Being a mum to teens

I am taking part in Perfection Pending‘s weekly Blog Hop

Perfection Pending

It is said that we humans are creatures of habit. I tend to have a daily routine, but only when my day works out as I would wish. This happens more often now that I am mother to teens rather than having to deal with the varied needs of young children. These days I am less in demand so have the luxury of organising my day with a reasonable certainty that things will go to plan. At least that is how it would be if I was less of a pushover.

There are still simple tasks that I complete for my children because I am an awesome mummy if I didn’t do them then they wouldn’t get done. I suspect that this would bother nobody except me. For example, I prefer lights to be switched off during the day, curtains to be opened, beds to be made, pyjamas shaken out and rooms aired. I am not convinced that the three teen caves in our house would be habitable if I did not open the windows from time to time.

Whilst tiptoeing carefully through the detritus of their teenage lives, most of which seems to reside on their bedroom floors, I come across the used mugs, plates, bowls and wrappers that suggest I do not feed them. Funny that. If I piled their plates higher at mealtimes their food would spill over onto the table. Perhaps this is the answer; perhaps I need a large, table sized trough permanently topped up with pasta, noodles or other salt laden delights for them to forage in when they feel the need. My insistence on cutlery, crockery, healthy food and sociable eating times is just so last year.

Each weekday morning, having made sure that all three children have set off for school, I return the house to some semblance of order and then start my own day. Unless of course somebody has forgotten something. Today, for example, younger son remembered to pack his PE kit, he even remembered to take it with him when he left the house. It did not, however, make it into school with him but was instead abandoned in the hallway of a friend’s house as they waited for their lift. This is an improvement on the number of times PE kits have been left at bus stops, but still meant that my first task today was to carry out a delivery that had not been a part of my planned agenda.

Some mums that I talk to can relate to my willingness to indulge these cries for help, despite my frustration. Others suggest that I should just make my kids go without forgotten items. Coping with the trouble that this would cause is supposed to teach them not to do it again, a bit like letting them go to school on a wet and windy day without a coat is supposed to teach them something. This has never worked with my kids. Elder son does not wish to carry a coat around with him all day so leaves it at home whatever the weather. It reminds me of my mother’s insistence that I always carry an umbrella, just in case. I still prefer to go out in the rain bareheaded and cope. I remember my mother’s caring concern as nagging that irritated me intensely. Children do not always hear the intended message.

My kids have their own house keys so I do not need to be home when they return from school in the afternoon. It is rare indeed for this to happen. I enjoy sitting down with them for a cup of tea and a chat, it is one of my favourite parts of the day. When I am caught up in some other task and miss out on their daily banter it can be hard to catch up. Once they are ensconced in their rooms, chatting to their friends on social media, my company becomes an unwelcome diversion.

I have recently written about what I do all day when not dealing with my house and my kids. The days are too short to fit in all the things that I wish to achieve. Perhaps the true reason why I continue to indulge my teens when they are easily capable of sorting themselves out is because this is the easiest way of staying involved in their lives. Their mess and lack of appreciation may get me down at times, but they do still find me useful. I like that.

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Christmas

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme: Merry Christmas!

Well, what else could have been chosen for this week?

Remember the Time Blog Hop

 

Christmas Eve. My sister and I would be put to bed, but we couldn’t get to sleep. Her bed was by the window and she would pull back the curtains, just a little, and peer out into the dark night sky. Somewhere up there a man dressed in red was flying from house to house delivering presents down chimneys. She hoped beyond hope for a glimpse, especially of the reindeer.

Outside our bedroom door we could hear our parents moving softly around the house, up and down the stairs. This was most unusual. Occasionally there would be a faint rustle of paper, but if we suspected what was going on we never voiced our thoughts. We wanted to believe in the magic.

We thought that we would stay awake all night but somehow, at some point, fell asleep. Waking in the morning to a quiet house we would wait, as instructed, until 7am. It was so hard to remain quiet as we whispered and wondered and checked the clock yet again.

