Monday 1 January 2007

Who you calling Mr. Mom?

Am I a stay at home dad?

Yes. Well, no. Well, yes, sort of.

On Thursdays I am at least. Thursday is the day I swap a temperamental manager, functional design documents, and seven pre-lunch gut eroding cups of coffee, for an appeasable infant, sheep and clown combination patterns, and two dirty nappies before breakfast.

My daughter was already 5 months old when I started using my parental leave to have one day a week at home, so in that respect there were no surprises. I knew what had to be wiped, how often, how hot, how cold, how loud, and how quiet. I knew what she liked and didn’t like, I knew she couldn’t keep her eyes open when listening to ‘Iron & wine’, she would have a grin like a sedated Jimmy Carr when she heard any opening chords from Tracy Chapman, and the very sight of Bono would bring her to tears.

In fairness, that last one may actually be me, but either way I felt I would have this under complete control. I was wrong.

The biggest mistake I made was thinking this was an extra day off. It wasn’t. A couple of post-work hours with my daughter in the evening, or weekends of tag team child care with my wife didn’t prepare me for full days of looking after her. There was constantly some end of her that needed attending to, and this simply wasn’t fitting in well with my attempts to use Thursdays to catch up on my ‘Sopranos’ and ‘The wire’ box sets.

It took several weeks of disastrous Thursdays for me to realise I was approaching it all wrong. She was never going to simply fit in with whatever plan I had for my day. She was my day, and all the other stuff just had to fit in where it could.

While the weather allowed, we got out as much as possible. I don’t play Mr. Mom, I haven’t succumbed to the world of coffee mornings or play groups, and as delightful as they may be, my interest in other people’s babies has a limit somewhere just north of ‘does she sleep through the night?’. That aside, my daughter gets more than enough exposure to other children’s mucous, hair tugging, and eye poking during her three days at crèche. No, we use our time wisely; in her ten short months so far she has brought the car for a service, helped me shop for a Smartphone, and barked instructions at men with chainsaws out in the back garden.

I’ve made sure that all the trappings for a trip out with baby are as manly as is humanly possible. Our stroller is the Land Rover of the infant transportation industry. It made better headway through the recent snowfalls than most Audis, is big enough that I could probably catch forty winks in it myself, and it cost more than my first car. Neither Porsche nor penis extension are required while directing this beast (the stroller, not the child) from the bank to the butchers.

The television doesn’t get a look in on Thursdays now, and while the recent weather has kept us mostly indoors, the radio has become a great substitute with every current affairs and talk show getting an airing. So much so that now, at ten months old, while she can’t tell the difference between a Liga biscuit and a Lego block, leading to many a nappy changing surprise, she can probably babble the finer distinctions between subordinated debt and bond holding better than most.

The other side of the coin is the breaking up of my working week. As passionate as I may be about moving 1s and 0s from one database to another for forty hours a week, a change of pace and scenery is very welcome.

All office jobs have their irritations, and mine is no different. The upside to having a midweek break is that the urges to break a keyboard across a colleague’s face or to snap a ring binder shut on my manager’s windpipe have somewhat abated. Should the truth be reluctantly told, I’m probably just as productive in four days at work as I ever was in five. The extra day away from work leaves me more focused and happier when I am there.

Now that Christmas and all its disruption has passed, I’m looking forward to getting back into our Thursday routine. In January she will be introduced to a few DIY stores, where she can give her opinion on which of the four hundred shades of white will suit the landing, and what’s the best spade for digging up the lawn. I can’t wait for the Summer as she’s starting to become much more mobile and by then she’ll be trotting around by herself, getting us both into trouble.

I don’t know how much use any of this will be to any fathers considering mixing their week between work and staying at home, all I know for sure is that it’s not what I expected. It’s much harder and much more enjoyable once you get the swing of it.

If I were to give a tip, I’d say find a good chiropractor, you are going to spend half of your day bending over.

Oh, and don’t bother ordering that box set, it’ll be cheaper by the time they go to school anyway.

'Who you calling Mr. Mom?' was originally published by in January 2011.

Going Dutch

‘Who are you?’

That’s not normally a question that would send beads of sweat trickling down my back, but when that information was requested from me in Dutch by a snotty nosed 2 and a half year old it was ridiculously unsettling.

