A last hurrah 


It all comes flooding back. It’s the last Communion and memories of the first one, a short eight years ago, flash before me. The circle is closing. We’ve come a long way.
Eight years ago our fifth child was due to be born on our first child’s first Holy Communion day. When the date for said Communion was announced the mother guilt, only a scratch away at the best of times, burst through the skin and became inflamed. There aren’t nails long enough to get at it. I will not be able to attend my very own child’s Communion. Imagine what that will do to him.

But then a hand intervened. The baby arrived dutifully a full four days early. Which meant delightfully that I was in with a chance of getting along to the Communion after all. There was, how shall one put it, many a raised brow when I’d chirp my great news to the medical staff at the hospital.

‘Yes, isn’t he sweet, and guess what, now that he’s here a little early I’ll be able to go on Saturday to be there for my first child. Sooo excited’.

‘You’ll get out on Friday, afternoon most likely. Do you think you might be pushing yourself just a little too hard to make it along to the ceremony?’

Of course not. This is a gift. The baby’s a gift and he’s had the thoughtfulness to arrive on time to let me go to another gift’s Communion, and it’s wrong to look all these obvious synchronicities in the mouth. Or some such gabbling. Then I rang my Mum to make sure that Marque 1’s shoes would be ready. The rest of the garb was hanging up. She searched and searched and came across them, eventually, in the garden having been left out for days on end. It had been raining, naturally, and they no longer looked quite so black.

‘Nothing a bit of black shoe polish won’t sort’.

‘If we had black shoe polish’.

‘Ah sure, I’ll just use Mr Sheen furniture polish. It’s all the same in the end’.

Maybe the lovely nurses were right. My blood pressure was going dangerously high.

The birth had not been straight forward. He was in an occiput posterior position – his head was down but facing my front instead of my back. He wanted to come out looking up at us, so as not to miss a trick. Which is still how he is. But it’s harder for a baby to work through the pelvis in this position. Harder, longer, a little more dangerous. It upped the drama of the delivery and with it the interventions, which is not ideal. Although we were all singing from the same sheet. A baby to be delivered safely, please. Do whatever you need to. There was talk of an emergency section in the last few minutes. And then, as if he got wind of it, he flew out while nobody was looking. Beautiful and perfect. The manner of his sudden bursting through left a little devastation in its wake. More interventions. More meds for ongoing pain. Which is also why the medical staff could not quite join me on my high of being able to go to the Communion.

They were right and they were wrong. I was thrilled to be able to attend. Although I didn’t quite know what it would entail. He had a little job bringing something up to the alter, bless him. So we were in the prime position of the front pew. Fantastic. Then a bit of mother guilt began to fizz. All the other Communicants had white rosettes with medals expertly pinned bang in the centre of them. My child had an empty rosette with a medal strung around his neck. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I know? There he was with his Mr Sheened garden shoes and his uncoordinated rosette and medal. What kind of damage are we doing to him? We’ve over done it, obviously, on the procreation front. But I didn’t expect to feel so, what was it, neglectful? My poor little sunny first born. I’ll make it up to you, I thought.

Then came the video camera man, positioned right in front of us courtesy of our prime position. In case it wasn’t already obvious that we weren’t acing this event, it would be there for all to see forever. Oh and I was wearing jeans. I know, I know. You see the point was about being there, not about the clothes. Which is all very well, until the ultra casual bloated mother in jeans ends up in the front row.

Then came the pain. It was already there at the beginning, but the adrenaline of making it along seemed to disguise it. Every time the priest said ‘kneel’ I did. Kneel, sit, stand. Kneel, sit, stand. Kneel. I wasn’t going to be the complacent casual bloated mother in the front row who couldn’t be bothered to follow the priest’s commands. With each one though, the pain increased. Pain, lightheadedness – no time for a cuppa beforehand, baby to be fed – engorged breasts and a queer colour about the jowls. A shade of greenish yellow.

When it was all over I tottered to the back of the church to a beautiful sight – the oasis of my mother-in-law, her arms outstretched to mine.

‘You made it darling’ she said and then really dangerously close to fainting I walked linked between her and my father-in-law and they whisked me off to the sanctuary of their home where I was fed and watered and minded and told how wonderful it was that I could do that for my first child. I’ll never forget it. It was like being a child again, being rescued from peril and utterly taken care of.