Eventually, at the appointed hour, we could wake our parents. But our teenage brother always wanted to sleep! How could he on Christmas morning…

And so we would enter the lounge and stare in awe at the piles of colourfully wrapped parcels. The paper was always the same: slightly crumpled, with a few tears and the remains of previous year’s sticky tape. My mother required that we open each present carefully to preserve the wrapping paper, which she would smooth out and fold before placing it in a storage box. Somehow this ritual did nothing to spoil our belief in Santa Claus.

The new toys were treasured, the books set aside for later, the clothes from ancient relatives (probably in their thirties at the time) discarded. And then there were the selection boxes. Chocolate bars, bags of candy and toffees would be consumed for breakfast as we struggled to remove the packaging from the toys we had longed for, and many that we had not realised we had wanted but now adored.

Eventually we would have to dress and get into the car to go fetch Grandma. This was not a chore as the unfailingly generous soul always gave us a major new toy. Throughout the journey we would try to guess what it might be, what from the list that we had sent to Santa had we not yet received?

When all presents had been opened and Grandma had been safely brought back to our house my mother would serve dinner. I was a hungry child and loved this day, when I could eat my fill without fear of comments about my girth. Replete we would settle down in front of the television to watch the Christmas film, hugging a favourite toy from the day’s haul.

My Grandma never wished to stay for long after the meal and my father would be required to drive her home. My sister and I would return to snacking on our confectionery and investigating toys that had not yet warranted much attention. Having produced all the food, my mother would be left to clear up the debris from dinner.

By the evening we would be tired from the excitement and activity; we would go to our beds hugging a new, soft friend.

I have only happy memories of the Christmases of my childhood. It was a magical time, as rose tinted as they come.

I feel blessed to have had parents who made it so.

Christmas presents

Read the other posts in this Blog Hop by clicking on the link below 

 

Neighbours

An elderly couple lived next door to my parents when I was growing up, at least I think that they were elderly. Looking back through the eyes of a childhood memory it is hard to know what age the adults around me were when I was young. My parents were old, their neighbours were old, but this couple really did seem elderly.

They had a grown up son so, unlike just about all the other neighbours, no children lived in their house. As a result I never saw inside it. When I grew tall enough to clamber onto our garage roof I caught my first glimpse of their back garden. They had surrounded it with tall hedges and trees for privacy. If they saw me as I surveyed their realm from my hard won vantage point then I don’t suppose they appreciated the curiosity of their neighbour’s young child.

They were, however, friendly towards me. If I was playing in our driveway when they returned home from work each evening then we would greet each other. Sometimes the gentleman offered me a stick of chewing gum, a treat that did not impress my mother. I was interested in them because they ran a shop. It was located near to an aunt’s house and my mother had pointed it out to me when we went to visit this relative. I enjoyed playing shop with my toy cash register and was fascinated by this unknown domain.

I do not remember how it came about. Perhaps I asked outright, maybe they offered following my insistent questioning, but I was invited to join them at their work one day. It was not the highly exciting few hours that I had anticipated. Perhaps I was not even there for that long.

Being alone with a couple that I barely knew felt strange. Once I had inspected the drawer where they kept the money (they did not use a cash register) and looked around at the bikes, repair kits, spares and random toys that they sold, I was at a loss as to how to amuse myself. I suspect that they were at a loss as to what to do with this young child and regretted agreeing to have me there.

I wanted to touch too much inside so was allowed to play on the street so long as I did not stray from view at the front. It was hard to amuse myself alone though. I wondered why I had thought that this would be such an exciting treat.

At midday the lady cooked a hot meal in a little kitchen out the back. With my father at work and we children at school each weekday, our hot meal was cooked in the evening. I thought that this was how everyone lived. I was not invited to join them so hung around aimlessly as they ate. The smell of the food was not appealing and I was pleased when my mother appeared to collect me soon after.

My mother felt obliged to make a purchase now that she had entered her neighbours territory; perhaps this was why she had never taken me in before when I had asked. I had spotted many toys that I coveted on the shelves but she did not wish to spend much on the overpriced goods. The cheapest item on offer, a puncture repair kit, would have provided limited play value, so it was suggested that I accept a small doll. Even though I did not often play with dolls I was pleased to be given something new.

