Turoe Pet Farm

Right, so, I’m in Clifden, Co. Galway for my Uncle Robbie’s wake and funeral not too long ago, and I’m sat in the hotel foyer, waiting for my parents to get changed out of the funeral garb and come down for dinner.  Lewis is with me, doing his usual ‘running round like a hurricane’ kinda thing.  To be fair, he’d been pretty great for the travel, wake and funeral and was just crying out to burn off some energy – so where better place to do it than the hotel lobby?!

All of a sudden, he appears next to me, with a flyer from the stand of tourist leaflets sat in the lobby.  ‘Mama, this looks fun’, he says to me sincerely.  Taking the leaflet from him, I expected some fuddy duddy tourist place, or a local beach or what not.  In actual fact? He’d picked a leaflet for Turoe Pet Farm – which had a ginormous bouncy castle on the front of it – and, true as his word? It looked like a lot of fun.

“Can we go mama?” He asked eagerly.

“Let mama check that it’s open first and that it’s on our way home,” I replied.

As it turns out, from November to April they only open on weekends, from May to November they’re open all week – AND they were only a few short Kms out of our way on our journey back up North.  The weather was due to suck, so our original Lettergesh beach plan had been shelved, and I decided that since Lewis had been AMAZING on the six hour car ride, and at both the wake and the funeral that we’d take him and give him some time to blow off a little steam.

It was very easy to find off the motorway (ok, so my GPS found it, but we didn’t get lost), two adults and two kids cost around thirty Euro – and, considering that granted you access to all areas in the place, bags of animal feed, and you could stay til closing? That was excellent value for money.

The place starts with a little ice cream shop, right next to a wee park, with a rather large sand box – it was pretty tough to convince Lewis that there was anything better to go play with, or see, than the sand box – the kid LOVES sand.

This leads you to a one-mile loop that you can walk around and feed the animals.  From cows and calves, to goats and donkeys – they’re all hungry and incredibly friendly when they see those white bags of feed.

At the end of the loop, there’s another park – a little bigger, and more modern.  We had a quick swing, before we headed over to check out the indoor side of things. The jungle gym section was totally packed, so Lewis didn’t go off exploring.  We ordered food at the restaurant/café – and, in spite of there being, like, ten kids parties there at that moment, the food was quick, hot and delicious – it, again, cost us maybe thirty Euro to feed the four of us including drinks and it was tasty.

Lewis’ favourite part of the whole day, was the indoor bouncy city.  He LOVED it.  The pictures don’t quite do it justice – it was ginormous! After his first trip down the sheer-drop slide, he didn’t want to come out.  He just kept going up those steps and sliding down the slide.

When it was time to go home, I had to go ask one of the women working there to go nab him for me.  The facility was excellent.  Spacious, plenty to do, reasonably priced, plenty of toilets and fascilities, on site restaurant with lots of seating and a total of three hours from us here in Larne (and two hours from my parents in Newry) – and it was worth the trip, for sure!

If you’re looking for something to do this summer – that covers both Summer and potential downpour, Baltic, winter weather? Half-term getaway?

Check this place out!

It says ‘Galway’, but it’s the nearside, about 110 miles from Newry for those of you in the hometown!

To the lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour…

Dear stranger-lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour, 

My son was an out and out horror today. 

He was so epically, UNBELIEVABLY, naughty, that after our brief encounter on the tour boat, we made our way back to our hotel – where, I admit, the day momentarily picked up with games of hide and seek, milkshake (cause no where delivers margaritas to my hotel room) and a dance party to Fat Man Scoop, but, when bed time rolled around, he was just as bad as ever.

I don’t know what his deal is, or where I’ve gone wrong…he was such a good two year old, but three? Three is…well, it’s…it’s…something.  Someone told me a couple weeks ago that I was essentially a bad mother to my son, those words have rung in my ears every day since they were written to me, and make me question myself constantly.  

Especially today.

At some point, I sat with my son in my lap, carefully pinning his arms to his legs to avoid him hurting himself, or, from being on the receiving end of one more punch, kick, or elbow from this tiny ninja and waiting out the storm.  I had, against all odds, kept my cool and was trying to reason with him, shush him, calm him – I think I even offered him cookies at one point, bribery? Whatever it took.  Trying to explain my desire to keep him safe, trying to encourage some deep breathing, and assuring him that once he exorcised the shrieking, thrashing demon from inside of him and listened, with his listening ears, that I’d let him sit, nicely, on his bottom (not standing jumping on a chair next to an open window) and leave him be.

You see, the three year old demon, clearly did not want to obey regular human being rules today, the rules that strongly suggest that when you’re on a moving boat you don’t run like Ussain freaking Bolt, in circles, up and down flights of stairs and generally put yourself in dangerous situations, or, essentially run any which place your parents are not – thinking this careless and reckless behaviour is funny, it is not.  

Prior to the boat tour he had also not taken heed of those other tricky little regular human rules, y’know, like, 

• Thou shalt not run on the train platform.  Never.  NEVER run on the effing train platform.

• Thou shalt not drop hands and bolt from your parents in a busy tourist area for any insane person to kidnap, or car to smash in to – or, for that matter, in any public place.

• Thou also shalt not clobber thy parents with moves that have clearly come directly from Conor McGregors back pocket.

And here’s where the double standard lies for parents. Let your kid run away from you on the train platform and get smushed by a train? Or jump out the window of a moving boat? Terrible parent.  Neglectful.  Absent minded.  Tut tut.  Head shake.  Clearly an utter hot mess who deserves to be burned alive at the stake.

Shout (or use that STOP FUCKING RUNNING YOU’RE IN IMMINENT DANGER” yell that parents have), put your kid in time out, or make any threats about tech-time, toys, candy or grounding them til they’re 35? and you’re too heavy handed, too strict, that poor child.  Terrible parent. 

Anywhoo, I digress.  After enduring more punches than I have in the ring, I tagged daddy-C in to the fight and sat longingly gazing in to Boston harbour wishing the waves could open and swallow me up and praying his, inexplicable and monumental meltdown would pass quickly, then you appeared.  

“Mama, I’ve been there,” you said to me quietly over my shoulder as I bit my lip and fought back my second wave of tears of the day, “could I maybe try to help?” you asked.  “Perhaps I could play a game with him and distract him somehow?” You suggested, your voice filled with empathy and understanding.

“Sure” I said, defeated, go for it” 

“Hey buddy,” she said confidently, “would you like to play a game with me to distract you?” She asked him.  

He instantly stopped melting down, looked at her curiously, and nodded.  His wet-with-sweat hair was matted to his forehead and his crocodile-tear stained cheeks were hotter than the Red Sox logo.  But he was listening.

“Let’s distract you,” she continued, “because I’m not mama or daddy and you may even listen to me.  Can you play patty cake?” She enquired,

He nodded to the affirmative (even though he cannot) and she requested he put his hands up.  He stared at her as she demonstrated her expectations.  “I’ll just leave my hands here until you’re ready to do it too”, she said to him calmly.  

