Sunday, 18 February 2018

Tips for a more harmonious school week.


I can’t quite believe the mid-term is over already. Granted the primary and montessori schoolers only had two days off but the teenagers had the full week, and even that seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye. And after a lovely, albeit rainy, afternoon spent at the beach, I’m finding, as Sunday night comes around again that I’m taking the ostrich approach to the uniform situation – well for an hour anyway – as I remain in denial about the task in hand. There’s a certain dread fills me going into the week ahead, and I swear I feel it more than the kids.

It’s not that everything was perfect last week. In fact in spite of having three teenagers in the house (my daughter’s pal stayed over) a phone call to a radio station nearly went horribly wrong. As I went on air to discuss a suitable tax-funded childcare solution, the two and four year olds antennae went up – mum was missing and needed to be tracked down immediately. And track me down they did to the youngest’s bedroom, which incidentally is there purely for decoration as his favourite place to sleep is firmly beside me – and not as much as a centimetre apart. However in spite of his lack of familiarity with his supposed designated sleeping area, he and his big brother found me and proceeded to pound on the door.

“Mum we need to see you. Mum were are you, I did a poo!” came the indignant call from little voices as I kept my foot pressed firmly against the door.  As I answered the radio host’s questions and tried to keep my focus, I felt sure one of the teenagers would come to my rescue – they knew what I was doing after all. But no, t’was not to be and the attempts to break into me continued.

When the call came to an end I went to investigate what possible terrible fate had befallen the teenagers in my house to have allowed such a thing to happen. It turns out “Back to the future” and the online pursuit of Longitude tickets had caused them to lose all awareness of their surroundings and had resulted in a temporary loss of their hearing.

On the plus side however, there was no homework.


But we’re back to normality tomorrow and so without any more ado or further digression, here’s my top tips to making the school week more harmonious and altogether lovely!  

1.       Leave out everything the night before – every. single. thing. Shoes, jocks, socks, change needed for the next day, spare football boots, drama folders etc . Don’t believe any child that tells you something in this category is in a particular place without seeing proof! Failure to do this will inevitably result in the discovery that a shoe or something equally important has disappeared from the face of the earth just as you’re about to leave the house. Such a discovery is likely to send you into fishwife mode – which is neither a harmonious or lovely start to the day for anyone, especially you.

2.       Make the lunches the night before – I know they taste nicer if they’re made that morning, but the time saved is invaluable when you’re already under pressure.

3.       When it comes to homework, choose your children’s seating arrangements wisely. Know which pairings work best and don’t be tempted to veer from them  - and get all bathroom stops, snack requests and general avoidance tactics out of the way beforehand to give the children as straight a run as possible at the task in hand.

4.       Set an age appropriate amount of time for your children to complete their homework within, and stop them when that time is up! It’s hard to know sometimes whether daydreaming or quantity is the cause of some children spending so long doing their homework. Consistency with a set time approach should make it obvious pretty quickly. If you feel quantity is the problem then consider prioritising your child’s homework for them. If for example they have 10 questions to complete in one subject, getting them to do questions 2,4,6,8 and 10 should offer a good balance in terms of scope and progressive difficulty, rather than 1,2,3,4 and 5.

5.       Don’t overcommit to afterschool activities. Give yourself and the rest of the family some downtime. It’s lovely to be able to offer our children the chance to try different activities but be careful that it doesn’t come at the cost of putting you and the rest of the family under unreasonable time pressures and constraints

6.       Get a wall planner/ calendar for your fridge and keep it up to date so that you and the older members of the family can see at a glance what commitments you have for the week


7.       Remember that the evenings are yours to enjoy as well – not just the weekends. There may be lots to do, but make taking the time to chill a priority also.  Sometimes it’s just necessary to park the non- essentials. We’re all living in a time-poor society but all work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy but also leaves Jacqueline feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

8.       Leave your own clothes out the night before too – it’s a surprising timesaver. And get up, get dressed and have breakfast before the kids too. It’s so much more relaxed than the alternative of being called to mop up juice while you’ve just one leg in your trousers.




Sunday, 28 January 2018

Have we been sold a pup?

I read an article online today – well it was a letter that a woman sent to the editor of the Irish Independent. She didn’t give her name, but spoke of how miserable she was working outside the home when all she wanted was to be with her children. She explained her working was necessity rather than choice, so that she could pay for essentials - not luxuries or holidays. She stated “there is nothing natural about peeling little arms from your neck every morning as you drop them to the childminder”.

