Russian dolls


Walking up the hill from the beach this morning, negotiating with the three tiny terrorists about whether or not they would be allowed to ever buy another toy at Lawlor’s and whether or not I would ever be allowed to buy a toy at Lawlor’s because everybody had tantrums again this morning, including me, I heard a voice shouting my name.

I turned and saw a man in his forties and his daughter; they had just walked past me. ‘Jacqueline – it is you isn’t it? You are exactly the same!’
I didn’t recognise the man in front of me. He had bright grey hair, a tattoo on his leg. He seemed to know me well. ‘Jacqueline, it’s me!’ And yes, finally, there he was, I saw him; an old friend from more than 20 years ago. We hung around a lot when he was around 19; I was a year older. I didn’t see the 19-year-old boy I remembered in front of me, at all. He had dark brown hair, was slightly built, always smiling. He had been a young-looking 19, and now, well, he was grown up.

It got me thinking about something I read by Wayne Dyer. It was a reflection on who the ‘I’ is. How can ‘I’ be my body, he said, if my body has changed so radically over the years. Now I am 70 (he said at the time of writing); I am not that baby I was, that toddler, or teenager. My body is not the same as it was when I was a young man, it is totally different. He goes on to say that ‘the I is your higher self, changeless and real.’ This is his spiritual conclusion. It might not be yours; it might be mine – I don’t know yet.

I haven’t a clue who I am, really, but I know ‘I’ am not that person I was more than 20 years ago. I’ve read somewhere that all the cells in our body replace themselves every seven years (don’t think it’s strictly true but it’s kind of comforting), but who is beyond that? Does your higher self change? I think it stays the same, your essence from birth, but it gets all muddied over as your life goes on. Then you feel that cliched urge to find yourself, go on a spiritual quest, look for something more – however you want to term it. It happens to us all.

It was odd to see my friend; I struggled to see the boy inside of him but of course he is still there. It made me think that we are all like Russian Dolls, our past selves all bottled and layered up inside of us. Also: how on earth does time work? How can I be walking up a little hill by a beach, then reconnect with someone from so long ago, and it seem like a whole swathe of time hasn’t passed? Is this what it’s like if you are lucky enough to make it to 70, to make it to 90 – you circle around events and people in your life, losing them and reconnecting, remaining in awe at the gaping speed in which the years have passed? These are all simple and basic questions – I know that. Like – why the hell is time so painfully slow when you are young? What makes it speed up so radically as you age? I don’t understand this.

Anyway; I’ll be catching up with this old friend this week. He made me laugh then, he still does now. We can fill in the gaps – this happened, then I did this for so many years, then this. Then we can marvel at the now-ness of our conversation. What was then, anyway? There is only now. It will be the same if I circle back to another old friend in another 20 years. It will be now then too.

Sunny side

Friendship, Motherhood

It’s ok to feel grateful for certain things in your life right now. It doesn’t negate the horror and the fear. Gratitude and horror can co-exist.

I know I’m not the only parent who feels they were run ragged before the pandemic, sort of blindly running around like the proverbial hamster on the wheel. I read a thread on Twitter yesterday; a mum saying let’s not create the fantasy that parenting before the pandemic was in any way easier. This mum is now, like so many, juggling a full-time job at home with her two young children. She’s finding it tough, she says, but nothing like before when she rose at 5.30am to whizz around getting stuff done, before wrestling her children into the car to drop them to creche, before her long commute and workday, before picking them up again, to get back into the car, shovel down dinner and snatch 15 minutes of ‘quality play time’ before bed, then collapsing into bed herself, to repeat until suddenly her kids had grown up and left home.

I left my job last summer for various reasons. It was time, my childminder needed to leave and it proved hard to replace her. But the real reason was, look, I just wanted to spend more time with my children. I’m acutely aware that this is a luxury and many people can’t do it. Yet somehow in this desire to ‘spend more time with the kids’ I got myself in a right tangle. A couple of things. Even though I was flat out looking after the boys I felt that because I’d left my job I should ‘finally write that novel.’ Now, if one is going to write a novel, it will get written whether you have all 24 hours in the day or just a few snippets of each one. You do the stuff you need to do if you really want to do it.

Then, I enrolled my two older boys in a load of extra-curricular activities – swimming, music, hurling, gymnastics, ballet, street dance, football, drama. Most of my day, after the school and pre-school pick-ups, was spent in the car with boys who didn’t even realise how unhappy they were and how unnatural it was to be strapped into a car and lugged from one enriching activity to the next, each taking around 45 minutes. Even if the class was full of movement, they would then have to sit strapped in for ages afterwards, glumly looking out at the traffic while we inched our way home.

My baby, not long turned two, has bloomed. I now see how frustrated he was with his previous life: strapped into the car, shoved out and in, waiting for his brothers, cranky, wheeled around a grim car-park while his brothers did their class, or a phone shoved in his face to watch something while I sat in the car with him, thinking ‘well this is just what we good mothers do, we take them to classes, it’s so good for them.’

Eh – no it’s not. I cannot quite believe how good ‘lock-down’ has been for the mental health of my boys, aged 6, 4 and 2. The four year old is wobbly, out of his routine, but overall – hours and hours of free play have really cemented his bond with his big brother, and he is thrilled about that. I haven’t ‘home-schooled’ – watch this space for how backwards my children might seem in September. I doubt they will be though. They don’t even need the TV switched on, not really. I only ever switch it on for my benefit. They play and play. And play some more. Then they play, then before bed and in bed, they play. They just play. That’s obviously what children do, and I’m embarrassed to say I needed reminding of it. They also love having both parents around. It makes them feel very secure.

So I do feel grateful. Yes, and horror, fear, terror, sorrow, worry. Awareness, that other families are struggling. But I will continue to honour my life with its multitude of tiny triumphs. I think it’s necessary to do that, especially now.


Friendship, Mental health

I think all the time now about how dependent we are on each other. I’m not sure how clear that was to me before the emergence of Covid 19.

There’s the obvious thing we must rely upon each other for: keeping each other safe. We have to hope that others are taking the same precautions as us. We have to trust the people around us, in every situation. We have to rest on faith or a feeling that the majority of humanity wants their respective community to heal and look after each other, in less urgent times and also in the wider context of a pandemic.

Then we get into intangible territory. Like, you are me and I am you shit. We are all one. My actions have ripple effects on yours, and yours on mine. Your pain is not my pain and my pain is not yours – but pain is universal. We all tug at alternate strands of the same human pain at different times in our life. Nobody escapes. What do I mean? *shrugs shoulders.* I don’t know. I’m still working it out. The last rake of years have brought me to the point where I now deeply understand: I need community like I need air, food and water. I need to understand my place in the world, just like my children do. In fact, I think my understanding of my place in the world is integral to my children’s sense of belonging as well.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels this way, but this whole stinking coronavirus shebang has made me question everything.

Have I made the right choices in life? Have I contributed positively to society, to the people around me? Have my actions been purely for my own benefit, or have I had other people in mind also? I don’t mean my children. It’s pretty easy as a parent to act for the greater good of your children. Or at least, you instinctively try.

I really don’t think you can be happy (whatever the HELL that means) unless you are intrinsically engaged in making other people happy too.

In the past, I have, on occasion, stepped back from any offering of community. Honestly, I was suspicious of it. What is this thing where people do things for each other and expect nothing in return? What is this… this… interdependence?

What is it when you read or hear a story about someone who is suffering and you can feel their pain even though you do not know them or you have not met them?

It is – being human.