He pauses for a second, glances at me, glances back to the lady, and double hi-fives the stranger.
She began singing and clapping with him, explaining the process as she went along – and for maybe 30 whole seconds he was my happy little boy again, before he plopped off the chair he was calmly sitting on and made a bee-line for the stairs to the upper levels on the boat.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to curl up in a ball, admit defeat and have my parenting pass withdrawn.  I wanted to offer my small child up to this, clearly superior-to-me parent, and say ‘Hey, go for it’.  He’s yours to fuck up now.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”, my voice quivered at her.
“You’re going to be fine”, she replied, “you’re doing great, mama.”
“It doesn’t feel like it” I sighed.
“You gotta love an independent, strong-willed child.  It will serve him well when he’s older, but it’s so hard to endure right now.  Stick with it” she encouraged.
Turns out, she has two girls herself, 6 and 8 year olds and was one of the most genuine, least “other mother”-y type parents I’ve ever met.  She’s been there, done that, and enjoying a little nice-time before gearing up for puberty and the bitchy-ville wars that she’s soon to be staring down.
Ok, the rest of our day was blown to shit, our hundred dollar day passes to the kids museum, swan paddle boats and trolley tour, among other things were completely wasted.
Ok, I had to physically hold him in his bed to stop him climbing, jumping, running and causing mayhem and throwing things at bed time.
Ok so I wanted the ground to swallow me up from embarrassment, anger, frustration, resignation…but for an instant, this absolute stranger, sat in my space, reached out a little branch of calm and made me feel even just a teeny tiny little bit better about myself in that awful moment.
So, thank you, lady on the Bostonian boat tour, in the chaos I didn’t even catch your name, for agreeing with me that 3 years old, is a whole nother level of hell, than 2 was.  For taking a moment out of your sight-seeing trip, in blissful solitude all by yourself, away from your own children, to try and help better my day, even just for an instant and to give me some relief from the hellish demon that has seemingly all but replaced my loving and kind little boy.  For making me feel better about my defeated-feeling self, when all I really wanted to do was drink, eat chocolate, cry and disappear.
As I stepped off the boat behind Col, who was getting his glasses smacked off his face for the 38559295th time, I received a text from a friend, “I get that he’s an asshole kid right now.  But you fought hard to have that little asshole and you’ll fight hard to figure out what his damn problem is and set him straight.  Even if it’s emotionally exhausting and there are days that you just want to quit.”
Today? Today I want to quit.
And so, I’m going to bed, teary and deflated, I don’t want today to last even another second.  And considering Col and I both all but passed out on the bed the second we got back in to the hotel room, I don’t think a good sleep in the bank is a terribly bad plan.  Hopefully tomorrow is a better day, because I can’t take another one like today so soon on its heels, especially since tomorrow? We fly again. Lawwwwd in heaven, help me.
Today was a bad, bad day.  I’m praying that tomorrow is better.
He wasn’t all bad – see? This cute, adorable, sweaty-faced, sun-kissed smile? Yeah.  He was grinning because he went running around the sidewalk next to a busy bus pick-up/drop-off area at the airport like the Tasmanian devil.  Causing high blood pressure, severe heart palpitations and shrieking.  All the while yelling ‘Ha Ha! You can’t get meeeeee!’ at Colin and I – and he’s right, we typically *can’t* get him, unless we cut him off from different sides and swoop him up when he can’t see us coming.  He’s a slippy one.
Why do kids gotta be such little a-holes sometimes?  All we have tried to do on this trip is bring him fun places and do fun things.  Screw it, our next vacation will be spent at Presidential libraries, WWII ships and state capitols and he can just live with it.
Ugh! He’s lucky he’s cute.

There’s shit, everywhere.

I need liquor.  

This is not for the faint hearted and contains swearing.  You got an issue with that today? and I suggest you look the other fucking way.

Where was I? Oh yes, liquor.

Tequila preferably.  

It’s not even 10.00am and my kid is headed for the bath. 

My breakfast is currently Haribo strawberries and Diet Coke.

I can’t quite give enough kudos to military families, o&g families and all other flavours of single parent life households – this single parent shit is HARD.

ESPECIALLY when you’re sick.  

I’ve been sick for 3 days and counting.  I feel like something has died in my intestines and if the dehydration doesn’t kill me, the stomach cramps and spasms may.  It’s a relatively frequent occurrence for me – starting to think it’s my bodies reaction to stress or some shit.

Lewis has been a gem for the last few days, and aside from some granny and grandad help yesterday, I’ve soldiered through alone – granted he had, like, 8 hours of TV on Saturday when I couldn’t sit upright, let alone parent. 

Anyways, he’s been great – until this morning.  When I’m woken out of my “I was up at 5am glued to the loo with cramps and JUST got back to R.E.M. sleep” to 

“Mama, I have poop” 

“Ok son, I’ll be right there”

“Mama, its all over my legs, it’s everywhere mama”

Fuck.

“Ok, don’t move” 

“Ok, mama”

I go in, no glasses on, feeling like I was awakened by the fire alarm – you know, The “Who am I, where am I, who are you and why are you calling me mama?” feeling, and from the waist down he’s COVERED in poop, right down to between each, and EVERY fucking toe.  

I ask where his nappy and pj pants are and he points to behind the bed – they ain’t going anywhere, so I deal with the problem in front of me.  The walking turd. 

I ask him to lie down on his back so I can clean it and he’s chosen to not be able to comprehend English in this moment and lies on his side.  He knows I’m pissed so he’s also crying.  I clean him off with wipes – like, 15 of them – and for those of you who know me? Know I’m a one-wipe wizard.  Every time I think I’m done, he shows me more, faeces covered flesh.  When I’m finally done with this self replicating poop all over my child, I turn my attention to the nappy and pj pants.

Picking them up gingerly, careful not to spill out the conten- wait, where the fuck is the poop?

I open out the pull-up, and his pj pants, they’re clean.  I mean, his pull-up is wet, but there’s not a trace of poop in either.  I look around the room, and, even with no glasses on, I can tell that the scene of the crime isn’t visible.

“Lewis?”

“Yeah?”

“Where’s the poop?”

“Under there mama” he replies, pointing to his new favourite hiding spot, under his train table.

Fuck.

Cue my voice being raised.  PRAYING he’d misunderstood the question.  Lewis, WHERE IS THE POOP?

Same answer.

Fuck.  Cause I haven’t had enough SHIT over the last few days?!

The way the table is sitting, you cant see in to it, or get under it unless you move it (or, are three years old), so I pulled it out to get a better look, and, you guessed it, left a lovely long skid mark across my carpet.

Double fuck.

I get on my hands and knees, start crying myself and do a pick-up and surface clean of the toxic waste.  I look under the train table, clean the cause of the skid-mark and the visible crap, pour half a bottle of febreeze on it, say ‘fuck it’, pick up the still crying and upset toddler and take us both back to my bed for cuddles and to warm up – cause the poor kid is still pant-less.

He’s lucky he’s cute!

After a little bit, he’s playing with my snapchat, it’s dark and the flash-light comes on.  I notice he’s got poop around some of his fingernails and over his wrist.

Fuck it anyways.

Out we get from the bath.  Do a surface clean with disinfectant wipes.  Clip his fingers AND toe nails and head back to the crime scene – avec glasses – to see what other damage has been done under the mother fucking train table.

Here I find a once presumably steaming, now room-temp turd, that has infiltrated one of his Thomas toys – between two layers of plastic that don’t come apart.  I can’t get the kid to shit in any toilet on the planet, but he’s LITERALLY shitting through the eye of a fucking plastic needle.  If I was a greater human being? I COULD get the poop out, by scooping and gouging, and using cotton buds and all manner of disinfectant.  But? Being the lesser human being I am right now? I picked up the toy, and dumped it in the bin.

“Is my toy broken, mama?”

I’m not normally one to brazenly LIE to my child, but “Yes my love, it is” came forth from my lips.

Fuck this.

I run a bath, dump him in and scrub him til he’s pink.

He’s currently a happy boy, splashing in the bath.  He’s (hopefully) learned his lesson, but, as I’ve CONSTANTLY been informed this morning? “He’s only three, he doesn’t know any better” – in spite of the fact that he knows perfectly damn well that he was being naughty dropping a hot shit under his train table, and thought he was being a smart ass when he recited my rule of “No poop in the pants mama”, well, yes, I guess you didn’t shit in your pants darling, but you forgot my OTHER rule, “We ONLY poop in the toilet”.

And me?

I’m over here waiting for the two of us to get stricken by pink eye, wondering if I can carry an industrial carpet cleaner up three flights of stairs by myself while choraling a three-year-old and longingly eyeballing a chilled bottle of muscato for elevenses.

Simon Says – In Car Safety Centre (Belfast)

Safety isn’t expensive – it’s priceless.

Did you know that over 70% of children’s car seats are either inappropriate for the child, incorrectly fitted or incompatible with the car?

