Mother’s Day

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Boone and me, we’re on first name terms these days, have been for a while. It’s hard to pinpoint when he started doing this but whenever it was, it was overnight. I’ve a feeling it was around the same time in his development when he started saying things like “Oh, don’t worry, it’s fiiiiiine,” and “Trust me, I know everything.” All I know is that one day he called me Mama (so sweet, so Southern) or, when he was feeling lazy, Ma (so mother of a mobster), and the next it was the name I’ve always had, the name my parents gave me, the name everyone else knows me by.

Growing up, I only knew of one family where the children called their parents by first name and even then I think it was only their father that they called Billy, a name that’s inherently diminutive and affectionate. The next time I’d come across this naming practice was watching Dharma and Greg in the late nineties. Remember Dharma? Her parents were old hippies who she called Abbey and Larry and to this day I remember Dharma’s impassioned speech about being homeschooled and how she learned about science and geography by going on a hot air balloon ride. The things I remember. Anyway, I thought that calling your parents by their first names, to their face, not behind their backs in a teenager-y tongue-in-cheek sort of way, was unusual, a bit strange.

Then one day, Boone started calling us Joseph and Siobhán, as though he’d never called us anything else. If I, out of habit, happened to refer to Joseph as “Daddy,” Boone would give me a very serious look and correct me: “Joseph.” It reminded me of when the euro first came in and the cashiers looked at you as if you were the stupidest person on earth if you slipped up and said pounds or pence, even though that was exactly how you had referred to your national currency your entire life until just last week.

 “Well,” says Leah, on hearing Boone’s new nomenclature for us, “that’s . . . progressive.”

At first I was bemused because it sounded funny but this soon got mixed in with sadness as I’d really liked being called Mama. I felt unrelated. I began to panic. Will he ever call me Mama again? Tell me I have videos of him calling me Mama! I wanted to tell everyone, the general public, his teachers that say “righteo” when I tell them we’re on first name terms now, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, this wasn’t my idea!” (Although, I have to admit, it does seem like an idea I might have.)

When I tell people about this, they either look a bit heartcrushed for me, or else they jump in with an assured “it’s a phase.” Every once in a while, I’ll sense a whiff of “you’d want to nip that one in the bud,” as though it were a sign of disrespect, or permissive parenting, or both. Nobody seems to see it as a good thing.

But I like it. I like that Boone’s teachers now have to refer to me as “Siobhán,” not the universal, faceless “Mum.” I like how it makes me feel more like an integrated self, less divided between the two lives of before and after Boone. I like that by using my first name, Boone sounds self-assured, his questions more like questions than whingeing demands. I like that, if he continues this into adolescence and beyond, there won’t be a pet name to keep me static in my maternal place, that our roles might evolve to that of adult to adult more easily. I probably like it for all the same reasons as Abbey and Larry in Dharma and Greg.

Besides, it doesn’t change a thing. I’m still his mother, he’s still my son. Of course, I have to remind him of these facts from time to time and reiterate that no, he doesn’t know everything, that I am his mother and everything I do and ask of him is in the interests of his safety. Knowing Boone, I’ve a feeling I’d have to remind him of these things whether he called me Mama or not.

On Friday, I went to a “special mother’s day surprise” at Boone’s playschool. There were little chocolate cakes and heart-shaped biscuits and questionnaires the children had completed about us. Apparently, I’m five years old, my favourite food is porridge, and my favourite drink is tea. Since only one of those things is true, I decided to ask Boone the questions myself when we got home. When I got to the question “how much do you love me?,” Boone answered:

“Five euros.”

“Five euros?!”

“Yes, that’s how much it costs.”

It may not seem like a lot but five is Boone’s favourite number and in his mind, five is the most, the best. I think that’s why whenever we play shops, everything Boone sells costs five euro.

I sigh and say, “Oh, Boone, I just love being your mama.” He giggles and so do I.

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“Oh, you look adoooorable!” he says.

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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.

 

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?”

 

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.

