Category Archives: death and sex

Invisible invulnerable invaluable

And then poor George Michael only got one day in the news because of Carrie Fisher. What a crappy year, seriously.

I heard an interview with Carrie Fisher on the radio recently, and she struck me as a woman who is at that point in life where she really has no fucks to give. She tells it how it is and she doesn’t have to be something for anyone else any more. She wasn’t putting on her best self for the Terri Gross interview, she was just there, talking. If we wanted to listen, that was up to us. We should all aspire to such levels of notgivingafuckitude. I feel like she and Hilary Clinton could have run the world so well, but instead we’re left with TinyHands OrangeFace and a fairly vague Han Solo.

(I found it hilarious that from what Carrie said, Harrison Ford didn’t actually have to act at all for Star Wars. That terse, ultra-dry-witted man is exactly who he was/is in real life.)

There’s this thing about how older women are invisible, and how it’s really hard to come to terms with this new phase if you’ve been generally known as a pretty or beautiful woman in your younger days. But older women have such strength – think of Carrie Fisher, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Hilary Clinton – women who kick ass, take names, and give no fucks. (I hope Hilary is doing yoga, centering herself, drinking red wine, wearing leggings and letting her pores breathe, enjoying not having to give a shit about what she’s projecting to anyone any more. She’s proved herself a million times over.) Who told me that the Dalai Lama said that Western women will save the world? If only the world will let them – but hell, they’re trying so hard.

Women over 50 have walked through the fire of the gaze, the vulnerability, the judgement, for all those years. They’ve held it together, all of it, all at once, probably for everyone else at the same time as for themselves. They’ve done it all and fallen down and got up again and done it all some more, and even if they think they failed they’ve done it anyway. That’s what women do.

And then sometimes some of the best of them have a massive damn heart attack and it’s not fair at all.

Why is it different for women? Because men are never vulnerable. Not until they’re aged and infirm, and even then they’re less vulnerable than old women. (I just heard a story about an old man who confronted a burglar in his house, made him a cup of tea, and saw him out the front door. Admirable; but an old woman can’t do that.) Most young men have no enemies but themselves – if they can avoid getting killed through their own sheer foolhardiness or stupidity, they won’t have to worry about their personal safety for a long time.

Men don’t even know why women move in packs and go to the toilet in pairs and bring a friend to the party – we barely remember ourselves, we think we’re just more social than boys, but the truth is that we don’t go places on our own at night. One of us always has to be the more sober one, the most sensible one, the one who can make sure everyone else gives the right address to the taxi driver and doesn’t throw up in the car. One of us will always rise to the occasion. The boys can just get rat-arsed all they want, because they can probably wander home as slowly and alone-ly and darkly as they like.

Apart from personal safety issues, women have run the gauntlet of each other’s judgement since they were old enough to be told that’s a pretty dress now go and brush your hair. Opining on other women is like breathing. It’s what you do while you’re not doing anything. You look around, you see other people, you think things. Good, bad, pretty, fat, thin, nice shoes, horrible jeans, I wouldn’t do that with my hair. Older than me, younger than me, more friendly than me, quieter than me, shrill, short, bossy, judgmental. Who’s judging me today? Who am I doing this for? Who am I trying to impress? Why is this important?

And eventually you might get past it and stop trying to impress and you start seeing inside people a little better and ignoring their outsides a little more easily.

And then maybe, just maybe, you get to be something near as kick-ass as Carrie Fisher.

 

Well, this isn’t morbid at all

My grandmother died when I was 17. They asked in the hospital if I wanted to see the body, and I said no. I preferred to remember her as she always had been, sitting in her chair in her front room with her fluffy halo of white curls and the remote control, watching the snooker.

I’m 41 and that’s still the closest I’ve come to seeing a dead person.

