Pay Attention


Back to ‘normality’ after the school holidays, time has evaporated once more, appointments and deadlines beckon, meals, uniforms, homework, housework, nappies, snacks and pickups fill the space. Four clamouring voices make me addled and the temptation is to fob the children off in favour of getting things done. However I have found, when I remember to do it, that the more focussed the attention I give the kids, the calmer they and the household become. By focussed attention I mean, really listening when they are trying to communicate, getting down on their level, stepping outside of the situation and seeing what is really going on (tiredness, hunger, overwhelm, boredom) rather than issuing them with vague commands to sort it out or stop wingeing. Distract, disarm, tickle them into submission or give them a few minutes each of special time more about those in another post). Help them to focus themselves, to engage in an activity, to rest, to help with the dinner (something very basic please!).


It pays to pay attention to your relationships. My husband and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a night out, just the two of us at the Porterhouse in Bray. It was a Saturday night and ridiculously I couldn’t get over how busy it was, how many people were actually out. (Life continues even when we’re not there? How did I not realise that?)  We sat across from each other, chatted without interruption, enjoyed the music and the atmosphere, drank cocktails (our attempt at decadency) and ate great food. I have to tell you how much I enjoyed a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with bangers and mash and lathered in onion gravy. We dreamed of going to the nightclub but couldn’t stretch the circumstances that far. (Will have to remember the nightclub still exists when all the children are old enough for a sleepover. – Do they still call it a nightclub?)


Normally we wave vaguely and occasionally at each other through a mental and physical fog, meeting for the odd hour on the sofa, during a house programme or in the hallway between the kids bedrooms. Much more rarely do we have time to pay attention to each other. We sometimes remember to hold hands, to kiss each other instead of only the kids, to sigh or smile simultaneously at the end of a favourite film, to meet each other’s eye for that extra split second across the dinner table, to say how are you or well done or sorry or I care about you even if it doesn’t look like it and I’ve hardly spoken to you all day. To say, you mean something, you’re important.


Finally (and it usually is finally), yourself. The wonderful aspect of being a hard pressed bamboozled parent is how much you appreciate even the small pleasures that others take for granted. Some of my favourites are going to the bathroom by myself, managing to drink an entire cup of tea while its hot without being interrupted, five hours sleep in a row, a lie in until quarter to eight, walking down the road without pushing a buggy or cajoling a preschooler, having a whole HOUR to read a book or magazine, watch a programme, write a blog entry. Glorious bounties! These are the ways we need to pay attention to ourselves. These are things we absolutely need in order to soldier on in the boot camp of parenting.

Writing Endeavours

Since the children were born, I have been picking away at creative writing, finishing one (quite woeful) novel and still progressing another, with a third whirring away in my head (busy writing itself I hope!). In the last couple of years I have revved up a little and wisely turned my attention to short stories. I have been previously published in the Ireland’s Own but my current claim to fame is having one of my short essays The Flask published in the anthology Sunday Miscellany – A Selection from 2006-2008 – out now in all good bookstores!


Sunday Miscellany goes out on RTE Radio 1 on Sunday mornings. My essay the Flask and another one entitled Buntyland were broadcast in my own voice in May of 2007 when I was expecting baby number four. (Click Podcasts on Sunday Miscellany: April 2007, May 2007.) (Check back to this post will update exact dates shortly.)


This year I tried my hand at the RTE Radio 1 Frances Mac Manus short story competition with an amusing story The Plumber’s Uncle. The shortlist has just been announced and sadly I’m not lucky/literary enough to be included (however I console myself that there were over 700 entries.) Some excellent advice (I can’t remember who said it though!) I read over the last while was that a writer should have their work circulating continuously, so I keep trying, entering competitions and submitting to magazines. I’ll let you know from time to time how it’s going.


For details of the shortlist see: Frances Mac Manus Award

These stories will be broadcast throughout the year on RTE.


Taking Stock

More on the theme of Mindfulness, I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to call Slow Thinking. It takes a holiday, like the Easter break, or one beautiful Sunday sunning yourself in the back garden to make you realise the frenzy in which we conduct the rest of our lives. As mothers we are busy anyway with day to day chores, with the hands on care of children, applying ourselves to their physical needs, their emotional and mental development, their health and wellbeing, their happiness. (If you like you can read my poem under Pages – Poetry – Now). We can also get caught up in the whirl of social norms and pressures, we make decisions without always fully thinking them through. Does my child really have to do all those after school activities? Does my two and a half year old really have to get up and get out five days a week for two full years of preschool so that they don’t fall behind with their social development? As a full time mother I am not qualified to comment on the pressures of mothers who combine outside employment with caring for their children. But the heart rending choices about childcare, work-life balance, financial security versus quality time must have them in a spin.


This recession has come with a jolt and its making us take stock. Already there are new TV programmes about home making and interior design on a budget and the associated joys of crafts and other home made accomplishments. Those familiar with the craft group my sister Sharon O’ Kelly organises have experienced the satisfaction of taking home a personal handmade object (and have discovered the joy of Mindfullness in the process of make and do!). Cottage industries, cottage gardens and allotments are in vogue and charity shop chic has never been so in fashion. (Finally the town of Bray, Co. Wicklow has found its true calling! It is the capital of second hand shops in Ireland, boasting at least nine at last count.)


The catch phrase of today is no longer ‘I must have’ but ‘do I really need?’ Houses and apartments are no longer being thrown up at a frenetic rate. Excesses are being reined in. There is a general slowing down in the economy and in society and we can match that in our personal lives, taking the time to make decisions, waiting for the right moment where the way forward isn’t obvious instead of blundering along in a panic. Our parents and our grandparents knew that things would come in time, that anticipation was some of the fun. We need to re-educate ourselves to feel the truth of this and help our children enjoy what they’ve got, a precious little at a time.

Now is all there is

Hello.  Today you can just see the top of my head over the waves. Recently I edited a newsletter for parents on Mindfulness and Wellbeing. We wanted to explore how parents in the maelstrom (or sea, to keep to the blog’s theme) of raising children could possibly find the space in time or within themselves to re-energise and take stock of their circumstances. As a writer (I was going to say would-be writer, but here I am)  and mother of four young children, aged between 8 and 18 months I want to share with you whether or not it is possible to get your ‘Head above Water’ and find that moment of what Buddist’s call concentrated awareness, the now that has depth,  slows time and gives it greater quality.

My baby gives his absolute attention to the texture of a pebbledash wall. I feed off his fascination. As a writer I need to pay attention, to notice. As a full time mother I am prey to the constant demands of requests and chores, the hands on care of small bodies and the fuelling of expansive minds.  I cannot find a quiet place in my head or imagination. Friends in the parent support group (Cuidiu) in the early days of total immersion caring for a newborn alongside their other young children have experienced it as a kind of drowning.

Today all four children were at home on their school holidays. Two had very bad colds, the four year old in particular was constantly in crises and tears from sheer exhaustion. The two older boys were in a hyperactive frenzy usually directed towards each other.  While I checked my email this morning I distracted the baby with my paper clip container, while writing this tonight I have been treated to the sound of my eight year old whistling and have answered several calls for assistance. Is there still an identifiable train to my thoughts? You decide.

There are many reasons these days why people’s head are ‘wrecked’. It’s the fashion to be on the go, to be getting somewhere. To squeeze the last out of the analogy, sometimes we are wasting our energy swimming against the tide. (Groan, okay, I’ll be more inventive next time). In this blog I’ll be looking at how we can get our heads above water and maybe even spend sometime sunning ourselves on a some well-placed rock in a more gently flowing river.  And then I might even talk about writing as well.