Ma hairdresser

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I’ve always wanted those hairdresser’s scissors. For years, I stared at them in Boots, admiring their specific hairdresser-y shape and that hook thing they have on the top, but I never bought them because I had no need for them, even though I sort of did because for a while there, I had a fringe. I never dared trim it, though, much to my hairdresser’s admiration.

Then there was Boone and the need to cut his hair. We knew that we would never have the luck of that first haircut. It just wasn’t possible that Johnny Sexton would be there to warm the seat for us, or that the coolest hairdresser in the world would be available, or that Boone would sit that still ever again. So, I thought I’d give Kiddie Kuts a try. I did, a few times, and paid €15 for five minutes of torture each time. The second the scissors touched his hair, Boone would wail and then there was the chaos of tears and snot and spit and falling snippets of hair getting stuck to all of it. Grant it, they were fast, these kiddie kutters, and things did turn around once he got his lollipop but it was painful.

Months go by, Boone needs a haircut again and then I remember—the scissors! I tell Joseph I’m going to get them. This makes Joseph very nervous.  ‘But, do you know how to cut hair?’ he asks, nervously. ‘No,’ I say, ‘but I’m getting those scissors.’

I half-watch a couple of Youtube tutorials about cutting kids’ hair, try to understand the instructions in this post but they confuse me because they use words like ‘perpendicular.’ I sit Boone in front of the computer with a towel around his shoulders and, miraculously, he goes along with this unqualified Ma hairdresser set up. No tears, just a bit of sweat on my part. When I finish 40 minutes later, he thanks me. Poor kid, he wasn’t to know that he looked a bit like Eamon de Valera circa 1922.

I’ve gained a few more skills since then but still, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I try to ape the actions of all the hairdressers I’ve seen throughout the years, but since I usually close my eyes whenever I sit in a hairdreser’s chair, only to open them again when the hairdryer’s been put back in place, I’m not sure that I’ve picked up all that much. It’s probably why I’ll never figure out how they manage to hold the hair and the scissors and the comb all at the same time. Seriously, how do they do it?

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Before

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During

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After

Despite not knowing what I’m doing it, I enjoy it. Actually, I think I enjoy it all the more because I don’t know what I’m doing. It feels a little rebellious, like I should really be leaving this to the professionals. A bit like parenting, now that I think of it.

Why do I get the feeling that my hairdressing days are numbered?

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That lollipop is from the sugar free health food shop, by the way.

 

Knitting

DSC06061So, I had intended to get some nice pictures of me wearing the cardigan I had spent over a year making. These very nice pictures would have been taken outside, amid trees and fallen leaves, during a time of day when the light is golden autumnal and super flattering to my well-rested and made up face. But this is not my life. My life is more grit and mess and blinding light than that, thanks mostly to a three-year-old who has gotten his hands on the camera again and has switched the flash to his favourite setting, on. It’s just like a renegade Marc Jacobs ad campaign around here.
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The story of this cardigan, like a lot of things, started back when I was pregnant. For the first time in my life, I was struck by the urge to knit. The last time I had knit (or knitted? or knitteded?), I was in primary school and I hated it. For one, I had the hands of an eight year old that cooperated with neither needles nor yarn, but mostly I hated it because while we, little housewives in the making that we were, stayed inside, knittin’ and sewin’, the boys in our class got to go outside to play hurlin’ and football. Thankfully, by the time I was in sixth class, a bit of enlightenment had crept in and we all had to do both knittin’ and sewin’ and hurlin’ and football but I’m fairly sure the sports won out, and that’s what we ended up doing for the rest of the year. I never knit again.

Almost thirty years later, though, as my belly got bigger, my hands got itchier to knit something, anything. Well, I say anything but I mean booties, whatever they’re for these days since don’t most babies wear babygros? Anyway, I bought a book called Vintage Knits for Modern Babies (pixie hats! booties! baby bunny rabbits!), a lovely book that sat looking lovely on my bookshelf for about a year and a half until the day it occurred to me that I really was a housewife now and maybe I should really be a stereotypical housewife and take up knitting. So, I signed up to for a class. I think I was half hoping that I wouldn’t like it that much, that I’d just take these few classes and then drop it because the whole idea was really only based on cultural conditioning and silly hormones. Wasn’t it?