This visit to the shop satisfied my curiosity and taught me that the unknown is not necessarily fun. I had been bored and nervous of these virtual strangers who had seemed so different outside the brief encounters at our homes. I knew that they had done me a favour and was grateful for their kindness, but I had not enjoyed my day.

I continued to greet these neighbours as they came and went but I watched their habits with less interest as I grew older. I found them odd in so many ways, although I suspect they were merely of a different generation. My parents would choose to go out on an enjoyable walk whereas this couple took a purposeful, evening constitutional. The only visitor they ever seemed to have to their house was their son.

I remember when the gentleman died his wife decided to learn to drive. She had bought herself a licence before tests were required but had never been behind the wheel of a car. I watched as her son showed her how to use the controls of the little automatic mini that she purchased. When she drove it was wise to stay well away. Although she could make the car move forwards she struggled with reverse. Eventually she damaged her little car trying to back it out of her narrow driveway. She gave up on her attempts to drive soon after this.

As my life moved forwards I lost interest in my parent’s neighbours. When my sister and I were little we had seemed to know so many of them as they had children our age with whom we played in the street. By the time I reached my teenage years I was socialising with others who lived beyond.

I do not remember what happened to the shop. It was on a road that has now become quite fashionable with boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. My parents still live in the same house in another part of town, but most of those they knew have moved away.

The first job I took, while still at school, was at a checkout in a local petrol station. I learned how to use a cash register and that I hated such work. I could cope with the stress of deadlines as all that was needed was my time and effort. Queues of impatient people were beyond my control.

It is only now, looking back, that I wonder about these people I lived amongst yet knew so little about. The media likes to suggest that we are less neighbourly these days. Back in the day I lived next to a house for more than twenty years yet never saw inside.

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Not just on a Monday

I am linking up with the Manic Mondays Blog Hop!!

Perfection Pending

After a fun and restful weekend I had a few things to catch up on this morning. Actually, I have the same things to catch up on most mornings. These are just a some of the joys that can be experienced when sharing a house with teenagers.

First off, on school days, I need to drag myself from my warm and cosy bed in order to check that they are awake. This has to be done with some stealth because, you know, they are perfectly capable of getting themselves up in the morning and do not need Mom to wake them. Except sometimes they do. Sometimes the alarm just doesn’t go off (of course it was set the night before, it’s not their fault!). Thus I can be found tiptoeing silently through the darkened house as I check that there is a light on in each bedroom.

Once I am sure that they have woken up I can grab myself a cup of coffee and return to my bedroom. It is unwise to try to converse at this time of the morning. Teenagers have a lot to think about first thing and none of it is any concern of Mom’s. Unless something major has been forgotten, in which case I am expected to sort it out in the five minutes before they leave the house. I find it is best if I keep my head down and leave them to it until they are just about ready to go.

Once they have banged the door behind them I can start my day proper. I wander through their rooms, turning off lights, folding back bed covers and gathering abandoned clothes from the floors and laundry baskets. Sometimes these jobs have been done by the capable teen, but they lead busy lives with important tasks to complete; like homework, computer games, chatting to friends, Tumblr updates. Locating all those abandoned socks and placing them in a basket for washing is not high up on their priority lists. Luckily for them there is a reasonably efficient laundry fairy to ensure that their wardrobes always contain clean clothes.

Next up I start the daily hunt for dirty dishes. If teenagers are one thing it is hungry, always. After school snacks, early evening snacks and late night snacks all get carried up to their rooms on plates which then vanish from sight under piles of paper that I dare not tidy away in case a homework goes missing. They assure me that they have a system, which works until they lose a particular book. Thankfully for all concerned I have a good record of finding these missing books, often cunningly hidden in full view on their desk or bedroom floor.

Cups of tea and glasses of water are finished and the crockery abandoned in the strangest of places. I find mugs on window ledges when I pull back curtains, empty glasses on shelves in every room. Mugs also gather on the table in the landing, or on the floor of almost any room in the house. I gather these up and transfer them to the dishwasher. I am so grateful for my machines.

