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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

back to school

Back to school. Audible groan. It’s everywhere. Back to school food, clothes, pencils, bags, and lunchboxes. I’ve got the books, the project copies, the manuscript copies, the twistables and the maths set. (Still sold in a metal tin that brings back memories of that loud crash as it falls onto the classroom floor followed by the fervent hope that it’s not my box that has fallen). I’ve got the little bottles of water and the sliced pans in the freezer. The extra socks are in the drawer and the chequebook is ready and waiting to be used for drama and chess and street dancing. The hurling helmet that defies all hooks is as usual, on the floor beside the coats and the hurl is I think, under a bed. I’ve labelled the copies, sharpened a few pencils and ticked off the booklists. Although I did draw a line at buying a Pritt stick for everyone. Surely that’s not a pencil case staple? (I remember when Pritt was a treat and finding one that hadn’t dried up was a rare and wonderful discovery). And finally, the long and urgent search for the must-have skin coloured marker is over. Found it.

Most people are looking forward to the first of September. I am not. Why? Maybe because I don’t enjoy crawling about on my hands and knees at ten to nine in the morning looking for a missing shoe, knowing that any second some poor eegit is going to think it is fun to sit on my back, making me feel angry in a very un-child-friendly way. Maybe “gently” repeating “try writing a little bit slower and using the pink lines” every afternoon from September to June does not make my heart race.

And what I do not look forward to most of all, is the lunches. The lunches. Every night throughout the school year I flop on the couch at nine o’clock and say to no one in particular in a zombie monotone “I should do the lunches”.  And every morning I come down the stairs, dole out the weetabix (or cheerios) the ready brek (or malt wheats) and think (zombie monotone again) “I have to do the lunches.”

“Often” forgetting to wash the boxes the night before, I start by looking for them in the schoolbags.  That doesn’t take long as these are the first thing I fall over as I come into the kitchen rubbing my eyes. The open zips alert me to the copy and workbooks underfoot and the pencil case on the table.
“How many times do I have to tell to put the homework into your schoolbag when it is finished?” (Razor sharp tone. I have not yet had my cup of tea.)
“I was waiting for you to sign my homework notebook! You always forget!”
And there it is, lying reproachfully on the kitchen table, open at yesterdays date.

Once I have the cuppa though, I achieve a lot. Lunches, ties, socks, facecloths, baby strapped in, coats on. All is good; we’re sucking diesel and running, hurrah, on schedule. We’ll be in school on time! Until it is made known that one shoe is missing. And there I am, on my hands and knees, shoe in one hand, child straddled on my back, stuck there because he is frozen in fear after hearing me howl in a primitive way. Tears follow and as ever, guilty apologies. And we are late again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

a full head of meche

Am I really breaking out in a cold sweat while on the phone to the hairdressers? Yes I am. And this is why.

In the salon I go to there is a special offer for a full head of meche highlights plus blow dry for €79. But Nuala, the only colourist who does my hair without wasting vast swathes of time discussing sandwiches and the merits of paracetemol vs. Vicks cold and flu with her colleagues, is on holidays. This is not an appointment I want to postpone for a few weeks as the reason I am getting the highlights done in the first place is to look my Olympic best on Sunday, when my youngest is being christened. But hang on a second says the receptionist, Elaine is free! Elaine, who always starts the appointment by bringing me to her chair, putting on the black capey thing that I always stand the wrong way for and promptly disappearing for about ten minutes. She returns smelling of coffee, fingers my hair (this is when I remember why I should have washed it that morning) and says “I’ll just look up your colour. What was the name?” and off she goes again.

Five minutes of practising deep breathing later, she materializes announcing
“No. It’s not here?” (In a tone that implies this is not completely my fault but definitely nothing to do with her.)

“Anyway, I’ll just do more of the same you got the last time. Cover these roots and lighten it up a bit near the front.” I nod enthusiastically(in a desperate, pathetic way) and say “Great! Thanks a million!” and she sighs the sigh of someone who has all day to do the highlights and does not have a husband at home minding children for “two hours right? You won’t be any longer will you? I have to leave at eleven. I can’t be late. Ok?” and then to the kids “Say bye-bye to Mum. She’s off for some relaxing pampering!”

I hold the phone in my slippy hand in an agony of indecision. What if the special offer is over by the time Nuala comes back from her holiday? What if Elaine remembers the not great tip I left for her the last time I was there?

“So that’s Elaine at half two on Saturday” says the receptionist “We’ll see you then.” She puts down the phone. My moan of indecision must have been mistaken for a yes.

