The backlash against Ryan Gosling

The backlash against Ryan Gosling

chess-1483735_1280

In his acceptance speech at the Golden globes Ryan Gosling gave tribute to his “lady”, Eva Mendes.

It wasn’t a pretty image that Mr Gosling presented us with. He described how he was out “singing and dancing” while his wife was at home raising their daughter and pregnant.

Is it just me or was he brave to admit?

Narjas Zatat wrote in the British online edition of The Independent that Ryan Gosling’s remarks were sexist.

Eva Mendes, by “putting her career on the back burner for the sake of her husband’s” reflects the “structural inequality” of the workplace.

Perhaps there was a hint of the “behind every great man” about Gosling’s speech.

I think we are all weary of hearing this argument. Mainly because it does a disservice to both men and women. 

The counter argument of course is that women have always been the ones to take on the more nurturing roles. But the notion that women are better carers is sexist. Sexual stereotyping is not good for either gender.

Eva Mendes wasn’t on the stage to speak for herself. We don’t really know what motivated her to make the career choices she made.

There could be truth in the idea that she put her career on hold so that Gosling could “further his own career” as suggested in The Independent.

I would like to suggest an alternative truth however. Could it be that Eva Mendes is not a victim of domestic inequality or sexism?

During the debate on sexual inequality some very important people have been forgotten.

The children.

Maybe Eve Mendez sacrificed her career not for her husband but for the benefit of her children.

Another bold suggestion. Maybe she did it for herself, because parenting your own children is the most rewarding and empowering experience that life can offer.

Maybe the real loser after all is Mr Gosling. The man who gave up the opportunity to raise his own children in favour of a “singing and dancing” career.

Advertisements
Nollaig na mBan – a quiet Irish Tradition that needs reviving

Nollaig na mBan – a quiet Irish Tradition that needs reviving

holy-154100_1280_2

The twelfth and last day of Christmas. An auspicious date in many cultures, with various associated traditions.

In Ireland Janruary 6th is Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas.

It’s an old tradition that women take a break on this day. There are not too many written accounts documenting this custom.

The date is also referred to as Nollaig Bheag (Little Christmas). It was the female answer to Nollaig Mór or Christmas day, when women worked hard serving and preparing food. This was a time when all of the preparations for Christmas both domestic and financial fell to the woman of the house.

After the men and children had their share of the goodies and celebrations the women would put aside their household responsibilities for an afternoon. As Christmas ended for another year they gathered to relax, to eat cake and drink tea.

Irish pubs were no place for women. On January 6th, however, it was not unusual to see women drinking stout together in a pub. The tradition was particularly strong in rural Ireland.

I spoke to many people to seek first-hand accounts of Nollaig na mBan, but they were very scarce on the ground. Women from Tipperary, Galway and Donegal had no recollection of their Mother’s celebrating this day. Ironically enough, the only two people who remembered were men!

One man, of 86 who grew up in Donegal could recall little except that his Mother ate cake with other women. When I asked him about Nollaig na mBan his reply was simple “sure that was the Mother’s day”.

The practice of women meeting to take a break after the domestic avalanche of Christmas is not, I believe, a bad one.

We have come a long way in terms of domestic and parental equality but for many women and mothers Christmas means a lot of extra work.

I find preparing for Christmas stressful. When the sun goes down on December 25th I breathe a sigh of relief. Especially when I see that the children are happy with their gifts and goodies.

They may have been before my time but I understand why these women felt the need to get together on January 6th. Modern Christmas can also be overwhelming. With schools closed, lots of rich food about and no routine, things do get a bit hairy.

When I think back to my own childhood I remember all the Christmas dinners my Mam made.

The smell of fresh thyme still brings me back to Christmas eve. My Mam in the kitchen, trying to get the stuffing made before Mass, knee-deep in breadcrumbs and sausage meat and the Kenwood blender. The stress radiating from her like heat from a crackling fire.

I loved all the Christmas dinners she made and especially her home-made stuffing. Even now she makes an extra batch for my family to eat with our Christmas dinner every year.

That’s why I’m starting a new old tradition by taking my Mam to lunch this January 6th. The last day of Christmas will be just for us.

If you’re free this Friday, join forces with some other women who worked hard this season. Raise a cup or a glass. Empty the biscuit tins and selection boxes before school starts. Create your own Nollaig na mBan.

After all, didn’t Christmas begin with one woman, labouring alone in the company of men?  It certainly doesn’t have to end that way.

New Year’s Reflections

New Year’s Reflections

sunrise-1119253_1280

What just happened?

Christmas 2016.

It’s over now for another year and for me, it’s the best time to reflect upon how the season went.

I’m happy it’s over because I’m one of those who struggle to cope with the stresses and chaos of Christmas.