As it turns out, not only could I knit but I loved it, too. There was the occupation of my hands, the following of a pattern, the checking of YouTube tutorials, the keen level of concentration. None of it was relaxing, and I could never understand when other people in the class said that it was. I knew that what they were referring to was the cosy image of the granny with her beatific smile sitting in her rocking chair, a pot of tea by her side, maybe a few cats as well, her needles click clacking away. My reality, however, was very different; I found it stressful, the skin on my fingers became dry, sometimes to the point of bleedy, carpel tunnel was always a threat. But in time, the act of knitting did become therapeutic, the oddly automatic working of my hands tempering the spinning in my mind.

This left room for me to get really ambitious. (And watch telly at the same time!) After knitting Boone a hat (pixie, of course), a stripey jumper and a few other baby things, I got really, really ambitious and decided to knit something for an adult, that adult being me. After a few awkward attempts, I eventually landed on the designer Kim Hargreaves and ‘Bud,’ the boyfriend cardigan in these pictures.

Now that it’s finished, I can see this past year knit into it—all those hours of anger, loss, love, and grief. I can also see other things, too, like the odd strand of hair, a possible flake of snot, as well as Home and Away, Coronation Street, Strictly Come Dancing, Downton Abbey, X-Factor. And ok, ok, I’ll admit it, Xtra Factor. Hours.
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It’s strange but after all that time and effort, I almost don’t really care how it looks. When Doireann first saw it, she said, aaah did you make that yourself? Delighted, I responded yes! Then she said something about it being ‘Topshoppy.’ I know what she’s talking about—those big, borderline dowdy cardigans that only the very young can pull off because they’re contrasting it with cropped tops or shorts and knee-high socks and their youth. So, on me, there’s probably no borderline when it comes to the dowdiness but I’ve always had a granny mushy side so there’s that. At any rate, I love it and I feel wrapped in love whenever I wear it. I look down on the sleeve and think I made that, I knit those stitches that made the fabric that I sewed up together to make this piece of clothing for myself. The pattern may be off in several places, the collar may be wonky, not to mention the seaming, but it just adds to the wabi-sabi charm of it all and makes me love it even more.

Besides, the fact that I have something to wear is really just a bonus. The real joy was in the making of it and the things I learned along the way. I couldn’t knit a cardigan and not learn a few things, now could I? And I’m not just talking about knitting but the creative process that is life itself. So, here is a list of advice, addressed to you but the you is really me because what is advice really for but the person giving it?

Knitting and drinking don’t mix.

You will have to restart a project at least four times, especially if you attempt the above.

The first row is always the hardest.

You’ll look at patterns and think, pah! I’ll have that done in no time. You’re wrong. It will take loads of time and possibly several months more than that.

Related: you’ll look at knitwear in shops and think, pah! I could knit that. You can’t. I mean, it’s possible, but life is short.

You will get stuck on one little thing and the whole project will have to be set aside for an indeterminate amount of time. Sometimes, it’s good to start something else and then go back to it later.

You’ll never get the yarn you’re looking for in one outing.

Throughout a project, you’ll oscillate between I love it/I hate it in a maddening way for quite some time.

You will knit all of the pieces and then leave them in the bag for weeks, possibly months, because you just can’t face sewing them up. Remember that you come from a line of tailors and that you get a terrific sense of rightness whenever you are sewing up.

Whenever you get the idea to knit a scarf, don’t. It’s beyond boring, like reading a book with no chapters.

If you push or force it, you will mess up.

Just one more row is never just one more row.

If you do knit one more row, know that one day you’ll do yoga and feel all fine and well-oiled and then two days later something in your left shoulder will go grrrrik and you won’t be able to turn your head. Then later on in the day, something in your other shoulder will also go grriik and you’ll be in such pain that you won’t be able to do anything, least of all knitting, for over a week.

When it’s finished, you’ll find a way to wear it every day.

You’ll get good simply from the doing.

You will forget everything you’ve learned and will have to reiterate this advice to yourself again and again.

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Self-portrait, flash on

En grève

DSC05747A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of sandals from a shoemaker in Nice. These sandals, they’re two pieces of leather nailed together and, while ideal for strolling through charming, ancient streets, they are truly terrible for running through recently renovated airports. The motion of flat sandals hitting flat concrete is painful, as it turns out. I wasn’t aware of this until a few weeks ago when I had to run through an airport. We had made a good guess at when we should have left the house in order to get there on time, but then we left about half an hour later than that. We ended up dealing with two agents because of course we had to redistribute the contents of our luggage as we were all of a kilo over the allowance. One of the agents, while handing us our boarding passes, said “ah, yeah, so you might, ah, just want to keep an eye on the boards because the French air traffic controllers might strike,” while the other one said something really useful like “uh, you’d want to get a move on, your gate’s closing in like ten minutes,” as though we could do anything about the fact of Time. We ran to the security gate, only to realise we’d left one of our boarding passes behind. Back I ran to the desk and then back again to security, my sandals slap, slap, slapping all the while. My bladder began to feel sloshy.

