Acceptance, rules and regulations on how we view others.

24th December 1991, midnight mass at 21:00 hrs.

I sat and stared at the altar, at the priest holding up the sacrament, and I trembled. I felt it. I was sure that I felt it. My period had started! It was due today, and I’d made frequent trips to the toilet to check if it had started but until now, this moment in church, it had kept me in suspense. I closed my eyes and breathed out.

After communion, when the others wanted to leave mass early, I followed. I was eager to get home and to make sure that I was indeed bleeding. The frosty night was sharp through my thin coat, but I had my scarf pulled over my nose, and his warm hand was holding mine, and that was all that mattered. With our heads down against the cold wind, we got back to my parents’ house as quickly as we could. I didn’t say a word the whole way, except to call goodbye to our friends as we all went separate ways. My mind was preoccupied. Once in the door, I dashed up the stairs still wearing my coat, as quietly as I could, heeding my mother’s cry to be quiet and not wake the children. Holding my breath I sat on the toilet and wiped. Nothing. There was nothing. I was still pregnant. I was still with child. I’d only had sex once, and I was fifteen.

My hands went cold and my face was numb. I should have known that miracles don’t happen. I came back down the stairs slowly, drank coffee to warm up, and blamed my mood on having gotten too cold on the way home. We watched television, well at least I think we did and then he went home. Leaving me pregnant, alone in my single bed with my sister breathing gently in the bed across the room. I tried to sleep.

6th January 1992, Henry Street, Dublin.

The sales were still going strong, and we still had another few days off school. A group of us had gotten the train to spend our Christmas money in the sales, on clothes, Doc. Martens, and maybe some music. I was holding my money tightly and wondering how much a pregnancy kit would cost? Would I have enough? Should I buy one here, in Dublin, where no one knew me and no one could gossip about me? I’d heard talk before about girls, or young women, who had gotten pregnant outside of marriage, and what I’d heard wasn’t nice. I’d heard talk of the men who had had great nights out and one night stands, and what I’d heard wasn’t nice. But it was not the same not nice, it was just different. One conversation was filled with disgust, head shaking, tutting and finger pointing. The other was filled with bravos, back slapping and triumph. I knew what lay ahead of me, and that it would be worse: for I was the quiet one and I was only fifteen. It wouldn’t matter how I’d gotten pregnant, or how it’d happened, or who the father was because I’d be tarred with the same brush as all the other unmarried mothers. I must be provocative, promiscuous, sluttish. Easy. I must be unruly, have no sense, and wondering who the father is?

I must be all of these things.

I must also be punished by becoming famous for my sexual exploit, destined to be the sole conversation for the entire population of this town, and the next one. My family would be criticised. My parents looked down on, my pitied. I would become open for all sorts of non-solicited advice on what I should do with the child that grew inside me. Adoption, abortion, adoption, abortion, adoption adoption adoption.

I’d only had sex once. Not only was that a sin, I’d enjoyed it too. Women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex. I must be a hussy.

The bustling crowds of the streets and the markets were easier to navigate than my thoughts. I went home empty handed.

12th January 1992, babysitting at 21:00 hrs.

I bought a test, a pack of two, last Friday, in the chemist across the road. I lied and said it was for my aunt. The woman just nodded and handed me the package and I raced home. I pored over the instructions. I went over them again. I urinated and followed the instructions, followed every dot, every cross. I waited the hours until the result could be read – I really was pregnant now that it was confirmed. I didn’t breathe much during those hours. I sat, with my back against the radiator, my feet against my bed and held myself tight.

Then on Monday my aunt called in. My parents were at work, so we were practically alone, as alone as one can be in a house full of siblings and their Christmas toys. She asked me straight out, and I said yes. She got me to take the second test and promised to talk to my parents. I went babysitting as I usually did on a Monday night. It was a good stint, they were business people with two darling girls, whom I adored. And they were kind and generous. Mam called in just after ten, upset and holding back her tears. Later that night Dad arrived home from work to the news. He must’ve been upset. They could’ve screamed at me. Instead I was hugged and kissed and held as reality sank in.

