the entire cohort of people who hurt themselves, but I do know why I did it. There were times when the pain inside me was so intense, so overwhelming that I had to get it out of me. I had to externalise what was internal in order to feel that I could cope. This isn’t the awareness of retrospect – I was acutely aware of what I was doing and why at the time.

 

I used to dream of being able to hack open my own chest and have all the pain and suffering that was festering away inside me  expel itself in a huge gust. It was a powerful desire. I could nearly feel it happening. Nearly. But not quite.

 

So I had to find another way.

 

As someone who has experienced both suicidal ideation and has self-harmed, I can confirm that they are different things. People who injure themselves aren’t always suicidal. They don’t necessarily want to end their lives. Paradoxically, self-harm can be a way – a desperate measure – to keep oneself alive. Almost like a form of bloodletting.

 

The point of self harm – for me, at least – was to have a valid reason for hurting. I couldn’t explain the pain I was in. I knew what I was feeling, but I had nowhere to take it. I didn’t have the words to explain the feelings. I didn’t have anyone who wanted to hear. I didn’t know anyone who would care. I had no one to take my pain to. I felt I was being corroded from the inside out and there was no one to share that with. No one cared. It’s not that I thought no one cared, but – really, actually – that no one cared.

 

So, because there was all this pain that I couldn’t really understand, I felt I needed to create a pain that I could understand. I needed to be able to point at something and say (even though only to myself) ‘There! That is why it hurts.’

If I am bleeding, then I am allowed to hurt. Then my pain is valid. The idea that my pain was valid simply because it was there, was one that never presented itself to me.

 

I wasn’t allowed to be in pain.  Emotional, psychological, mental pain and anguish were simply not ‘allowed’ to exist. Only physical pain was allowed to exist. Even if no one else ever saw it.

 

Hurting myself brought tremendous relief. It externalised the pain. It meant that sleep came easier. It meant that I could look at the wounds I had inflicted on myself and say ‘There – that’s what hurts. That’s why you’re in pain.’

Even though I knew, even then, that the source was something else entirely.

 

But I shouldn’t have been in a position where the only relief my teenage self could get was sawing away at myself in the middle of the night.  Thankfully, people in a similar situation today have places to go and people who will listen. If you are tempted to injure yourself, if you have injured yourself, or if you know – or suspect – that someone else is hurting themselves, why don’t you contact Pieta House?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Smattering – Part Two

Yesterday, I threw down some thoughts on The Gathering.

 

In a very thoughtful response, one of my readers made the point that the elephant in the room is money. Or, rather, the lack of it. He’s right, of course.  Most of the things I suggested would require money. I’m no economist, though, but even I know that in order to make money, one must first spend money. You reap what you sow, so in order to reap anything, one must first sow something, no?

 

I take Padraic’s point that The Gathering was meant to be a community-based initiative, but I think a bit of orchestrated direction from the Government might not have hurt. In the same way that certain charities have events that take place at a very local level (often a few friends in someone’s kitchen around a pot of tea) but are orchestrated from the head office.  Packs are sent out to interested parties to help them organise their events and they are invited to get on the Facebook page and share stories and photos etc.

 

Wouldn’t something like that have been possible?

 

Nearly every town in Ireland is twinned with a town abroad. Would it not have been a good idea to encourage locals in each town to write to people in their twinned town and invite them to come and stay for a while? How much money would that have cost? Very little, I’d imagine.

 

Think, too, about other communities we have links with. The Spanish that we share DNA with – invite them over. Have an Irish dance school invite over a Flamenco dance school and offer to ‘swap’ Flamenco dance lessons for Irish dance lessons.

 

Invite the Nordics back to see the legacy they left – show them the difference the Vikings made.

 

Have an academic/quasi-academic conference with speakers of Manx, Welsh, Scottish and Breton examine the commonalities of the languages. Forge links that people will want to examine and explore and re-visit for years to come.

 

Suggest that scout groups invite other scout groups over for a massive jamboree – the likes of which haven’t been seen since the one in Galway in 1985 or so.

 

I think a pointed, specific reason to come to Ireland rather than a generic ‘Come and Visit’ might have more luck. I can see where Gabriel Byne’s feelings about The Gathering come from.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I think  anything that brings more tourists to Ireland is a great idea. I just can’t help feeling that The Gathering is a bit half-assed and that not much – or not enough – thought has gone into it.

 

In the interests of showing myself to be more than an armchair critic, I am happy to reveal that my contribution to The Gathering will be to take my kids to parts of they country they haven’t visited yet.