We ran the whole long way to the gate and got there with a few minutes to spare.

“I have to go to the loo,” I say to Joseph.

“Hold onto it!” he says.

“I’m bursting,” I say.

“Go!”

I get to the toilet but I’m not really bursting. I just have one of those lacklustre nervous wees. Not as relieved as I’d hoped, I re-join Joseph and Boone, just in time to hear the announcement that our flight has been cancelled. No explanation, just a flat instruction to reclaim our baggage and go back to the departures hall. I want to do what Boone does, which is cry and wail “but I want to go to Nice noooooow! The pebbly beach! Whaaaaaaa.” But instead, I have to swallow back the tears and anger and try not to take it personally or let thoughts like the following break me down: every time we try to get away and do something nice for ourselves, it ends up like this. We have no choice but to follow the crowd that’s going backwards through the airport.

Later, Boone would tell people that during this situation “Mama was disappointed and Daddy was disappointed but I was happy because it was an emergency.” We had described the chaos of hundreds of people trying to grapple for some sense of control as an emergency, not knowing just how much magic this word held for Boone. From his perspective, waiting for hours on end wasn’t boring or frustrating. How could it be? This was a real life emergency, the stuff of his Fireman Sam dreams.

We started hearing snippets of news: the air strike was affecting not only those travelling to France but everyone flying over France to Spain and Portugal; this was the second time this year “the French” had done this; all of this was nothing to do with Ryanair, oh no, this was all down to an “unnecessary” strike. While I did curse the French and their penchant for strikes, I wouldn’t go so far as to call any strike unnecessary. Joseph had said that we were a union, too, and I thought yes, and we’re being used for leverage. None of the other airlines cancelled.

Once we got to the desk to rebook our flights, the agent started listing out dates, one of them being the third of July—my Dad’s birthday. I noted it, but that was all. Just another day. We got flights for a few days later, on Saturday morning, with a return flight a week later on the fifth.

DSC05766It worked out all right in the end. Our accommodation in Nice was available for most of the following week; we just had to book a hotel for the last night. We had originally planned on a week in Nice and then a week of relaxation in Dublin, now we just had to switch the order around. (Except our week in Dublin wasn’t entirely relaxing as we were waiting on news of the strike every day.) It was strange to go back to our own apartment on the same day as we’d left it, back to a cleaned out fridge, stripped beds, and an empty laundry basket (there was nary a pair of knickers to sully it.) We went out for dinner to commiserate, drank, took a lovely and elaborate trip to Greystones so that we could get coffee and vegan desserts.

The strike was called off, we got on the plane and somewhere in the middle of a fluffy white cloud, grief settled in, pressing on my chest, wrapping itself around my throat. We’d gotten off the island and away from the everyday but in so doing, the floodgates that I usually try to hold against depression and anxiety flung open. I was supposed to be having a nice time. I was supposed to be getting a  break from it all. I was supposed to find the sunshine and turquoise sea beautiful. I was supposed to be happy. Instead, the darkness seeped in, making me hate my skin, my bones, my brain. Being surrounded by uniformly tanned and air-conditioned looking French girls did not help.

But yet, everything was better on the beach. I went into the silence of the sea, the salty water leached the sadness from my bones. I found that if I tried to swim, I ended up expending a lot of energy getting absolutely nowhere, but if I lay on my back, motionless, the salt and the waves carried me along the length of the beach. I think this might be a life lesson.

As Boone stacked pebbles and we got into our on-the-beach-trance of thinking and not thinking, people watching and not watching people, Boone sighed and said “I love this.”

DSC05875DSC05881DSC05843Every day at noon in Nice, a canon goes off in the park on the hill. On Thursday, my Dad’s birthday, we climbed the hill in search of it. We almost found the cannon but at noon, it found us. Boom! The shock of the sound, even though I had been expecting it, exploded through my chest, making me jump and cry out. And once that one cry had let out, I couldn’t stop the rest of the crying. My Dad should have been 62, not dead.

