FAILING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE…..

Dinner table discussions are one of the best things about family life.. and like good wine they get better as the kids get older.  I had the rare experience of gathering my three daughters and my husband around a big roast dinner last night in advance of my eldest’s journey back to Perth after a short visit home. 
The last day with her is always awful.  Emotions are raw and all just below the surface.  We  are all walking on eggshells like Basil Fawlty in that famous episode of Fawlty Towers afraid to ‘mention the war’ or in our case ‘the parting’.  We usually make lots of nonsense small talk to avoid opening the floodgates of tears.
But last night was different as the talk turned very quickly to the Marriage Equality referendum.  My emigrant daughter found it hard to believe that there was a concerted campaign for a No vote.  However it was my other two daughters, aged 16 and 14 who were most vocal on the issue.
They had both recently discovered a number of families known to them who are voting no. This stunned them.  
But what upset them most, was that in the majority of cases, the off spring in these families are very angry at their parent’s stance on this issue.  Living, in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown in supposedly one of the most liberal constituencies in the country, I was also stunned at this revelation.  One of my daughters told us of her friend who is gay and his parents are also voting no. 
Conversation continued as I recounted my rather surreal experience of debating the issue on air on East Coast Radio earlier in the day.  I talked about the misinformation and fear being spread by the No side which is very difficult to counter.  Then my youngest who is 14 exploded. 
“In this referendum we should be allowed to vote.  This is an issue that will affect our lives and the lives of our friends.  It will have no affect whatsoever on these parents who are straight and already married. They also grew up in an era when homosexuality was illegal and under the radar.  It was OK to look down and judge gay people.  And now they might be the ones who may get to decide on this very issue.  It is not fair that we cannot have our say.  That our voices will not be heard.”
And she is right.  Once again we in this bloody country are doing a disservice to our young people.  Not only can they not vote on this issue but we are not even hearing their views.
We finished our meal almost more depressed than if we had visited the issue of saying goodbye to the eldest. 
However on a more positive note, the girls also told us that their school, which is a former convent school with a very Catholic ethos, is festooned with Yes stickers and they are not being removed by the staff.  This cheered me somewhat until I realised that only a small minority of the school population will have a vote!

The clarity with which our teenagers view this referendum, seeing it clearly as an issue of equality and not one of parenting is also making me rethink my stance on the other issue we vote on on May 22nd.  Maybe a young President is what this bloody country needs?

HE WAS SOME CAT….