The Smattering

It was probably a good idea. No, scratch that. It was definitely a good idea; get as many people, from as many different places as possible, to come to Ireland in 2013. Launch a huge initiative and get everyone in Ireland – and the Irish overseas – on board. Showcase our lovely country, make it attractive to people who wouldn’t normally think of visiting Ireland and make it even more attractive to people who have visited before, or who have been thinking about it for a while.

 

The Gathering could have been a rip-roaring success, and something we’d all remember with pride for years to come. That won’t happen, though. No one – and by that, I mean no one in Bord Failte or in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport – put any thought or effort into the initiative. If The Gathering doesn’t exactly fall flat on its face it will definitely not be as successful as it could have been if anyone in Officialdom had taken it seriously.

 

It would have been so easy to make a huge success of The Gathering, but it seems like it was an idea dreamt up in the bar by a PR person in Leo Varadkar’s department who then did nothing more with it.

 

Had it been organised properly, The Gathering could have been a fantastic event. Specifically, every month could have been given a theme with one big event centred on that theme in one of Ireland’s larger towns and people nationwide invited to devise their own events to tie in with the theme.

 

For example, January could have been devoted to new beginnings and starting new things – lots of world record attempts organised (as serious or as silly as you like). Instead, there was an event in the capital city to which one had to buy a ticket, and at which children were not welcome. Well, at least there was an element of honesty there – an expression of how little children are liked in this country.

 

February could – predictably – have been devoted to love. Given that we have St. Valentine’s relic in repose in Dublin, that wouldn’t have been too hard. A few match-making festivals and a bit of a campaign abroad inviting people to come to Ireland to fall in love…….either with the country or with a person.

 

March, with St. Patrick’s Day in the middle of it, kind of takes care of itself. April is the month of April showers, so make something of the rain in Ireland – have a ‘design your own umbrella’ competition. May sees us celebrate the festival of Bealtaine, so invite people home for that.

 

June is the start of the holidays – so pack June and July with family-friendly events and days out. August is Lunasa – a chance to have ‘Dancing with Lunasa’ put on by nearly every AmDram Society in Ireland. Punters could be invited to watch one a week (or one a day!) and vote on their favourite.

 

September – lovely, Autumnal September – when the kids go back to school. Make it the month to learn new and unusual facts about Ireland. October, like March, pretty much does itself. The whole Samhain thing offers itself up for fun and games galore.

 

November is a bit trickier….what on earth happens in November, in Ireland, that is worth celebrating? Hmmmm, might be time for another match-making festival so people have someone to cuddle up to during the cold winter nights. December is the month that I’d like most to avoid, but plenty of other people like it – so there’s plenty of scope for Xmas markets. But also plenty of scope for peeling back the layers of this Hallmark holiday and uncovering its Pagan roots.

 

Apart from events that could take place on the ground here in Ireland, how about involving people who can’t actually get here this year, but who might in years to come? Have interactive quizzes online for school children around the globe and find out who knows most about Ireland on the various continents. Have the Dept of Transport etc. give two free tickets to Ireland to each St. Patrick’s Society around the globe. These tickets could form the main prize in the annual St. Patrick’s Ball each of the societies holds and be a wonderful way to promote tourism.

 

And what about – what about a Gathering Passport? A bit like the passport one gets when one undertakes the Camino de Compostela. Wouldn’t that provide an added element of fun?

 

These are just ideas thrown off the top of my head in the half hour it’s taken me to make coffee and write this post. I am sure that a half-decent professional in either Bord Failte or in the Dept of Transport etc. could come up with a  much more interesting and inspired set of ideas.

 

So why didn’t they?

 

Why I’m Voting No

I’m not perfect. Nor am I a perfect parent. Though I do try. I want to be the best parent I can be. More than anything else, being the best mum I can for my children is the most important thing in my life.

In the 10 and a half years since I became a parent, every decision I have ever made has had the good of my children at its centre.  In fact, for the 10 years it took me to become a parent, I thought a lot about parenting and my values and what was important to me – and important to pass on to my children.

That, I believe, is how it should be.  Becoming a parent – no matter how one comes to it – is the most important thing a person will ever do.  How a parent treats a child will have profound reverberations and repercussions for generations to come. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact.

Ireland is going to the polls a fortnight from tomorrow (November 10th) to vote on a proposed referendum to the Irish Constitution. This has not come about because our government is committed to children and because we, the Irish people, have clamoured for years to have the rights of children enshrined in our Constitution. No. This referendum is taking place because the Irish government has been shamed in to it by the UN.

Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child over 22 years ago, yet we have done nothing to ensure that our laws are in line with it .

This proposed referendum is a mealy-mouthed sop to the people of Ireland so that the government can say ‘See? We gave you a referendum on the Rights of the Child!’
Honestly, it’s like giving a barefoot child a pair of socks with holes in them – it’s better than nothing, but not a whole lot better.
The referendum should address all the articles of the CRC and it doesn’t. As one (small) example, Article 42 of the CRC states:

“States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.”

And yet, I have never walked into a school or a Garda Station or a library or a church or any other place where children gather and seen the Rights of a Child displayed. (They are, however, displayed in my own home – UNICEF produced a beautiful, clear poster years ago which we have and which is stuck up – at child height – in our hall).
One of the other things that really bothers me about the proposed amendment is the way that the constitution is supposed to be flexible in order to accommodate the wording of any future law. Surely our constitution is supposed to be the instrument on which our laws are based, not a malleable document that should bend to accommodate our laws?! Shouldn’t our laws be based on our constitution and not vice-versa?
Another thing that bothers me about the proposed wording is this notion of ‘the best interests of the child’…..who gets to decide what the best interests of the child are? A panel of ‘experts’? People the child has never met before? People the child has known for all (or the majority) of his or her life? Or just one person? It’s not spelled out and it needs to be.
If I voted ‘Yes’ in this referendum, I would not be able to look my children in the eye – because I would know that I would not have done my best for them. My children deserve better than what this referendum is offering them. So do yours. So does every child on this island – and those who are yet to be.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Fair play to Newstalk for undertaking a week of programmes and events to highlight Mental Health. The first of these programmes was aired this morning, and featured the wonderful Caroline McGuigan from Suicide or Survive, as well as two parents who had each lost a child to suicide.

It was heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure to hear their stories and I felt privileged that they chose to share their tales with us. Their bravery was apparent.

In Ireland, tackling a mental health problem is still fraught with difficulty – not least the stigma that attaches to the subject of mental ill-health.  Time and again, those of us who have suffered with mental health have spoken of how physical ailments are more socially ‘acceptable’; of how, if one had a broken arm or a broken leg, or the influenza, people would have no difficulty enquiring after your health and your progress. Mental health difficulties, though, are treated differently.

This stigma can also prevent people seeking help. It can be hard to ask for help when you feel that you will be judged for feeling low, or sad or suicidal.

Think, for a second, how you react to people who reveal they have, or have had,  a difficulty with their mental health. Is it a negative, positive or neutral reaction?  Upon what do you base it? Is it based on something you have heard? Something unsubstantiated? Your own experiences or the experiences of someone close to you?

See Change and Suicide or Survive are doing all they can to change the stigma associated with mental ill health in Ireland. It’s up to the rest of us to do our bit as well.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Yesterday, Joan Burton, the minister for Social Protection said that she was proposing a new law. This law would force single mothers to put their children’s father’s names on their children’s birth certificates. I was a bit nervous when I first heard this: In certain instances, not putting the father’s name on the birth certificate is the wisest option.Thankfully, Joan Burton seems to be aware of this, too, and has made mention of the fact that there will be provisions for mothers who feel it is in the child’s best interest if their father’s name is not on the birth certificate.

Putting the name of the father on the child’s birth certificate – according to the Irish government – is to ensure that children who are half-siblings do not have romantic/sexual relations. It’s also because every child has the right to know who both their parents are. I am broadly in agreement with this sentiment. It’s also in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 8 of which states that children have the right to preserve their identity, ‘including (…) family relations’.

Eight years ago today, I was in my bedroom in Singapore, labouring away with my second daughter. She was born – all four-point-three kilos and fifty-six centimetres of her – on the 18th of May, just after ten in the morning. Her father is called Arshad Iqbal Ahmed. He was born on the 11th of May, 1972 in Jabalpur in India. He knows it, I know it, she knows it and now, so do you. His name, however, isn’t on Kashmira’s birth certificate. Actually, now that I think of it, his name isn’t even on his own birth certificate! But I have very good reasons for not putting Arshad’s name on Kashmira’s birth certificate.

The day after I found out I was pregnant with her, he ‘suddenly remembered’ he was married. To his cousin. She was merrily living in India with her family, while he was merrily living in Singapore, with me. The day after his memory about his marital status came back, he fled the country and I haven’t seen him since.