I didn’t.

Just let that sink in – over 70% of people, driving around the roads in the UK, are driving around with the WRONG car seat for their child/car.

Did you also know that children travelling in rear facing seats are FIVE (!!!) times safer in an accident?  FIVE!!!!

Did you know that each year, over 200 children in the UK are killed, or seriously injured in car accidents?

Did you know that, in the UK, the law stipulates that children up to the age of 12 are to be in a suitable seat for their height and weight?

Having just moved back from the US in October (2016), and our two-going-on-twenty-two year old being over 100cm/1m tall and being right at the 40lb mark – the max for his ‘old’, rear facing (and American, so not legal to use here in the UK) car seat we suddenly found ourselves in the market for a new car seat.

I’ve always been a proponent of extended term rear facing seats.  My friend Magz, still rear faces my Goddaughter, Eve and Col’s Godson, Alex, car seat safety has always been of paramount importance to me.  I can’t ever understand why people opt for the cheap option, or an ‘it’ll do’, or, the worst? They just don’t research at all and pick the pretty lookin’ one.  The safety of my child when he’s in a moving vehicle and surrounded by distracted and idiotic drivers on the road? Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth more to me – and I’ll pay whatever it takes for him to be as safe as he possibly can be.  I will also vehemently protest anyone who disagrees with me that the ONLY reason that Lewis wasn’t hurt in our car accident in Iowa the year before last, was because he was rearward facing (the other three of us in the car came away hurt).  How’s that for being up on my soap-box? LOL!

We went up to the In Car Safety Centre in Belfast, a place that many people don’t know about it, they don’t realise *quite* how lucky we are here in Northern Ireland, to have one of only THREE of these centers in the UK at our very doorsteps.  They are the country’s leading experts in children’s car safety, and they are an invaluable – and a completely FREE – resource.

You drive your car up, either with, or without your child (bring their height and weight details along) – or even just sit at home and call up with the details of make and model of your car, and the details of your child – and Simon, or Stuart, will tell you which car seat is the safest for your child, for your specific car.  You have three kids and a tiny car? No problem – they’ll do car seat Tetris and tell you what three seats will fit.  Not only that? But they have a full-range of Britax car seats, including special needs seats, in-house, for you to try in your car, they manufacture car seats here and they take their time in helping to educate you on what is the safest option for your child.

When you find one that you’re happy with? Simply cart it out to the car, and Simon will fit it, un-fit it, re-fit it and even show YOU how to correctly fit it in your car, multiple times if necessary.  If it comes lose, or you’re unhappy with it some day after you’ve detailed your car, or you just have a nagging feeling that it’s not in there right? Simon will check and fit your car seat for you – rain or shine.

People have started asking why he’s rear-facing, when he’s turning, isn’t he too big to RF? Isn’t he uncomfortable? Aren’t his legs always all bent and isn’t that dangerous? Couldn’t he break his legs?

My answer? He’s below the height and weight restrictions for his chair, so it’s SAFER for him to rear-face.  He’s not uncomfortable – in fact he’s happy as Larry back there, and as for breaking his legs? I’d rather he broke his legs in an accident, than snapped his spinal cord, crushed his sternum or something equally harrowing and much worse than a broken leg.

It’s been over six months since we got home and bought Lewis a new seat through the ICSC, it’s been a couple months since I told the speaker at Larne Baby Club about ICSC (she’d never heard of it and was a bit miffed I was more educated on it than she was! LOL!) and it’s been a month or two since my sister took my nephew up to visit Simon and get him a new ‘big boy’ seat, too, and I figured it was high-time that I gave them a shout out on my blog to try and get the word out to the locals, that this little gem of a resource is right in our midst, and Simon is a fountain of pivotal information about car seats and everyone should go pay him a visit!

Like a Queen – with Constance Hall.

For those of you who haven’t previously heard of Constance Hall – go forth and Google, (or Facebook, or Instagram) – actually, here, just go to www.likeaqueen.com – thank me later.

To some, she is the first contestant to be kicked out of BB5 (Aus), she’s a mum of four, blogger, Author, massive fundraiser (check out her amazing work with Rafiki Mwema – www.Rafikimwema.com ) and that woman who wrote that post on Facebook about ‘three-minute parent sex between nappy changes’ last year that went viral. 

To some of us, though, she’s just a rad bitch who tells is like it is. 

I’ve been following her for well over a year now, laughing hysterically at her frank and genuine posts about motherhood, about being a woman, about accidentally buying adult diapers instead of sanitary towels, about how, if she’s caught scratching her girl-parts during a national interview – that it’s not, as we may all assume, crabs – rather intimate area eczema (who even knew that was a thing?), about parental guilt, sleep deprivation, body image, about self-love, about all love, about life and about relationships.

I’ve found myself nodding in agreement to the list of things she’s written about that ‘they’ don’t tell you about having a child, or the crappy day she’s had while her kids have had a public meltdown comparable to a nuclear explosion – all the while shoving chocolate in my face and slugging down a diet coke – wishing it was wine, wishing I had a closet to hide in, wishing I could JUST POOP ALONE, or wishing I could teleport to a Caribbean Island for a *real* margarita (not Northern Ireland’s idea of what they think a margarita should be) for just an hour of peace and quiet.

In some moments, I’ve found myself truly grateful to read that I’m not the only imperfect mother out there, and not only that, but she wears her imperfection on her sleeve like a badge of badassness.  Shouting from the rooftops about things that are deemed the taboos – she’s my kinda gal.

On days my three-year-old says ‘mama’ half a dozen times in one second, for no apparent reason other than to have me pull my hair out – from the root – or asks ‘why’ four hundred times in an hour. 

On days where he has crapped his pants three times in a row after JUST having gone for a wee in the toilet. 

On days he draws on the wall with Crayola ‘magic markers’ – I think the magic is that you can’t get the damn things off the freakin’ wall. 

On days where my laundry basket is overflowing, dishes are piled high, I haven’t showered, or cooked in two days – have no inclination to either – and I just want to have the TV parent my child for a couple hours so I can nap. 

On days where I just hand him a box of Honey Monster Puffs (because apparently we can’t call them Sugar Puffs any more – damn kale and quinoa warriors!) and say ‘Hey kid, knock yourself out’.

On days where I’m at the Goddamn end of my zen-rope and snap at my three-year old for no reason, then cry at him about how sorry I am for being only human.

Con is there, to remind me in ways only a kindred spirit can, that this too shall pass, that this too, is normal, that this is the side of motherhood that mothers are typically shamed in to keeping quiet about – one must have a spotless house, one must present oneself immaculately, one must have an amazingly behaved child – ALL.OF.THE.FUCKING.TIME. 

But here’s the thing, that’s a pipe dream.  A fantasy.  An unrealistic expectation.  Because no one – NO ONE can keep their shit together 100% of the time, no one is infallible, and I’m sure that even the Dali Lama himself gets to the end of his zen rope sometimes! 😉

So, Con announced a book tour and we all looked longingly at those saying they snagged tickets on her FB posts – I didn’t think she’d come to the UK and Ireland, but she announced UK dates and, from the front seat of my car (while I was out for lunch one day with Col and Lewis) snagged a couple tickets for my friend Liz’s birthday and off we went to check out her Q&A/book signing – thankfully, I didn’t hesitate, because the venue was sold out within, like, an hour.  Neither of us knew quite what to expect, I mean what was the format? Was she just going to talk at us for a while and then we got to ask questions? How did it work? Were we going to be the only people there? And, most importantly, would there be food?

We got there early, too early, 11.30am early for a 12.30pm start – which would have been fine if it had started at 12.30pm like it was supposed to – it did not.  They had a limited menu at the bar (Liz just wanted a freakin’ scone for breakfast! LOL!) I got the smallest and least margarita-like margarita I’ve ever had (don’t mess with this honorary Texas girl’s margaritas) so I quickly gave up on those and hit up the beanie-dude at the gin stand.  Now, I’m not a gin kinda girl, but the herd of fish-bowl-esque glasses filled with orange peel and a clear liquid that HAD to be alcoholic based on the volume of glasses round the room, peaked my attention, so off I went to try his wares.

