Category Archives: opinions

Too old

Lately, I’ve found myself saying to people that I’m too old for that.

It’s a good thing.

I’m not telling them I’m too old to dye my hair pink (should I so desire) or bungee jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge (sure!) or wear a short skirt or exercise or eat dessert or read teen fiction or have lilac toenails. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I’m too old to spend time worrying about what other people think, because I trust my own judgement.

I’m too old to care about what other people are wearing, because I’ll wear what I feel good in.

I’m too old to bother with fake tan, because I’m finally learning to love my fair skin.

I’m too old to worry about what the bitchy girls are saying.

I’m too old to even take the time to figure out who the bitchy girls are.

You don’t have to wait till you reach the illustrious age of 40 to embrace this liberating mantra. You can be too old for all that at 20, or 30, or even 16, if you’re really ahead of the game. But I have to say it seems to come more easily as the years go on.

Chubby

I would like to excise the words “fat” and “thin” from the English language.

Flashback: As we drove home with my tiny newborn daughter pinkly in the back seat, I allowed myself a few moments of fear about raising a girl: body image and self esteem were right there at the top of the list. But then I got over it and enjoyed my beautiful tiny snuggly baby.

Last night, my daughter – my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter – pulled me close to her and asked me in the whisper she uses when she’s being very serious, if she was a little bit too thin. She wanted to know if thin was good or fat was good.

My heart broke a tiny bit. Maybe more than a tiny bit.

“You are exactly perfect and beautiful,” I told her, perhaps a bit too fiercely. “Remember that always. Exactly perfect.”

And I told her that thin and fat are not bad and good things. Good is fresh air and exercise and being strong and healthy. Bad is, well, nothing, so long as you don’t overdo it. At least, I tried to tell her, but she probably went off at a tangent about something else entirely before I’d said even a quarter of all the important things I have to say – that it’s my duty as her mother and a woman who was a girl – to tell her.

I just have to keep telling her, don’t I?

Legitimately a little chubby, perhaps.

*She learned the word “chubby” from the movie Tangled. I wish she hadn’t.

Mind, body, baby

Your head is connected to your body.

This is something that apparently didn’t occur to me when I had my first baby. I decided to try believing it for my second, and it turned out to be true. Stop the presses.

To be fair, we’re not used to thinking about things this way. When you fall off your bike and scrape your knee as a child, you can’t stop the bleeding with the power of your mind. When you slice into the top of your thumb cutting a bagel, no matter how hard you concentrate you’re still going to need a band-aid. And because we’re conditioned to think of giving birth as a medical situation – because, you know, it happens in hospital, attended by doctors – we assume that we can’t just think the baby out either.

Okay, so you can’t actually, necessarily, think the baby out. There are a lot of factors you have no control over in the great rollercoaster ride of giving birth, but there are also elements where your mind has more influence than you might understand. It’s just that birth has become so medicalized, so much treated as an illness – a great hurdle with which a woman’s body cannot cope unless aided by drugs, interventions, surgeons perhaps – that the fact that you do actually have some influence over your own body is often forgotten.

Worse than that, even, I had the vague impression that anyone who told me my mind could help me give birth was in league with the hippies. You know, the hippies. The crazy women who want to paint their feelings and eat placenta paté and wear their hair in a centre parting and probably give birth naked.

Well, I’m a civilised modern woman and there’s no reason not to use the drugs that the good Lord got the doctors to invent for us and I’ll certainly be keeping my clothes respectably on when I give bir…. oh.

You have to take your clothes off to have a baby. At least, the ones you’re most used to keeping on. You may as well divest yourself of all your other preconceptions, while you’re at it. Giving birth, as I have mentioned before, is an elemental, visceral, down deep and dirty business, and you have to get in touch with your inner cavewoman.*

Your inner cavewoman is a hippie. Of course.

So remember what the hippies say, and believe it with all your heart, because it’s true:

  • A woman’s body is designed to give birth. If this was not the case, the human race would never have made it this far.
  • Once labour has started, your state of mind has an effect on your cervix. It really does. 
  • Visualization and verbal affirmations do make a difference. Because your mind is connected to the rest of your body, and just as I can tell my fingers to type these words, I can control what’s happening inside. The problem is simply that we’re not used to telling our cervix what to do, and we can’t see the results in front of us, so we suspect that it’s all just crazy touchy-feely claptrap.