Having spent the best part of ten years in the Netherlands, my grasp of the language is enough to keep most managers and customers happy, but not it seems, curious toddlers acting as crèche-bouncers and demanding to know what I am doing in their territory.

That was my first notable challenge of raising a child in a foreign country, the language, I simply didn’t have the vocabulary that goes with conversing with, or about children. I could order a round of drinks, get my trousers taken up at the tailors, even talk my way out of a parking ticket, but I didn’t know the words for ‘nappy’ or ‘buggy’.

When faced with anyone under two feet tall, I was a mute.

Often, life as an expatriate heightens your sense of being Irish, throw a child into the mix and that sense becomes magnified. The urge to make our home that little bit more Irish is strong, I’ve had the sounds of Sharon Shannon and Christy Moore filling the kitchen on Saturday mornings far more often than I would have if I lived in Cork or Galway or Wicklow.

Our daughter physically stands out here. Dark hair, blue grey eyes and sallow skin are not traits that would make a child conspicuous at home, but when she’s sitting among taller, blonder, more sun-kissed children she becomes quite the novelty.

Here she is ‘the Irish girl’.

Most of the differences between raising a child here or at home are intangible, surrounding social, familial, or general attitudes, making the easiest to identify differences the financial ones.

Before the Irish ‘budget of doom’ of 2010, children’s allowance in Ireland stood at €1,800 a year, while here in the Netherlands it’s equivalent doesn’t even even amount to €780.

Interestingly, that figure is unofficially tied to the cost of 3rd level education. Saving the 2009 amount in a long term savings account for 18 years is calculated to precisely meet the average cost of a 5 year 3rd level education.

While it may seem paltry in comparison to its Irish variant, the simple truth is that ‘children’s allowance’ doesn’t need to be any higher. Forking out €50, or anything for that matter, for a GP visit is unheard of, and all health services for children are automatically covered under the mandatory polices of their parents.

Childcare expenses are offset by tax refunds of anywhere from one third to two thirds of the cost, dependent on your income. Although in great demand and following national guidelines, the crèches are privately run and plentiful, so you are more than able to shop around for the one that suits you best.

Governmental support for families doesn’t just come in the form of tax reliefs or allowance payments. The strongest show of genuine concern for the welfare of families as important cogs in society comes in the form of the 26 weeks unpaid leave each parent can take for every child they have.

This leave, which can be taken in any manner you wish in agreement with your employer, meant I was able to take a month off when my daughter was just a few months old. I also get to use a day’s leave each week to be at home with her, as does my wife, allowing us to provide a healthy mix of time with other children at crèche and time at home with her mam and dad, without having to worry about it affecting our job security.

Practicalities aside, it allows my daughter and myself the time and space to build up a priceless relationship. The only way I could envisage this in Ireland, a lotto win aside, is if I were unemployed.

Men using the leave in this way has become known as ‘Papa dag’, or ‘Daddy day’, and is a common feature of professional life here. I work in a team that consists a dozen or so men ranging from 22 to 52 years of age, with not one of them finding it unusual that I would reduce my hours to be at home with my daughter.

On the rare mornings I take her to the crèche I see significantly more fathers dropping of children than mothers. Parenting here is a mix of mothers and fathers, both working, and both staying at home.

There would of course be advantages to raising our daughter in Ireland. It would be great for her to see all her cousins more often, grandparents would be able to spoil her, and there would be family support always readily available when needed.

Unfortunately, being a father means having to make hard decisions for the welfare of your family. It simply would be at best - too uncertain, and at worst - too unwise a move to return now.

Even assuming that we could find the jobs needed to house and feed ourselves, the idea of playing prefab roulette with our daughter’s primary school education just doesn’t sit well with me.

The uncertainty over the future provision of quality education and health services in Ireland is too great for us to risk the relative certainty of what we can provide for our daughter here.

As sad as that may be, it means that for the time being, she will just have to remain ‘the Irish girl’.

'Going Dutch' was original published by in December 2010.

If at first you don't conceive...

My wife and I have a story. It’s a common one unfortunately, infertility.

Normally it falls upon the fairer sex to discuss it, but I have a big mouth, and I don’t really need to be asked twice.

It’s two years since my wife and I decided to start a family. Where the decision came from I have no idea, but once we both said it aloud there was absolutely no doubt that this was right. In fact, we wondered why we hadn’t thought of it before.