As I read through, I found myself nodding along in agreement at some parts, wondering if feminism had sold us a pup. We tell our daughters that the sky is the limit – that they can be anything they want to be. But I’m not so sure that we’re truly honest with them about the real cost of “having it all”.

My grandad had some pretty old-fashioned and outdated views on a woman’s role in society. I was the first in our family to go to university and he had a copy of my graduation photo hanging on his wall. “That’s our Jennifer being canonised”, he’d say to everyone who came into the house (whether they enquired or not), much to our amusement. Yet proud as he was of his eldest granddaughter’s achievement, even if it wasn't quite saintly, he couldn’t help but wonder why my mother bothered.“Sure they’ll just get married and have babies, there’s no point in girls being educated”, he said, much to my mum’s disgust. Thankfully she held very different views and so on we went believing the world was our oyster and that we could achieve anything we set our minds to.

In due course, those babies my grandad predicted began to arrive. With every fibre of my being I was in love, exhausted, overwhelmed, ecstatic and busy – so very busy. I still am. All the responsibilities of family life and work life must be juggled and it’s so hard. Every time I slip up and miss something I feel I mightn’t have if my mind was fully on the “mammy job”, every time a younger child asks “why can’t I stay with you today” and every time I find myself run ragged and exhausted to the point I can barely remember my name, I wonder if “having it all” is truly worth it or even desirable.

And then I remember the choice is gone. I don’t work because I’m a strong, independent woman who chooses to work – I work because there are bills to be paid and mortgage payments to be met. Whether I enjoy my job or not is of little consequence – there is no choice but to have a job.

The saddest part for me in reading the article today was not actually that the woman who wrote it felt as she did, but the lack of empathy and understanding that was evident in the comments. “She’s not the only one, she made her bed she has to lie in it, were the general sentiments.


Maybe feminism has indeed blindsided us. More is expected from women than ever before. But we are strong – even stronger when we build each other up rather than tear each other down. And that includes recognising that choosing or wanting to stay at home with our children is as valid an aspiration or dream as any.  


Saturday, 30 December 2017

"What the Ladybird Heard" at the Pavilion Theatre

I hardly know what day of the week it is - and grateful as I am for this temporary reprieve from the monotony of the school week routine, I'll concede that it's not easy to keep the troops occupied "when the weather outside is frightful"

Just before Christmas I was delighted to be invited to the opening of "What the Ladybird Heard" at the Pavilion theatre in Dun Laoghaire. The show comes straight from the West End and is based on the best selling book by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks. Anyone who loves The Gruffalo, Stick Man, Room on the Broom and The Snail and the Whale is sure to love this one.




And love them in this house we do. So, off my son and I set for some quality "mammy and son" time full of anticipation and expectation - and we weren't disappointed.





The venue is perfect and littles have a clear view of the stage. From beginning to end the cast are animated and engaging and they involve the audience in the show. My son was captivated and beamed, clapped and sang along the whole way through.





The story is centered around two cunning robbers, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len, who come up with a plan to steal the farmer's prize cow. The audience delight in seeing things go wrong for them and even the adults will have a chuckle.


At just under an hour long, the length of the show is perfect for it's target audience. It's aimed at children aged 3+ and I can tell you without hesitation that my seven year old loved it! An added bonus for us was the opportunity to meet the cast afterwards who were just as lovely and full of energy in conversation, as they came across on the stage.

One very happy boy is still talking about it!



The show is here until January 7th and, if you're interested, details of times and ticket prices are available here

It gets a definite seal of approval from us!




Monday, 4 December 2017

Six steps to Christmas-tree-proofing your relationship


1.       When your other half decides to get all Chevy Chase and recreate a Griswald family Christmas, steer away from reminding him (on loop) that his plans to get the oversized Christmas tree home were ill thought-out at best and non-existent in reality. Resist also the urge to reiterate over and over again that you “told him so”, as a necessary evacuation of car seats from one car and the reinstalling of them in another follows in near baltic temperatures while the two year old screams incessantly, the four year old makes numerous bids for freedom and the seven year old sings “Feliz Navidad” at the top of his voice.

2.       Do not constantly refer to the fact that you could have put up and decorated the artificial tree that lounges in the attic, four times over in the time that it took to choose and relocate the oversized real Christmas tree.
  
3.       Refrain from sharing your true feeling when, five hours later, the tree still has not successfully been installed in the newly-purchased stand which promised to make the putting up of your tree “a cinch”.

