“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
Front loaded adjustments,
Blah Blah Blah,
It streams from my radio.
It jumps from the pages of my newspapers.
It scares me to death and yet it is meaningless.
Words, totally unconnected to my day to day existence.
But yet words that are part now of the soundtrack to our lives.
Before these words became common language, long, long ago, at the very beginning of this recession, my daughter Mia, then 8 years old asked me “Mom, where has all the money gone?” At the time I smiled at her innocent grasp of the new financial reality. “Yes, child” I answered her “wouldn’t it be great if the Government could just print some more money for us all.”
I was recounting this anecdote recently to a friend when I thought again of her question “where has all the money gone?” The question stayed with me all day. Yes, where indeed has all the money gone?
Our current financial meltdown was triggered in large part by the property developers. The men who paid hugely inflated prices for parcels of land on which they had ambitious and unimaginative plans to build houses and apartments. We all know what happened next. The property market collapsed. The land became almost worthless and the developers couldn’t pay back the huge loans they had borrowed from greedy and clueless bankers.
So, Mia innocently asked “where did all the money go?” Someone got paid the large sums borrowed from the banks, which we are now effectively paying back! Surely there is a case to be made for an investigation into those who were paid the hugely inflated prices for their land. I understand that this is how land and property speculation works. But it is morally right that this modest cohort of people, whose bank accounts now bulge with possibly millions of euro, should be allowed to hold onto it? Meanwhile our Government considers reducing the Old Age Pension, Children’s Allowance and other benefits, our young people emigrate in thousands and our economy collapses all around us. We in effect are paying for their financial windfall.
To go after this money, would take courage and determination. I know that it wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would go some way towards restoring a sense of fair play to the rest of us who profited only very modestly by comparison and then only by working hard during the Celtic Tiger’s roar. At the very least surely some kind of extra tax could be levied on the millions paid for what are now useless fields of dreams.
My daughter has a point – “where did all the money go”. We know where a lot of it went, and we seem happy to pay it back in order to protect some principle of a free market economy. I don’t think that Mia, now 10 years old, would consider that to be very fair. And neither do I.
During the Celtic Tiger years I was happy to be a stay at home mom. The photographer was busy and although we were never loaded or awash with money, we were confident that we would usually have enough to get us by. So he left the cave every day to go and bring home the bacon. I stayed home, tended the fire, kept track of all that needed to be kept track of for the kids and I cooked the bacon (you all know that that is only about 10% of what I and millions of other mothers do, but you can fill in the gaps yourself). I was busy at home and I also did some writing as the inspiration moved me. Latterly I began blogging. We all jogged along nicely. I was happy with my lot and content and grateful to be doing what I felt I should be doing. The photographer felt the same.
Then the world wobbled. Something called Lehman Bros collapsed and a shiver ran down my spine. I was very unsure what all this meant but I know now it was the beginning of a tidal wave of economic misfortune which eventually crashed into the side of the photographer’s business. The world had stopped. It seemed everyone was caught in the headlights of the financial collapse, frozen, unable to move. I watched the lines on his face and the shadows under his eyes deepen as day after day the phone didn’t ring and the diary glowed with pristine unmarked pages. There was very little to laugh about.
As all slowed to a halt, I speeded up in my daily chores, became desperate about getting paid writing gigs, applied for jobs I didn’t want. Round and round I went trying to cut costs, save money and think of ways in which I would help bring home some bacon. In the middle of all this chaos and deathly silence, we somehow reorganised priorities, never gave up and got by. And now as we seem to be over the worst (thank you Irish Times for saying this week that our country is coming out of recession) I am left floundering about wondering who or what am I?
This crisis of confidence was brought sharply into focus this week. We went out ‘en famille’ for a pizza to celebrate the younger two’s great end of year school reports. Over dinner it transpired that Carla (eldest – 23 just) got not one but two emails of commendation to her employer this week. And the photographer also got a great testimonial from a client. I beamed with pride at my family gathered around me and tried not to hear the little voice in my head that said “what is it you do again? How is it you add value to this family”. It was a sobering moment.
I have since given it all some thought and I now realise that the slow, painful death of the Celtic Tiger has made me look at who exactly I am and wonder if I am doing the right thing or am I taking the easy option by being at home with my children. I walked away from my career and a job I loved 9 years ago because I passionately felt that I did not want to miss my children’s childhood. I also wanted to have time to pursue my own hobbies – such as writing and reiki. So now as we begin to negotiate calmer economic waters, I am glad we made the choices we did. I am grateful to the photographer for his tenacity and hard work which has kept our particular boat upright through the storm. But most of all I am very proud of my children…. And am grateful for the reminder that that was exactly why I decided to retire from the corporate world those 9 years ago. Who am I? I am a mother, a writer, a Reiki Master and a worrier. I am happy with the first three and am still working on the fourth.
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!
I love it when I catch the RTE programme, Reeling In The Years, usually by mistake. Last night, I saw the programme featuring 1982 in Ireland. Rugby was big news – we won the Triple Crown. The other big news was the economy – we were in a deep recession. There was plenty of political turmoil. Familiar? Very – except that in 1982 we had not just emerged from 15-20 years of incredible growth and wealth. And perhaps it is that fact that makes it so difficult for us to accept and come to terms with this recession this time.