Putting his name on my daughter’s birth certificate would mean that I would have to seek his permission every time I wanted to get her passport renewed; and for every other major decision pertaining to her wellbeing – from the kind of education she receives to what kind of medical care she receives. If (God forbid) she needed an operation, I’d have to ask his permission. Giving someone like him the power to make or veto decisions pertaining to my little girl was not something I was going to let happen.

Further, Arshad is Muslim, in accordance with which (in his and his Imam’s interpretation of Islam) on her last birthday Kashmira became his ‘property’ and he can swoop in and take her from me. He reminded me of this in one of his (many) abusive phone calls when I was pregnant; warning me that he could take ‘the child’ as soon as she was 7 and return to India with her. He had that right, he told me.

So, in my child’s best interest – which, happily, is also in her sister’s best interest and in mine – Arshad’s name is not on her birth certificate. But I can guarantee you that there is no possibility that she will marry her brother. Or even her cousin.

A Proper Madam

Personally, I think that titles are a tad silly. That is to say, I’d much prefer that men, women and children who come across me call me by my first name. I don’t need a title. I don’t even expect my children to call me ‘mum’ . (They do, anyway, as a term of endearment, rather than a title).

Only in Asia – where I spent ten years and over half my adult life – do they manage to get my ‘title’ right, anyway. You see, I ceased to be a ‘Miss’ when I ceased to be a teenager and got married. It makes me grit my teeth when people call me ‘miss’. It’s an ugly word, with horrible connotations. If you don’t quite manage to achieve something, you ‘miss’ it. If you’re away from something or someone you love, you ‘miss’ them. If the bus pulls away two seconds before you reach the bus-stop, you ‘miss’ it. ‘Miss’ is all about loss and ‘not-quiteness’.

‘Ms’ is horrendous. To me, it smacks of the 1980s and man-hating women who thought they were liberated and that that liberation could be communicated by their affected use of ‘Ms’ as a prefix to their names. ‘Ms’ is so not for me.

If I am to have a title, I prefer the one that was conferred on me in the East; ‘Madam’. Madam is a great title. It is used by and for women who marry, but continue to use their pre-marriage surname. For example, if a Miss Woo marries a Mr Wong, she is Mrs Wong, but Madam Woo. I like that. Her marital status is conveyed, but she is ‘allowed’ the use of her original surname. Similarily, women who have been divorced are known as ‘Madam’ and whatever their original surname is. A woman with children is always respectfully addressed as ‘Madam’.

I like the term, I like what it applies and – as it happens – it applies to me. I liked being Madam Larkin far more than I ever liked being Miss Larkin, Ms Larkin, Missus Larkin, Missus Jay, or Missus Sridhar. The only other title I enjoyed nearly as much was that of ‘Mama Ishthara’ – as I was called by the vegetable man, the newspaper man and various other wallahs in India after my eldest daughter was born.

The fact of it is, though, that in this part of the world, very few people will ever deign to address me as ‘Madam Larkin’ rather than ‘Hazel’. Musing over this with a friend yesterday, she hit upon the perfect solution: I’ll just have to finish my doctorate. Then I can insist upon being – and expect to be – called ‘Dr Larkin’. 🙂

 

It might be easier just to re-marry, though.

The Attitude of Gratitude

During the week, I was listening to an interview on the radio. The interviewee was talking about motherhood. She spoke about how women ‘lose their identity’ when they have children –  my response to that is an entirely different post – and she also spoke about how children ‘aren’t grateful’.

 

This pronouncement stopped me in my tracks. Are children really not grateful? Why, if they’re not, do you think that might be? Children, after all, learn by example: If they see and hear gratitude around them, they can’t help but be grateful themselves.

 

It’s like complaining that children ‘have no manners’. Some children don’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – but perhaps that’s because the people bringing them up don’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the children?

 

‘Children have no gratitude,’ opined the woman on the radio. I beg to differ. In support of my argument,  I give you Exhibit A – a note my girls wrote for me when they were aged 5 and 7, respectively:

 

It reads: “To Mum thank you for the lovely food your such a good mum. Lots of love from I xxx Kashmira “.  I keep it taped to the inside of one of the food cupboards.

 

On the inside of another cupbaord, this is taped:

“I love you and Ishthara. Thank you so much mum for making me cum to life” is the message Kashmira painted for me in April of this year. (My heart does not see their grammar and spelling mistakes!)

 

These are not the only notes expressing gratitude that  my girls have given me over the years. Apart from the notes, they constantly tell me that they are grateful for our home, for each other, for Love, for hugs, for books, for food, for shoes, for clothes – for all sorts of things.