16 years is a long time to live with someone regardless of how many legs they have.  In our house we live with as many four leggeds as with two leggeds and the bonds of love are strong. 
This week our oldest four legged – Simba died.  He had been in decline for months but my philosophy for elderly animals is that as long as they are enjoying life I would prefer them to fade slowly away.  I am not inclined to interfere with nature’s natural leisurely journey towards the end unless there is pain or discomfort involved.  Simba had lost weight and also his hearing but he was happy and still enjoying life right until the last day or so.
It was Carla, our eldest who brought Simba home to our first house in Shankill when she was about 11 years old.  She found him in some old woman’s shed where a cat had just had kittens and the old woman said she could keep him.  He was probably a bit too young to have been taken from his mother but I had a baby myself and probably wasn’t fully paying attention and so Simba stayed. 
He was cute like all kittens are and very playful.  But as he got older we discovered a dark quirk to his large rambunctious personality.  He wasn’t that keen on children or older people.  It began when he took a swipe at some of the cousins, all of whom were very young.  He missed but we realised that if young visitors came to the house we would have to lock Simba into a room for their safety. 
This was also a problem when we hosted parties for the girls, with lots of kids running about the house Simba was invariably released from his captivity.  So with the next party on the horizon I decided to visit the vet and investigate how best to deal with his behavioural quirk.  The vet advised some behavioural realignment using cat valium.  Yes, I kid you not.  I came away with a month’s supply of cat valium which would hopefully teach Simba to chill and not attack children.
The problem with the cat valium was that they were tiny tablets and the vet told me administer one quarter of a tablet per day.  So for three days I attempted to quarter a tiny tablet which resulted in bits of cat valium bits about my kitchen.  Not ideal when I now had two small children who spent a lot of time crawling about on the floor.  So I gave up.  Instead I decided that I would administer a tablet on the day of the party to keep him calm and the visiting children safe. 
Simba was a pig when it came to food so it was no problem to get him to take the tablet.  I will never forget the faces of the parents who dropped their little darlings off, when they spied a huge fat cat comatose on the back of an armchair with his mouth open and tongue hanging out.  He was happily out of his head for hours… and no one got hurt at the party.  The supply of cat valium lasted through the parties at home stage and Simba had no recollection of any of them.
Simba grew up into a huge, lazy, vocal, affectionate cat who loved being around us and in the house.  In winter no one got as excited as he did on a cold evening when we lit the fire.  He would be in, staking his place in front of the hearth at the first sound of coal being rattled. 
He grew and grew so much that I got tired of visitors asking when ‘she’ was due to give birth.  Then someone arrived one day who looked at me as if I were really thick.  “That cat has a tumour or something” he said.  “I’ve never seen a cat that size.  Have you taken him to the vet?”  “No”, I said sheepishly. 
Next day, full of guilt I took Simba to the vet.   “What’s the problem” he said.  I recounted the story of the man who said he must have a tumour.  The vet examined Simba and then asked me two questions.
“Does he eat a lot?”
“Oh yeah,” I said “he loves his food”
“Does he take much exercise?”
“Em, no not really,” I answered “he likes to be indoors, with us. He’s kind of lazy”
“Exactly,” said the vet.  “He’s just fat.  Fine but fat.”
We were kindred spirits in many ways – me and Simba.
He was a constant in our house for the last 16 years.  He loved dinner time – watching me as I prepared food in the hope that I would drop a tasty morsel for him.  He would then join us at the table – sitting on a free chair preferably at the head of the table from where he would listen to our conversations and wonder what our food tasted like.
He thumped down off beds and down the stairs in the manner of a large child.  He talked a lot and was the only cat who always answered us when we greeted him.
Although he had issues with some two leggeds he loved other cats.  We have fostered many kittens and older cats for the DSPCA and Simba never objected to a new arrival.  In fact without Simba we would have struggled to win around some of our very nervous fosters.  It was Simba who would give them the confidence to come out of hiding and feel safe in the world.  His greatest achievement in this regard was the rehabilitation of Oprah, the feral kitten who came to us at Christmas.
Simba was the last of our first generation of cats.  In hindsight we should have staggered our cat adoptions a bit better.  Like the way most of our white goods blew up in year seven of our marriage, over the last 18 months or so I have held the paws of four beloved cats as they left this world. 
Simba knew the end was near and took himself off to die at the end of the garden. Unfortunately he (we assume) took a tumble into a little inaccessible stream at the end of our garden and it took us some hours to locate him.  In the end it was Mia (13) who found him and she had to come back to get help to reach him.  While she did that, another of our cats, Diego took up position beside the dying Simba until Paul arrived with a ladder and took poor Simba home. 
He was weak and his body was shutting down so bundling him into a soft blanket we took him to the emergency veterinary hospital in UCD where they agreed that we should help him on his journey.  So he died as he lived – mainly peacefully with a bit of drama. 
We took him home with us and on Wednesday evening in a soft rain, as the light drained from the sky, Paul dug a grave for our beloved boy and we lay him to sleep by the lilac tree in the garden.  Diego watched from the wall.
We now have four young cats – the oldest is about 2 and so I guess in another 15 years or so I will once again be shedding salty tears as they take their leave.  It’s always sad and you never get used to it.  But it is a tribute to the animals any of us chose to live with, that they connect with us in a deep and meaningful way, that they colour every day of the life we live together and that they become true members of the family.

Simba will live on in our hearts and the stories of his life will be told for years to come.  He was some cat!

IF I WERE POPE FOR A DAY…..