The first hospital appointment had me terrified. I was absolutely in love with him, and he me. We were a team, and we were going to do this together. But there was a terror that he’d be prosecuted because I was underage, but then so was he. We were supporting each other, and our parents were trying their best too. It wasn’t an easy year. Again came the advice, only this time there was only one option given: adoption adoption adoption.

I didn’t go out much after word got out. By going out I mean, leaving the house. It wasn’t worth the stares and the gaping mouths. It was a long, hot summer. Heated in more ways than one. Talk was cheap and it flowed like beer in a free bar.

Advice was dispensed from every oracle. Like I said, talk was cheap. Everyone had a solution. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone thought that they knew me, knew what I was like. Talk is so very cheap, and talk escalates and before you know it, there’s the biggest game of chinese whispers going on that the world has ever seen. I’d only had sex once. I didn’t go out much that summer.

September 1992, The Coombe Maternity Hospital, Dublin.

The long summer inside had given me plenty of time to read, so by the time I was admitted to hospital I was able to tell the medical students a thing or two. I thought that being forewarned was being forearmed. Being in labour was humiliating and I commend my mother for fighting to have him by my side while I laboured. It would have been the last straw for me if I’d had to be without either him or her, and she fought until I could have both. My baby was delivered. I was unconscious and I didn’t get to see her for three days despite proclaiming my wish to breastfeed her. He kicked up a row once he realised that I had only a blurred Polaroid to cradle. I let the realisation that I was a statistic sink in, and relished the empty ward in which I was placed. Once I had her in my arms nothing else mattered. Those few days, cocooned away from the Talkers, were bliss.

The gifts and well wishes were unexpected. I arrived home and a flurry of well-wishers called. It lifted my spirits and within eight weeks I was back in school. The talk soon subsided when everyone witnessed me and him together, our families support, how they all rallied around to help. Family. Family. Family is a magical thing, and it’s also indefinable. To me, we were family: me, him and her. But by law we most certainly were not. Strange that. Marriage was the only way to clear that little misunderstanding up. But we didn’t know that at the time. To me, marriage was a public commitment that I was going to be with, to love, and to share my whole life with another person that I found so amazing that I just couldn’t live without. I wanted to show the world that we were a team, a force to be reckoned with, that we had each other’s backs. That we were interesting enough to each other to want to spend a lifetime together learning, sharing, talking, loving, dancing, singing, holding hands, disagreeing, making up. That we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we couldn’t bear to part.

We married in 1996, the same year that the last Magdalene Laundry closed in Ireland. I wasn’t aware. I’d never even heard of the laundries – wasn’t I lucky? I also wasn’t aware that only 6 years previously it had become a crime for a man to rape his wife. Before 1990 he could have sex with her whenever he wanted, and there would be no support for her decision to say no. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I have been. Born in the 1970s, growing up in the 1980s and a mother in the 1990s – yet somehow these decades saved me from the past lives of other women. Having always seen myself as an independent entity, despite being a couple and deeply in love, when I discovered how recently the laws had changed regarding women and marriage I wasl shocked, and upset. How close had I been to being ruled because of my gender? If I had been presented with the same set of rules I think I’d have remained unmarried despite the love. Why would I enter into a situation that held me hostage, one which made me, and him, unwilling advocates of a form of Stockholm syndrome?

For a long time women have been made to feel that how their body works, how the natural process of being a woman, is a hindrance. What is unnatural are the many attempts to subdue and reform women, to control and mould women. Women are women. We menstruate, we cry. Our weight fluctuates, our figures change shape over our lifetimes. We love, we hate, we care, we think. We are capable of doing pretty much anything. We don’t need to be changed. We need to be accommodated.

We are natural.

As are gay and lesbian people. They love, they hate, they care, they think, they breathe. They have emotions and lives. They read books, go to movies, shop and take walks in parks. They love.