All these snacks create crumbs, easily dealt with using my vacuum cleaner. Except the floor is still covered with those papers, books and magazines that I dare not move. I tentatively ease the cleaner around the small areas of carpet that are not hidden under debris, determining to come up with a suitable bribe at the weekend to make them sort out this mess. In their eyes of course it is not a mess but a filing system that I should just leave alone.

Sometimes I try to clean a little more thoroughly but this is generally unwise. Much as they like to have a tidy room, if I have moved a single thing then it is my fault next time anything is lost. Room tidying is best done with them in attendance and only when we are both in a good enough mood. Strength and resilience is vital.

As they drift in from their day, late afternoon, I will offer drinks and snacks and try to converse. I can never be sure how this will go. Sometimes they feel pleasantly chatty, but often I get the barely tolerant ‘It was fine‘ when I ask about their day. Such a response quickly conveys that their lives are none of my business and could I just leave them alone, which I do.

Until dinner time. I insist on a family dinner time.

Don’t get me wrong, I think my teenagers are fabulous. I remember hating being told to clean my room and keeping much of my life private; I do not have a problem with any of this. The fact that I can remember is, though, beyond their comprehension. Someone as old as me cannot possibly remember back so far as my teenage years. How can one’s parent ever have been a teenager?

In my children’s eyes I once had a pet mammoth and certainly never had fun or went to parties. When I look back at photographs of my parents or teachers taken when I was my children’s age I am amazed at how young they look. In my eyes they were always old, and I understand that this is how I now look to my children.

I try not to nag as I gather up yet another handful of mugs from a random location, or find the trousers that a son needed this morning abandoned in a heap behind a door. The trail of mud on the stairs that tells me a child had to grab a forgotten book from upstairs after they had put on their shoes to leave irritates but is easily swept. I try to support more than remonstrate.

My children will have time enough to learn better housekeeping when they leave home and have to pick up for themselves. When I am left with pristine rooms and a solitary silence I will miss this daily routine.

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To read the other posts in this Blog Hop, click on the link below

 

 

Warmth

Day 5 of my countdown to Christmas and I am thinking about how lucky I am to be warm. Stormy weather is forecast for today which, with the recent drop in temperature, makes it a day best spent hibernating. I am sitting at my desk, wrapped in a duvet, a warm cup of coffee by my side. I feel cosy and content.

My preparations for Christmas are starting to take shape. I do just about all of my shopping on line these days so have been browsing the internet and placing orders each evening. The interesting looking parcels and boxes are starting to arrive and the items on my ‘to do’ lists are gradually being ticked off.

I realise, of course, how lucky I am. We have never been a family that has gone overboard with gift buying, but I know that there are many people who would struggle to afford the presents that we exchange. We are blessed in so many ways with our health, each other and the comforts we enjoy. I am thankful for all of this.

I pulled a new book from my shelves this morning as I felt I was ready to immerse myself in another world. After reading a good book I require recovery time so do not always have one on the go. An ending, no matter how satisfactory, forces me to set aside the characters whose lives I have become involved with. Sometimes it can be a regretful goodbye as I do not wish to leave their world. A good book is so precious and powerful.

The book I selected this morning has turned out to be an excellent choice for where I currently am in my life. It was recommended to me by a Facebook friend who I have also met in person on a couple of occasions. I believe that I would enjoy getting to know her better should the opportunity arise so her recommendation was of interest.

The book is ‘Human Traces’ by Sebastian Faulks. I have had mixed experiences with this author. I would highly recommend ‘Birdsong’ to anyone, it is a rare and brilliantly written book. I also thought ‘Engleby’ was excellent, so powerful and thought provoking. ‘Charlotte Grey’ disappointed me though as I found it weak compared to his other tales. As Engleby proved, I do not need to like the protagonist, but Charlotte Grey’s behaviour did not strike me as consistent; for a supposedly clever woman she behaved foolishly. ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ was entertaining but lacked depth. It was not a bad book, worth reading, but not as good as some of his others.