We dove straight in, eager and naïve. Thanks to the combined educations furnished by the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, we had no idea just how naïve we really were. Once we’d established that we couldn’t actually get pregnant by watching English television channels or by holding hands outside the newsagents, we soon worked out what would work and what wouldn’t.

The early months were great fun; the honeymoon period of trying to conceive is every man’s dream. Dragged by the belt buckle into the bedroom at every opportunity and pounced upon by a fine specimen of womanhood. The disappointments each time we failed were sharp, but the desire and the excitement carried us forward easily into each following month.

Two months became six, which became nine, which became twelve. Something wasn’t quite right. We started absorbing more information from books and websites, using ovulation prediction kits, and charting body temperature. We applied potential solutions to unknown problems. We called in the big guns and headed for our GP.

The first steps were to be the least invasive ones, which meant I was in the spotlight.

Bear in mind that a man’s role in trying to conceive is basic at best. It includes nothing more than fundamental caveman activity. Climb on board, grunt a little, send her into rapturous ecstasy, deposit man milk, and roll over snoring. Actually, the snoring is optional and the rapturous ecstasy is, well, a long shot.

A man’s role in trying to conceive in combination with fertility testing and examination is a whole other beast. A bizarre, often comical, and anxiety-fuelled beast over which you have absolutely no control. You do stupid things, say stupid things, and without beating around the bush, you have to, in fact, beat around the bush. Right into a little pot.

I became so flustered on the morning I had to first speak to the doctor about providing a sample for a semen analysis I forgot how to dress myself. I sat in front of him with one black and one brown shoe on, he certainly wasn’t holding out much hope in my ability to procreate if I was struggling with coordinating footwear. We both coughed every time we used words like ‘semen’, ‘sperm’, or ‘sample’, but I managed to get the general idea, and left.

What was to follow was just ridiculous. Thankfully in matching shoes this time, but red as a beetroot and sinking fast into humiliation, I stood outside the locked office door with my own semen in my pocket.

After what seemed to be no less than six weeks waiting for it to open, it eventually did and I was beckoned inside. I handed the nurse the fruit of my loins in a plastic pot and answered her list of questions in the calmest post-self-pleasuring voice I could manage.

We waited two weeks for the results of the tests, I took them home and hit the internet for an interpretation. My motility score was dreadful. Not just poor or having some room for improvement, but more like a pair of Nokias had been super glued to my testicles. They were that zapped.

I pushed back my keyboard, put my elbows on the desk, and for the first time in years, I cried.

My wife could have finished me off that night, with the wrong word or look, or with any hint of blame in her voice, but there was none. She squeezed my hand tightly, reassured me, and we arranged a second test.

I repeated my duty, brave soul that I am. I was still mortified when I delivered the product of yet another solo sex act into the hands of a stranger, but any shame was instantly forgotten when two weeks later the results were back showing a huge improvement. The first test had been an off day, my swimmers were back. The focus turned to my wife.

We waited months for a specialist appointment, who told us to just go home and keep trying. So we did, every way possible. Each month we tried something different, sex daily, sex every second day, or saved up sex. Sex while suffering with a cold or flu is romantic kryptonite. More months passed and with life now on pause, we went back to the specialist on our knees.

They offered to monitor her menstrual cycle, where we learned that she’s an egg producing superstar, firing out big juicy follicles as regular as clockwork.

Importantly, I learned where you should not sit, and definitely not look, when your wife is in stirrups and a doctor is inserting camera equipment that would be the envy of RTE, inside her.

Indeed, I learned many things I never imagined I could.

I know my vitamins and supplements, I can tell what will have your sperm pulling handbrake turns. I know when a cervix is in the mood to slip into something a little more comfortable, or has a headache. I recognise enough about the ideal consistency of cervical fluid to never want to break an egg again, and with an ultrasound, I can identify a ripe follicle faster than I could a tomato in Tesco.

It’s possible I may already be a qualified gynecologist in fourteen Eastern European countries.

With us both having the all clear, and more months passing us by, the only option left was for my wife to have a laparoscopy. She would go under general anesthetic and through small incisions they would check her ovaries and uterus, and making sure her fallopian tubes had no blockages. We wanted it over and done with, wanted answers, but my wife was terrified.