Isn’t that a little odd? I mean, yes, it’s also wonderfully lucky, and I’m blessed, but isn’t it a little unnatural? I think it’s indicative of how much we try to hold the brass-tacks realities of life at arm’s length in the modern world: I’ve been involved in precisely two births – those of my own children – and zero deaths. Even when our family cat died, I had already moved out of the house and the first I knew of her demise was when my mother rang me at work to say she’d taken Mitzi to the vet that morning.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m reality-proofed at all. I think when something happens – as it must, because no matter how much we pretend life doesn’t end in death, it always does – I won’t have any precedent. I know intellectually that death happens, but I suspect being faced with the physical reality, especially when it’s someone you know and love, takes more than book learning. I’ve met grief, when my much loved mother-in-law died very suddenly; but it was my husband’s family’s grief; it didn’t belong to me.

Maybe it’s just autumn, these thoughts I have. One red leaf and I’m all moribund.

I do have this feeling that, having hit 40, I’m into the second half. I’m maybe on the downward slope. I’m freewheeling, but the destination isn’t really somewhere I’m in a hurry to get to. That’s probably why it’s going faster now; but I’m putting more thought into the process.

Having had one or two brushes with discomfort, I appreciate better the simple ability to move my body around without difficulty or pain; for my parents right now that’s not so easy. I have more pressing reasons to try to make my body strong or fit: I need to work on my core muscles not just because of the frankly pie-in-the-sky notion of a flat stomach but also because it helps my back not hurt. I have a newfound urge to create, to leave behind, to do worthwhile things because I won’t always be here.

(Don’t worry, I’m planning on being here for at least another 40. And my parents, while somewhat decrepit, are not yet knocking on death’s door. But it’s good to think about these things when they’re not pressing, you know.)

single red leaf on the pavement

The Talk

What is this “Talk” they speak of? There are so many talks you can (should? might? are forced to) have with your kids.

For instance

  • How babies are made

and don’t think you’ve got away without covering

  • How babies get out of there

and of course, the quite tricky

  • Why people would ever want to do that

and also

  • No they don’t do it at the wedding, they wait a few hours and do it in private; and they’ve usually done it already by then

Then then there’s the whole road down which you might not want to travel that begins with

  • What’s a bad word?
  • Why I won’t give you any examples of bad words

and

  • Why I think you’ll probably know what I mean when you hear one

And finally (for this non-exhaustive list) there’s the bathtime-inspired selection of Talks:

  • Girls don’t have penises
  • I promise, that’s not a penis
  • Why you shouldn’t let your sister touch your penis
  • Why you definitely shouldn’t encourage your sister to touch your penis
  • Why I don’t care that you don’t mean it and won’t actually let her grab it
  • Enough already this bath is over get out right now

Live and let die

As we rounded the gentle curves of Dublin’s M50 this afternoon, death was on the children’s minds. In the abstract, probably because we visited an old graveyard in Waterford two days ago and pottered around reading the interesting headstones in the almost-rain.

(Personally, I liked this one, which went off in a big old name-dropping tangent about her brother who had sailed with Captain Cook, even though he wasn’t buried there at all:

[This Stone was Erected in memory of M[iss] Mary Dinn of Passage E. a mark of her burial ground and in memory of her Father Nicholas, her Mother [indecipherable], her Brother Martin, her Sisters, particularly of her brother William Dinn (alias Doyle) who sailed round the globe with Capt. COOK  and was present at the death of that Great Circumnavigator at [illegible] and who died respected and regretted at Stoke near Devonport in England in June 1840 (?), having spent a long life as a warrant Officer in the Service of his Country.]

)

(Speaking of tangents. Ahem.)

This weekend I travelled the length and breadth of half the small country for bloggy meetups, wherein I was lucky enough to meet some of the Lovely Irish Bloggers (not their real name) and put names to faces and faces to blogs for Musings of a Hostage-Mother, Mind The Baby, Mama.ie, Proper Fud, and the currently-on-hiatus And My Baby.

As we drove back from today’s assignation, during which my most accommodating spouse had taken the children to IKEA, because why not, it’s like a little home from home with ice cream, we listened to the Bond theme tunes CD I had put on in the car as a tiny nod to his great service to the blogger good. So at the start of each track – or preferably just before the start, since they were playing in film order – he would announce to us all which song it would be and by what artist.

(You know the way some fathers wait impatiently for the day they can show their sons (or daughters) Star Wars? Well, Dash has seen all six Star Wars movies (in original airing order), but what his father is really waiting for is the day when they can both sit down and appreciate the full oevre of Connery through Craig, including Lazenby for completeness.)