The last day, after a morning of dark skies and downpours, we got to go to the beach one last time. The sea was rougher than usual. All the hottie lifeguards were on high alert. I came out of the sea grateful and shaky and especially glad that we’d bought those dorky beach shoes.

“The cure for anything is salt water—tears, sweat, or the sea.”—Isak Dinesen, Seven Gothic Tales

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Lagniappe

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For your viewing pleasure, a fascinating study of Boone raising his eyebrows (one at a time!), followed by his version of smize. Devastating.

I’m in mourning for Joseph’s beard. As much as I couldn’t stand him stroking it all the time, I miss seeing it on his face.

Boone’s got the faintest of tanlines where his sunglasses usually are. I call it his mask of Zoro.

I really loved this post about maternity leave. I especially liked this: “You never really come back. . . . The truth is that the early weeks and months after a baby arrives pull you into a world that you never quite step out of again, no matter the professional choices you make . . . Becoming a parent is like stepping into Narnia: you’re changed once you’ve walked through that wardrobe, even if you can eventually find your way back out.”

This song by The War on Drugs pretty much sums up my mental state these days. We actually saw them a few weeks ago. It was an oddly disappointing and, at times, boring gig. I’ve never been to a show where both the performers and the audience were clearly relieved when it was all over. Everything was off; the sound, the (lack of) energy in the room, the lead singer’s attitude to everything, my choice of outfit (I wore black when I clearly should have worn plaid.) At any rate, I still really like their music and whenever I feel like experiencing a better performance than what we saw, I go here.

Lagniappe

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Crossing his legs, like his Ma

Lately, Boone’s taken to weeing in really socially inappropriate places—on our balcony, in the garden of a garden dinner party—not because he’s desperate to go, but purely because he thinks it’s hilarious. I wish that my shoulders didn’t shake so much whenever this happens because it betrays the fact that I think it’s hilarious, too.

Joseph shaved his beard off. It’s had a really uncanny time travel effect.

Speaking of time, Boone’s been taunting me with the fact that he’s going to grow up to be an adult one day. This does not help the constant feeling I have of time running like water through my hands. However, by his logic, since he’s going to grow up, I’m going to grow down into a baby. I’ve got lots of things to look forward to, apparently, like fitting into his car seat and the baby swings at the park.

Since starting playschool, we’ve had a lot more mucous in the house.

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“Take a picture of me”

Boone’s started describing food items that he doesn’t like as “too cracky.”  I have no idea what this means except that maybe it’s something to do with texture?

I’ve watched this about a hundred times this week. I had been calling them a girl band but then had to remind myself that I was being pejorative and sexist. (If they were a band of men in their thirties, I would just call them a band, ugh.) At any rate, Boone walked in on one of my viewings and asked,”is that suitable for me? is that suitable for you?” This coming from the hooligan who wees off balconies.

Joseph’s gone to a conference in Finland for a week. We miss him.

I love this picture so much.

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“Can we go to a coffee shop?”

 

Improving my French

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Nobody but nobody can help themselves from saying “oh, Nice is nice.” Maybe it’s because when people think of Nice, they’re thinking of palm trees and truly azure-blue skies and seas, streets in the shade of faded Great Gatsby-era glamour, warmth, the pleasant mix of dreadlocked hippies and well-dressed locals in gold jewellery and crisp shirts and tourists who might try to copy the French Riviera look but will never succeed, the open-air market where the vendors tell these tourists the price of their wares in whatever number they can think of in English at the time (usually conveniently rounded up), fresh-baked everything , the pebbly beach on the city’s edge where an American girl is going topless, self-consciously, while lithe French teenagers who don’t make any distinction between street clothes and beachwear sunbathe beside women who answer their phones and in nicotine-stained voices tell their callers that they are “sur la plage-uh,” which judging by the quality of their skin—crispy, mahogany—is exactly where they’ve been every day for the past sixty years.

Or maybe people say “oh, Nice is nice” because it’s just too irresistible not to describe a city called Nice as nice.

At any rate, it really is nice and we’re going! For the fourth time, thanks to a house deposit that we feel is better spent on “experiences” rather than “things,” like a house.

Besides debating with myself, as I do every time before we go to Nice, about whether or not to apply fake tan (go on, it’ll take the edge off the whiteness/ what’s the point? the inevitable tell-tale signs around the ankles will just make me and my effort to cover up my heritage and the climate of my homeland even more pathetic), I’ve been working on improving my French, which like fake tan, has zero chance of helping me fit in any better, my accent being as Irish as my skin, but at least the ability to speak French puts me in a different class of tourist, a classier class, if you will.