I had bought ‘Human Traces’ when it was recommended but knew nothing about the plot until I picked it up today. It turns out to be about two psychiatrists, which is apt and interesting to me, particularly at this time. I am currently in week five of a six week, distance learning psychology course offered by the University of Warwick. Naturally I am interested in the subject matter or I would not have signed up but, even so, the course has exceeded my expectations.

I enjoy being made to think and the videoed lectures, interviews and reading matter certainly generate plenty of new thoughts. They have introduced me to concepts and ideas about how the human mind functions and how we, as humans, cope with and react to life’s variety of situations. I hope that my recent learning will enhance my enjoyment of a book that explores this subject when it was in it’s infancy as far as the medical establishment was concerned. From his previous books I deduce that Sebastian Faulks carefully researches his subject matter before spinning a readable and sometimes demanding tale around it. I have high hopes that I will enjoy this one.

As part of my course I have been doing a lot of thinking about myself and those I know. Not the introspective naval gazing that can be selfishly destructive and judgemental, but a more dispassionate appraisal of behaviour and why we act as we do. A six week, part time course with a little additional reading is only ever going to offer a taster for such a complex subject, but a little learning can be enough to stretch the mind. I may feel better in myself after physical exercise, but I do enjoy exercising my mind rather more.

The strong winds outside are doing their best to blow the last of the leaves from the trees, and into my garden that I so carefully raked and cleared of debris earlier in the week. I will not be venturing out today though, other than to care for my hens. Rather I will curl up with my book and allow myself to be cocooned in the warmth of my home. I will relish this comfort as I immerse myself in a new and hopefully captivating world.

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Teenagers

Living with older kids has a lot of benefits. Sure, for a peaceful life it is necessary to tiptoe around the easily offended feelings of volatile teenagers. A flippant remark taken the wrong way can result in a scathing comeback followed by that all too familiar, foot stomping exit from the room as the Worst Parent Ever is put firmly in their place and left to mull their inadequacies alone. Most of the time though, on a day to day basis, I have found that my life is easier.

For a start, they can travel unaccompanied. After many years of running the household with military precision to ensure that each of my three kids was fed, delivered to wherever they needed to be on time with whatever they needed for that activity, and then picked up and brought home again as required, it is a relief to be able to simply keep track of who needs to be where and when without having to leave the house. Sometimes I will still be asked to do a drop off, or to pick up one child or another, but most outings are organised by the kids themselves, including transport.

Play dates are a thing of the past. We still get plenty of friends calling round, and sometimes they stay for a meal or to sleepover, but again, it is organised without any need for my intervention. All I need to do is to make sure that we have enough pizza in the freezer and leave the TV room free for their chosen entertainment.

On a day to day basis we can now eat when it suits the adults on most nights as the myriad of late afternoon and early evening activities have been abandoned. If the kids have something organised then they can sort out their own food. Dinner time can be a respectable 7pm or later and caters for whoever happens to be home. Afterwards I can generally sit down to relax knowing that those who are out will make their own way back. I do not even need to be here when they return from school as they carry their own keys, although I do like to sit down with them at this time for a cup of tea and a catch up when I can.

I miss spending time with my kids. They retreat to their bedrooms at every opportunity, but I remember doing the same thing at their age so do not take it personally. It is rare to find an activity that all three will wish to join in with, but this does give me the opportunity to enjoy their company individually. It is easy to leave those who do not wish to take part at home alone; they have all outgrown the need for babysitters.

I still do a lot for my kids, but it is because I choose to do so, not because they are incapable. I am very aware that they need to learn how to take care of themselves as they will be preparing to live away from home all too soon. I choose my battles carefully; a messy bedroom may irritate me, but it is more important that they know how to prepare a meal for themselves.

On Day 3 of my countdown to Christmas I am therefore thinking positively about my children and how much I am enjoying watching them metamorphise from the little people I have nurtured to the grown ups they will become. It can be hard at times to adjust to no longer being at the centre of their lives, but the freedom that this has granted me can be enjoyed.

I do miss the impetuous hugs, the smiles and the little hand in mine when reassurance is required, but I am glad to have moved beyond the nappies, the tantrums and the never ending demands of the very young.

Knowing when to be there for teenagers may be a challenge, but at least for now I am still a part of their lives, even if less significant than I once was.