Why am I talking about gin? Because this is locally distilled gin.  Because I’m not a gin person and I liked it so much I had multiple cocktails.  Because this gin is da bomb!  ShortCross gin, small batch, distilled in Downpatrick – find it, try it – and again, thank me later.

Anyways.  The room was cosy, there was maybe two hundred and fifty people, max, I’m not sure if that was more or less than I expected, but it was a nice sized crowd, many of whom were wearing flower crowns (Con’s signature headgear).  I can’t quite think of an accurate way to describe what we were a part of yesterday, it was less about the words, more about the emotions.  The emotion in that room was tangible, women from all over Northern Ireland had gathered together with like-minded women of Con’s ‘tribe’, to share stories, support each other, listen and just, exist.

The ladies shared some of their deepest and most secret life happenings, from abortions to divorce and separation.  The content was largely heavy – though at times we laughed a lot, too.  From abusive husbands to partners who had been caught cheating on them only days before the Q&A, or they were pregnant with child number four and struggling to find the strength they needed to leave their husband – it was shared.

It wasn’t quite the sharing of stories that surprised me.  I think if you were in that room, you know what Con is about, you know her ethos and you feel safe and as though you can share anything to her without fear of judgement.  That said? It totally saddens me that sharing stories about you, about your personal life, about your pain, or joy is still deemed taboo in today’s society.  You talk about infertility? Body image? The inner workings of the female body during pregnancy? And you’re considered brave – when really? You’re just human.

What I was *more* surprised at, was the overwhelming sense of ‘good human’ in the room.  You see so much crap in the news every day about such horrible humans out there – in that room? The GOOD in people was clear, my faith in humanity was restored a little. 

‘You can have my number and call any time’

‘Can I come and give you a hug?’

‘You are not alone’

Complete strangers walked up the room and down the rows, to hug women hurting, in pain, in tears telling their stories – some of which hadn’t ever even been said allowed to anyone but their nearest and dearest, most bestest friends, but was now shared to two hundred-odd women, and more than that? Received with love, support, acceptance.

It was quite beautiful.  And moving. 

I think I even saw Liz wiping a stray tear out of the corner of her eye at one point – though she’ll probably tell you it was an eye lash or something! LOL!

When we got home? One of the ladies who’d shared in the group, had made a Facebook group page for the ‘Queens’ of Belfast who met yesterday, and it’s nothing more than a page for the Irish Queens to unite and hang out virtually, give recommendations, provide strength when it’s needed, share our blogs, our lives, our loves – and not be judged. 

It’s quite a cool group already, and it’s only twenty-four hours old.

If Con is coming to your area, there happens to be tickets left and you’re on the fence about going? Do it.  Get off the fence before you get splinters in your arse.  It’ll be a worthwhile, interesting, fun and emotional (it seemed for some it was even a spiritual) experience.  Plus? There may be gin!!  Though I’d probably recommend that you skip the ten quid burgers at the BBQ out back 😉

Keep on being rad bitches ladies!

To the mother of the autistic child…

I saw you.

I didn’t realize he was your son, or I’d have come to you first. I couldn’t fathom the idea that perhaps he belonged to you, considering you sat intently watching as your five year old child, repeatedly assaulted my two and a half year old without intervening. But had I known? I’d have taken your damn head off your shoulders.

Let me rewind.

I’m sitting in Funky Monkeys, as usual – vaguely watching my kid happily playing by himself – as he’s prone to doing. I see an older boy go and shove him. Lewis looks at him with a confused look on his face and tries to pass again. The boy slaps him. Throws one of those swinging foam punch bags in his face and runs off laughing.

A few minutes pass, Lewis slides down the slide and tries to do a second pass. He’s shoved and smacked again, and having watched this child’s interactions with other children after the first altercation, I had my suspicions that this child was perhaps somewhere on the spectrum, but I wasn’t quite sure, while I’m aware of ASD, I’ve had no direct experience with it.  I bit my tongue, gave him the benefit of the doubt and, thus far, he’d just been a bit overly boisterous with Lewis, so I held my ground and just paid a little more attention to them both – my ‘vaguely watching’, instead became ‘must have a 20 on both of them at all times’.

Lewis then proceeds to actively try and avoid this child for a few minutes. He’s decided he’s had enough, and he wants to stay away. But the child pursues him. Relentlessly.

And then? He shoves Lewis, off a set of foam stairs, causing him to fall a couple feet and hit the deck, on his back/head. Lewis gets up, rubs his head and tries to climb back up. He’s only little and didn’t quite understand what was happening, another sharp shove later and Lewis is back on his back on the floor.

At this point I bound up from my seat, cross the floor of tables and chairs and approach the pair.  As I approach, I notice a lady intently watching them, shaking her head with a disapproving look in her face. We make eye contact. She gives me that “where’s that wee bully’s parents” look and I continue on my way. I get to Lewis, pick him up before this older kid had a chance to shove him a third time (he was winding up to do it), ask him if he’s ok, turn to the offending child and (calmly, though I’ve no idea how I kept my cool at this point) say “can you stop shoving him please? He’s only little”.

“Sore face mama, sore arm” Lewis tells me and it’s about now that the VERY SAME LADY I just made eye contact with, over this child’s behaviour comes over shouting at me, demanding to know what he’d done. What has he done? You’ve been WATCHING what he’s been doing.  I SAW YOU.  FFS! I watched you, watch them.

I tell her, calmly, (though being accosted like it was my child doing the shoving off steps really got my goat up). She snaps at me “he’s got autism, just tell me next time. This is why I don’t take him out to places like this” and tried grabbing at the child’s arm and shouting at him to apologize to Lewis.

I (still calmly, and quickly) tell her it’s ok, to leave the child (Jose) alone and not to shout at him – it wasn’t necessary.  But that things had just escalated to the point of my being concerned for Lewis’ safety and I had to say something.  I realise the sensitivity of having an autistic child, I’ve had friends in the past with autistic kids, I’m aware that a symptom of the disorder is that the child often does not understand personal space boundaries, but I’m even more aware that raising your voice, getting angry at them and physically pulling them out of a situation? Is NOT the best way to deal with the situation.
For the rest of their time in the play area, Lewis kept going over and trying to make friends with the little boy, and both of his parents.  That’s just who he is.  You take his toy? He’ll let you.  You push him and he falls and hurts his head? I teach him to forgive.  I don’t teach him to be angry and bear grudges.  I don’t teach him revenge.  I teach him love.  I teach him kindness.  I teach him patience.
My childminder has said that he’s ‘too soft’, that being around other boys will ‘toughen him up’ and that he ‘needs to harden up’, and for a moment? I *almost* conceded that perhaps, just, maybe, he *does* need to be a bit more tough.
Until today.  Today marks five days post-incident with this little boy with autism in the indoor play area, and I’m back in indoor play with Lewis.  I’m sat watching him push a little baby, less than half his age, around in one of those red and yellow cosy coupes.  Prior to the pushing around? He went over to the little boy – whom we don’t know, and said ‘hi baby’.  He crouched down to his level, got a little in to his personal space to say hi, and the little baby touched his face (and eventually started slapping him a little and pulling on his nose).  Lewis didn’t hit him back, he didn’t argue or get angry.  He simply said ‘mama, baby touch the face’ and the babies mum intervened to ask him to stop pawing at my kids face.
Tolerance.  Patience.  Forgiveness.  Love.
Stand up for yourself when you need to, but pick your battles, you can’t, nor should you, fight them all.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep perspective.
Let bygones, be bygones.
However cliched, or fortune cookie-esque that sounds, I think the world is sorely lacking in these qualities right now, and I find it a little sad that people think that a little boy with more gentle qualities than ‘storm in a teacup’, or a ‘have your toy snatched, snatch it back’ mentality, is a negative thing.
The way it should have been for Jose’s mother the other day.  SHE, who sat WATCHING her child, hurt my child, REPEATEDLY, should have intervened.  SHE was more educated and better equipped to handle and diffuse the situation that I am, and she just stood by and watched him hurt another child.
I don’t typically fight my child’s battles for him.  I often fight my instinct to ‘helicopter parent’ him.  If he falls, I don’t make a rushing scene to his aid, I ask him if he’s hurt, if he’s going to make it, and, as such, he only cries when he actually hurts himself.
Perhaps I didn’t deal with the situation the best by addressing the child directly, but you? You have been immersed in his daily life, you’re experienced living with a child with autism, he’s clearly had similar experiences prior, considering your ‘this is why we don’t take him places like this’ comment and I, my no experience self, handled the damn situation better than you did.
YOU, lady, should be ashamed of yourself.  And I imagine if tables were turned? If Lewis had returned even ONE of his smacks, or shoves? You’d have been down my throat like a bullet.
Newsflash? Just because your child has autism, does NOT mean you can stand idly by while he hurts another child.
Aaaaand there ends my angry mother rant.