If you’re pregnant, read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. Disregard the 80’s-esque photos and let the words sink in. Read the birth stories and remember that these are real stories of real women who simply chose to believe in their own bodies. Look into something like Birthing from Within or HypnoBirthing or (if you’re in Ireland) GentleBirth. They are not as kooky as you might think. In fact, they might not be kooky at all.

Read happy birth stories and stop watching all those TV shows where women give birth lying on their backs strapped to monitors in hospital beds, screaming in agony and finally, probably, being wheeled off for an emergency c-section.

Giving birth for the first time is a totally alien experience for most of us in the modern world, where birth tends to be hidden away from all but those immediately involved. It’s scary and weird and like nothing you’ve ever experienced before: a new human is about to burst forth from your nether regions, after all. Hire a doula, if you possibly can. No matter how well prepared you are, having someone who knows what’s going on – with your body, with the environment, with the medical professionals – who’s there solely for your benefit, is like having a GPS where previously you had only a candle.

 Trust your body. It’s trying to bring this baby into the world. Work with it, not against it.

Baby Dash, just born or thereabouts

PS: No, I’m not contemplating another birth of my own. A friend had a baby and it made me think, again, that’s all.

PPS: Of course, you can do all these things and believe in your body and be the biggest hippie on the block and still need intervention, and then isn’t it wonderful that modern medicine exists for just these times? I’m not advocating that you run off to the backwoods to have your baby beyond ken of mortal midwife, because that’s not terribly sensible. I’m just airing some thoughts and discoveries that I wish someone had stuffed down my own gullet the first time I was pregnant.

* I don’t think I came up with the inner cavewoman thing, but I can’t remember where I read it. If you know, and especially if it was you, please tell me and I’ll put in an appropriate link.

Pope-ular

Yesterday I had to leave the house at 3.00 to get Dash from school, as usual. The new pope was due to be announced and I had the tv on, but even though I waited – “Come on, it’s two minutes past, where is he?” – I had to leave without finding out who it was.

Not that I even knew who the contenders were. Dougal wasn’t one of them, neither was Grumpy Cat, and they were the only possibilities my Facebook feed had informed me of in the past weeks; but suspense is suspense and the Vatican knows how to play up a theatrical moment. I asked my friend-and-neighbour, as we bumped into her on the way up the road, if she knew, and we reminisced about past popes, as you do.

“When Ratzinger was elected I was teaching middle school…” she started to tell me.

Hang on. What? But she was a teacher a lifetime ago, and Ratzinger is almost new. I know it’s a lifetime ago because her kids are the same age as mine, and she taught before they were born. I was … wait, I was in southmost Texas, so it was my kids’ lifetimes ago too, but I feel like the election of the last pope is still a pretty recent event because I blogged about it.

Which just goes to show that I’ve been blathering on here for a long time. For more than a whole pope, you could say, using the ancient and irregular unit of measurement.

Everyone’s saying – where “everyone” is the people I know who might discuss these things – that they hope this pope is more open to change and more forward-looking and more willing to let in tiny things like, say contraception or women priests to the Catholic church. I said it myself yesterday.

But I’ve changed my mind.

The thing is, if the Catholic church did all those things that I and many other Catholics and ex-Catholics want it to, things like accepting contraception, and considering married clergy or even women priests, and acknowledging that it’s okay to be gay (not even touching on the more controversial topics like abortion and euthanasia), it wouldn’t be the Catholic church any more. So I think I actually agree with what Benedict said about wanting a “smaller, purer church.”

If all the people who genuinely disagree with the church’s teachings but still wish to participate in organized religion voted with their feet and left, heading instead for some more inclusive and accepting place (Anglicanism is not a huge stretch), the church would be much smaller – and perhaps have fewer resources and therefore less influence.

So many people stay in the church for the sake of tradition: because they were raised that way and it’s what they know, and they like the warm familiarity of the hymns and the responses and doing what they always did at Christmas and Easter. Maybe because your mother would be devastated if you didn’t, because you’ve never heard of anyone moving church – sure one’s as good as another, even because your in-laws wanted to know when the party was when you had the first baby, so you had a christening even though you hadn’t been to mass in years, and things just snowballed from there.