I enjoy the days between Christmas and New Year more than most. No gifts to wrap, no shopping, lots of left overs so very little cooking, no worrying about whether or not the children will like their gifts. Relief.

The relief that descends after Christmas is really what I look forward to the entire month of December.

Like all parents there are aspects of our childhood that we don’t want to repeat. Things that we don’t want our own children to experience. Stress at Christmas is one of those things for me.

The ghosts of Christmases past continue to haunt me. Growing up with a parent who suffered from mental illness, Christmas as a child was stressful. It is after all, the darkest time of the year.

Every December my own emotional baggage combines with the Christmas retail frenzy to bring me close to the edge. I look at my children and I see history repeating itself. I realised a few years ago, that if I didn’t make changes, my own children will be writing a similar story in twenty years.

Last year was the first break through. It was the first since my marriage ended and I was focused like never before on navigating the festivities peacefully. I narrowed it down to what would really make it happy for my children. A calm Mother being top on my list.

I put forward a plan to my children’s Dad. We divided the day in three. The breakfast and opening of Santa gifts was done all together. The remainder of the day was split between Dad and Mam. They lunched with their Dad and had dinner with me. I felt that children need above all their parents on Christmas day.

This plan meant that both sets of Grandparents had to wait until after Christmas to see their Grandchildren. I tentatively explained to my parents. They amazed me. They decided to just recreate Christmas day on the 26th or 27th.  It worked for the children, what child doesn’t want two Christmas days?

Having no in-laws for the first time in ten years contributed to the peace. My poor Ex had the arduous task of explaining the new arrangements to his own parents.

With just me and two children for Christmas dinner I figured there was no point spending the entire day preparing food. The one thing my children were definitely not going to remember about this Christmas was exotic hors d’oeuvre and lemon scented stuffing.

I kept it simple. The kind of food that my children normally like. It was interesting how many people, my own Mother included were shocked by my choice of a small pre-stuffed chicken instead of a Turkey. Who knew that the difference between two birds could cause such consternation? That’s Christmas for you.

This year I tried to follow the same formula since it worked so well last year. I thought I had it figured out. But it was not easy.

I tried where possible to keep away from the shops, the online delivery from our local supermarket was a life-saver. 

I ran out of milk. A minor thing really in the great scheme of things. But minor things often trigger major ones.

My anxiety was more or less under control so I planned the trip to the supermarket with careful caution. I knew it was a risk. Going into a full-blown supermarket so close to Christmas.

There was so much aggressive promoting of products and discounts and panic-inducing merchandise. And lots of loud, thought-interrupting music. I tried to stay focused.

An internal panic ensued. I became distressed. There was a huge elaborate stand with fancy dairy stuff. I suddenly realised something.

I didn’t have any Baileys cream. In that one moment, the absence of Baileys cream was going to ruin my Christmas. Who did I think I was? Facing into Christmas without Baileys cream. It couldn’t be done. Shouldn’t be done.

I felt I had let down, myself, my children, and most especially the retailer who was trying to persuade me. I was a falling. Why had I not thought of the Baileys cream before now?

I had committed myself to coming into this shop to buy milk, just milk. I thought I was strong enough to carry it off. But the retailer knew me better than I knew myself.

I was flung into a dilemma. I had to have the cream, but I also desperately needed to not give in to the panic-buying. I lingered around the dairy section trying to focus on the advantages and disadvantages of buying the cream.

I had to have the cream. I just couldn’t have it on my conscience. I ran out of the shop, cream in one hand milk in the other. 

Ten days later I stood over the bin. The pot of Baileys cream in my hand. I reflected upon the process that brought me to that rubbish. A pot of unopened, unwanted, stupid cream.

And then it happened. Realisation.

The pot of cream was unopened. We had actually survived Christmas without the damn cream. My children had been happy, I was relaxed and had fun.

I only thought I needed the cream. I felt safer having it in the fridge.  Just in case.

The fear of being without. It’s that, that fear that drives me into panic every Christmas. Prompts me to behave like a squirrel, to hoard, to buy things I didn’t really want.  

Everything I really needed was already available. My children, my time, time to just be, time to play, my health, my harmonious home.

It’s only now when it’s all over that I can really look at my festive season and reflect on the small successes and make sure that they outnumber the panic buys and stress of next Christmas.

That’s my New Year’s Resolution.

Back to School!

Back to School!

15424638_10211833397777360_438193539_n

I was nervous. The secondary school I attended invited me back to give a talk about my life since graduating, twenty years ago.

I was surely expected to talk about my academic and professional achievements Something to motivate young ladies to strive for the best in life.

That’s what it was all about when I was at school. Aiming high. That meant high grades, good jobs and rewarding salaries. We were taught to compete and work hard to get ahead.