A Funky little Monkey.

img_8496I wrote this post last week – just haven’t had a moment to scratch, to finish it up and edit it.  Needless to say, this will be the first, of what I’m sure is many blog posts about being a mum here in Northern Ireland, facilities available for kids and other such things.

——————

As I look out over this magnificent vista… wait.  Wrong show.

img_8467As I sit here, on this hard plastic throne and listen to the screams of a hugely disgruntled child as his grandmother attempts to drag him from whatever life changing toy he was playing with, as I watch the two poles of ‘human experience’ unfold before my eyes and am impatiently wait for my chicken goujon lunch to appear, I thought, perhaps, that it was high time I wrote my first ‘mumsy’ post from sunny Costa del Larne.

For the record, by ‘human experience’, I mean both the best and the worst.

I’ve just witnessed an older girl, completely unprovoked, grab an older boy by his head and smash his head into the floor of the play area, while he was howling in pain, I, simultaneously, watched a little girl – who had previously been doing some epically good round kicks on those punch bag looking things – take my sons hands over top of an obstacle he was trying to scale, and attempt to help (gently) pull him across.

img_8483While it didn’t work, and I sat for a good eight or nine more minutes, patiently watching him try to figure out how to get his little self, up and over this foam blockade (you can just about make out his wee head over top of the blue foam thing in the picture), he figured it out himself and I gave him a quick thumbs up, before heading over to thank the mother of the little girl, for not raising a face-smashing little wench, but a caring and helpful little girl, a stranger to my son, who tried to help him when she saw him struggling.  I imagined her heart leapt when she saw someone coming over asking if that little girl was her little girl, but instead I got a ‘yeah, she told me’ and a ‘what the hell are you doing over here talking to me, lady’, kinda look.  Screw you.  Ugh.

img_8479While living in the US, we had a few indoor play areas that we loved, nine bucks (ish), unlimited play time, typically an in house café – with varying successes in food provided – and a very happy, exhausted and sweaty toddler at the end of it all.

Coming back to Northern Ireland, I quickly became aware that we weren’t in Texas any more Toto.  The going rate for indoor play here, is around five pounds, which, in ‘real money’ is about $8 before the pound tanked.  Sounds on par, right? Well.  When that $8 only covers 90 minutes, you see, friends, we have a problem.

The problem here is, friends, that I have a boisterous and energetic little boy.  I have a little boy, who could easily burn through three hours in an indoor play area, doing the same thing over and over, and over again, to his little hearts content.  Who would cry, and scream, and protest were I to try and remove him from his fortress of fun.

And then I read about Funky Monkey’s membership.

  • $12 per month (that’s pounds, but I’m on an American computer and can’t figure out where in the name of all things, the GBP sign is).
  • UNLIMITED entry to the center, 7 days a week.
  • UNLIMITED access to activity programmes
  • 10% off birthday parties
  • 10% off at their café

img_8476Not only that? But you can use this membership in ANY of their locations around the north, there’s one in Larne, Newtonabbey, Banbridge, Dondonald…I’m not sure where else.  All I know is that the ‘city pass’ as I’d call it in a Houston context, means that I can use any of their branches under my monthly membership.

Sunday, we took Lewis to the one in Dundonald.  We had Halloween activities planned, but the weather didn’t comply, so we opted to cross the car park from the place we had breakfast and throw him in to Funky Monkey’s for a while.

img_8500I’ve been sick since Sunday, til yesterday (Thursday) and today, we’re back, here at the one in Larne, where we have already made friends with one of the girls who work here, Megan – which, brings up another point, the staff in Funtastics were verging on being rude, even, not just standoffish.  I’ve not found the funky monkey’s crew to be like that at all.  They’re friendly, kind and helpful.

So, my advice to the mums of Northern Ireland? Grab a membership to Funky Monkeys – it’s worth it.  You cover your monthly membership, with less than one trip to indoor play a week.  And, if you happen to see your local blogger sitting trying to wrestle her hot chocolate out of the hands of her toddler? Come say hi.

img_8502But for now? I’m going to enjoy the dregs of this mug, that he graciously left me until it’s time to convince this child that a quick trip to Asda is more fun than those swinging punch bags – when all this Krav mama *really* wants to do, is go throw some combos! 😉

To the lady in the line…

Have you ever regretted *not* saying something?

Walking away from a situation and inwardly kicking yourself that you hesitated? Missed the moment? Wanted to have a time machine, rewind the last few minutes and get a do-over? Knowing *exactly* what you’d have said in that moment?

It happened to me, yesterday.

I think part of my hesitation was simply just shock and disbelief.  I just couldn’t quite wrap my brain around what was being said behind me in the Just Between Friends South Houston check out line.

Maybe some of you will relate? Maybe some of you will tell me that it’s a perfectly normal thought  process – and maybe some of you will tell me to wind my neck in and give over.  However, this set my blood boiling yesterday and I woke up this morning feeling no better.

I’m not typically a violent person.

OK, so I beat the ever living shit out of a fella when he hit my sister a decade and a half ago, but I’m not a naturally aggressive person.

But let me tell you about that time I fought every urge to punch a pregnant lady.

I missed an opportunity.

Not to punch her, so much as an opportunity to advocate, an opportunity to defend and an opportunity to educate – and for that, I feel a little guilty and a LOT disappointed in myself.

Let me explain.  I went to JBF yesterday, Col afforded me a couple hours toddler-free to do some shopping.  We’ve had three babies born in our circle in the last couple months, and there’s a couple still to come before the year is out.  While I was flicking through the rails of clothing, I bumped in to a lady a couple times.  We made small talk, she was telling me about just how much money she’d made in her JBF consigning, just how much she was spending on her soon-to-be-born little girl, who was being welcomed into the world by her two older brothers.

Me, being the enabler that I am, nodded and made the appropriate ‘think of all the money you’re saving in the long run’ noises of approval, as she held up some items for a second opinion.  Being more of an over-sharer than myself aside (and that’s really saying something) she seemed a pretty nice lady.

Fast forward to, what felt like, three days later.  JBF is great, don’t get me wrong.  It is.  But spending an eternity in a long, slow-moving line (because everyone is buying trolleys full of cheap kids clothes) is really what does me in.

I hear someone, who I later turn to glare at, and discover that it’s the one and the same lady that I’d chit-chatted to in the aisles of the clothing insanity.

She’s telling anyone who’ll listen (and a rather red-faced, heavily pregnant mother next to her – who clearly wants the ground to swallow her up for being a part of this conversation) that she’s pregnant with her first girl.  She fell pregnant ten years ago with her son and was disappointed that he wasn’t a girl.  When she fell pregnant with her second son, three years ago, she was even MORE disappointed that HE wasn’t a girl and how horribly difficult it is to live for SO LONG without having the baby girl she’s always dreamed of.  How overwhelming her disappointment has been and how at long last she’s finally thrilled to be pregnant.