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Motivation

Our house is on a hill at the edge of a rural village. From my bedroom window I look down over fields and woodland towards a river valley and distant railway line. This morning the valley is shrouded in a light mist. There is frost on the ground and the few remaining leaves on the trees are shades of green and gold and brown. The newly risen sun is trying to break through the light cloud. It is a beautiful morning.

For some time now I have been following a blog written by a young mother in America. I love the way she writes about her life challenges and her thoughts. She sounds like the sort of person I would enjoy getting to know outside of the internet. Our lives are very different in so many ways, yet we also have much in common. I think that we could make some good conversation given the chance.

Yesterday she asked the question, What’s Your Motivation for getting up in the morning? It has set off a whole tree load of thoughts in my head. It made me realise that, unlike my younger self, I look forward to getting up each day. I enjoy the early mornings, the silence and the peace of a sleeping house. There is rarely anything in particular about the day that I am looking forward to doing. When I look ahead, beyond the day that I am in, I feel anxious. When I relax where I am now I feel happy and calm.

I have friends who love to travel. Not for them the package holiday in the sun, where comfort is guaranteed and all their needs are catered for; they visit amazing places where they explore what lies beyond the standard tourist trail. As soon as they return from an adventure they plan the next one. They live their lives in eager anticipation.

I have other friends whose lives revolve around parties, concerts, outings to the theatre and to restaurants with family and friends. They enjoy the social whirl, the chance to dress up and get out. They are busy and active with their plans and full diaries, sleeping late to recover and prepare for the next big thing.

I have no wish to do these things. I can understand the attraction and enjoy hearing about their activities, seeing pictures of my friends having fun doing their thing. For me though I want the safety and security of home.

I get up in the morning, draw back the curtains and look down on the magnificent view outside my bedroom window. I feel grateful that I live here, at peace with the world. I spend my days reading, writing, making my home a more comfortable place for my family to enjoy. When I go out it is on foot or on my bicycle to explore the surrounding countryside or to visit the local gym and pool.

My days are full and satisfying. I am motivated to get up in the morning because I anticipate the pleasure I will find in this new day. If I think of what lies beyond then events that concern me come to mind: a need to drive my daughter to an unknown city for a conference, a dinner that I must cook for guests. When I look ahead I worry about all the things that could go wrong.

It is not that I fear the future, but more that I remember similar, specific events that caused me grief and wish to avoid the risk of repetition. I feel safe and secure in my day to day life where I can take pleasure in simple activities. Facing the unknown requires courage that I struggle to find.

Other readers of the blog that I linked to above commented that their motivation for getting up and on with their day was obligation. I wonder if I have grown selfish in setting aside the obligations that used to drive so many of my actions. It was these that caused my problems; removing them from my life was a means of self preservation.

It is that self word that concerns me though. I wonder what sort of a person I have become that I live so much for what is good for me rather than others. If I am to serve my family well then I must preserve my health and my sanity, but there is a wider world to consider.

Life has a habit of moving on and changing us as new experiences offer the opportunity to learn and grow. I am not the same person I was a year ago; I cannot know what I will become.

For now then I will allow myself to enjoy this period of solitude and calm. I will continue to drink in the beauty of my surroundings, remaining mindful that transition is inevitable. I am as much a part of this world as all that is about me; I will seek to act with the care and respect that it deserves.

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Book Review: My Father’s House by Bethany Dawson

Recommended to me by a friend from my school days who still lives in the province, this book is set in contemporary Northern Ireland but spends much of the story looking back. Having grown up in Belfast, many of the places mentioned were familiar. It did at times feel rather too spread out for the distances that those living in the rural communities depicted would have felt comfortable travelling. Although the six counties are small, the people lived insular lives and travelling further than a town or two away with any regularity would have been unusual. The way everyone knew everyone else and gossip was rife was picked up well though.

It took a while for me to synch with the cadence of the book. At first the language felt stilted, but it soon started to feel correct for the characters portrayed. The author captures the balance between expectation, duty, geographical closeness and the topics that remain guessed at yet unspoken within families with an accuracy that made me feel disturbed and uncomfortable. There is no doubt that this book affected me very personally.

