Since I became a mother, I spend a lot of time apologising to my own Mam for when I was a bratty kid; not doing my bit around the house, slamming doors in a tantrum and constantly fighting with my sister, Fiona. You see the fighting is the worst. When I knew I was having a second boy and then a third, I thought aww they’ll be such good friends. I didn’t learn from experience. My sister is 2 years younger than me and anyone who meets us comments on how different we are. She’s the bolshy one while I’m the people-pleaser. She will send food back in a restaurant whereas I’d just pick the hair out, afraid to offend anyone. We had some historic fights. She threw a glass ashtray at my head once; I stripped her on the street because she was wearing my paisley shirt; she used her teeth, I used my nails, fun times! It was irritating when people would say you’ll be friends when you’re older. It took us a long time and we can still hurt each other, just not physically any more. However, I rely on her honesty, she can be hilarious and is the best person to party with. We share a history and love slagging my Mam (to her face). She’s got my back and I’ve got hers.
This got me to thinking about my grandmothers. My Dad had often recounted stories of his mother chasing himself and his brother (11 months apart) up the stairs brandishing a hurl. They’d lock themselves in their bedroom and taunt her until eventually she gave up and her anger dissipated. As a kid, I couldn’t reconcile the image of my lovely, cake making nanny to that of a crazed lunatic with a hurl. Now, I can! Jesus, those women had it hard. Her story is similar to many of the time; 5 kids, 1 stillborn in a cramped corporation house. My Granda spent two years in hospital with TB, making it out minus a lung. My Nanny was a strong, fiery redhead, educated to leaving cert level in a prestigious school. She was smart as a whip and could always guess the countdown conundrum. She was a voracious reader and would read poetry for fun. If she was born into today’s society, I’ve no doubt that she could’ve tapped into her potential and had a fulfilling career, probably in politics. She never seemed unhappy to me and nor did she complain but I’m not sure that that generation of women knew how badly they’d been swindled.
Imagine being put into a time machine and experiencing life as a 1950s housewife. Straight away I think, no dryer, no dishwasher… but no it gets worse; no washing machine, no car (probably) and worst of all, no contraception. I can’t even fathom the horror of pregnancy after pregnancy and the toll that would take on your body. I remember my nanny telling me that there were times that she went to the loo later in life and would have to physically push her womb back in.
Someone told me a story about how his Mam had had many pregnancies in a row. His dad was to go on a trip to England and she begged him to bring back condoms but he couldn’t go against the church and she continued to have babies… 11 in total if my memory serves me right.
My Nanny took pride in her work and I have yet to taste food as good as she would make. She would recount how her whites were a great source of pride to her. The nuns would come to offer her help when my Granda was sick but she took more pleasure in having them admire her line of whites than putting them to any use. Can I state that these whites would include nappies…. aggh no nappies, no wipes. This quality (are getting whites white a quality?) definitely wasn’t inherited and whites are not long in becoming grey or blue in my house regardless of detergent and strategy.
I love to hear stories of the boys though, one of them being my Dad… they were crazy. The younger of them jumped out of his bedroom window believing himself to be Superman and my Dad held on to the bumper of his Dad’s car as he drove off, requiring clips to hold the gashes on his legs together. I may not be a 1950s housewife but I have not been to Temple Street’s emergency department yet… yet! So, back to that hurl… there was no respite for women then, you got on with it, didn’t complain and while I’m not condoning violence, I sure as hell understand it. Then there were the women who self-medicated through the chaos and suffocating times of the ’40s and ’50s. My other Nanny was also an accomplished young woman when she met my Granda. She was sporty, loved Irish dancing and cycling (I’m beginning to think I was adopted or my parents were) and then she met my Granda who was older, commanding and drove a company car. She was smitten and pictures of her wedding day break my heart. She was smiling and beautiful, full of hope for a life ahead with the man she loved. Then came the babies, lost and born. Six survived in total and her first were a set of twins. My Granda spent a lot of time away on business and her hobbies were all but forgotten. My Granda liked a drink (such an Irish euphemism) and she discovered the lovely, numbing effects of alcohol in her 40s.
As a kid, I would stay there after school as my parents worked and god I loved spending time with her. She was so much fun. I had a little tape recorder and would record her singing Al Jolson and Elvis. Little did I know that some of these fun times were gin related. The highlight of our day would be a trip to the local shop to get her fags but before we would go she would verse me in how to get extra money from Granda. He’d be in the front room at a large imposing desk and I’d stand back and watch her listing what she needed as he totted it up and gave her the exact money. Even as a child, I would feel embarrassed witnessing that. It would take us an hour to get to the local shop as she chatted with everyone she met; she was a social butterfly trapped in a non-gilded cage. The house was dreadfully messy and would require a trip from Kim and Aggie nowadays, it had a big contribution to my own mother’s OCD. Nanny battled with depression a lot in her final years and when we’d go visit her in hospital, she seemed almost inconvenienced to see us. Here she had found some solace and company. She died in her 70s at home and with her last breath told her husband she loved him. I was 12 when she died and wish I had known her as an adult but from what I can surmise and psychoanalyse, I think she was a romantic at heart. She wasn’t a practical woman and when motherhood and marriage didn’t prove to be the stuff of movies, she self-medicated and internalised until her mental health suffered.
If, I look to these two amazing women, I can probably identify with the latter best. I too am a romantic and stick my head in the sand (according to my mother) when faced with the harsh realities of life. I have self-medicated with antidepressants when motherhood got too hard. I’ve been chemical free since February and I’m fine, a bit weepy but that’s just me. Parenting is hard bloody work and most mothers I know are taking some form of antidepressant. We’re probably all on our way to being alcoholics with the amount of wine o’ clock statuses I witness. Yes, I do use my evening glass of wine as a beacon of light at the end of a tunnel of mess, tantrums and body fluids; sometimes I don’t have it but I need a short-term goal.
Mental health is a huge issue these days and the focus seems to be mostly on young men. I am 100% in favour of that, having three sons but I do think mothers are also susceptible to the dark pull of depression. This can be post partum or like in my case, a feeling of despair and being overwhelmed. Unlike our 1950s counterparts, we have a wide range of advice and non-addictive medication at our fingertips but we also have all the pinterest mothers making cupcakes and home schooling to make us feel inadequate. My advice as someone prone to depression is talk…. to your partner and especially your girlfriends. Chances are your friends are feeling or have felt something similar. Also, make time for yourself… even if that is an hour grabbed to lie in bed with a laptop (watching netflix you dirty minded people). There is something so satisfying in lying there and listening to my husband struggle with maintaining his temper as the boys run rings around him. Date night is lovely too but if you don’t have a partner, a night out with friends is even better!(but takes longer to recover)
I love my kids and they benefit more from having a healthy and happy Mam. They don’t need constant outings and attention from me. They need to learn to make themselves happy and find something they like about each other. I will often sit in another room and scroll aimlessly through Facebook or Twitter or watch a sneaky episode of House of Cards. This is for me, my mental health. I couldn’t give a shit about my line of clothes because I use the dryer at all times. I haven’t yet picked up a hurl but I’d say my verbal lashings are just as bad when I lose it. Yes nanny Kelly, I got your red-headed temper. I can’t cook but I do love a sing song, probably best to steer clear of Al Jolson tunes though.