I can honestly say watching her being taken into surgery in tears was the lowest moment of these two years. We had started out normal, light hearted and giddy with excitement. We only wanted normal things, happy things, and here we were a million miles away from anything resembling normal or happy. My wife was putting herself though hell for that normal.

I was helpless, or more accurately, useless.

The dust settled, and after all the embarrassment, the intrusion on our personal lives, and all the physical discomforts, we had a diagnosis.

We have “unexplained sub-fertility”, a diagnosis, but not an answer. The advice, go home and keep trying. The next step is hopefully a shot at intrauterine insemination before the summer. Meaning more stirrups, more cameras, and more orgasms in a pot.

I’d love being a dad, I think I could be a good one. I love to laugh, I’m employable, and reasonably intelligent most of the time. The kid would have to learn how to arrange their own footwear mind you, but overall I wouldn’t be bad.

Some days I hate having to watch other fathers with their children, purely through jealousy. There are days I feel humiliated and useless when I see boys half my age managing to do what I can’t. I wonder what do they have in them that I don’t? It’s illogical, silly and unbecoming, but two years of failure will give you those days.

So here we are, two years on from a naïve evening on the couch where we came to the biggest decision we’ve ever made. We are nowhere closer to the ‘normal’ we laughed about in bed; statistically we are further away than ever. We don’t discuss names, childcare options, or how many children we should have, now we just hope we get one chance.

A chance to see a positive test, to hear the delightful sound of my wife vomiting her guts up daily, to feel the excitement of a pregnancy, to not have an empty house. A chance to be normal.

All of it is uncertain now, except for one thing. If we don’t get the chance, I know my wife will still be squeezing my hand.

I’ll be squeezing right back.

'If at first you don't conceive...' was originally published by the Irish Times on 11th March, 2009. Subscription required for articles more than 1 year old.

The great conception question

It’s been just over a week since I wrote about our attempts, and failures to conceive.

The original decision to do so was not an easy one.

I was anxious about telling people about the embarrassing moments, and ashamed to have to admit to the sadness, failures, and jealousy. I feared that there would be no response, and I would regret having ever opened my mouth, leaving us to carry on alone, but exposed.

The responses were overwhelming. People with no personal knowledge of infertility sent their best wishes, and people with experience of it shared their very intimate stories.

My wife and I spent the evening reading the messages, and each one we went through justified our decision.

We felt validated, and reassured. We felt unburdened, and supported.

The boost they gave us brought it home how much we really did need that support, and just how isolated we had started to feel. The tangible relief in the words of some of the messages illustrated just how much everyone in this situation needs some help, and how much they long for someone to tell them they have that backing.

Men identified with the absurdity and the paternal desire, women were grateful for a peek into their partner’s frame of mind, and everyone recognised the need to be more open, frank, and honest.

They show us that infertility doesn’t discriminate. Your nearest infertile is most probably not some demented woman, trawling the maternity ward looking for a newborn to put in her handbag, it’s your neighbour, your work colleague, or your friend.

The messages we received reconfirmed to us just how common this is. It’s easy to use a statistic like ‘one in six couples need help conceiving’, but only when you see a list of messages from people with real names, and real stories of failures and successes can you get a feel for how widespread these problems are.

The number of those affected, and the amount of open discussion are extraordinarily out of proportion.

The responses made me see how much people on the periphery of the problem want to help. Often family and friends get privately berated for not saying the right thing, not saying enough, or saying too much. In reality, they won’t have any answers, they just want to show that they are behind you, and are there if you need them.

How can we expect them to have the perfect sound bite reaction to something we keep so close to our chests?

For those who are part of this hushed infertile underworld, a silent community, the reward for speaking out could be so much more tangible than just emotional support. If more people felt comfortable enough to be able to take their whispered discussions away from their kitchen tables and into the public domain, people in positions of influence would eventually have to listen.

One in six couples equates to a lot of people, or more importantly a lot of health insurance customers. Irish couples certainly deserve at least the option to be covered for the full range of fertility treatments if they are willing to pay the premiums.

Of course, there is always the dream that such treatment be made available through the public health service. The idea that there are couples, who are so committed to raising a family that they would put themselves through these procedures, and yet are being completely denied because they don’t have the finances, is a very sad one.

The tax relief for these expenses has already been cut. If we don’t make ourselves known, we will never be served.