Hanging up I take a breath. As I exhale my husband comes into the kitchen.  “Your hair looks nice” he says “did you get it done recently?”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

IKEA fit quiz

The first time I went to IKEA was a big deal. Years of waiting certainly helped build up the anticipation. Years of nearly getting to a Belfast or London branch but ending up in Westfield or the Banbridge Outlet Village instead. Years of IKEA being the cheap and nice but unattainable, the Old Navy of the housekeeping world. From afar, I loved it. The  minimalist style, the slightly off-primary colours, the prices, the practicality. There was no downside!  The layout seemed to make sense, flat pack didn’t put me off and I liked the sound of the food.

On arrival, I was ready to be impressed. The bag and trolley combination was genius! The display floor inspired! Pregnant at the time, I actually, genuinely needed stuff.  Having a valid excuse to wander around the baby area and fill a trolley was truly wonderful.  My heart thumping, I drank it all in. Finally! I was there! But the IKEA virgin experience didn’t last. About three months later the meatballs, the marathon walk to the checkouts and the tolls on the motorway cured me. Now I hear the word IKEA and slump in a chair, exhausted by the mere thought.

Last week, when we needed a duvet and picture frames and stair gates, I put it off and put it off until a solution came to mind. I would send my husband. He checked availability online, wrote a list, walked around the house sighing and harrumping and gulping down tea as if it were the last cup on earth. Sitting at the laptop he expostulated “What! I don’t believe this.” and I looked over his shoulder. Instead of researching stair gate extensions he had been doing the IKEA Fit Quiz. To see if he is a suitable candidate for a job there. Why? Is he looking for a job? No, but for some reason, he wants to be wanted there anyway. Fuming, he starts anew, giving different answers this time. Again, he is rejected, being told that he is better suited to shopping at IKEA than working there. “So my money is good enough!” he growls. “You try it. We have to pass this.”

I go though the motions. What do I think when I enter a friends living room? How do I cope with a new schedule? Do I manage easily when my boss is away?  I make myself at home. I adjust to a new schedule. I assemble a group of talented colleagues to work with me. My responses reveal a hard-working, ambitious, environmentally friendly and considerate candidate. Each time I click on one of the multi-choice boxes a piece of furniture is added to a picture of a room on the right of the screen. At the end I click for results with a flourish and smile triumphantly. Before my eyes the room empties, couches, coffee tables and bookshelves fading away like ghosts. The results come up “Oh Dear, your room seems a bit sparse! Looks like you may not be comfortable in the IKEA culture.” I am gobsmacked. If I don’t fit in in IKEA, where do I fit?

Off he went, list in hand and chip on shoulder, leaving me in the kitchen with a dilemma. Do I waste valuable time thinking about this nonsense or do I get on with my life, feeding the kids and counting my blessings. The sun is out, there’s no school, it’s a good day!

Resistance is futile. I snap open the computer and plonk myself down. Maybe if I  advise my friend on three things that would make her living room cosier and write a suggestion for improved routines in the workplace?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

what a dump

Did any of us ever imagine, when we were the kids sitting on the back seat, on the way to Coole Park or Malahide Castle for a picnic, that we would one day be half of the couple in the front of the car?  Being stingy with the biscuits and pulling rank over window controls and the volume on the radio. Sitting there with a face that could stop a clock “creating memories” for the kids.

And yet here I am. Arms folded in the front passenger seat I am barking. “If you ask me that again you are getting NO sandwiches when we get there.” An idle threat if ever there was one. My husband and life partner prefers to drive whilst reading the street atlas on his knee rather than ask me to navigate. The child sitting in the way- back is shouting for Spin 103.8 on the radio. The baby is crying and crying and crying. The other two are old enough to realise we are lost, their parents are not on speaking terms and the day is turning out crap. For the record Bramblestown House is not currently open to the public and if you read about it in a nice colour supplement a few years ago and thought a visit would be nice, you’ve missed the boat. The beautiful gardens and stunning house are behind closed gates. So we did a (dangerous) u-turn and the driver thought it would be a good idea to find a beach. A long, long forty minutes later we pulled into a car park facing the sea. The tide was in making the beach about eight feet wide. As well as shells, sand and a good sixty percent seaweed there was dog poo and rubbish. On the bright side, we didn’t see a disposable nappy. Or a syringe. But we didn’t look too hard.

So. We found the beach. The sun disappeared and the wind came up. It was too dirty for the baby to play on. After nearly an hour fighting the tyranny of the car seat, that didn’t go down well.

“Well, this is shite”, I noted. My husband nodded grimly and a voice from behind us said bravely “Is it really shite?” The other two waited for our reaction and when none came, joined in. “Its shite and shit and crap!” they voiced joyously.

Then we got out the sambos, the 7up and the absolute highlight for me, a flask of tea. Watching the kite surfers, we beeped every time one of them did a jump and after a quick walk on the poxy beach, came home.

Another day done.