In 1970’s Ireland a woman could not sit on a jury. A woman could not buy contraceptives or collect children’s allowance. A woman could not get married and hold a job in the bank or civil service.

I was in the class of 1996. A generation of women who had more opportunities than our Mothers.

I think I exploited all the opportunities that education had to offer me. I went to University, got a decent degree. I went abroad to another University and got a pHd, I learnt to speak fluent French. When I came back to Ireland I landed a brilliant job in one of the oldest Universities in Europe. All good.

Until, the one thing that nobody prepared me for happened. Motherhood.

In all the lessons and advice that teachers, parents, aunts and career counsellors had given, parenthood was never mentioned. Motherhood was not worth mentioning. It was a thing that successful women did on the side.

I had it all planned out. The little ones would go to the local creche, all day. Thus liberating their educated and ambitious Mother to continue her career unhindered.

Looking back now it seems so predictable.

What could my Mother and school teachers have done any differently? An entire generation of stay-at-home Mothers were simply not equipped to guide and advise on the difficulties of balancing a career and a family.

My parents were so proud to see me educated and working in a prestigious third level institution. They wanted this for me from early on. A good job. A successful career. They had sent me to that school for a reason.

That’s why it was so hard.

They did everything they could to help me stay in work when my children were sick. I would regularly send midnight messages to my Mam. Trying to arrange last minute child-care for my child.  A sudden fever at 1am means no creche tomorrow and the working Mum is high and dry.

The most difficult career choice I ever made was to stop working and stay at home with my children. They needed me.

The truth is I delayed giving up my career because I felt pressure to fulfil my professional ambitions. I didn’t think that being a stay at home mother was an option for someone like me. I felt I didn’t have that choice.

People regularly tell me “you’re wasted at home”.

This remark reveals a sad truth about what we value in our society. It’s a waste for an intelligent woman to dedicate herself to her children. Are my children not deserving of an educated experienced Mother?

The American poet Garrison Keillor said “nothing you do for children is ever wasted”. This quote rings true in my mind every single day.

The decision to be a full-time parent is one of the most empowering life choices I have ever made.

I was frazzled as a Mother with a career. I never had the time to get to know my children properly. I didn’t have the energy to really nurture them, or myself.  I was too stressed and tired to give proper consideration to my parenting choices.

Parenting with confidence is a privilege I now enjoy and believe the benefits for my children will be life-long .

What’s my advice to the class of 2017?

Education will broaden your horizons and liberate you. A successful career path will open doors not close them.

Enjoy your opportunities, avail of your opportunities but don’t ever allow opportunity to restrict your choices.

Some things never change! The blue corridors of my old convent school will bring back memories for many past pupils.

It didn’t feel like charity.

It didn’t feel like charity.

team-d

When we were at school together I didn’t really know Deirdre too well and so I had no idea what an inspiring woman she would become.

Three years ago Deirdre was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

After becoming completely numb on one side of her body she found herself lying frightened in a hospital emergency room.

MS is a chronic debilitating illness with no known cure.

One relapse left Deirdre unable to do basic tasks that most of us take for granted every day. I was so moved to learn about her struggles.

From painful experience I know that when an illness takes away your ability to parent your children it truly steals something precious. I empathise so much with a Mother who wants to take care of her own children and most especially not burden them with her care.

Earlier this year Deirdre took the brave decision to go to  Russia to receive life-changing medical treatment so that MS will not control her life.

I was lucky enough to be part of her journey through buying a ticket to attend a charity ball organised to raise funds to pay for her treatment.

The most remarkable thing about the ball was the upbeat energy that permeated the place. Many of Deirdre’s pupils, past and present had gathered around her to help with this event. A “Team Dee” had been assembled and they were something to behold.

Former classmates, pupils, teachers, friends and family mixed together to create a wonderful atmosphere.

The Runaways danced and entertained stylishly,  Party band The Firm belted out some of everyone’s all time favourites before a DJ rocked guests into the wee hours.

Local sweet suppliers The Sugar Shack furnished guests with sweet goodies; Ferro Rocher and pink sweets were displayed on a beautiful spinning wheel. Pick n Mix for Grown-ups.

I’ll be honest it didn’t really feel like charity. It was a celebration, of life, of each other and of a Team spirit that is determined to beat Multiple Sclerosis.

dscn1863
Treats from the Sugar Shack

 

deirdre-and-the-runaways
Deirdre McGarry with The Runaways
The History of Halloween

The History of Halloween

banner-1756616_640

Don’t be fooled by the Commercialisation of Halloween!

Halloween is Celtic and it’s definitely not new. Our forefathers were celebrating it long before Ireland was Christianised. Before there was a church in Ireland there was Halloween. Before there was Sunday Mass in Ireland there was Halloween.