Going to (play)school

DSC05465 DSC05463DSC05473 Katie in Cornonation Street used to have some of the best lines about motherhood. There was the time she was so unsure of herself after having a baby that she didn’t even know what type of music she liked anymore and then there was the time a bit before that when everyone else around her was enjoying the getting-ready-for-the-work-day panic while she just sat on the couch, a hollow version of herself. As Fizz hurried her own child out to her childminder’s, Katie, exasperated said, “I’d like a childminder and all,” to which Chesney, also exasperated, responded, “yeah but Fizz works.”

Well, that got to me.

What was Chesney saying, exactly? On the surface, it seemed he was stating a simple fact: Fizz works, therefore Fizz has childcare. But he was also saying a whole lot more. He was, I would argue, summing up a general cultural attitude towards the value of paid work versus unpaid caregiving. He was saying that Fizz deserved childcare because she went out to work. He was saying that Fizz contributed to the household, nay to society, while Katie was just at home with the baby, not working, apparently. He was saying that were Katie to work like Fizz, then it would be okay to outsource the childcare of their child because she would be paying for it and consequently, earning it. But as things stood, Chesney’s attitude—condescending, talking to Katie as though she were a spoiled child—was that Katie staying at home with the baby was her “job” and it was hers to do alone, with neither help nor pay.

The worst part is that for a long time, I agreed with Chesney, even though I often felt like Katie. I had internalized the message that I could only have childcare if I had paid work. Otherwise, it seemed like a double negative; after all, I was already taking away from the family by not earning money and if I were to get childcare, then I would just cost the family even more. Katie in Coronation Street, on the other hand, had a team of writers who circumvented the whole issue for her by getting other characters to volunteer unsustainable amounts of free childcare. Meanwhile, I just let the market-model of capitalism, which conveniently disregards the economic contribution of unpaid labour, overrun my thoughts and feelings, thoughts and feelings which have been very hard to shake. In fact, I don’t think I’ve fully shook them yet. But job or no job, it was clear that I needed a break from mothering, preferably a defined and scheduled break for two to three mornings a week, so that, ironically, I could work. Also, Boone needed to hang out with people his own age on a more regular basis, especially since we’d both had it with a lot of the so-called mum and toddler-friendly playgroups and activities, mainly because they’re not friendly at all. Hence: playschool.

(I know I’m supposed to call it “Montessori” or “pre-school” or whatever, but I just can’t bring myself to do it so “playschooo-uhl,”as Boone calls it, it is.)

I also know that I’m conflating childcare with education here but for me, it is about childcare. I simply need someone else to occupy Boone for a few hours. I couldn’t care less if he “learns” anything, particularly anything from the numbers-letters-colours-shapes canon, which according to a very jaded eleven-year-old Dominic is the entire (and boring) curriculum of early childhood education. No, Boone learns plenty as it is just by being almost-three. Also, he watches copious amounts of telly, all of which seems hell bent on educating him, despite my misgivings.

Although the HSE recommended that I visit at least three different “centres,” I signed Boone up for the first one we visited, as of all the playschools I had oh-so-diligently entered in an Excel spreadsheet, this was the first one that answered my call. As it happens, I already knew about this playschool as the daughter of one of my momfriends goes there. I remember my friend describing the school as “no frills,” which appealed to me on several levels. Plus I’d heard other mothers talking about the school, with one woman telling me that she thought her son would never adapt but he did, thanks to the teacher’s magical powers. (Actually, what she really said was “I didn’t think anyone could break him but this teacher did!”). When I spoke to the teacher myself, I thought she was really cool.