In between these public service announcements, the children posed the following tricky questions:

Mabel: How do the dead people get into the coffins?

Dash: So, do people who go to church believe in ghosts except that they all exist in another universe?

The first was more easily answered than the second, which I think we are still working on.

(Edited after first posting to correct the date of death on the gravestone to a much more likely century. Sorry about that.)

Basters and boobies

I just wrote a big rant about homework and intransigent six-year-olds, but I think we’ll leave that for another day. Maybe I just needed to write it.

*********

The morning before Thanksgiving, I found myself in the unhappy position of having to do the shopping with two children. It was my own fault, as on Monday when I should have done it I frittered away my time instead with more enjoyable pursuits; also, I hadn’t yet planned enough to know what I needed.

But it wasn’t so bad. They’re at their best first thing in the morning, and we actually got out of the house by 9.30, which still counts as first thing in my book. They got a bagel each to keep them quiet, and things progressed without too many not-on-list items being added to the trolley.

As we processed down the rice-and-beans aisle (also peanut butters, honey, and juice boxes), Dash came running after me:

“Mummy, Mummy, look! Look! Can I get one of these? I’ve always wanted one of my very own to play with. Pleeeeease, Mummy?”

I looked to see what he was brandishing. It was a turkey baster.

On balance, I think I got away lightly with a pack of chocolate-milk straws and a bag of chips.

**********

It was colder this afternoon than it had been in the morning, and though I did get Mabel to wear her coat, she didn’t have her gloves as we waited for Dash to get out of school. I was holding her (my side of the bargain that got her to put the coat on), and she was putting her hands inside my top to warm them up. Then her hands went a little further down … down… I had to let out a shriek-laugh as I pushed her hand away.

 “I just wanted to find the…”

I stopped her before she could remember the word “nipple” – or anything like it – but I’m pretty sure the other mom I was chatting to knew exactly what had happened. It’s possible that most of the school heard the squawk and knew she’d hit the spot. Letting your four-year-old get to second base with you in public is just never appropriate. (You probably knew that already.)

Where’s Freud when you need him?

Mabel’s having a bit of a penis obsession. Again.

Yesterday we had friends over for a playdate. Mabel took off her clothes and tried to show them her penis. I hid under the table.

This morning we went to Ikea.

Mabel: Peenie, peenie. I want a peenie. I love your peenie, Dash.
Dash: Mabel, say peenie again.
Me: Stop it. Both of you. Dash, you know better.
Dash: Mabel, don’t say peenie.
Mabel: Peenie, peenie.
Me, darkly: Nobody will be getting any ice-cream.
Mabel: Ponnie, ponnie.
Me: That’s fine.

[Five minutes pass; we are almost past the checkouts and at the double-edged sword of ice-cream.]

Dash: Mabel, don’t say poopy.
Mabel, with glee: Poopy! Poopy!
Me: No ice-cream, then.
Them: […]

Ice-cream is consumed. Lunch is deferred. Once again, I resolve never more to darken the hallowed Swedish doors.

Salt-n-Pepa

Even though I’ve been gone eight years, I still scan the front page of The Irish Times online every day, just to get a sense of what’s going on, and what the news looks like from Outside. (To be honest, sometimes it’s the only place I look at the news.) And even though yesterday I swore off advice columns, I do sometimes find myself clicking through to read John Sharry’s parenting wisdom, if only to see What People Are Doing At Home.

(Unrelated, but I have to say there’s an awful lot of soccer, GAA, and golf news making it to the front page. Shouldn’t that stuff be kept where it belongs, on the sports pages, for people who care. Why are you trying to make me care about hurling, even if it is the national sport?)

So this column caught my eye recently. To do away with the suspense and get to my point (get to my point? why would I do that?), in it the mother of a nine-year-old says that recently her daughter asked her where babies come from, and the mother uncomfortably changed the subject.

What? What? And again, I say, what? Where did they get this “reader”? She can’t be that much older than me, and yet she sounds like someone of my mother’s generation, not mine. Did they invent her, and stretch the realistic age of the questioning child as far out as they could for some unfathomable reason? Are there really, seriously, parents out there in 2011 who haven’t said a word to their kid about sex in a life that has spanned almost a decade, and who still aren’t sure whether they should?