Later that day I was back in the hospital for some work around the pain issue. Then we were all at home together as people called in to wish him well. We whipped him off to Milano’s, just the three of us. It was a triumph.

So our last little Communion is a doddle. His four older brothers attend to support him. He has a medal pinned expertly in the centre of his white rosette. New shiny black shoes smile up at me. We party it out in a hotel in a picturesque small Wicklow village – a favourite of all. We don’t want it to end. Oh and nobody is wearing jeans.


The fifth

IMG_5073Oh the glorious symmetries. Our fifth child was born on the fifth of the fifth. The dangerous perfectionist streak in me delighted in this far too much at the time and delights in it still. When all else around me is falling asunder I can always remember that one great feat. And then revert to beating myself up for not managing it for the rest of them. The thirteenth of the eleventh for the poor first child. Not trying hard enough at all at all. There are therapy bills looming for someone down the line. Although it was the millennium, so that’s some sort of consolation I suppose. At least we’ll always know what age he’s turning without being too taxed in the poorly resourced maths department. 

Oh the high when my fifth of the fifth fifth child turned five. Does it actually get any better than that? There are burdens for him with it though. Being the youngest of five. Burdens of excessive love.

‘Isn’t he just the icing on the cake’ we used to say often, because whether he liked it or not, he was the last. A very hotly debated last. There was a traumatic late loss before him and I just didn’t know if I could do it. Someone sensible spoke up, loud and clear. We should not end our child bearing on a sad note. We were lucky in the past and we were lucky that we had the choice. To go for it or not. It’s unthinkable now. If I’d remained like that, stuck, not finding the courage, we might never have met him. We burden him in our own minds with that a little too. That there’s an extra spoonful of magic about him. There’s magic about all of them, of course. But he was conceived when our lost baby was due to be born. Exactly when. And there’s something lovely about that. A continuity of spirit. But then he is his own little person and he happens to be blessed with the sunniest of dispositions. A joker. A joiner. Always laughing. A real little lover, as his granddad once said about him. And that he is. Full to the brim with it. 

‘Have you any idea?’ I used to mutter to him, often while feeding. Have you any idea how much we love you, was the question thrumming in me, but it always came out as have you any idea, and was as much to myself as to him, overcome with the oxytocin fuelled joy of having him safely here with us. Then one day he pulled away, looked up at me beaming and said ‘yes idea’ before continuing on. His Dad chimed in chuckling with ‘well you know the breast feeding has gone on too long when they start to answer you back’. That you do. ‘Yes idea’ became a little mantra of positivity. And today, on the fifth of the fifth as our fifth child turns eight he tells me something on the way into school. 

‘The only word I have is thank-you, that’s all I can say for everything and I wish I had more words, better words than just thank-you all the time because I just can’t explain how much you make me happy. You’re the best ever’.

Ditto and happy birthday baby. 


Peppered delights

 Kids running into Sea

It’s just as well that the Easter Holidays were peppered with lots of little delights that we can now cling to. I flood my mind with the images. Hidden golden sanded empty beaches. My crew stripping off and flinging themselves in to icy water, daring one another to duck their heads under and bring on a terrible aching brain freeze. Unselfconsciously entering the water at times in their boxers when the foolish parents thought the weather was for walking rather than swimming and left the togs bag behind. Surprised by the sudden burst of sunshine. Every little ray counts. It’s just as well. Because now that we are back, ensconced in the wicked routines again, an unsettling sort of pressure is building. I’m greeted at the school gate by a blast of needs. All the things that require urgent attention.

‘You know the way we took the day off school for marque 3’s Confirmation?’ Marque 4 asks with a hint of indignation.

Ah yes, that seems like an age ago now, but in truth it was early April, just before the break. A lovely special day.

‘Yeah well, that’s when our booklists were given out and we missed them so now they need to be in by Friday with all the money paid, or else no books’.

A quick tot. A few hundred euros by the end of the week. Great. I pull an image from my holiday archive. It’s the dead dolphin at Dog’s Bay. It works.

‘I need braces’, another announces. In fairness he waits until we are in the car getting our belts on to deliver this one. 