Finally thrilled to be pregnant? After two healthy pregnancies and two, what I’m sure are gorgeous children.  She’s FINALLY thrilled to be pregnant, because she’s having a girl?

“Lady, are you fucking kidding me?”

I wanted to exclaim.

But, I, stupidly, bit my tongue.

“I’m surprised you didn’t say anything”, I was told three times yesterday.

Don’t rock the boat, I told myself.  Don’t get kicked out of a baby sale, I told myself.  You’ll burst in to tears and be unable to keep your shit together, I told myself.  Maybe you’re hearing her wrong, I told myself – and I listed any number of reasons NOT to confront this trumpet blasting in my ear.

On one hand? Society has conditioned us to stay quiet.

On the other? I’ve allowed myself to be conditioned.

And I stayed quiet.

I should have spoken up.

I should have advocated.

I wanted to grab this heavily pregnant, insensitive, rude and shallow woman and shake her….Ok, fine.  In the moment I wanted to punch her in her stupid face.  But I’d have settled for shaking and tell her what an amazing, precious gift she’s been given – TWICE so far and, God willing, a third time too.  Don’t be ungrateful.  Every child is a gift, a miracle.

I wanted to tell her that 1 in 8 people suffer from infertility and would sell their own mothers to be able to conceive even ONE healthy baby, and here her ungrateful self is bitching to a line full of mothers, many of whom, like me, have been in the position of wanting a child more than anything in the world and being unable to conceive.

I wanted to educate her, tell her, that some people have spent those ten years she was whining over not having a girl, those ten long, painful years, praying to have a child – regardless of gender.  Some people have spent those ten years having miscarriage after miscarriage, procedure after procedure and month after month of getting their period, when the only thing in the world they want is for there to be two lines on the Goddamned stick and she just wants a pink stick?

I wanted to pull up the fertility page, right here on my blog and let her read REAL stories, from REAL people about their struggles to get what she’s been gifted and has absolutely no concept of the value of.

But I didn’t.

I stayed quiet.

Instead? I sat in the car and fumed.

Cried tears of frustration, anger, disappointment in myself for a missed opportunity.

Tears for the me of only three short years ago, a month or so to the day, when I walked in to my fertility doctors office and underwent a procedure which, mercifully, resulted in the conception of my little ‘bubble’.  The bubble who grew into my loving, funny, stubborn, rambunctious, curious, little toddler, who is currently trying to help me type this blog post, while hitting keys and announcing what letter it is each time, repeated louder and louder each time, until I acknowledge that that is, in fact, ‘S’.

I wanted to tell her, that even when you do get pregnant after struggling with infertility, that it’s not the end – and I don’t just mean secondary infertility.  I mean, that for me, personally, and many others, if you do, eventually, GET pregnant, almost every day is a constant battle with fear and stress.  I spent my entire pregnancy worried, terrified that I was going to lose that which I’d tried and fought so hard to get in the first place.

Every morning I woke up, expecting it to be a dream, or some cruel joke.  I took pregnancy tests every day for weeks – even after my first scan – just to be sure they weren’t wrong.

Every time I went to the bathroom, I expected blood.

Later in my pregnancy, if bubble didn’t move for a little while, I was freaking out and hitting the ice cold drinks and something filled with sugar to make him move so I was reassured that he was ok.

I did everything I could to ensure that I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby – including missing out on seeing Maroon 5 at the Houston Rodeo! (Heaven forbade!!)

I’ve cried, uncontrollable tears of relief, gratefulness and joy at each of the RESOLVE Walk’s of Hope I’ve been to since conceiving Lewis.  I’ve also cried tears of sorrow, pain and hope for those who haven’t yet been as lucky as I have, to reach their dreams.  I cried for my struggle and the struggles of any number of women

I think it’s safe to say that this was a steep learning curve for me, and I’d like to think that if there IS a next time, I won’t hold my tongue.  I won’t allow myself to convince myself that it’s OK to let things like that slide.  I won’t let the fact that I may burst out crying at someone, prevent me for bringing to attention how inappropriate and hurtful her comments were.

A friend told me last night that you can’t change the world and you can’t cure stupid.

I’m not sure I buy that.


The world will never change, if everyone and everything stays the same.

Maybe my speaking up would have had no effect whatsoever, maybe she’d have laughed me off and told me I was ridiculous, maybe she’s beyond help.  But maybe? Just maybe I could have been the change.  Or maybe? Even just one of ladies standing around her, (enduring her tales of woe about how she couldn’t have afforded a girl ten years ago, but how she’s in a MUCH better financial position now so she could afford every cute dress she’ll ever want or need) would have taken comfort in my words, and knew that they weren’t alone in thinking that this insensitive mare was OK in saying what she said.


She wasn’t.

Don’t bite your tongue.

Don’t stay quiet.

Be the change.

An emotional RESOLVE Walk of Hope 2016 with my darling son.

An emotional RESOLVE Walk of Hope 2016 with my darling son.

For more information on infertility, please check out this amazing charity, RESOLVE.

That one friend…

This blog has been incredibly difficult to write.  I started it when I arrived in Iowa, and have been deleting it and re-writing it ever since.  Some things are just hard to put into words, and my friendship with ‘The Girl’ is one of them.
I’m feeling a bit of a fraud this week.
I’ve had people far and wide tell me they’re so grateful for me being here for Amber, what they don’t know, is that she’s been there for me, every step of my life, for a very, very long time.  She owes me nothing, I owe her everything, and being here, helping out her family in whatever small ways I can, is as much for me as it is for her.  I’m enjoying my time with my niece, Averie, don’t get me wrong, she’s a drama queen, diva, 6 year old, but she’s so full of love and cuddles that I could burst.  Let me tell you a little back story…
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5k colour run, Cedar Rapids IA, 2015

 Everyone’s got “that one friend”.
The ‘Do you remember…’ friend.
The ‘This one time…’ friend.
The ‘Hold my hand and pretend to be my girlfriend cause I *really* don’t want anything to do with that guy’, friend
They may not be your longest serving friend, or maybe they are, but they are most certainly your very bestest.
The kind you have a suitcase full of stories about (that typically all come out in quick succession when you’re talking to other people).  You’ve got a basket of dirty laundry together, a basket of secrets together and the biggest basket of all is reserved for the giggles, and hysterical laughter. The kind of laughter that comes with tears pouring down your face, the kind of laughter that gives you hiccups cause you can’t breathe, the kind of laughter that hurts your ribs and has people looking at the two of you wondering why the hell you found what you’re laughing at, so hilariously funny.
Which just makes you both laugh harder.
They’re the kind of friend you can sit up talking to all night, plan world domination with, karaoke with, shop with (and always find way more to buy when you’re together!) drink with, dance with, cry with, get questionable haircuts with, take a bazillion selfies with (you’re the same people, in the same clothes, with the same facial expressions, but bet your ass you’re taking alllllllll the selfies) and drive across country or fly across continents to be with.
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First trip to IA 2006 – ice cream, pjs and movies!

They’re the kind of friend you can often tell what they’re thinking, just by the look on their face, or the subtle inclinations in their voice (or texts, or emails) or the un-subtle inclinations of them smacking you or throwing an inanimate object at your head.
There’s no better comfort than hugs from a friend like that, no better joy than from the shared love and laughs and no greater sorrow than when one of you are hurting.
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Amber’s 1st trip to Ireland 2005

I’m asked at least half a dozen times every year, how I met my ‘that friend’ Amber.  I’m asked a dozen more than, that if we’re sisters.