But unless you’re particularly attached to the other things that only come with Catholicism – transubstantiation and venerating Mary and the saints are all I can think of right now – maybe it’s time to move on. My mother was never a big fan of “a la carte” Catholics who take what they like and ignore the rest, and I’m starting to come around to her opinion, albeit from the opposite direction.

I know many people talk about working for change from within, which is laudable indeed. But the Church doesn’t want to be changed. The Church would rather you left, actually, if you want things like equality and contraception. God is God, and I’m firmly convinced that he/she/it doesn’t care what religion you adhere to and whose rules you follow so long as they’re not hurting anyone else.

Then again, I’m an atheist 85% of the time, so you can feel free to disregard my opinions on God altogether.


Disclaimer: As always when I talk about religion, I don’t wish to offend anyone and absolutely acknowledge your right to believe whatever you want so long as you respect everyone else’s point of view too. The flying spaghetti monster endorses this post.


Labels, schmabels

When Dash was born, before we left the hospital they brought us one last paper to sign. It went something like this:

DECLARATION OF INTENT: PARENTING STYLE

Please accept or decline the following.

We hereby declare that we will raise this child entirely according to the principles of Attachment Parenting, never deviating from the laws set out by Dr Bill Sears in his canonical volumes, including but not limited to the following basic tenets:

  • always wearing the baby and/or child, never pushing them in any type of wheeled conveyance 
  • breastfeeding on demand, at every peep, day and night, for the entirety of the first two years and thereafter as long as you possibly can
  • sleeping like a big happy pile of puppies in a family bed until the day the child decides they want to sleep alone
  • never, ever, allowing the baby to cry. At all.

On receipt of this signed declaration, you will be issued with an Attachment Parenting card. The Attachment Parenting Police may stop by your house unannounced at any point and your card may be revoked if such things as a stroller, a crib, or an open tin of formula are found in your possession.

Sign here: ____________________

Then there was a note:

Alternatively, you may wish to join the Evil Parenting movement. In this case, you will need form 666B, wherein you will avow to eschew slings, wraps, and carriers of all types; to wean the day your baby turns six months old or starts solids, whichever happens first – or to use formula from the get-go; to leave your baby in a crib in a dark room down the hall from your bedroom from day one and never ever nurse him/her to sleep; and to generally follow faithfully the principles laid out by either Ezzo or Gina Ford to the letter.

In big letters along the bottom, it said: THERE IS NO MIDDLE WAY.

Oh, wait. No, they didn’t.

We left the hospital with a new baby and a few ideas about how we wanted to look after him. When one thing didn’t work, we tried another. We ended up doing what worked, until it stopped, and then we looked at our options, read a variety of books, and tried again. After a while, the baby got bigger and those things were easier and different things were important. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Parenting is a journey, not a label.

Now can everyone please just go back to whatever they were doing last week?

Wherein I confess how ill-informed I really am

If we didn’t have children, I’d be a lot better informed. Or, perhaps, if B and I went on more dates – but not ones to see a movie.

Backing up to explain my point. (Beep beep beep.) I’m not good at politics. My brain tends to curl up in a little ball (even more, I mean) and sing “la la laaaa” when people talk about politics. I don’t know why, but it’s always been this way. When I read the newspaper, in hard copy or online, I scan the headlines and look at the pictures, and then skip to the Style section. I am much more likely to retain a quote I saw in passing about Christian Louboutin’s red-soled high heels than who has dropped out of the Republican race and who’s still in the running.

(Partly, and I have to parenthesise even more here in a whole paragraph of its own, this is because they all have stupid pretend names that I can’t distinguish from one another. I mean: Mitt (short for Mitten?), Newt (short for Lizard?) – what’s the difference? I only discovered this morning that Rush Limbaugh is not actually another candidate – he sounds like a candidate, doesn’t he? And I know Rick Santorum because of the Dan Savage thing years ago, but I still have no clear idea of how their policies stand or what they’re like as people. Admittedly, this is because I don’t read the articles, but it’s also because even if I did I’d forget whether I was reading about Mitt or Newt or some other guy. As far as I’m concerned they’re all crazy right-wing Republicans, and that’s all I need to know. Surely none of them will ever actually get into power.)