And they are stigmatised for being natural. For being human beings. It’s like not liking a dog for not being the breed you prefer – it doesn’t make sense to stigmatise when the onus is on us all to accept the wider diversity of life that inhabits this planet. Open minds and clear thoughts are needed to even begin to attempt to understand the amazing and varied forms of life that surrounds us all. Humans have the power to advance themselves through exploration and love. It’s a powerful ability which is abused and mistrusted. But once it begins, it makes life easier. When you just love the living really begins, don’t you think? Which statistic are you? The one which discriminates and points fingers making life that much harder for the statistic that you are looking at? Or the one that supports another human when life is not so easy for them?

Vote Yes.

 I So Do

I fell in love easy.

It wasn’t a hard thing to do – everything about him was lovable: his smile, his laugh, the way he held my hand. The way he knew I loved him before I did.

Of course when it came to the crunch, he simply said “I love you too” as we finished our phone call, saving me from admitting it first.

He made me think more, made me want more. He made me happy without even trying. He took me for myself, with all my insecurities and doubts, with all my quirks and faults. He has a few of his own too. All adorable though. 

There have been many times when he’s gone out of his way for me: little things like meeting me at the station because I forgot my umbrella and it’s lashing rain. Or the time when he took over all the chores and still carried on with his own job while I recuperated following an operation. Or that time when I was just dying for those roasted garlic potatoes they do in my favourite restaurant and he went and got them for me. It’s easy to love him.

Which is why I like to do things for him too. I’ll iron his shirts the way he likes because he hates ironing; and I watch Bear Grylls with him every week because to hear him laugh at the telly is a privilege. I’d drop anything for him if he needed me. I’d do anything for him. It’s not a choice when it’s love- it’s natural. I’d spend my whole life with him happy.

When he asked me to marry him I hesitated. I knew that this was a massive thing for him to do – we had discussed it before and well, we didn’t really see the point in marriage. Not when it didn’t apply to us anyway. 

We want to be a family, but our options are limited by law. We want to be each other’s next of kin, the one doctors call if needed, not just partner – because family comes first. We want to share a home not a house.

I fell in love easy. I love him no matter what. I so do. So I said YES.

   
 

The Wood For The Trees

Do you sometimes forget to see what’s right in front of you?

AmyWritesStuff

It wasn’t so much the way he looked at me, as in the way he didn’t look at me. Of late he seemed to look right through me. When we spoke he seemed to be focusing on something else, something just over my shoulder. My left shoulder, always my left.
Sometimes I’d turn and look, check to see what it was he just had to see. He never noticed that I’d just looked too.

Then I noticed that it wasn’t just that that he didn’t notice.

These days it was me that was an invisible presence in his life. Me.

The alarm goes off early, and he comes home late. This is inflicted on us by the recession, having a job these days means working whatever hours you are given, and man, oh man! He seems to have so many hours.
Then I read something, and it made me angry.

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Why Love or be Loved?

Love. #valentine

AmyWritesStuff

Love
Why do I love you?
I just do. There’s something in you, and returning in me that makes us love. It’s indefinable, it’s invisible. It’s natural. We are lucky.
Love is simple and whole. There are no boundaries nor definitions. There is no reason to where it begins nor where it goes.
Love shouldn’t be questioned. There is no answer.
It is an inexplicable magic of emotions best left un-dissected, and yet should not be given away without questioning why.
We are made to love and be loved.
Loving others sometimes comes easy, our children – we love unconditionally, without any hesitation. They come to us swaddled with love, trust and it tenfolds.
Loving ourselves is the hardest part – why should we? ~Why do others?
Stop questioning and let love be as it is meant to be.

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Christmas Trouble

December 22nd
Joe’s voice came over the line in a half strangled hale hearty way.
“Aunty Dolly is coming for Christmas!”
I stopped in my tracks and dumped the shopping bags I’d been carrying. Grappling with my phone that had been jammed between me shoulder and ear, I could feel my blood pressure rising.

