Missing Dad

dad

 

Christmas Eve always makes me feel lonely. This was our day – Dad’s and mine.

When I lived at home, I’d help him with his ‘shopping’. First off, he would stock up at Verlings Off Licence – always a generous man, the back of the car would be dragging when we left there. Then he’d take me somewhere lovely for lunch. I didn’t care where we went because it was always special – just the two of us.

When I was at college, he’d collect me from the flat. Bags of stuff and one hungover student put into the car. He’d take me for something to eat and we’d sink a few festive pints. He was always thrilled that at least one of his children drank Guinness, delighting in telling me that it would put hairs on my chest!

And after the chat and the laughs, we’d head home – into a flurry of last minute preparations,  present wrapping, brussel sprout peeling, mushy pea soaking, before the influx of relations and friends over the following days.

When Dad passed, that all changed. The house fell silent. The preparations ceased. No one called any more. It was all so different.

Christmas changed again when I became a mum and marvelled at the excitement of my tiny tot waiting for Santa and delighting in all the presents she got. Having Christmas dinner with family is so wonderful.

And yet, there will always be a part of me that longs to be sat in ‘The Yacht’, sinking a few pints and spending precious time with that truly special man in my life – my Dad.

Cooking for the Unreasonable

“But you’re going on holiday the next day?” came the response when I said having people over to eat was simply impossible. I work full-time and yet, this couple insist on inviting themselves to dinner. I explain that I am simply too stressed and busy getting ready to leave but they are having none of it. “Ah sure, don’t you have to eat anyway…” There’s no arguing with that (even though we would ring for a take-away if simply left alone). In the end, I cave only to hear “Now you better impress us with this dinner.”

I have to admit that when I heard those words, I wanted to use my limited knife skills for something other than culinary pursuits. So, in between packing, cancelling the milk order, newspaper order, washing floors, emptying the fridge, dealing with bin juice, giving keys to neighbours, ironing…I pick a menu and buy food. I need something which takes little preparation, reduces washing up and the leftovers can be frozen. With that, I prepare a pot of chilli which can bubble away while I get on with other tasks at hand. I throw – and I mean t-h-r-o-w – together a Pavlova as I don’t have to watch it and there is rarely any leftovers from that.

And so, they arrive. I transfer chilli, rice, cheese, sour cream into bowls, plonk them down on the table and encourage everyone to dig in. Disappointed faces. “It’s a bit casual…” says she. “I’m not mad about chilli myself…” says he, lip curled as he pushes kidney beans out of the sauce and over to the side of his plate. “Oh and Pavlova…that will see my allergies flare up,” she adds. And then they laugh “Next time, we’ll order in advance” as they proceed to hoover up every morsel of food that is in their vicinity. They guzzle cold beers I offer on top of a couple of bottles of wine. Their contribution to the evening? Their charming wit and repartee… Despite subtle reminders that we need to finish packing and get to the airport by 6am, they won’t be budged. Eventually, as the witching hour approaches, the two waddle off down the drive, mumbling ‘thanks’ and whispering about how grumpy I am…

‘Never again’, I grumble as I finish the final preparations for our trip.

Until the next year. And bang on cue, we are heading off on holidays and the two pipe up to say they are coming to dinner. I repeatedly say ‘No’, ‘It’s not suitable’, ‘Not this year’ but they are heading in our direction. This year, I make even less effort. I roast a chicken, stuffed with lemon wedges, garlic with butter and sea salt spread on the top. I pop in a tray of vegetables to roast. And to make a point that time is precious, I buy a Viennetta ice cream and a container of cheap, commercial, chocolate sauce. The teen is horrified but I figure, if this doesn’t give the hint that time is limited, nothing will.

And so they plonk themselves down at the table and start to graze. The chicken arrives out, crispy and delicious. The vegetables the same and while they complain that there is no gravy, they work like termites through the fare. I take the ice cream block out of the box, in front of them for full affect, and instead of utter disgust, they gasp with childish delight, exclaiming ‘How retro!’ ‘How kitsch!’ They help themselves to big wedges, much to the teen’s annoyance who is left with only a sliver, and happily drown the dessert in chocolate sauce. I watch aghast as they shovel it in, piece after piece, without sparing a thought for anyone else at the table.

They leave at midnight, delighted with themselves. “Best dinner ever”, they declare before waving back a reminder that they’ll see us next year.

A year passes. Pointing out how unsuitable having people for dinner the evening before holidays has fallen on deaf ears. Time for a change of track. Slyly, I book holidays a week early and true to form, the phone rings – same date, same time. But this year an unexpected response. “No, we’re not going on holiday,” I tell them a whopper of a white lie. Stunned silence greets the news. I fumble through the idea of us coming over to them in a week or so and listen as she hastens her retreat from the conversation rather than issue an invitation.

Sigh of relief and a smile to the teen as I relax in the taxi on the way to the airport. I think God will forgive me that little fib…just this once!

[First published on http://www.teenintheattic.com: February 2015]

I feel old

Yesterday’s commute saw a deluge of pre-teens bounce onto the train. While the young gents hung from the loops and swung back and forth, back and forth, the little ladies surrounded me. Intimidating at first, I soon realised it wasn’t me who was holding their fascination. Instead it was my Kindle. One told her entourage that it was like a book while the others looked in awe. Then one exclaimed “Yeah! I know! Me nanny has one of doz.” It was at that moment that my youthful façade vanished and I realised that, damn, I was indeed old enough to be her grandmother.

[August 2018]

 

Why I love Coach Trip!

Why do I watch ‘Coach Trip’? For the intellectual chat, that’s why!