The average member of the Irish general public knows a lot more about the American political situation than I do right now. This was made painfully clear when B’s uncle asked me while we were in Ireland what I thought of the candidates, and I really had nothing to say. I mean, I still have nothing to say. What is there to think, other than that no reasonable person would vote for any of them? Do I really have to waste time finding out more? I tried to fall back on a joke, saying that I look to my husband for guidance in such matters, but unfortunately I was seated on the side of the uncle’s deaf ear, and by the time I’d repeated it clearly, it made me sound like just the sort of wife these candidates seem to want me to be, which I promise was not my intention.

But the thing is that B is one of the few people (as well as all of you, now, but you don’t exist in real life, do you?) to whom I’ll admit the depths of my ignorance on subjects like this, and let inform me of all the things most people know already. He’s very good at explaining things from first principles, which usually leads to more information than one needed, but in this case is exactly what I want. I mean, I know the basics of Democrats v Republicans, and which one Obama is and which one the Bushes were, but beyond that whatever you can tell me is probably good information. And I respect B’s principles and we have pretty much the same views on things, so to be honest, if he told me how to vote I’d probably find after doing some research that I came to the same conclusions.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that as non-citizens, neither of us do have a vote of any type in this country. As non-residents, we don’t have a vote in our home country either, as Ireland does not do postal votes. But there’s an unofficial online voting campaign that has happened for the last two elections, and I have researched the candidates running in my home constituency and decided who I would vote for there. Exercising my right to vote has always been important to me, even if all I could do for sure was to help try to keep the obviously crazy candidates out of power.

So when I see headlines like this one (pulled from my Facebook feed just now): “Alabama State Senator Proposes Legislation to Prohibit ‘Women and Non-Whites’ From Voting,” I go, “Oh, come on,” and don’t click it because I don’t even want to validate its existence by reading about it. And, I suppose, as a married woman for whom another pregnancy would not be a wholesale disaster, I’m in the happy position of not feeling too immediately personally affected by all the utter bullshit that the old white men are trying to come up with right now. But I have a daughter, and if the US turns out to be more backward about women’s reproductive rights than even my home country,* I’m going to have to start paying attention.  

(*Did you know that abortion of any kind is still illegal in Ireland? (Read this. It’s an eye-opener.) Before 1985 you needed a prescription to buy a condom there. Divorce came in in 1996. Most of the schools are run by the Catholic Church… all this I’m used to, this I can deal with, though it’s far from ideal.) 

Which brings me to today. Today I put on what I believe are called “dress trousers” – that is, the sort of thing I used to wear to my semi-casual workplace, and a necklace (and also a top and a cardigan, and a bra too, but I’m just not mentioning that because I do usually wear a bra and also a top, as opposed to the other things which are less frequently disported these days) and boots with a bit of a heel, and tried to look like a responsible adult, because B and I went to talk to a lawyer about doing that ultimate responsible adult thing of making a will. (Finally. After meaning to do it for six years or so now. I know, I know.) I suppose I could have gone in my jeans and my sneakers just like any other day, but I felt the need to be in my “professional” guise. It’s funny, it had been so long since I’d dressed that way that the word that came to mind when I looked in the mirror was “mannish”. I changed my cardigan for a lighter colour, put on the jewellery and some lipstick, and hoped for the best. I think it was just the unfamiliar silhouette that wierded me out.

Anyway, we dropped the children to their respective schools and went to meet the nice man, who turned out to be the perfect conjunction of older enough to make us feel like he knows what he’s talking about, and not so old that we felt he’d be better engaged polishing up the codicils of his own will rather than ours. As we left, he congratulated us on doing the responsible adult thing. I felt like wailing, “But we’re nearly 40!” At what point do we actually become responsible adults in the eyes of the older generation?

And then, since we still had half an hour to kill, we went and had a coffee date at Starbucks and pretended to be having a business meeting like the other businessly-dressed people there. I have no idea when the last time I sat and had a coffee in public with my husband without fielding constant demands for chocolate milk and lemon pound cake was, and it was very nice. It also enabled him to give me a quick overview of the Republican candidates, and a quick update on the fact that Rush Limbaugh isn’t actually one of them.

As soon as we got Mabel from school though, the discussion was peppered with “Mummy!” and “Stop talking!” and “When I was in the sandbox I looked for Anne but I couldn’t find her…” and “Nobody is allowed talk!” and other such imperious demands. Which is why we don’t usually get to have conversations.