“What do you mean Aunty Dolly is coming for Christmas?” My voice was as snarly as the dog’s.

“And she’s bringing a friend…” Joe’s voice trailed off.

That’s when I hung up. Aunty Dolly was a nightmare guest. The whole of Joe’s family avoided her abrasive attitude and sharp tongue. In her early sixties, she’d never married and proudly told all and sundry whenever she could. Feeling very hard done by I made a cup of tea and left the shopping on the counter while I checked Facebook.
Joe’s sister Denise had just posted:
Dolly free zone at ours! Christmas Eve drinkies anyone? Oooops! Not you Joe and Becka…. You’ll be too busy making your one sherry last the night! 😂
Choking on my tea I barely restrained myself from hammering a sarky reply back to her. Tears blurred my vision and blinking them back I finished my tea and determined not to let Barbie-doll Neesie get to me. Neesie just had to get her bit in, and I was an easy target for her, and just too emotional this time of year.

December 23rd
Joe had scarpered out first thing this morning after bringing me up a cup of tea, with the list of extras we’d need for Aunty Dolly and to collect the Turkey from the butchers. Traffic would be bedlam so I wasn’t expecting him back for hours and got stuck into preparing the guest room. Although where I was supposed to squeeze this friend in I couldn’t figure out. Our little two up, two down with tiny bathroom didn’t leave any options…unless Aunty Dolly expected us to give up our room? With a sinking heart I pulled another fresh set of bed linen from the hot press. That’s most likely exactly what was expected.

Joe arrived in just as I was lighting the fire, cold after my day cleaning and perfecting our little home for the great Aunty Dolly. He shoved the turkey onto the bottom shelf in the fridge and went straight back out to the car, returning with a chinese takeaway. We ate from the cartons, just as we had when we’d met in college, by the fire and admired our tree. It was too big for the room really, but I couldn’t resist it! It was fine for just us. Perfect even. A stillness fell over us as the evening sky darkened and Christmas lights all around the neighbourhood began to twinkle. Joe reached for me, and we made love under the angel’s gentle gaze.

December 24th
Aunty Dolly arrived precisely on time at five. With her friend.
A man friend.
She insisted on kissing me on both cheeks, said that I looked peaky, and shocked us by saying that they only required the one bedroom thank you very much.
Her man friend, Jeremy,  a tall, bumbling, jolly whiskered fellow good-naturedly told Aunty Dolly to take that stick out of her arse and calm down. He shook my hand warmly and thanked me for our hospitality by popping open champagne (real stuff!) and getting everyone fairly twiddly. Ok! Really squiffy! It was late when we all tumbled up to bed and as I lay in Joe’s arms, I reflected back on the evening:

Dolly, not Aunty anymore as she’d begged, had pulled me into a hug after her third champers. Tears glistened in her eyes.
“I know what they all say and think of me,” she began, holding her hands up to stop Joe from interrupting. “No Joe, I do. And for a long time they were right. I was a horrible, selfish, pedantic person. I couldn’t see how life was meant to be. But you, you Becka… You were the first person to talk to me like I was a real person, you asked about me! You never once asked why I hadn’t married. You accepted me as grumpy Aunty Dolly warts n all. And you never knew this but you gave me the strength to go out and find this wonderful man…”
Jeremy blushed under his whiskers. “And we’d love it if you too would witness our marriage on the 26th?”

To say we were speechless would be a huge understatement but Joe came round quickly and poured more champagne. It was the happiest Christmas Eve we’ve had in a long time, having given up on the idea of hanging a row of stockings up, this was a lovely new celebration. I curled up and fell asleep.