She’s American, I’m not (though having lived here for approaching six and a half years many people think I am, or at least Canadian) and we’ve known each other for ten and a half years.
On December 31st, we’ll hit our eleven year mark, and, we’re so close, that even her daughter Averie thinks we’re sisters.
Houston 2014

Houston 2014

I met her online (I’ll give you a moment to get past the shock and audible gasps), on a website called ‘LiveJournal’, an online journaling community.  You can post daily (hourly for some people) journal posts about anything/everything, join communities full of people with shared interests and add friends, who can comment on your posts.  Amber commented on my ‘Friends only’ post asking if I wanted to be her friend.  Little did I know that when I added her back, my life would change forever.
And then some.
A mutual friend said to me a very long time ago, ‘You guys are cute, you’re like sisters, mushy sisters, “I miss her” and “She’s having a hard time” and “I love her” and etc that’s all I ever hear.’. They also said ‘Good friendships prevail even in the shittiest of conditions.  I bet even your arguments are lame, I don’t think I can picture you two in a full out brawl, you know each other too well that you’d walk around and word things in a way that would keep each other from getting angrier’.
Our ‘arguments’ are about the only thing about us that is in any way boring, and oh the stories I could (and probably will) tell.
Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

Chicago 2006 my first trip over to IA.

In the beginning, we were pen pals, with real, honest to goodness, pen to paper letters.  Pages upon pages, that we snail-mailed across the Atlantic.  Usually embedded in some kind of care package, a shoe box filled with the most delicious treats and snacks our countries had to offer.
We emailed about 239874529384729384572398 times a day.
Yes, that is a real number.
No, that is not an exaggeration.
That number doubled when she was on 3rd shift overnight at Yellow Book – we were on the same schedule for a while there.
My first visit to see her, came a year later, we’d even had a couple phone calls by that point, but I flew Dublin to Chicago, leaving a pair of anxious parents at home, praying to God they’d see me again.  We started in Chi-town (where I met Heather), drove through Madison (where I met Ange) and into Cedar Rapids (where I met a list as long as your arm of her friends, most notably the Stacks and Liz).  It was an amazing trip, I cried the whole way home, and I knew that I’d be busting my butt to save up enough so I could come back again soon.
Dublin 2005

Dublin 2005

A standard visit to Iowa consists of many basic elements, or, at least used to when we were younger, before children.  We’d bake cookies – something that’s ‘typically’ American to an Irish girl, we’d watch High School Musical (singing into hairbrushes or bottles – or just at the top of our lungs – poor Aaron!) while in our pjs and sharing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra (she’s allergic to chocolate, so she gets the vanilla, I get the chocolate and we fight for the caramel core! 😉
There’d be a least one trip to Buffalo Wild Wings, more than likely two.  If we were visiting a city with a Chipotle, we’d go there too (Cedar Rapids just got one recently! Whoop!)
Before I moved to Texas, we’d visit WalMart and the Dollar Tree – taking at least an hour, sometimes three (right Col?) to do a thorough inspection of things I couldn’t get here, but absolutely ‘needed’ to take home.  We’d visit Michaels, Joann’s and, in Texas, Hobby Lobby – and buy any number of craft materials that neither of us ‘needed’, but more so ‘we could totally do this, with this’ – and, Lord knows, that Ireland isn’t overflowing with scrapbooking materials, and, as a knitter/crocheter, cheap yarn was never to be passed up.
The other thing we’d do? We’d drink.  Pretty much one night of my trip was spent drinking, occasionally with karaoke, though that bit isn’t a prerequisite (though I maintain it should be).  And when I say drink, we DRINK.  LOL!
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Six years ago, my niece Averie Rose was born and we got a little more responsible, marginally more sensible (translation: our drinking was upgraded to cheap wine) and exceptionally good at our new found addiction of Pinterest parties.  I was her wing-woman for most of Averie’s birthday parties and have been to Iowa for four of her six to date, normally with some form of craft or food-creation in my suitcase that I’ve worked on in Texas to help out from afar.
We’ve road tripped together, we’ve baked together, we’ve sung together, we’ve gotten drunk together, we’ve gambled together, we’ve ice skated together (it’s possible I clung on for dear life to the arm of a poor unsuspecting Rough Riders goalie), we’ve camped together, we’ve been through drive-thru’s together, which may sound pretty benign to you guys, but to us they often end up with us crying with laughter for one reason or another.
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixes gig

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers gig

She’s responsible for about 75% of my music tastes and approves of the other 25% cause that came from Col (and she and him share an affinity for the 80s/classic rock), she’s responsible for my curly hair being as awesome as everyone tells me it is (seriously, I laughed at her when she told me about the Curly Girl routine, yet it’s kept me sane while battling the Texas humidity for years!) she’s responsible for my Midwestern accent (‘Las, you need to slow the f*ck down or people won’t be able to understand you’ and I’m responsible for her horribly poor Irish accent that’s passable enough to get her free drinks on St Paddy’s day) she’s responsible for my scrapbooking hobby, my obsession with Target, my baking and most of my wardrobe really, since there’s not really a fitting room I’ve been in, where she’s not been in with me (via snap-chat, pictures or even in real life when I come to visit).
We truly have had the best of times together and not to mention she’s a Godmother to my little boy Lewis.
Lewis' Christening 2014

Lewis’ Christening 2014

She’s been there for me through the toughest times in my life too.
Boyfriend break-ups, college, health troubles, bereavement, fertility treatments, becoming an expat and moving away from home and even though there has always been a geographical distance between us (originally Iowa – Northern Ireland ~ 6,000 miles and now Iowa to Texas ~ 1,000 miles), we’ve never let that interfere with the strong bond that we have.  We’ve never let distance get in the way of being best friends, of confiding in each other, supporting each other, loving each other and generally being pretty inseparable – which, let’s face it, is a pretty great achievement, right?
Averie's 2nd Birthday party 2010

Averie’s 2nd Birthday party 2010

 So, I’ve told y’all how amazing she is, I’ve told y’all how much she’s been there for me, how she’s bugged me to eat, sleep, take meds and see doctors when I need to for the last decade.  I’ve told y’all I almost peed on her once – oh, wait, what? I didn’t?
Ok, back up the truck.
There was this one night in our more recent history, where we went out drinking, on the way home, we made Aaron stop the car on a gravel road so we could pee.  It’s slightly possible that we may have been a little liquored up.  Amber went off on safari into the ditch and I stopped right next to the car to pee.  Before I could do my thing, she’s yelling at me that she’s standing ‘down stream’ and to get my ass down to her level so I didn’t pee on her.  As I was headed her direction, I fell on my arse and slid down the bank to land almost at her feet – thankfully, she hadn’t peed either, cause that’d have been unfortunate too.  More so really, cause I’d have been the one covered in pee.
We really do do everything together! LOL! 😉
I’ve told y’all I consider her to be family, because, when you get down to brass tacks? That’s what she is.
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Amber came to Houston 2008

Basically we’re thick as thieves and I’m sure some days even our mothers wonder if we’re twins.
So, having laid a little of the foundation and given you some of the backstory of my friendship with this girl (really though? How impossible is it to tell an audience like y’all how much this girl means to me? As I’ve discovered in the last week, pretty bloody impossible!) I think you all have at least a vague idea of the kind of friendship we have.
Averie often despairs at the two of us ;)