When we went to visit, the first thing I was struck by was the smell: sticky surfaces and kids, or, I should say, the symbiotic relationship between sticky surfaces and kids, the one existing because of the other. I observed the class, a small group of about eight three- to four-year olds, while they made rice krispie buns. It was all sorts of adorable. Later, I told the teacher, Ruth, that it wasn’t much different from my own teaching experience. “Oh, did you teach Montessori?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I taught adults.” But really there was no difference, expect age, because just like in my own classes, here was the kid sneaking in mouthfuls of sprinkles while they thought the teacher wasn’t looking, here was the kid who couldn’t resist giving a sly puck to the one beside him, here were the two lovebirds exchanging furtive kisses. The smell didn’t matter; it was how the teacher responded to and managed all of this with such care and patience that impressed me the most. And she reminded me of Adele, possibly the most conscientious person I know.

We picked a start date. We were all set. Every night we read our beloved Usborne Going to School book to Boone. We went shopping and Boone picked out a new green lunchbox and matching water bottle. I got him a new hoodie and then the week he was due to start, Dad died. I found myself in the ludicrous position of trying to word this in an email to the teacher. I had no idea what to say. I couldn’t just blurt out the truth, so instead I was vague and said that there was “a family crisis.”

A couple of weeks later when Boone did start, I wasn’t exactly as robust as I’d hoped to be on his first day of playschool. Not only was I raw with grief, I was also very worried that this playschool experiment could go the way of the music class fiasco. Thankfully, thankfully, it didn’t. Barring that bout of hand foot and mouth disease and the mornings when Boone cries, it’s been a very good experience.

And now, in a somewhat thematic order, here are all of the things I like about playschool:

Packing Boone’s lunchbox and unpacking it when he gets home. For some reason, I get a kick out of picturing him getting his lunchbox out of his little schoolbag and then eating his sandwich at the classroom table.

The smear of peanut butter and/or jam on his face when I collect him.

The way Boone’s face lights up when I arrive and the sweet hug that follows.

Missing Boone and he missing me.

All of the work we’ve put into discussing emotions with Boone (or as he calls them, “lotions”) paying off. He tells us things like “I cwied and cwied and cwied and then I was happy at playschooo-uhl” and “Ruth got me a tissue and blew my nose” and “saying goodbye is hard.”

The genuine interest Ruth has in getting to know Boone and what makes him tick. “I get him,” she said the other day and I know she does.

Someone else appreciating Boone’s Boone-ishness.

The sincere little reports Ruth gives me every day like, “he’s doing super!” and “he’s very communicative about his needs,” which I know means that he has no qualms telling her “I need a do a weeeee!”

The name tag above Boone’s “special hook,” which includes a picture of a red fire engine as this was the toy he played with exclusively for the first week. Teacher of the Year Award right there.

Hearing Boone come out with phrases that are obviously borrowed from the teacher, things like “no-one would be going out on a day like today” and lots and lots of tag questions.

The way all the other kids say “Boone, Boone, Boone!” We’re trying to get Boone to call them by their names, too, or at the very least to stop referring to them as “the kids.” They’re the other kids, Boone!

Being out and about early in the morning and feeling like I’m part of the masses, all of us going to our expected and respective institutions.

Getting a solid block of three hours twice a week to sit at the computer, write, listen to music, and hatch terrifying, high-risk, and bound-to-fail plans.

Update: Never trust a crocodile

 

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Innocent! (More or less)

So, I was looking for my ipod just now and as I pulled out the laundry basket in the bedroom, what should I see but my wedding ring. Three exclamation marks !!!

I knew there was something fishy about that whole story. Apologies, Boone, for blackening your name across the internet.  I have to say that, besides being relieved that I have my ring back, I am both impressed and worried in equal meaure that you are a) able to lie for the sake of dramatic effect (hiding my ring behind the laundry basket isn’t half as good a story as flushing it down the toilet, is it?) and b) keep a secret for that long. Of course, for you, these are key elements for a successful practical joke, like when you hold water in your mouth for ages only to laugh it all out when we finally realise why you’ve been quiet for so long. Well, bravo, son, bravo. You really got me this time.

Now, where’s my ipod?