December 25th
Dolly and Jeremy kept us entertained with tales of their courtship and let us in on their future plans. It was a strange day! Firstly our weird oven actually cooked the turkey to perfection, although I will claim that it was my expertise, not chance. Of course I couldn’t resist posting a few pics of our day and dinner on Facebook – take that Neesie! Then Joe’s brother Declan rang. There was murder going on over at Neesie’s! Blue murder! The turkey had exploded in the oven and Neesie was screaming at her fella that he’d bought a cheap dud, just like the “diamond” engagement ring he’d fobbed off on her! And Declan was coming over to ours, in fact he was just getting his car keys. I burst out laughing, how could I not! Neesie had always looked down on me from her designer stilettos and through her Chanel shades.

Then I had the strangest sensation. A nudge. Inside. And I caught Dolly looking at me with a soft expression. She knew, and I knew, in that instant that next year there’d be stockings on the mantle piece and a cot where the double bed now was. I couldn’t count properly first, but when I did I knew it was true.

Everything faded into insignificance after that, and I let it all go.

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Why Love or be Loved?

Love
Why do I love you?
I just do. There’s something in you, and returning in me that makes us love. It’s indefinable, it’s invisible. It’s natural. We are lucky.
Love is simple and whole. There are no boundaries nor definitions. There is no reason to where it begins nor where it goes.
Love shouldn’t be questioned. There is no answer.
It is an inexplicable magic of emotions best left un-dissected, and yet should not be given away without questioning why.
We are made to love and be loved.
Loving others sometimes comes easy, our children – we love unconditionally, without any hesitation. They come to us swaddled with love, trust and it tenfolds.
Loving ourselves is the hardest part – why should we? ~Why do others?
Stop questioning and let love be as it is meant to be.

The Wood For The Trees

It wasn’t so much the way he looked at me, as in the way he didn’t look at me. Of late he seemed to look right through me. When we spoke he seemed to be focusing on something else, something just over my shoulder. My left shoulder, always my left.
Sometimes I’d turn and look, check to see what it was he just had to see. He never noticed that I’d just looked too.

Then I noticed that it wasn’t just that that he didn’t notice.

These days it was me that was an invisible presence in his life. Me.

The alarm goes off early, and he comes home late. This is inflicted on us by the recession, having a job these days means working whatever hours you are given, and man, oh man! He seems to have so many hours.
Then I read something, and it made me angry.

An article on 1950s housewives and how they would doll themselves up for their husband coming home. How they didn’t burden their men with daily mishaps, burnt fingers or boisterous children. For a moment I sneered at the article, then later I burnt my fingers on the pot, and in dashing to the sink to put it under cold water I yelled at one of the twins to move, and those words came back at me, like a train speeding through a tunnel.
This mess is what my man was coming home to.

Since I’d lost my job I’d struggled to be the parent at home. Freedom from chasing a timetable was, at first, fantastic, a revelation. Rising in the morning was whenever, breakfast became brunch and dinner was later. The twins loved it, the late bedtimes, the spur of the moment trips to the playground, and my loosened discipline. I loved it! No make up, ponytailed hair and comfy clothes.

Bit by bit, it all piled up, the mess, the bills, my weight. Being the stay-at-home parent was great, don’t get me wrong but it had become so, so… So tedious! It was the same thing every day. Get up, breakfast kids, school run, clean up, clean up, clean up, school run, homework, dinner, clean up, clean up, clean up. Interspersed by me being teacher, friend, nurse and quite often referee. God they fight a lot, my twins.
Oh! I must clear something up here, my kids are not real twins, they’re what we call Irish twins, born just over a year apart. We were desperate to have and complete our family, I was pushing forty on the last pregnancy. They fight like cats and dogs.

So it occurred to me that the only time he saw me was when he got up at the crack of dawn, which is not my best look: wild eyed, wild haired and puffy; or when he came home late in the evening: me bedraggled, scruffy and sweaty. No wonder he looked past me.
I wasn’t the woman he knew.
Hell! I wasn’t the woman I knew.

This frantic thought upset me no end, so I tried to pick up the pieces of our once organised lives. I fought to slot the timetable back into place, frequently against the wave of annoyance from the kids. I managed well enough after weeks of exhausting cajoling, wheedling and a huge clear out of our junk filled home. My motto was Less stuff, less cleaning.