The plot revolves around a family whose father is dying of cancer. Life in rural Ulster is described with an uncanny realism although I did feel there were a few flaws. The mother had left the father and somehow managed to finance a new home. How she did that was never explained. As a wife of twenty or so years she did not work outside of the family home and farm. To suddenly leave her husband would have been highly unusual; to be able to afford to do so in such a comfortable way struck me as unlikely.

None of the characters were particularly appealing. Their flaws were well portrayed but not their better qualities, which must have existed in some form for them to have got to where they were. The underlying tensions between siblings and the way children see their parents as always old were well described. I found the second half of the book easier to read as we were shown glimpses of the people the parents used to be and understood better why they had got together. As a parent myself I find it frustrating that my children cannot see me as an individual but only in relation to themselves.

I found the denouement satisfying. Given the picture that had been painted in the previous two hundred or so pages I felt that any other ending would have felt false. There is very little in this book that did not feel all too real. It is full of raw emotion with no glossing over weaknesses and flaws.

The book disturbed me, probably because so much of the tale felt too close to home for comfort. I consider a book that can get to me in this way to be powerful. For those who cannot relate to the intricacies of the time and place, it is a well written family saga. There are no great shocks or changes of direction, but the book is a page turner and a satisfying read.

I am left with a few questions that I would have liked to have had answered by the end of the book, such as why the father sold his land and where the money went. It was, however, a story about people and their tales were tidied to believable and generally satisfying conclusions. For me then it was not a comfortable read due to the thoughts and memories it provoked. I am glad though to have read it and would recommend it to others who enjoy this genre.

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Memory

After just over a week of fairly intense but ultimately satisfying creative writing, the word count on my NaNoWriMo story reached the half way mark late yesterday afternoon. To celebrate I gave myself the evening off. I have found that, when I am writing, the time just disappears. I am keeping up with the essential tasks needed to keep my little household ticking over but am managing little else.

What to do then with this time off that I granted myself? I chose to pick up a book that I received for my birthday several months ago and have been looking forward to reading. This turned out to be quite an intense and thought provoking experience in itself.

The book, ‘My Father’s House’ by Bethany Dawson, is set in Ireland, primarily the North, and revolves around a family whose son moved to Dublin and has not been in touch for over five years. It opens with his return to the family fold following news that his father is dying of cancer. I have so far read about half the book and have found the memories it evokes disturbing.

The author has managed to create a tale that captures Northern Ireland and family life in a way that I find uncomfortably too close to home. Just like the protagonist in the story, I escaped what I felt was a claustrophobic life and suffer guilt at having abandoned my perceived duty to my wider family. The part of the book that I have read so far suggests that unhappy memories are being suppressed; I cannot relate to that. If anything my guilt stems from the fact that I was loved so much yet felt suffocated by the expectations of those who cared for me.

Throughout my time in England I have come across other ladies around my age who were raised in Northern Ireland and still have large families living ‘back home’. They talk of missing the place, the closeness of the communities and the contact with the extended family members who were rarely far away. It was these aspects that I wished to escape. I felt smothered and unable to move without whatever I was doing being discussed and, too often, criticised. I longed for the freedom to do as I pleased without being held to account by those who loved me.

Northern Ireland folk are as friendly and welcoming as anyone could wish for. Families are close and supportive, yet much of what individuals personally feel or experience was never discussed when I lived there. There were so many things that were taboo, topics that were avoided, ignored or concealed. This book evokes these attitudes and I found reading about this familiar yet forgotten way of living difficult.

As ever I am aware that my antipathy towards such attitudes is at odds with the majority of those I know. I am the odd one out which I guess is why I wanted to leave so much. The book has opened up memories that have discomfited me.

Memory is a strange beast. Sometimes when I talk to my sister, who grew up in the same house as me and experienced the same people and way of life, I realise that we watched what was going on through different lenses. We did not talk freely of our issues back then, although when we get together now we can be more open. There were four of us living in that house and I sometimes feel that we barely knew each other.