Now, where’s that babysitter’s e-mail again?
___

Note: I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my offhand dismissal of all Republican politicians as crazies. Your views are your own, and mine, as I am pointing out, are all but non-existent. I’m trying to remedy this, so that I have actual opinions the better with which to offend you. I mean, other people who aren’t reading this.

Doin’ it rong, cos I don’t like right

I read advice columns sometimes, but sometimes I should really know to leave well enough alone and stop at the title. This morning I made the mistake of reading this one, and it’s possible I took it a mite too personally.

Amy is a favourite blogger of mine, and has three boys: Noah is a few months older than my Monkey, Ezra is just a month older than Mabel, and – well, there ends our uncanny bloggy connection, as she just had Isaac (Ike) this past June, and I – I’m fine, thanks all the same. She’s a great mom and gives good, heartfelt, well-reasearched, and sensible advice.

On the other hand, her boys, so far, have been great sleepers, and neither Noah nor Ezra was as devoted to the boob as my children were/are. (Since Ike is only two months old, I’ll give him a pass.) This particular entry in her advice column isn’t even about sleeping or breastfeeding – it’s about a toddler who asks for a midnight snack – but, of course, I was able to read deep into the subtext and divine that, once again, I’m doing it All Rong.

Of course I am. This is not news, it’s just that I prefer to leave these things unsaid and not have people blare them onto my laptop right during my quiet time. Of course Mabel wakes up multiple times a night and demands to nurse, because I have programmed her to do so. Of course she’s not going to change this habit of her own volition, because it’s too cushy. Even though I constantly find patterns where patterns are not and decide, for example, as I did last night at 3am, that she’s dropping a waking all on her own – she normally wakes at 10 and 12 and 3, but last night she woke at 11 and then not till 3 – it’s probably not really true. Anyway, then she latched on again at 4.30 and didn’t seem to come off till she got up at 7.30, so it wasn’t really an improvement.

But have you met my daughter? Maybe you haven’t. She’s feisty. She’s loud. When crossed, she goes full-on Exorcist. When crossed and tired, she’s ear-splitting and tragic and I just don’t have the resources to deal with that at 3am. She’s strong and determined and will be a great woman to have in your corner in a few years’ time, but right now she’s in nobody’s corner but her own because a) she’s 2, and b) at 3am, who isn’t?

And you know, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care (much) that I’m doing it all wrong. I’m not dropping from exhaustion because I co-sleep for half the night and my body is perfectly used to it. I’m not wasting away from all the breastfeeding, and I get to eat a bunch of good stuff without putting on weight. In a few years’ time, both my children will be grade-schoolers, running around with their friends and barely giving me the time of day, and I’ll have new things to be doing wrong, like homework enforcement and peer-pressure defence and computer time and figuring out when it’s reasonable for a kid to have their own phone these days. And nobody will be asking me how long it took before Mabel slept through the night or when she weaned or when she potty trained.

So yes, I’m a sap, and a mug, and maybe some day I’ll start doing it right. But I doubt it.

Apostrophizing

Every night since we came back (that’s, ooh, twelve nights now) I’ve wondered if this will be the one when Mabel goes to sleep without a trip downstairs or three for a drink/waffle/book/talk to Daddy. So far, apart from that one evening when I wasn’t home till after nine because of a committee meeting, that night has not yet come. Maybe it will be tonight.

No. No, it’s not tonight.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about possessive plurals.

About three of you said “Yes, let’s,” and everyone else’s index finger is slowly migrating north to that suddenly more attractive Next Blog link. Well, fine. Go if you want, but you might miss something. I’m just warning you.

It all began with the Presidents Club, which was something dreamed up by the Sales Department of the software company I used to work for, to entice its members to sell, sell, sell our product. The sales people were all (mostly) in the USA, and I was in Ireland, where head office lay. And somehow we in the Editing Department, desperate for work so as not to be downsized, had got our tentacles on Marketing Stuff and I was faced with proofing some internal baloney about how if you sold Lots and Lots of computer-based training courses, you too could become a member of the prestigious Presidents Club and go on a special trip to New Orleans next summer.