I’m glad that what I said last week gave a handful of people the feeling that they don’t need to be isolated, and are supported enough to add their stories here. I hope that in turn, each one of those will help another handful of people to do the same.

I know just how vulnerable you feel at the very moment you begin to tell someone your story. The feelings of anxiety, fear of exposure, and even shame have stopped me on many an occasion, but the positive reaction in the last week has made all that disappear.

Infertility is one of the last taboo subjects of Irish society. I want these responses to be a small part of something bigger that helps to change that.

I want them to hold value for others like they have for my wife and me.

I believe they will.

'The great conception question' was originally published by the Irish Times on 20th March, 2009. Subscription required for articles more than 1 year old.

After years of trying

It’s supposed to be simple, starting a family. For 25 months we did our utmost to conceive. Over and over hoping for the best, which never materialised.

Lifestyle adjustments, supplements, research, matching his n’her embarrassing tests, daily monitoring, surgery, and not to mention no small amount of sex, had all come to nothing.

Trying to conceive was influencing every decision we made on a daily basis. We were feeling the effects of cyclical failures, with no explanation, and we were tired.

Finally, last March, following two years of invasive tests and procedures, trying and failing, we received the go-ahead for intrauterine insemination (IUI). It’s a huge weight off your shoulders when a doctor tells you they will step in and actively try to help.

My wife was to start medication to stimulate follicle development, and should we both survive the battering her hormones would go through as a result, she would be inseminated with a batch of my own finest contribution.

On returning to the hospital to monitor progress we discovered that the medication had worked brilliantly. Too brilliantly. Instead of the 2 or 3 viable follicles we had hoped for, there were more than half a dozen.

Partly due to the fact that neither of us are reality television material, but mostly due the hospital’s refusal to continue with the procedure, the cycle was wisely cancelled. We left the hospital that day being advised to use contraception.

That cycle resulted in failure, as did the following one. In May we returned for another attempt at the IUI, with an aggressive reduction in dosage and a cautious increase in worry.

After a week of monitoring, watching numerous follicles appear and disappear from view like lucky numbers in a lottery drum, we finally had the right number for an insemination.

That was the signal for us both to do what we do best. Me, abuse myself in the name of procreation before parading through a public building with my own seed in my pocket, and my wife, prepare to lie there wondering is it in yet.

Watching an overly chatty stranger set my bar-coded semen loose amongst her genetically modified eggs could only be described as surreal. Unless you consider ‘was it good for you’ jokes as being of some value, I may as well have stayed at home for all the use I was.

The procedure passed as uneventfully as any attempt to create a new human can, and we settled into the most drawn out two weeks of our lives. Our minds raced and skin crawled for days before she finally got to take the test.

It’s remarkable how long you can continue to hold something covered in urine when it represents good news. Perhaps it was a symbolic start to a future handling someone else’s bodily waste products, because against the odds, the IUI had worked first time. The pregnancy test was positive.

The weeks that followed are a blur. There were many checks on the progress of the pregnancy coupled with a lot of breath-holding. Eventually, we were freed from the care of the fertility department and let loose into the wild as a set of normal expectant parents.

It’s hard to shake off the negativity that takes over you when you’ve spent so long trying and failing to conceive, success in itself isn’t enough to immediately reverse the damage. Our first afternoon in a bookshop picking out pregnancy books can only be described as sheepish; embarrassingly glancing at books like a 14 year old would at the top shelf of a newsagent. Even later, trips into baby stores felt like spying missions behind enemy lines. Get in and out as fast as possible before someone realises you don’t really belong.

One oddity about long term trying to conceive was that while we put so much energy into attempting to become pregnant, we had failed to spend any time in preparing for life after getting pregnant. We had spent two years trying to achieve one thing, and now that was done we were utterly clueless.

More truthfully, it was just too hard to put already scarce energy into something that always fell just beyond our reach.

Hearing our child’s heartbeat, powerful and strong, was a huge moment. Ultrasounds and videos, kicks and movements, all one by one added layers of reality to something very hard to believe. Previous cautiousness started to give way to excited plans for what lay ahead.

Some might feel disappointed that they have to take this route to start a family, but not me. I’m hugely proud of what we have done with the help of some very skilled people. A lot of hard work and difficult times have been endured to bring about this baby. We are responsible for getting this far, we did the pushing; we kept each other motivated when repeated disappointments made giving up an attractive option. If ever there was a reason for people to keep trying, this is it.