On the day that the Pope announced his retirement to the shock and awe of the Catholic world I had some fun on Twitter, suggesting that I should put myself forward as a possible contender for the vacancy in the Vatican.  I do rather fancy the jewel coloured robes… very flattering to the fuller figure and as for hand-made shoes… I bet they are so comfortable.   I also fancy living in a fully staffed palace in Rome which is one of my favourite cities.  Yep, the idea of being Pope is one that appeals to me greatly.
So with my Twitter buddy Carole Whelan (@carolewhelan) lined up as my personal assistant (or GlamAss as she prefers to be called)  it seemed that I was all set to begin electioneering.  But I needed a manifesto.  So I got to thinking about what I could achieve on my first day as Pope – with the help of all the staff I would have at my disposal.  So here it is.   My first day as Pope.
In the morning I would dress in the most colourful bejewelled robes available.  I would slip my feet into the famous papal slippers.  I may not bother with the mitre… I reckon I don’t need to the extra height.  Suitably attired I would begin my first day’s work.
The very first thing I would do would be to announce the conversion of the Vatican from a palace into a holiday resort to provide respite and a break for carers from all over the world.  My Vatican would be a place of rest and recuperation for those who spend endless hours caring for a loved one.  Those who volunteer and make our communities a better place to live would also be welcome to stay for a break in my Vatican.
Next job would be to instruct that all crucifixes (images of torture) be removed from churches and replaced with images and statues of angels.
I would then sit down and write two letters.  The first letter would be to all children in catholic schools telling them that Jesus message was one of love….. pure and simple.  I would tell them that he didn’t qualify that love.  So we may take it that all love is equally precious and beautiful… including gay love.
My second letter would go to every convent, parish and monastery asking them to comb the streets of their local town or city at sunset in search of the homeless.  I would ask that they offer every person they find sleeping rough a hot meal, bed, shower and breakfast.  I insist that they do this every evening at sunset.
Then I would have lunch.  One fabulous lunch served to me in the opulent surroundings of the Pope’s apartments. 
After lunch I would head into the Sistine Chapel where I would ordain the first women and marry the first priests.
Ceremonies over I then would instruct the conversion of Castel Gandalpho into an animal rescue centre where all manner of four legged friends would find a place of safety and love.
Another letter would be written dismissing all the hierarchy and instructing that all bishops’ palaces be given to their local community for use as centres for artistic expression.  The gardens of these palaces would have to be used as animal sanctuaries.
Over coffee and some fabulous Italian pastries I would call on my papal staff to help organise an auction of all the papal fine robes and handmade shoes which could take place the following day.  The money from their sale would be used to provide education for girls in countries where they are denied this basic right.  If necessary the girls would be brought to Rome if education in their own country was not possible.
I would then organise a second auction of other works of art etc (other than what I would consider belongs to the people of Italy – such as the Pieta etc).  The money from this auction would be used to form a foundation to work on the elimination of child poverty around the world.  I might ask Bob Geldof to head this up!
Over a splendid dinner I would dictate a Press Release to be issued the following day announcing the end of the Papacy.
  
I would then pen an article which I would publish here on my blog suggesting that local churches elect a committee of men and women committed to following the way of Jesus as opposed to the teachings of Peter.  These committees would be the new priests.  
In my article I would also ask the faithful to begin to re-imagine God, not as a judgemental father but as a loving, forgiving, endlessly patient embodiment of Mother and Father.

That done, I would don some fabulous papal PJs,  pour myself a big glass of some very exclusive papal red wine and put my feet up and watch Tonight with Vincent Browne via the 3Player.  But not before booking my ticket back to Dublin with Aer Lingus for the following morning.

What do you think?  

SCOOTER’S INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

Fostering kittens for the DSPCA is always interesting but the kitten we took delivery of on last Wednesday has a particularly special story.