There was love and there was support in abundance, but we each did our best to act out the role that was expected of us. We lived our personal lives in secret, and have generally continued to do so. Edited highlights are shared but so much of our daily thoughts and experiences remain unspoken and unknown.

The characters that the author has created in this book remind me of so many I knew. The guilt, the expectations, the resentments, the love. It is not a heavy or difficult book but, for me, it is raw.

Of course I cannot say if my experience is in any way typical, or even if any of my family members would feel as I do, but I am disturbed by this book because it opens up a box that I had not realised I prefer to keep closed. It uncovers my selfishness for leaving and returning only when I feel I must.

I have made a new life for myself and it feels far removed from the life I was raised to lead. The choices that I made were right for me but I must now live with the knowledge that, in doing so, I may have caused hurt. I was expected to marry and stay to raise my children close to what was considered my home. I feel guilty for escaping, guilty for not wishing to return. That is the price I paid for my freedom, but those who loved me also paid the price of loss and they were given no choice.

With half the book still to read I have yet to discover if there were other reasons for the protagonist in the story to break away. Perhaps my guilt is as much because my reasons were totally selfish. I needed to get out to preserve myself but this book has made me think about what my actions cost those I left behind.

As we do not talk about these things I will never know if my parents blamed me for leaving, if my guilt is even justified. I do know that, unlike many of those I speak to from similar backgrounds, I have never had any wish to return.

English: Northern Ireland

Family time

We are half way through the autumn half term break from school. My husband has taken the week off work and wanted to go away for a few days but nothing was sorted so we have spent the time at home. Given the recent weather here in the south of England I am fine with this arrangement.

The forecast storm last weekend came and went with the only casualties we saw being a littering of leaves in our garden and a missing ping pong table cover that later turned up in a side alley. Lying warm and cosy in bed, listening to the rain on the window panes and the wind whistling through the trees, was actually quite comforting. I appreciated once again the luxury of being safe and warm in my own home. Too many these days are not so lucky.

My daughter had made many plans for this holiday week so we ate out as a family on one of the few nights when we were all free. We opted for the informal, relaxed atmosphere of our local Pizza Express and were not disappointed. Sometimes the company and ambience matter more than the food, and I do still enjoy eating pizza, despite my advanced age!

The morning after the storm that never really happened, my husband set out to deliver our daughter to the first of her many appointments: a three day private gathering of her writer friends to critique, encourage and continue with their respective stories in a sociable but intensive environment. With our resident vegetarian away we decided to treat my younger son to a meal at one of his favoured eateries. He enjoys a freshly made, thick and meaty burger with ketchup and chunky chips far more than any fine dining experience. I tried one myself and it was satisfyingly tasty.

Alongside these outings, my boys and I have been working on the finishing touches to my daughter’s Loki costume. We have still to create the helmet though; it is proving particularly tricky to make. Today, both she and my younger son have arranged to attend the opening of Thor: The Dark World with friends. The rest of us will probably wait for the release of the DVD, by which time we will undoubtedly have picked up the majority of the plot from other sources.

All of this activity and it is not yet Halloween. For me, it has been a good holiday thus far. I have managed to find plenty of opportunities to read and write as well as spending time with my little family. There has been no pressure to perform and plenty of treats along the way. Had we left home for a few days it is unlikely that I would have felt so relaxed.

I would also have had to leave a poorly hen. My little flock have now completed their winter worming week and are, once again, wandering free in the wider garden by day. One of my older ladies is looking unhappy though. She is moulting, which doesn’t help, but is also moving with the slow gait of an unhappy hen. With no other outward signs of problems it may just be old age; I am glad that I am here to keep an eye on her.

I can understand why some animals hibernate. When the temperatures drop I find it comforting to wrap up warm and snuggle down indoors. I enjoy the long, dark evenings when the curtains are drawn and the lamps have been lit. I feel content to relax in my armchair, feet up with a good book.

And still we have half the holiday left. There are jobs to complete around the house and garden, but no sense of urgency. I am keen to maintain this contented atmosphere, to allow the days to flow with just the occasional highlight to draw us together.

Family time is so fleeting and precious. ‘This is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it.’    

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