Averie often despairs at the two of us 😉

Well, eleven days ago, she went in to labour at 37 weeks gestation, with her second baby.  We said goodnight around midnight I think? And I slept pretty soundly – which is unusual at the moment – but I was woken up around 6am by Col saying ‘it’s go time’, to which I replied ‘What’s go time? Where am I going?’ and he said ‘AJ is coming’.  The plan of action had been that when Amber went in to labour I’d leave my phone volume on, but considering the amount of international phone ‘traffic’ I get on my phone, we figured that her best bet would be to text or call Col and he’d wake my butt.
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She labored at home most of Sunday night, because with Averie, she was sent home from the hospital like three times before it was really ‘go time’, so she waited for a while before heading in with AJ.  As it happened, she was 5cm dilated, admitted, epiduraled (only just, she almost missed that window) and had AJ by 10.45am on Monday morning.
It wasn’t long before they suspected something was a little off and they were running tests.  Test confirmed Trisomy 21/Downs Syndrome, as well as three congenital heart defects, he has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, an unbalanced AV canal and coartication of the aorta.
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The last ten days have been an emotional rollercoaster.  He was ambulanced to the University of Iowa hospital (go Hawks!) where he has been ever since, hooked up to machines and on a fine balance of medication to keep his ticker working.  After a back and forward with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) they gave us markedly improved odds (compared to U of I) of survival from the first of his (at least) three surgeries that he will require to repair his specific series of heart defects.
He showed signs of infection, had trouble with his IV sites, a swollen tummy and an issue with keeping his blood pressure stable – not all at the same time mind you, but he’s given us a couple of heart-in-mouth moments over the last few days which led us to wonder if he’d still be a viable candidate for the surgery at CHOP.
11204414_10155947491130411_634803832216868452_n (2)Today we heard the great news, that CHOP would take him, but they don’t have a bed available for him just yet, and we’ll likely have to wait through the weekend before Amber heads up with AJ and before Aaron road trips the 18 hours up to PA to be with AJ for his first surgery.
As you can imagine, I’ve felt pretty helpless over the last week and a half.  I came up to Iowa last Friday and have spent the majority of my time with my niece.  I’ve had a cough (and didn’t want to risk giving germs to AJ if it wasn’t ‘just allergies’) so the hospital has been out of bounds and we figured that she needed a little stability and ‘normalcy’ in her life while everything is going on around her.  We’ve had a pretty good time.  I mean, she’s had her sassy moments, her moments of sliding on to the floor in a puddle of ‘I don’t want it to be bath night tonight’, but, considering what’s going on in her life right now, she’s doing better than most of the adults I know would in her situation.
IMG_2657What else can I do?
Not much really, it’s a waiting game, and, while I wait, I’m doing a spot of fundraising for AJ’s medical expenses and for his family’s travel expenses to and from PA, recovery time up there, gas to and from the hospital in IA City etc etc etc.  We’re doing pretty good, too.  My first major goal is behind us, $10k!! That’s incredible – let’s keep the momentum going!
If you shake your sofa cushions and happen upon some cash you didn’t realize you had and have been happily living without, you should consider donating it to my nephew, if you could take a time-out from your daily Starbucks for the week and donate that money? That would be great too.  If you have any cash at all spare, we’ll take it – no donation is too small.  Every dollar counts!
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Donate here:
https://www.gofundme.com/m43qcu5k

[Breastfeeding buddies] Courtney and Sophia.

Oh! It’s been an age since I got to sit at my surface and type out some blog posts for the masses.  Visitors, a malady plagued house and more visitors have left me with very little ‘down-time’ to churn anything out.  Or even stop for a breath.  I promised a long time ago to share some real-life breastfeeding stories, from my nearest and dearest friends.  I think I’ll restart my blogging kick there.

No better person to start with than this story from my girl Courtney, living in Cali.  Court is one of my very favorite people in the whole wide universe and I miss her face.  We’ve been pen pals for a long time, but she came out to visit us last year for a few days and, in that time, we became BFF’s.  We clicked.  She is AWESOME and she’s a FAB-tactic mama.

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I am going to be upfront with all of you and admit from the start that writing in detail about my breastfeeding journey was extraordinarily hard for me to do. Though, (for the most part) I’ve come to peace with the outcome of it all (SPOILER ALERT: I failed. Miserably.). I have been able to reflect on the experience with a positive outlook, but it was still difficult to find the words to describe everything without going on side tangents. So I will try my hardest, dear reader, to report just the facts and save the rants for another time.

This was my first pregnancy and like all first mothers, I gorged myself with all the baby related reading material I could get my grubby hands on. I was determined to breastfeed my baby. My husband and I went out and bought all the necessary supplies; we got a pump, creams, pads, containers, wipes, ointments, and anything else related to breastfeeding. We even got two of everything so we would be doubly set. I was ready for this!!!

My due date came and went and still no baby. This little girl was in it for the long haul. Finally, two weeks later I had to schedule a C-section.

I should also pause here in the story to note that at the time of my pregnancy, we were living in Wyoming. My husband, not being fond of the health care provided in the state, wanted to have the baby in California where we were from and where we had family. For some reason, still unknown to me, I agreed. Two weeks before the due date and with the Dr.’s blessing we drove to California and scheduled an appointment with a doctor I’d never worked with.

From the get go I was very upfront with my feeding plan. And I have to give credit to the hospital and all their staff for being supportive of my wishes and listening to my requests. I was lucky to have a good breast feeding consultant who ensured that the baby’s latch was good and I found out that she liked to cluster feed. With that knowledge, I took it to be the norm when feedings were lasting up to an hour or more on each breast. Other than that I did not have any other type of training. I felt like I was getting enough nourishment to my baby and from what the staff at the hospital told me, that was the case. During our stay at the hospital there were no issues and the Dr.’s were happy with our daughter’s progress.

Though my baby was a champion during the first week of her life, I was just beginning a free fall plummet to a mental breakdown. Unbeknownst to me, postpartum depression was playing a part in all of this, but the biggest push down the hill was the pain medication that was prescribed to me. The side effects of this drug was huge; I was unable to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, nodding off in the middle of texts or on conversations on the phone. The worst of the side effects were the night terrors, they were so dark and twisted even the most creative (or demented) person couldn’t think up the nightmares I was having. A combination all of this was taking a toll on my mental health.

After our hospital stay, we went back to my husband’s parent’s house. To their credit, they were very hospitable and made every effort to make our stay comfortable. My husband was going through his own adjustments and was very distant as he processed the emotions and change of being a new dad. I was in my own mental state of crisis with the pain meds messing with my head and dealing with postpartum. Staying at the house with a new baby was just plain rough. Everything else made for the perfect storm for failure and despite it all, I was trying my best trying to breast feed our daughter.

Feeding was getting extremely difficult and unimaginably painful. One does not realize the love a mother has for their baby until they are experiencing excruciating pain in their breasts. True love is, despite all impulses and instinct to throw their baby across the room to make the hurt stop, when you keep breastfeeding and holding on to your baby. I was cracking, chapped, bleeding, red, and sore. No amount of cream or ointment was going to heal me. I decided to switch to pumping to try and give myself a chance to heal.

Pumping in its own self was an adventure. While I had read everything about breastfeeding and the consultant at hospital guided me on breast feeding, never did it once occur to me to learn the logistics about pumping! So I did what any first time mother not in her right mind did, I just winged it. On the fly pumping, if you will. I mean honestly how hard could it be? You just hook them up to your milk dispensers and it ends up in the little containers! Working mothers did this every day, sauntering into the barn and letting the farmer hook up the pumps to their utters. If cows could be milked this way, why couldn’t I?!

I found out that, though in theory pumping is very easy, in practice it is not. I sat on my In-Law’s couch for hours in vain and only coming up with a few ounces of liquid gold in each breast. My journey into breastfeeding was looking very dismal. We were leaving back to Cheyenne in a few days so my mind (which was doing better after getting off the meds that were making loopy) was focused on the trip and I felt like finding a breast feeding consultant in a town we would be leaving was pointless. Supplementing with formula was our only option at that time, which we took because at the end of it all our baby needed to be fed.

I worked very hard at processing this failure in a positive way. It was not easy, as my first inclination was to beat myself up for failing my baby, being a mother, and in some ways a woman. But I was able to excuse my shortcomings at the time with the understanding that not all people were cut out for it (my mom was not able to produce enough milk as well) and at the very least my baby was able to get the most nourishing part (though all parts of breastfeeding are important) from the colostrum.

So there you have it, my breastfeeding journey. It was a difficult, though short lived trial, and it was ok for me to fail. The best way to handle that failure for me was to learn from it. Breastfeeding is challenging if you are not properly prepared for it. Despite my failures, my daughter is strong, smart, and healthy. My experiences and short comings have made me better prepared for our next child. To be honest, now that I am a little wiser, I am looking forward to trying breastfeeding all over again.

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