As if to remind me that I have absolutely no control over how this will progress, my previous plea to be able to hear the joyful sound of my wife vomiting her guts up has fallen on deaf ears, she hasn’t been ill once, it’s been the perfect pregnancy.

This hasn’t been a journey of 9 months; but one of almost three years, one where we’ve slowly come around to the idea that we can be normal again. It’s just that sometimes being normal means working your way through 27 failures, 34 eggs, a pint glass full of erratic swimmers, surgery, and having a dozen or so strangers poking around your wife’s ironically dubbed ‘private parts’.

With just 3 weeks to go, while she struggles to get out of a chair, I can hardly sit still. These days are the most exciting, positivity filled, and happiest we’ve known.

The best bit of course, is that this is only the beginning.

'After years of trying.' was originally published by the Irish Times on 2nd February, 2010. Subscription required for articles more than 1 year old.

The 80s and now...

She stares at it like Tarzan would at a dishwasher.

This ‘thing’ is like nothing she has ever seen before. She pokes at it with a drool covered finger, she lifts it to her face trying to take a bite, she slams it to the floor and screeches at it. All to no avail - she remains none the wiser.

Bizarrely, it’s simply a Fisher Price chatter toy telephone, as familiar to most families from the 1980s as Bosco, Biddy, or butter vouchers. Yet my 14 month old daughter is oblivious.

She knows nothing of, and couldn’t care less about, its rotary dial, chord connected receiver, or tinnish ‘ring-ring’. Instead she picks an ‘old’ mobile phone of mine from her toy basket and holds a very one-sided indecipherable conversation with her Nana for twenty minutes.

This single display represents just one of all the generational differences that do, and will, exist between me and my daughter, between me growing up in the eighties, and her now.

As the youngest of a frankly ridiculous number of children growing up in 1980s Ireland, it’s no great shock to discover that I wasn’t very often photographed. By the time an 8th child comes along the novelty value of capturing their every move tends to have somewhat diminished. Combined with the relative expense of having a camera in those days, or perhaps more accurately of processing the film, the result is no photographs whatsoever of me before my 5th birthday.

My barely one year old daughter on the other hand, has her face plastered across more than three thousand digital images. I can conjure up her picture via facebook, from emails, off my computer, or on my phone at barely a few seconds notice. Every single week of her existence to date has been documented, not to mention soft-focused, highlighted, and rotated.

While one of the first photographs of me sees me in my first Holy Communion outfit, she already knows how to remove red-eye in photoshop.

Perhaps it’s a sign I’ve gone too far when she calls anyone she sees with a camera, ‘Dada’.

I’m not overly obsessive about safety; she has taken plenty of tumbles between the coffee table and the couch and eaten her fair share of long forgotten half-ligas magically exhumed from the bottom of a toy box. Even so, she will never experience what I can only kindly describe as the somewhat ‘fluid’ approach to child safety of my own golden years.

In order to get her as far as daycare, she gets strapped into a car seat that has been approved and cleared by more organisations than a White House visitor. Whereas I distinctly remember being driven all the way from the wilds of bandit country in North Cork to the seaside at Ballybunion whilst lying across the rear window of a - possibly criminally - overcrowded Ford Fiesta.

Television, and its influence on children is a staple topic for every amateur debating team to cut its teeth on. Whether its depictions of sexuality and violence, appropriate or otherwise, shape young minds for better or worse is neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned. Television influenced me in ways that it will never impact my daughter. The television schedule was the skeleton of my day.

She is going to grow up in a world where television is simply on demand. TV show DVD box sets, downloads, Sky plus services, and genre specific 24 hour channels mean she will most likely never have wait for something she wants to entertain or inform. The border between her afternoon and evenings play will never be defined by before and after ‘Neighbours’, the theme tune to ‘Minder’ will never signal her bedtime on a Thursday night, and the music to ‘Where in the world’ will never send her into the relative depression that is the realisation that the weekend is over and there’s homework still to be done.

She’ll probably never experience the phenomenon that is a street suddenly deserted of children that have all ‘gone in’ for ‘Home & Away’ and it’s highly unlikely that she’ll ever have to sit through six o’clock bong-bong-bongs when she wants to see what’s happening at home or abroad.