 

My children are grateful because they have been taught to be grateful. I cannot remember a time when I did not thank my children for coming into my life; for choosing me to be their mother. I thank them for being kind to each other, for being kind to me, for clearing up after themselves, for getting up in time for school (so I don’t get stressed).

 

I thank them for being well-behaved when we’re out – which means I can bring them to (certain) conferences and meetings and museums and art galleries and other places where people don’t always assume they can bring their kids.  I thank them for amusing themselves without ruining the house when I’m sick. I thank them for the lessons they teach me, for their patience with me when I get things wrong, for being on this journey with me. I thank them for the joy they bring to my life.

 

My children are grateful because they have seen and heard me express my gratitude. They have seen that I keep a Gratitude Journal, so they keep one each, as well.

 

It really is that simple; if you want your children to behave in a certain way, model that behaviour for them. If you want your children to be grateful, adopt an attitude of gratitude and parade it in front of them.

 

Homesickness

So here I am, an Irishwoman who was born in Ireland, who grew up in Ireland, who currently resides in Ireland – and I’m homesick.

 

Most people I say that to have great difficulty understanding it.  I spent ten years  – and the happiest days – of my life in Asia. India and Indonesia are the only places in the world where I have ever felt truly happy and truly at home. At home in myself and my surroundings. There, I have been physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally at my best.  I’ve looked and felt my best. And I’ve felt like I belonged. Everywhere else I’ve ever lived, I’ve felt like I was approximating happiness – striving for it and hoping I’d find it. In India and Indonesia, it didn’t feel hard to find.

 

A few years ago, I read ‘The Geography of Bliss‘ where home is described as where you want to die. I don’t want to die in Ireland. I don’t want to live here, either. I don’t want to bring my children up here. I want, not necessarily more for my girls, but I do want different for them.

 

I want to bring them up in a place where I can get the education for them that I want them to have. They won’t get that in Ireland. I want them to be raised in a place where, if they need medical care, they will get it in a timely fashion. They won’t get that in Ireland, either.

 

I’m not blinkered in my approach to Asia. I know that the places I crave to live are not perfect – but nowhere is! The secret is to find the place you’re happiest and make the most of it. To embrace the joy and do your best to change what chafes. Or, if you can’t change it, to accept it with serenity.

 

The longer I am away, the more I miss ‘home’.

 

I have such a list of things that I miss – from the simplest of pleasures to the greatest: I miss sari-shopping; the ritual and the ‘dance’ of the exchange. I miss the varieties of fruit I can’t get here. Where, for example, can one buy custard apples  in Ireland? I miss going shopping for ‘perishables’ on a daily basis.

 

I miss being able to pop into the Temple. I miss my favourite temple. I miss going for my daily walk and meeting people who go for their daily walk at the same time. I miss having live-in help so I don’t have to do everything for and by myself.

 

I even miss the things that drove me mad when I lived there – the attitudes and assumptions of a certain ‘type’ of middle-class Indian male. The preoccupation of a certain class of Indian female with one-upping you and your children with tales of the achievements of their children. (That was a game I very quickly learned to opt out of!).

 

I miss drivers who deliberately try to take you the long-way around, and drivers who agree a fare before you start off and then change it once you reach your destination.

 

I miss opening the window and hearing a variety of different languages being spoken; Marathi, Hindi, Punjabi, English, Bengali…..all in one moment.

 

I miss the sense of community – of being welcomed and made to feel like I belonged (conversely, when I returned to Ireland, people were suspicious and judgmental). Homesickness, then, is missing the feeling of being at home.

 

Homesickness is starting to cry when you’re driving on the motorway because you have a physical pain of longing to be somewhere else.

 

Homesickness is when  – with no warning –  tears splash down your face in the supermarket because this is not how you want to be buying vegetables; wrapped in clingfilm and sitting on little trays. This is not how I want my children to think that vegetables should be bought. I want to teach them to engage with produce; how it should look, smell and feel when it’s ripe.

 

Homesickness is dithering over whether or not to buy a jasmine plant: Part of me wants to because, if I do, then I’ll have the creamy scent I love around me all day. Part of me doesn’t because then I’d miss India even more. I’d miss handing 10 rupees to a mogra-wallah in the middle of busy traffic in exchange for jasmine flowers, strung together with thread and wrapped in sheets of newspaper. These, we’d take home and keep in the fridge, plaiting them through our hair the following morning, and using on our alter as offerings.

 

Homesickness is realising that you’d rather be dying there than living here.