‘No you don’t, you have lovely teeth’. He looks at me with an ‘it’s all relative, Mum’ sort of smile. Terrified really that I’ll tell him again how I wouldn’t get braces for myself, how I didn’t want to put my parents to that dreadful expense. Sure what harm did an acute angled front tooth ever do to anyone? 

‘Everyone was talking about their teeth today, their lovely straight teeth, that they are so proud of and a few of them told me I need braces’.

‘Did they now?’

‘Yeah and I was laughing at the time’. This is a softener. In case I begin to probe. To find out if he was upset. Who? What boys? The cheek of them.

‘But I really, really do. I think if they’re bad enough we can get them for free. The others in the class think I’d get them for free’.

I conjure another image. This very child running around the bay plucking multi-coloured foil eggs from their hiding places.

‘I need to decide my Leaving Cert choices by tomorrow Mum’. Now that does sound serious. 

‘And the thing is that I really like geography and history and art and music and I wouldn’t mind doing physics or biology and economics could be a good one but I can only choose three’. 

‘Your father. Speak to him’. Ah it’s great to have a decisive person in the house. There needs to be at least one of those. I picture this child relaxing in the steam room and sauna at the pool. Bubbling away in the jacuzzi. Enjoying a non-alcoholic beer with us. His Leaving Cert calling him now.

‘The French teacher asked if there was anyone, anyone at all who is still 13 in the class and I had to put up my hand, at the end of second year, when plenty of people are 15 already. J’ai tres ans. That’s what I have to say’. Well now there’s not a lot I can do about that one until the end of the month, sweetheart. A little fizzle of guilt though. Being the youngest in the class has always been a bit burdensome for him, even if he did have the maturity of a young adult at age five. 

‘I’ll need matching socks today Mum, we have P.E.’

Now that is a challenge. It’s 8.30 and I’m leaving the house with the 3 primary schoolers as well as the dog, late as ever, when this secondary school demand is drummed at me. 

‘They’re both black’ I say reassuringly, ‘even if that one has a splash of yellow at the top. Sure just roll it down a bit. No-one will notice’.


‘We had another teacher today and she was talking about all the lovey benefits of travel and asking where everyone has been. Five people have even been to Tokyo. (Point of information: they are 12; they have not been to Tokyo). And one has been to Russia (POI: he’s Russian). And they’ve all been somewhere and then she asked me where I’d been and when I said I hadn’t her face, well it’s hard to describe really, she didn’t know what to say, her colour, she went a sort of, well I don’t know what it was really, she was just so shocked’.

Great. It’s probably best not to respond, I think. To let it wash over me instead. To not say all the things that are rattling in me as I picture him squirming there puce in the classroom. To hell with it. ‘I didn’t go abroad until I was 15, and it doesn’t seem to have done me any harm, in fact…’ and I lecture on, more to myself than to him, about mortgages and multiple children and fees and gratefulness and values and how we’re all doing our best and counting how lucky we are is, in fact, the best way to look at things and how someday, yes someday, we might all be able to have an adventure off this island, we’re working on it as it happens, but in the meantime… In the meantime just finish your homework and go to bed.

The images seem to be leaving me. It’s just as well I have the pictures to prove to myself that we were a semi-blissful non-comparative family unit a few short days ago. I have a peep at my archive. Yep. There they all are, laughing and swimming and enjoying barbecues with the dog. Although there was a hint of it on one of the days.

‘Can you get a picture of me sitting high up on this rock. Everyone’s posting pictures of themselves on Instagram in Madrid and Barcelona. (At Easter? Really?). Sitting on a rock in Connemara will have to be it for me’. That it will. At which he leaps off and swims like a very lively dolphin. 

This particular child did tell me to play the lotto though (is it a concern when your children tell you to gamble?) on the day we were coming home. He’d had a dream, and I always tend to trust his dreams. I screeched into the shops at the last second and got a ticket and then left it in the car for a week. I checked it yesterday. He was right. 42 glorious euros right. I beamed as if I was holding the jackpot ticket and then purchased a lovely hardback notebook for my scribbles. I can be found for the foreseeable hovering over his bed ready to catch his dreams. He needs braces too apparently, and there’s no such thing as a free brace, it seems, after all.

Ellen and Smudge