Along with her peers, she will undoubtedly benefit from the changes that creep into our lives with every passing day, but I can’t help but think she will somehow be worse off having been deprived of some of the obscure delights that defined our childhoods in the eighties.

So maybe we didn’t have to milk a dozen cows before traipsing barefoot over the fields to the nearest hedge school 8 miles away, braving snow drifts and dodging Cromwellian forces en route. What we did have were the unique experiences of entire summers wondering ‘who shot JR?’, the novelty of having our snotty noses hidden by ‘photography advice’ stickers, and an approach to safety that straddled the line between willful neglect and an Indiana Jones-like freedom.

This realisation that she will won’t experience a time like that makes wonder one thing; would anyone be willing to give a toddler a perm?

'The 80s and now...' was originally published by in May 2011.

The last visit

The same creak and clink from the whitewashed gate. The same weary apple tree seemingly held up by the swing hanging from it. The same smell in the small hallway.

Living abroad, every visit for the last few years had to be treated as if it might be the last. My grandmother, then well into her nineties, had started to slip away.

Outspoken, independent, and above all, lethally dark humour, were traits that always made her wonderful company to be in. By the time she reached her mid nineties she had already buried half of her 8 children. Watching her fading eyesight torment and her mind failing her was uncomfortable.

My sister drove me to see her, warning me on the drive there that our grandmother hadn’t been quite ‘with it’ in recent weeks.

As was often the way, her front door was wide open and we walked straight into her kitchen. The plastic sounds of the linoleum edges where they started to curl by the doorway were enough to announce our arrival and stir her from where she dozed.

Visibly sore eyes, half blind and sleep filled squinted up at me as I stood over her. If she felt confusion she did her utmost not to be betrayed by it, and she instructed me to sit down.
I sat on the opposite side of the fireplace to her, while my sister, still unnoticed, quietly took a seat by the door and lit her cigarette.

The conversation was the most uncomfortable that I had ever known with her, as her erratic mind pulled on the threads of the memories in her head, only occasionally letting her live in the present as she juggled with the realisation of who I was.
“Martin, nana, living in Holland”.
“Ah yeah, I know sure. You’re in America now aren’t you”.
“No, nana, Holland”.
“Ah yeah”.

And so it continued back and forth for an hour or more as all the way from the kitchen window to her slippered feet, dust flurried on the streams of weak afternoon sunlight, as confused as the conversation.
I stayed chatting, trying to draw out the nana I remembered, throwing frustrated looks towards my sister behind her, who could only laugh between cigarettes. She'd been where I was many a time during my absence.

"Ah Martin, I was always fierce fond of you" she said, eyes closed, leaning back into her chair, adjusting the worn cushion behind the small of her back, pulling her navy cardigan across her chest.
"You're still up there" she proudly announced, blindly pointing in the direction of the place on the mantel where my first holy communion picture had been for over twenty years, long since moved by a well meaning friend or neighbour.
Believing she was having a semi lucid moment I asked her what had been said on the doctor’s latest house call.
"I told the bastard I'd cut his throat if he sent me back to hospital"
She did always like to be clear.

I was still wobbling with laughter when she started talking about two of her sons, both long since passed away.
"And sure, Mikey and John don't call to see me anymore"
I could only nervously look at my sister, what could I say to that?
"How do you mean, nana?" I asked.
"Mikey and John, your uncles sure" she replied, anxiously fingering the buttonhole on her cardigan, frustration evident in her voice "They never call anymore"

I just didn't know what to say. Her mind was taking her back to a day, only God knows how many years previous.
Should I correct her? But what right had I to yank her memory back to the cold light of today where her sons are long dead and she couldn't see her hand in front of her face?
I looked to my sister for a guide; she shrugged her shoulders and drew deep on her cigarette.
"No" she repeated and sighed "They never bother calling to me anymore"
While I hesitated, still unsure of how to break my silence, my grandmother leaned forward in her chair. She opened the one eye that hadn't yet completely deserted her, turned to the fireplace and spat dryly into the embers, sending white ash into the air before settling on her slippers and my shoes, before turning again, half peering, half squinting, directly at me.
"Although" she said, "that's 'cause they're fucking dead"

As she threw back her head laughing long and hard, we couldn’t help but join in, on my last visit.

'The last visit' was originally published in the collection 'A Pint and a Haircut - True Irish Stores' by Londubh Books in 2010.