(Sorry, Monkey would like you all to know that the Baby Bullet now comes with a steamer that doubles as a steam sterilizer. Isn’t that amazing? Don’t I need one? Isn’t advertising great?)

I know not all children are as questioning as Monkey. I wasn’t – I had a sixth sense for potentially cringe-inducing subjects, and steered clear as much as I could. But even I remember subtly prodding my parents, almost against my better judgement, for information I half-wished, half-dreaded hearing directly from them. It would have been better than ignorance, or vague inaccuracies gleaned in the playground. How can we expect our children to have morals, values, and the like, if we don’t give them first the correct information, and then our own take on how to behave? By osmosis?

I suppose in the olden days, parents relied on Religion to promulgate this information, in its obfuscatory and guilt-fuelled way. And let’s not dwell on how well that worked out in my home country, among others. I think/hope we all know now that it’s up to us to teach our children about sex in a timely manner, as soon as they ask and (especially, maybe) even if they don’t. And to make it not so much teaching as talking, explaining, chatting, and making it a topic of conversation that is definitely not taboo.

This is not what I was going to say

Naturally, because I wrote about it, Mabel decided it was time to let me know in no uncertain terms that the only change I have effected is one of creating more laundry for myself. Still. We’re in it for the long haul, and it has begun. That’s all I have to say about that.

Monkey just jumped off a too-high bay windowsill one too many times and bit his tongue pretty badly. I know he really wanted an ice-pop, but there are less painful ways to get one. He’s lying beside me on the sofa, still sniffing pathetically at intervals, but the bleeding has stopped and he’ll be fine. I offered to put on a DVD, as some sort of special treat, but he said, “No. I love Qubo.” What a testimonial for public TV.

Yesterday he told me he thought I should make another baby sister, a smaller one. And that it said in his book about the human body that I could make one every month. When I reminded him that Daddy would have to be involved as well, he said “Oh yes, you have to do that special hug. Well, you can do it in there, in the family room.”

Which led to a bit more of a conversation about s-e-x (he was unimpressed and mostly uninterested), and how grown-ups like to do it even if they’re not making a baby, and how sometimes they do things to make sure that they don’t make a baby, and that if we wanted to make one we’d stop doing those things. But that we probably aren’t going to because we’re probably good with just two.

And yet, part of me wanted to say, “Oh well, since you asked so nicely and you clearly mean it, then I suppose you can have a new baby sibling. Just wait a minute till I’ve finished my lunch.” Because that’s a good reason.

I probably shouldn’t tell you this next part, but it’s too good to keep to myself. It was probably inevitable, given all the, um, region-specific acrobatics Monkey was doing, that something interesting would happen. He discovered that he could make his penis go all straight and standing-uppy. I happened to find him doing this when trying to hurry him up in the bathroom one afternoon, and I thought I should let him know that it’s perfectly normal and something that happens to all boys, in case he was worried in any way. Far from it: I think he was a little disappointed to find out it wasn’t just him. He probably thought it was a fabulous new superpower.

Now, from what he said to me yesterday, he apparently has a whole scenario in which his penis is a monster chasing things… I was trying not to listen, really, but as his father said when I regaled him with this latest, he’d want to refine his notions a bit before he starts trying to interest the girls.

I begin to see where all this male idolatry of the penis stems (ahem) from – as far as a five-year-old is concerned at least, it’s a magical animal all of his own. But then, some men, as we’ve seen all too clearly in recent days, never really progress from the five-year-old stage, do they?

I’ll have what she’s having

Having a baby is quite a lot like having sex.

No, I’m not one of those crazy women who find that labour is just one long wonderful orgasm, who I wouldn’t believe exist in real life except that I know Davina McCall is one (go and look her up on Wikipedia, Americans) and I believe anything she says. But my sister-in-law said to me in some surprise after she had her baby, “It’s very earthy, isn’t it?” (or something like that; apologies if I’m misquoting anyone who might be reading). And that’s the thing. It doesn’t get much more gritty and realistic than having an actual human baby come out of you.