Finally came the day when I managed it. Dinner was made, his favourite: casserole; kids were chilled and in bed with books; and me? I’d blow dried my hair and had a pretty dress on.
He didn’t even notice.
He devoured his dinner. He savoured the peaceful evening by channel hopping, then he fell into bed.
I let it go, he was tired.
I let it go the next night, and the next, and every night for almost a month. I let them all go. I made excuses for him. He works very hard.

Then the pipe under the sink burst and I had to call a plumber.
He noticed me.
And it felt oh, so good.

I admit it, I was flattered by his admiring glances and he was easy on the eye too. So while the kids played with Lego in front of the fire, I offered him coffee and biscuits – freshly made by myself I may add. We chatted for half an hour standing by the sink, eating biccies and sipping coffee. A quick half hour, it went by too fast because suddenly my husband was home and I felt like such a cliché: the bored housewife and the plumber.

My husband took it all in with one sweep of his dark lashed baby blues and was at my side in an instant, his wallet out to pay his rival. There were no goodbyes, and I felt guilty for nothing. We only chat for a while, chat! I said to myself as I loaded the mugs into the dishwasher and turned it on.

Following the sounds of the kids voices I went into the sitting room. The three of them, my boys and my husband, were sprawled in front of the fire. They showed him their Lego masterpieces and he was smiling. Standing in the doorway I watched a minute before sitting in my chair.

“There’s lasagne in the oven,” I said “if you want some?”
He looked up at me and sat back. Looking. At me. Finally.

“You look nice. Really nice.” His voice was thoughtful, I felt a cold warning run down my spine.

“Mammy always looks lovely these days.” One of the boys piped up.

“Oh?” A raised eyebrow.

“Yeah,” our other boy joined in. “This is nice daddy, it’s nice to play with you.”

I held my breath. What would they say next? Why was he so annoyed?
Then it dawned on me. He was jealous!
Jealous of me talking to another man, an innocent conversation. Well! Almost innocent, I’ll admit that. I was very very flattered by the admiring eyes of the plumber. For that half hour I’d let my imagination run away with me, I had wondered what it would be like to kiss him. So I blushed under my husband’s curious gaze.

Later, after bedtime stories and kisses, I came back downstairs to find the good candles lit and a wine poured. The wine I’d bought for our anniversary that we’d never opened. I said nothing, too surprised by the attention I suppose. He sat up and switched off the television as I came in, and pulled my down into his arms. He kissed me.

It felt strange to be kissed by my husband this way. This passionately. Not the usual peck on the check, forehead or the top of my head as he leaves for work. It felt awkward, teeth clashingly awkward. The absurdity of it all whirled around my mind and suddenly I giggled. I giggled into our kiss.

“What?” His brow furrowed. “What’s so funny?”

“Us, this. We’re so awkward.” I said. “Anyone would think we’d never kissed before, let alone make babies.”

His frown deepened. His face crumpled and I pulled him down to me. He buried his face against my breast and then I felt him shake. His shoulders heaved up and down and I squeezed him tight. His hair smelt so good, I love the shampoo he uses. It’s musky and lemony and made me tingle in places that haven’t tingled for a while. He raised his head slightly and I heard him laugh. His deep, rumbling laugh. Tears were streaming down his face and I began to laugh too.
We clasped each other, united in laughter, and then we were kissing. Really kissing, a remembering kind of kissing. His hands were in my hair and I clung to his shoulders. He tasted of tomato and spices. Then I was naked, bare skinned in front of the fire and it felt oh, so good. The heat from the fire no match for the heat between us.
It felt pre-recession, it was such a decadence. It was oh, so, so good.

And that’s all I’m saying about that!

Except that it wasn’t magical, it didn’t fix everything. What fixed the magic was the talking, listening, sharing and arguing.

Needless to say, we were a lot more mindful of each other after that, whatever the other was wearing.
After all, we weren’t together for appearances.
We were together for love.

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