Last Monday (13th August), a woman left Edenderry, Co Offaly and drove (without stopping) to Dublin.  On arrival and when she got out of her car she was very surprised to hear a cat’s cries seeming to come from inside the engine.  She lifted the bonnet and sure enough there was a white and black, quite terrified kitten looking back at her.  The kitten had hung on and survived the journey the entire way.  Thankfully the driver contacted the DSPCA who took the kitten back to their HQ in Rathfarnham where they checked him out.

This is Scooter when he arrived at the DSPCA after his epic journey in a car engine

Miraculously the three month old kitty survived without injury.  When we met him on Wednesday, he was still a bit dishevelled and grimy looking.  We took him home for some rest and recuperation.

Although the DSPCA had called him Eden, he was immediately rechristened Scooter in our house and we think this name suits him perfectly. He didn’t take too long to relax and soon was relishing the comforts of a cosy blanket and a safe place to sleep. In the last few days he is regaining his looks as he grooms away the dirt and grime from his engine journey.

Scooter at home!

Scooter brings with him such a great story of survival, of the kindness of strangers and of hope in the face of the seemingly insurmountable odds.  And the amazing thing is that he seems to know how lucky he is and he is so grateful for a second chance.  He is the most affectionate cat you could meet.

We are due to return him to the DSPCA for rehoming on Friday!  Mmmmmmm… I think this is one kitty foster we may just fail on!

Kittens and adult cats can have a dangerous habit of climbing onto car engines because they (foolishly) consider them warm and safe places to sleep.  Most cats would not be as lucky as Scooter was.  If you have cats in the vicinity of where your car is parked it is a good habit just to bang the bonnet with your hand before you get into the car.  This should help dislodge a sleeping cat.  Cats in car engines can be a particular habit of farmyard cats!

A New View From My Kitchen Table

Recently the view from my kitchen table has grown a little dark. I know there are many of us, at home caring for kids, cats and dog while the other half is out in the Big Bad World of Recession trying to earn enough to keep the boat (to borrow from Christy Moore) afloat. The fact that I am a writer doesn’t really help. Alone at my kitchen table in the morning, scribbling away, words and thoughts that no one wants to buy. My world gets smaller and ‘issues’ get larger. It’s too easy to become trapped in a lonely bubble of, not quite despair but certainly of despondency.

I have snapped at the children a little more than I should have, particularly when they mention stuff like new runners or money for some excursion or other. I don’t want to add to his burdens and so don’t talk about my feelings much with him. And so we begin to function on a surface level of false optimism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am an optimist by nature and believe in the power of positive thinking but it is not always healthy to be dishonest about how you are feeling. In order to heal lower emotions (such as worry) we must first accept and validate the feeling, before releasing it.

But I digress. Back to my gloomy and lonely kitchen table and my shrinking world. After weeks of carrying this aura of worry and unexpressed concern I begin to feel as if my emotions have all become displaced. They are all now just below the surface of my being instead of deep inner recesses where they normally reside.

I have days when I know that if someone says the wrong thing to me I will dissolve into a million pieces. Alternatively if something strikes me as funny, I can become an uncontrollable laughing wreck; frightening to witness and usually ending in tears anyway.

Then last week himself got a great deal on an overnight in a hotel and as it was his birthday anyway we decide to take the opportunity of a break away. This sounds simple, but when you are in the dark place at the kitchen table it can feel frivolous and wrong. But it was his birthday….

I won’t bore you with the details but we had a lovely, quiet and relaxing time. We had time to chat and to laugh. We had a lovely meal, a lie in, huge breakfast and as today is his birthday he chose to stop, on the way back, at a little airport near the hotel where we passed another pleasant hour having coffee while watching tiny aircraft come and go. And we talked some more.

I am telling you this because I think that in the current economic climate it is too easy to forget how vital it is to look after our own mental health. As parents, we put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. This is not good. Taking time out, not only renews your spirit and energy but it also grants us the gift of perspective. Perspective I had lost from spending too long, pondering life from my kitchen table.

And there was a bonus kicker too…. We both remembered why we fell in love in the first place and why we are married. We won’t leave taking time out for ourselves so long next time!

Photo of Peacock in full display at Finnstown House Hotel, Lucan.