“Tomorrow we’re going to an island.”
“Oh yeah! I’ve never been to an island.”
“Really? You’ve never been to an island?”
“No! I’m so excited!”
“What do you think Britain is then?”
“Oh…”

[August 2017]

And then there’s this:

The teen thinks I’m mad watching ‘Coach Trip’ but where else would you find such pearls of wisdom as…

“Everywhere’s England with a foreign name.”

“You live in the most southern part of England. D’ya mean Scotland?”

“Mussels are like snot.”

Singing the Belgian National Anthem – “It’s different to the British one.”

“I thought Brussels was the capital of France.”

“A monk is a nun’s brother.”

[January 2014]

Pet Peeves I

Pet peeves of today’s commute….

  • To the girl who decided to put on her jacket while we were huddled in a tight group and made us all duck to avoid being hit by her flaying arms – that is a no
  • To the woman who tried to shoo away oncoming pedestrians with two hands and a twisted face like they were giant flies – that is a no-no
  • To the animal who let rip as we huddled to cross at the lights – that isn’t a no-no-no. That’s an offense punishable by a proper lambasting if I had figured out your identify.

Standing for Truth

1

On 25 August 2018, the Pope visited Ireland. He would stay 36 hours and his presence would console some while angering others. The couple of costly days would bring divisions in Irish society roaring to the fore.

I didn’t go to see the Pope in 1979 and I certainly wasn’t going to attend in 2018. Instead, I went to the Garden of Remembrance at 3pm on 26 August. I wanted to be there but as the day drew near, I was decidedly unsettled. I can’t put my finger on it. I wanted to be there and to be counted and yet, I was very shaky. Maybe it was due to the fact that I had never made myself visible as someone born in a Mother and Baby home before. I warned my daughter that I might change my mind.

I did attend and I am happy I attended. It was very special in many unexpected ways. The first thing which struck me was how cross-generational the event was – from teen to pension, we stood side by side. And the second thing was the different groups represented. The sheer number showed how the Roman Catholic Church had splintered Irish society in the adverse effect it had on so many. We stood and remembered them all.

Walking arm in arm, and in overwhelming silence, we made our way to the site of the last Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street. To see so many people in front, beside and behind made it a fitting remembrance day and impacted on all those present. I was annoyed when I bumped into someone who dismissed it all as an anti-Catholic rally because that’s not what this was about. I was there to remember and to be counted. I wasn’t there to rally against any church, let alone one I am not even a member of. I was there as someone born in a Mother and Baby Home and in respect for all those who had passed through similar institutions.

I wrote two posts on Facebook – one before the event:

“Today, my daughter and I will stand with others in the Garden of Remembrance. We will remember my birth mother, Kathleen, and will think about all the women and crib mates that passed through St Patrick’s, Navan Road, Dublin and the other facilities that blighted our beautiful country. We will hope that, some day and in some way, we will reconnect with our families and reverse that decision to sever that precious bond before it ever had a real chance of forming.”

And one after the event:

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt alone. Unconnected. Disconnected. Separate.

Having been adopted, it doesn’t matter how many times people compare you to others they know or assume adoptees are all identical in origins and experience, I was still alone. I don’t think about it on a daily basis but when it rears its head, in reaction to such questions as who do you most resemble or if there is a history of some illness in your family, I feel alone again.

Today, I stood with my daughter and I no longer felt alone. I felt a part of something. And that felt nice.”

*****

I walked back to catch the bus home. I had listened to the speeches and contributions and we’d chatted amongst ourselves. I thought nothing else could impact. Walking down Marlborough Street, I suddenly stopped. All along the railings of the Pro Cathedral hung tiny, baby shoes – representing those small children whose remains were dumped in a septic tank at Tuam. The sight of those shoes took my breath away.

 

2

 

Stop that NOW!!!

Munck

 

Painstakingly edited an overly – and dare I say, badly – punctuated document for a client. Finally, the endurance test was over and I was very happy with the result.

Above is my reaction when I handed it over and heard the words “Ah, let’s throw in a few more commas”. And with that comment, the pen was lifted and commas inserted willy-nilly!

 

*****

Define “lucky”?

In April 1965, I was born in St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road in Dublin. Since then, I have always been astounded by the ‘knowledgeable’ opinions people espouse on my beginnings. As a fellow adoptee says, “The minute you see the head tilt, you brace yourself for what is to come.”

There is a spectrum of opinions that adoptees are used to. At one end, there are the kind and caring views, the ones who listen. Then there are those who think that if you were adopted, your beginnings and life are identical to all those who were adopted and try to convince you otherwise if you object. And then there is the other end of the spectrum, the ones which are judgemental and often, cruel. Surprise is constant as you can never predict who in your life will say what.

Being adopted is always public. Efforts to keep it private are futile. It is the inevitable response to questions like “Who in your family do you look like?”, “You’re the image of your mother/father/brother/sister/cousin/family pet,” “Is there a history of heart disease/diabetes/rabies in your family?”

And with origins so visible come comments, quips and judgements. Here is an example of such:

A friend told me recently that my birth mother and others like her were so “lucky” to have the nuns to take them in when their parents threw them out.

Seriously?!?

The Catholic Church condemns these girls for committing a sin. Family throws them out. Church (which created the problem by judging these girls) now takes them in and, in many cases, brutalises many physically and mentally before, in many cases, capitalising on their unpaid labour. They seek to temporarily or permanently separate child from parent with no care for the long-term impact on the psychological health of either person.

“Lucky” is therefore not a word I’d use to describe such a situation.

And where were the unmarried fathers’ homes if sex before marriage and pre-marital pregnancy were such grave sins?!?