Halloween is  Samhain (pronounced Sow-In), a Celtic feast to mark the onset of winter. The festival lends its name to the month it precedes; Samhain is the Irish word for November.

The modern Irish calendar follows the same tradition. Visitors to Ireland are often surprised to learn that winter is said to begin on November 1st and end on February 1st.

Samhain has been sacred since ancient times. Evidence abounds of how important this day was to our ancestors.

Close to the Hill of Tara (the ancient seat of the Irish High Kings) there is a passage tomb, similar in style to the well-known Newgrange.

The Mound of the Hostages was built nearly 5000 years ago. A  dome-shaped tomb with a narrow doorway.

On the morning of October 31st the small opening of this tomb aligns exactly with the rays of the rising sun. This perfect alignment results in the illumination of the entire chamber with autumnal orange sunshine.

mound-hostages-slavin120-400x300
The Mound of the Hostages tomb is magically lit by the Samhain sunshine. Thanks to Mary Gibbon of Newgrange Tours for this “inside” photo

There can be no doubt that, to the people who orchestrated this spectacular event, October 31st was an auspicious day.

Early Irish literature is full of references to this mystical date. Legendary events take place or begin on the night of Samhain.

It was on the night of Samhain that the infamous Fionn Mac Cumhaill was made leader of the mythological army Na Fianna.

Why October 31st?

For the farming and herding communities of Celtic times the end of October was a busy period.  Cattle herds were driven back from the summer pastures. Annual slaughtering of herd animals took place and stock was taken of food supplies. As the harvest ended families and communities made provisions for the oncoming winter. 

Routines and rituals around the winter-preparations naturally sprung up.

At Samhain communities celebrated the end of their hard work. Offerings and possibly sacrifices were made to ward off evil spirits and pray for a mild winter.

Samhain was as spiritual as it was practical. It was a liminal period; a time when the boundary between the living and the otherworld was open. The spirits, fairies or aos sí in Irish could cross over to taunt/ play pranks or deliver messages to the living. In Irish culture fairies were and still are, feared and respected in equal measure.

Each family would leave offerings on their doorstep to appease the fairies and spirits. The tradition of dressing up in spooky costumes to Trick or Treat may have its origins in this culture.

It was believed that the  spirits of  family members who had passed on to the other world could return on this special night. These spirits could leave signs or divinations for their living relatives. A candle was placed in the window to help guide dead relatives back home. What we now call Jack-O-Lanterns were originally carved from turnips. When I was a child we never had pumpkins here in Ireland, they are new to us!

Young girls would place a piece of tissue or cloth under their pillows before bed. Dead relatives might inscribe the name of a future spouse on the tissue/cloth. I can still remember my Mam telling me to do this!

Each family had (most still do)  a Barm Brack or bairín breac in Irish, a traditional Irish fruit cake. Inside the cake a ring is hidden. The person served the slice of cake with the ring will have good fortune and perhaps marry soon.

Modern Halloween

Hundreds of thousands of Irish  fled from famine and poverty in Ireland during the nineteenth century. These immigrants were forced to leave under the most dire and desperate circumstances. When trying to make a new life in America they clung with the melancholy hearts of a lost people to the culture of their home and ancestry.

They continued to celebrate Halloween on the other side of the Atlantic. And America appeased us Irish with our Celtic habits and sad hearts. America adopted and some would say, improved our ancient festival.

The popularity of this holiday illustrates how cultures can successfully blend and enjoy each other’s heritage.

To me, modern day Halloween is the epitome of an Irish-American Festival.

halloween-997307_640

Read more

Wimpy Nights

Wimpy Nights

halloween-1738736_640

Another sleepless one.

My little lady is still itchy. Chicken pox sores can get itchier as they scab over and heal. On top of it she has a bad chest. Autumn seems to aggravate her asthma.

So it was an itchy scratchy coughy night.

She was restless and full of chat. A full audit of all scabs was conducted at 1 am. Detailed status updates of each chicken pox scab were divulged. If it were a subject it would be called “scab evolution”; one which documents the changes in size, itchiness and attachment of each scab.

Estimated scab falling off dates were given. “That one is half attached, I think it will fall off tomorrow” she pointed to one on her neck.

By 2am I’d found the bottle of medicine to help with the itch, only a few drops left. I gave her the inhalers to open up the airways and stop the coughing. All was quiet. Until

“Mam, I can’t sleep”

“I know love, the itch and the coughing will stop soon”

“No, not that”

“Oh?”

“There’s a man in the room. An old man with a stick. Right over there”

And with that she nodded off leaving me feeling wimpier than ever with the bejaysus scared out of me..

old-man-28738_1280