The Wobbly Bits

Have you an MTV head? The attention span of a goldfish? Does the thought of trawling through archives make you want to impale yourself?

Never fear, here is the solution. The below links tell the tale of Xbox4NappyRash from the first squirts to now, in the fastest time. Xbox4NappyRash "as the crow flies", if you like...

Irish Times, March 11th, 2009: If at first you don't conceive...
Irish Times, March 20th, 2009: The great conception question
Irish Times, February 2nd, 2010: After years of trying

RTÉ Radio one, May 1st, 2009: Today with Pat Kenny

Bow chikka wow wow - making lurve...

Some folk have gone out of their way to cheer a poor infertile up, by slapping me with a few coloured pixels baring various significances, or just by saying what they think about this whole sorry mess.

Give or take a few hundred thousand, this many folk are reading this drivel:

If YOU think this ain't so bad you can always subscribe or maybe stumble it:

The blog made to the finalists of the specialist blog category at the 2009 Irish Blog Awards.

Also, it was named as one of Ireland's 20 essential blogs to read by the Irish Times.

The folks at Ask and ye shall receive have said nice stuff, In return for sexual favours.

Dan at all that comes with it put this video together when Mango was born. It is simply magic.

There was a really cool mention over at Strollerderby, which normally tends to focus on the post jiggy-time baby activities.

I was more than chuffed to get a review or a preview or some sort of a mention over at The Crabbling Otter, it was great to get a mention back home, and from the young and hip. (Did I just use the word 'hip'?)

You can vote for me at Divine Caroline if you like, and you should, it'll make your hair curly!

Lots of bloggy people get in on the act too! So in no particular order, or rather the order I found them in my archives....

Bodhi ekaH awarded this:

This was awarded by Fear & Parenting in Las Vegas

Melinda Zook thinks I'm pink worthy.

Dorky Dad reckoned I made him smile. I say it was wind.

Three Ring Circus' Tiff & Sleepless Nights Veronica both handed this out on the same say!

Which Veronica swiftly followed up with these!

Tiff back at Three Ring Circus decided she wasn't being left behind in the bling race so she gave this.

Which Lance at Dad2Twins followed up with this. Which Siobhan from ABrittDifferent also handed out!

Tiff back at Three Ring Circus went nuts and went all very pink on me two days running with these.
Then the mighty BusyDad lost his senses and gave me this.

Before Magneto Bold Too joined in the love-fest.

Mad Kim over at frog ponds rock dropped all these on me.

The artistic Mr John Braine knocked this up. Awesome indeed.

James over at Luke, I am your father handed out this. As did Kori over at see Kori rant!
AND then also by justjuli - Hat-trick !
Oddly, Nick from Our Jacob didn't give this to me, sort of, but he did, sort of.
The very special Karmental offered up this

Half past kissin' time cheered me up with this.

Gail over at squared off made her own award and passed it on.

The mighty KittyConcerto gave me this!

Finally, I found my record of who gave me this, and it was Morninglight Mama over at My thoughts exactly!, so THANK YOU!

Karyne of Karyne's Chronicles passed this onto me! because I'm brainy?

Breigh from Canadutch felt sorry for me, she's been down the Dutch road and awarded this. Which was also given by my EXACT birthday sharing Erika at Be Gay About It.
If that wasn't enough, Hotmamamia from The Pittsburgh Deli did the same, as did People in the sun!.

Then Dto3 from Football, Ballet and Beer went nuts and gave this!
Which Lani from Me & Boo also awarded!

Tiff from Three Ring Circus popped up again to give this to me

Fellow expat Mybluestreak awarded this wee gem, As did Tara R, from If mom says ok !

Trish from My Little Drummer Boys gave me this!

The vacant uterus lady from well, vacantuterus left me this!

The biggest bald blogger about, Jason from iVegasFamily passed this on

Tara R from if mom says ok was very kind to give us this!

Jenni from Oscarelli passed this one onto us.

I was declared a fabulous lady(!) by making babies!

And I'm in the sisterhood (seriously?) according to Chhandita!
Mammydiaries thinks this whole thing is lovely!

I've had to go back through lots of posts and comments to find these, and I may have missed some. If you've given me lurve and I haven't mentioned you, just let me know, pop me an email at and I'll fix it in two shakes of a sperm's tail.