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Don’t need no fake tan

How have I been improving my French? By watching YouTube videosof gorgeous French girls applying their make-up, that’s how. I find these videos completely engrossing, in a way that if I didn’t know they were a “thing,” i.e. that other people watch them too, I’d feel  funny about this pastime as there’s something unsettlingly intimate about being part of someone else’s toilette. Still, somewhat queasy feelings aside, I’m learning loads, from key vocabulary (“make-up” is make-up in French!) to pronunciation soop-ehrr (“super”), heeep-ehrrr (“hyper”), oool-trra (“ultra”), to broader cultural lessons about the so-called effortless French-girl look actually taking a good amount of effort.

I’m also prone to strrreet sty-uhl videos where very young twenty-somethings describe each item of their outfit. Very useful stuff.

And just to make sure, I checked and Thomas Mars is still my boyfriend. So, I’ve been watching this and this en boucle, as well as letting him teach me French here. Any excuse. This particular crush of mine drives Joseph mad, for some reason. Our conversations go like this:

Joseph: Ugh, so he’s the tortured poet of the band, I suppose? Uh, uh, uh. (That would be Joseph’s imitation of a tortured French poet.)

Me: (Dreamy-eyed, sighing) Yeah. Isn’t he soooo lettres modernes?

Joseph: (Silence)

Me: You know he’s just a French version of you!

Joseph: Really. (No question mark.)

I’m hoping that all of this intense preparation is not in vain. How can it be? I now know how to pronounce beauty product names like sooblime-uh seeelk perfexion and use non-verbal interjections like pffff and that spitty raspberry blowing sound that I can’t find letters to match. I’m well on my way. Or so I think. I know that when I get there I’ll be all flummoxed, like Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise when he’s describing the anxiety of having studied French for years only to arrive in France and not be able to do something seemingly straightforward (it’s never straightforward) like buy a train ticket. My favourite part of that scene is how Julie Delpy corrects his grammar because argh! it’s so French.

At any rate, I don’t intend to dedicate too much time to my anxieties surrounding the French language in Nice this year as I plan on lying on the beach in my factor 50, reading books and Elle magazines, drinking rosé, and speaking to no one. Unless I’m fortunate enough again to get caught in an undercurrent that tumbles me over, cutting my knee on benign-looking pebbles so that I have to hobble up, bleeding, to a grouchy hottie lifeguard (who despite being a lifeguard, has not seen me go under, nor has motioned to come and rescue me) and have an exchange wherein he realises I have enough French for him to get by without having to resort to his worse English and then he goes on to put a plaster on my knee, like I’m a five year old.

As for Boone, he thinks that what we really need to do to prepare for our holidays is paint our toenails pink and “keep our socks off!” Done and done, mon p’tit gars.

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A little thing called love

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Lately, Boone’s been telling us a lot that he loves us. Sometimes he says it because he’s very pleased with us, sometimes he says it because he wants to butter us up, but most of the time he says it just to say it, like in those sweet, sweet moments just before he goes to sleep or when we’re all sitting around not doing much of anything. It always makes us laugh because he doesn’t just say I love you, he says, I looooove you, letting the ‘o’ drop and deepen until it all sounds very grand and cinematic. There’s also more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek roguery to these declarations—Ralph Fiennes’ character in The Grand Budapest Hotel comes to mind. We attempt to match his grandeur and tell him that we love him, too, and then we all bask in a love haze.

I never expected this reciprocation. I’ve always known what it’s like for me to love him. It physically hurts—the blood that used to flow in and out of my heart unnoticed, I can now feel with every squeeze of my blood vessels. There are a lot of songs about love in the world but when I heard this song a couple of years ago, I thought that’s it, that’s what mother love is like!  It’s that almost bad-for-you love, it’s the crawling desperation of “I will love you ‘til the end of time/Promise you’ll remember that you’re mine.” I know that Lana Del Rey’s referring to loving a tattooed bad boy but she may as well be singing about my boy, the one who makes my eyes burn every time he walks into the room.

I had been wondering if Boone really knew the meaning of I love you, so the other day, I asked him.

“It means . . . I like you and think you’re fantastic!,” he said.

I’d say he’s got a pretty good understanding.