This may be something that all US-based sales departments have, but I was not US-based and had never been in sales, and I was very hazy as to what on earth all this was about. I sent confused e-mails back to someone in California asking what president this was, and how many presidents we were talking about here, and in what sense was this or was this not the club of/for/by/about one or more presidents. And whether they could not just call it something less ambiguous, please, instead?

Now that I’m older and wiser and know about Presidents Day, I am more forgiving of the presidents club. I passed more than one third Monday of February in this country before I acquiesced to those who forwent the apostrophe. I wanted it to be the day of all the past presidents, and therefore to be Presidents’ Day. But no! It’s not the day of them, it’s the day celebrating them, about them, if you will. So no possessive needed.

Looking back, I would now charitably assume that whoever invented the damn Presidents Club was modelling it on the eponymous Day, and I would just leave well enough alone. But that was then, and I can only apologise so much for apostrophes inserted where none were due.

But every week now for half the year, twice a week at least, I’m faced with a similar – but not similar enough, more’s the pity – conundrum, as from May or June on, I begin to see signs pop up on random street corners for a market where farmers gather to sell their produce directly to the public. A farmers’ market. Or a farmers market? Is it a market of the farmers, by the farmers, or about the farmers? I think we can all agree that it’s not a farmer’s market, unless it’s particularly tiny, but beyond that I’m no longer as decisive as I was in my confidently dogmatic youth. Perhaps the sign is merely telling me that farmers market. Yes, they do.

I’m not even going to try to tell you about the confusion that arose in my mind when I encountered the phrase “Laissez les bon temps rouler” in the same internal sales brochure. If only we’d had Wikipedia in 1999.

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.

Unasked-for advice

If some poor soul asked me, not realising how much and how long I can go on about such things, what wisdom I had to impart about having a baby (a first baby, I mean), I would tell them, first, and then in great detail, how it is utterly impossible to underestimate the amount that this will change everything, totally and for ever.

Which isn’t surprising, really, considering you’re talking about being in charge of a new person, from scratch, just you and (if you’re lucky) your partner. But we humans, we get the baby urge and we go all gurgly around small ones, and we tend to play down this aspect of procreation. It’s Darwinian – if we thought about it too hard, nobody would ever reproduce. I’m (belatedly) reading Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, and at one point she confesses that she thought having a baby would be a little more like having a cat. I think we all did, probably.

But then I would tell the person who had asked and was now probably already regretting it, especially if I was telling them in e-mail form because they’d get several chapters’ worth in reply, probably replete with ennumerated, or at least bulleted, lists; on the other hand, I’d never know if they just closed the window and went on their merry way – at least until the pop quiz arrived the next week – I’d tell the person that they should do as I say and not as I do about this next bit.

Try to keep some things that don’t change, I’d say. Whether it’s some semblance of an exercise routine, or going shopping with your best friend, or having a date night, or even all three and something else as well, you should do your utmost to continue with some regular activity that was part of your life before the baby, albeit a bit less often. But not as un-often as I’ve managed to do this: to wit, taking two years to go back to my one puny weekly exercise class (“not that there’s anything puny about advanced pilates, thank you,” says my core; also “ow”), we’ve averaged about two date nights a year so far, and my shopping-companion best friend is still in Dublin, so we have an annual shopping trip, if lucky.

It’s the guilt, you see. The maternal guilt. On the rare occassions when I’m out of the house and away from the children, even with them in the very capable hands of their father, I constantly feel like an escapee from the asylum, liable to be caught and returned at any moment, and that if I tarry one minute longer than the shortest time possible, something terrible will happen. The only time the guilt subsides is when they’re asleep, and my entire body relaxes and and a Pavlovian desire for a cup of tea and something very chocolate rushes over me. Even then, there are so many things I should be doing in this “down time”, from blogging to laundry to relaxing and reading a book (Books. I remember them.) that it’s not long before the nagging feeling comes back. Oh for the days when I had one thing to be doing at one time (work, or drinking, or lying on my bed listening to my new CD) and even extra time in there when I had to invent things to do, like trying on all my clothes (not at once) or playing with eyeshadow or reorganizing the bookshelf according to publisher/edition.

These are not those days, is what I’m trying to say. Some day, no doubt, I’ll be bored again. Until then, my books will remain in haphazard order and I’ll just be happy if they’re not chewed on. Too much.