We modern people are so enamoured of our clean, sanitary, technology-enhanced lives that sometimes it’s a bit of a shock to discover that some things just can’t be made to be shiny and simple no matter how many European design specialists* you might employ. When you discover that about sex, it’s pretty exciting – this elemental thing that connects you and your chosen one with the rest of humanity in a down and dirty sort of way. It’s sweaty and you contort your face in funny expressions and things happen that you’re not necessarily expecting and sometimes it goes on way too long and finally you lie there, panting and fulfilled. Just like childbirth. (See?)

Of course, with sex, you understand that this is a secret thing, to be shared only with your loved one (by which I mean the one you’re with), probably in the dark and under the covers (in Ireland, hot sweaty over-the-covers sex is something that only happens about once a year; the rest of the time you only take all your clothes off because you don’t want to look like a prude, but honestly you’d much rather keep all parts not vitally involved nicely insulated from draughts). The shock comes when you have a baby – the same sort of primitive, animal process, but in a brightly lit room, exposed to the four winds (or at least the air conditioning), with a whole bunch of people you only met once before parading through and peering and poking at your most delicate and intimate parts, and then asking you to do things like pee on the table.

As a girl, I was once a bit horrified by a TV depiction of birth – all that screaming and writhing and calling for hot water – and my mother, to save all hope of the lineage continuing, told me comfortingly that it wasn’t like that any more: it didn’t hurt these days, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine. Of course, then I went and turned my back on modern medicine and decided to have my babies as close to the old-fashioned way as I could manage, but I’m willing to bet that even with an epidural or a c-section, giving birth turns out to be a lot more like having sex on a spotlit stage (but less titillating, if that sort of thing turns you on) than you ever imagined it would. And you can’t even get drunk first.

I’m just warning you.

*When I moved here I was often amused to see things touted as being of “European design”, as if that would make them better. Becuase at home, we tend to think that all the newest, shiniest, coolest stuff comes from America. (It should really be Japan, but never mind that.) I didn’t think that something having been designed in, maybe, Ireland, would really be all that great. But after I while I came to understand that Americans like objects that come from places like Italy (strollers) or Denmark (furniture) and will pay much higher prices for something that says it was designed by Europeans. They don’t mean Dubliners, unless it’s Guinness.

The birds, the bees, and the giraffes

Sorry about the radio silence yesterday: I was busy tagging all my old entries and fixing the paragraph breaks so that my new tag cloud – look! over there! – would be more representative of the blog as a whole, and to perhaps entice people to read entries that have never before seen the light of day.

So now it turns out that an awful lot of my entries are about pregnancy –  but that’s just because it was seemed like an interesting thing to talk about at the time. Unsurprisingly, quite a number of others are about sleep. I’m still trying to refine the tags to make it a more useful tool, so it’s still a work in progress, but at least every entry has some sort of tag now. Anyway, let me know if you have any opinions on the tag cloud – if you think it’s useful/interesting/a waste of space, whatever.

**********

When I brought Monkey to school this morning his classroom was sorely depleted – almost half the class were out with a rampaging stomach bug, and I can hear the ominous strings of the Jaws music creeping up behind me as I type, sure that he’ll come down with it sooner or later. We’ve had a good run of luck not getting puking things recently, and it’s bound to end eventually. It’s not so much the illness I dread, as the cleanup.

Usually when we arrive at Monkey’s school, Mabel doffs her coat, I wash her hands, and she dives straight into the playdough or heads off to the kitchen area to whisk up a nice little something for the babies, before it’s time to leave the big kids to their activities unmolested by two-year-olds. Today Miss B (who is her new favourite person, having looked after her on Saturday evening while we went to a fundraiser) headed her off at the pass with the lure of plastic animals rampaging among wood blocks, and Mabel was soon holding forth on what exactly was going on between the lion, the panda, and the wild boar. Then she looked underneath the giraffe, and commented: “He has a penis, like a boy baby.”

Miss B looked startled, as she gamely agreed. In the universal signal of pride, I breathed rapidly on the kuckles of my right hand – hah – and polished them on my chest. That’s my girl, letting no penis go uncommented upon.

Incidentally, if anyone knows where this gesture originated, I’d love to hear it.