My precious

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I saw him playing with it, trying it on and twirling it between his own little fingers. I took it off him, explaining that it was my special ring, that I couldn’t let him play with it. As I took the ring and went to place it where I usually do, on the shelf above the toilet, I had one of those slow-motion moments, the type where I’m holding my wedding ring and one of the diamonds sparkles in the light and something tells me: put it in a different place, put it some place safer. I didn’t listen. I put it where I usually do, on the shelf above the toilet, and turned away.

The rest of the day was like any of those very rare days where Joseph and I have arranged to go out—by ourselves—and because we desperately want everything to go to plan, nothing goes to plan. Boone skips his nap, which makes us all cranky and threatens to derail our plans. We forge ahead and as I’m getting ready, I notice. It’s gone. Panic creeps up but I reassure myself that I often think some piece of jewellery or another is missing only to find it again.

“Boone, have you seen my ring?”

I ask him because he knows where everything is, mainly because he’s the one responsible for the constant re-organisation of everything in our house. He’s usually honest about where he’s hidden things, too. Sometimes we don’t understand his terminology, though, like the time he put the toilet roll holder down the hoover hose except he didn’t call it the hoover hose, he called it the “big blower.” For a while there we thought Dyson had lied to us because our hoover was definitely losing suction but then one day, the missing toilet roll holder fell out and proper suction was restored.

“Oh! I show you,” said Boone.

He goes into the bathroom, lowers the toilet seat oh so carefully, climbs up on the toilet seat and with confidence says:

“There it is!”

“No, Boone, that’s Daddy’s ring, where’s my ring?”

He runs away from me and as I’m frantically looking over desks, counters, tables, and shelves, he confesses to Joseph.

“I flushed it down the toilet.”

I refuse to believe this. First, when he usually flushes things that are not supposed to go down the toilet, he pushes the handle really quickly and then cackles very loudly, like the time he flushed my wide-toothed comb and it got stuck in the pipes in such an awkward way, we had to get a plumber out. Boone thought this was hilarious and for weeks loved telling people about how when the plumber eventually pulled the comb out there was “wee and poo all around it!” There certainly was—lots and lots of our perfectly formed, vegan, Dr. Oz-approved poo. “Stand back,” the plumber had said, “this is not going to be nice.”

After that whole incident, I thought Boone had gotten over his flushing phase. But Joseph tells me that Boone still slips things in behind the toilet seat, that, in effect, “he never stopped.” Joseph also tells me that sometimes Boone doesn’t realize that the flush will actually work, that with the pull of a handle, something can disappear.

This is when I begin to doubt my belief that surely Boone wouldn’t flush something so precious and imbued with sentiment to me down the toilet, not my beautiful sapphire and diamond Art Deco eternity band that we got it in the world’s dodgiest (or most charming, depending how you want to look at it) antiques shop in Dublin that magical Christmas-filled day in 2005.

Boone, however, was sticking to his story. He apologized to me, as per Joseph’s instructions, and I pleaded with him, asking if he had really, really, really flushed my ring down the toilet.

“Yes! It’s funny! Hahaha. Ha? Hey, why do you have a sad face?”

He went to bed easily, contritely. We went out. My ring finger felt naked. I held onto a thread of hope; I’d never heard the tell-tale cackle, after all. But as Finola pointed out, he could have flushed it and then realized, uh-oh, I shouldn’t have done that.

The next day I had to accept that it was gone. I contemplated getting Joseph to open up the pipe but we both knew that it was well on its way to the sewage plant. I had a fleeting fantasy that maybe it would get sifted out and a worker would find it but then I got a less fleeting dose of reality when I thought about whether I would want it again after being through all that (literal) shit.

I was in a sour mood with Boone for the rest of the weekend. I tried to keep resentment at bay, to not give into the temptation to be overly dramatic and think that this was all some sort of sign, but in the end I had to remind myself: it’s just a ring, he’s just a kid. And rings can be replaced. Grant it, vintage sapphire and diamond rings are not that easily replaced, at least not with our current budget, but I’ve always liked the idea of a plain gold ring, as the song goes, something that were it to be flushed down the toilet, I would be disappointed but not heartbroken.

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