4.       Resist the temptation to turn the air blue when - after the tree is finally up, the lights have been painstakingly assembled on the branches for maximum balance and effect, and most the baubles are gaily hanging in place - you realise that the tree has once more assumed a “leaning tower of Pisa” position and correcting it involves removing said lights and baubles and battling with the newly purchased stand once again.

5.     Desist from picking up the beautiful pine-smelling tree, that cannot be coaxed into a straight standing position and throwing it out the front door in temper while swearing that you are NEVER getting another real tree and that the artificial one is coming down from the attic first thing in the morning because you cannot look at a lob-sided tree for the next month and basically Christmas is effectively ruined.


6.       Open the wine, turn off the main lights, turn on the Christmas tree ones and appreciate how less crooked the tree looks in the dark.










Sunday, 8 October 2017

Taking the time to make time.

A new month – well in fairness we’re a few days into that new month but in many ways October is continuing in equally frantic style to September – so there’s barely time to take a breath let alone glance at the calendar.

September was an incredible month of highs and lows. We lost our dog of 17 years and are still very much trying to come to terms with that. The kids settled back into school, one started a new school, homework battles resumed and raged, notes came home re specific and essential pencil case contents, contents were purchased, pain-stakingly labelled and lost within a couple of days, reminder notes came home about the same essential pencil case contents, the kids fought, single school shoes disappeared off the face of the earth, I was reminded how out of practice I am in the world of cocktails, and in between this my book was published and a media whirlwind followed. I am dizzy from it all.

We’re coming up to mental health awareness week. I’ve had my own battles with mental health issues particularly after the birth of my lovely babies. It was never something that I was comfortable to speak about before, until my book came out. Even now I squirm a little as I’m writing – in spite of the fact that I spoke about it on national radio just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a difficult one to explain. Maybe it’s vulnerability or maybe it’s the fact that one day my children might read and see that infallible mum, she who knows all the answers, lays down the rules and boundaries, kisses hurts away, sorts problems, has endless supplies of hugs, rants a bit (ok a lot!), hates projects more than they and does all the other things that parents do - actually is human.

Life is crazy for everyone. We’re expected to move at a faster pace than ever before and the advent of the internet and social media means we’re never truly removed from outside influences. The expectations of parenthood are different to those of yesteryear. The community and support networks often not so available. The demands on our time constantly mounting.  So often I’ve found myself saying – it’ll all be easier next week, next month, the one after that, when one of the variables is removed from the equation and we will supposedly have more time. I dismissed the notion of mindfulness and staying in the present because, I don’t have time for that.

There is no sign of the busyness of life abating anytime soon – and in many regards I’m glad, I like to be busy, but it’s about getting the balance right. There is nothing like a night out with friends to give you not only a chance to recharge your batteries, but to remind you that all work and no play makes Jacqueline not only as dull as dishwater but particularly stressed and miserable into the bargain. It is amazing what clearly we can see of others that often we fail to see of ourselves.

The thing with mental health is that like all other areas of our health, prevention is better than cure always. In spite of this fact too often we wait until we’re in the doldrums before we act - if we act. There is no shame in looking after your mental health. There is no shame in being kind to yourself and saying "no" sometimes because the demands on you are too much. There is no shame in reaching out for help or in accepting it if it's offered. There is no shame in putting your needs first, sometimes. You cannot take care of others, if you don’t take care of yourself. 

As we approach mental health awareness week, I’m going to take the time to be mindful and to truly appreciate the present – because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Whether that present involves the four year old naked bird spotting into our fridge on a hectic school morning, or the 8 year old referring to the his brother’s Roddy Doyle tendencies as part of his homework sentences – that might reveal what we’re REALLY like as a family. Whether it involves the bigger lads and my hubby killing each other over a game of football or the smell of false tan wafting from my daughter’s bedroom and her orange-tinged white sheets - I will not wish I was on a desert laundry-free island with only a bottle of wine, a bar of Lindor and Will Smith for company.

Ok I can’t promise that, but I will take the time to truly see and appreciate my family for the fabulous mess-making individuals that they are. 

The youngest two have put me to the test already today, with a teddy volcano built in front of our door. The playroom that I spent two and half hours cleaning yesterday now resembles the aftermath that you would expect from child-sized tornadoes on a soft toy hunting mission.

Fabulously "creative" and destructive, but more importantly, fabulously mine.