Santa Etiquette

I had a light-bulb moment while caught up in the flurry of ferrying my shockingly ungrateful festively delighted offspring to various Christmas Experiences and Extravaganzas.   What was  I doing?  What were WE all doing?  How has Christmas become this event that requires booking tickets months in advance, scouring reviews of the quality of different Santa beards and the likelihood of there being mulled wine for over-wrought parents?

What did we all do before someone decorated a log cabin in sparkly lights and hauled us around on the back of a tinsel bedecked tractor?  Can we say that we experienced Christmas properly?  Did we realise how deprived we were as children; oblivious in our shopping centre queues as we happily snaked along while looking at Christmas scenes as we waited to see Santa?  Where were the ice-rinks, the cookie decorating stations, the reindeer food making stands? Where was Mrs Claus when we needed her? Is there someone we can speak to about compensation for the lack of extravaganza?

By the time the Elf on the Shelf retires back to the North Pole, my children will have seen Santa on no less than FOUR separate occasions.  Four.  And with each Santa visit comes a gift or selection box.  To be honest,  I’m having a hard time keeping up my parental duty of saving them from all the sugar and helping out.  There is a Santa set up in both our workplaces, and Santa also visits the creche.  These are wonderful and totally adequate to tick the “See Santa” box, and next year I will resist the pressure temptation to take it any further and drag our Christmas Jumper adorned selves to a more formal “experience”.  Paying close to €60 (or more in some places) for a family of four is taking advantage of Festive Fever infected parents  (don’t even get me started on the fact that adults and babies have to have tickets purchased in most cases too).

Santa has been the number one topic of conversation for parents of enthralled children for weeks now.   And what has surprised me most is the different approaches the man in the red suit takes in each family.  It’s getting hard to keep up with all the permutations and combinations.  This goes further than the “Does Santa wrap presents in your house?” debate?  (for the record, in my house – no)

While I usually live by the “each to their own” and “wouldn’t life be very boring if we were all the same” approach to life, I have to say I struggle with the “Santa brings a small present, they get the big gifts from us” brigade.   The magical window is so narrow and they are only small and at that wonderful stage for such a short period of their lives; just let Santa have the glory.  Your time will come, your role will be noted.  It’s all about how Santa will bring something Mammy and Daddy would never in a million years buy their child, not about getting the credit.

My daughter noticed that we don’t get her a present at Christmas and asked why, I just explained that she gets plenty from everyone else and that when she is old enough to not have Santa coming to her, I will give her a Christmas present then.  She said she will never want Santa to stop coming, so I said that was fine, I won’t ever have to get her a gift so.  I don’t think she feels any less loved because I don’t personally hand over a present on Christmas morning.  It doesn’t take from her enjoyment one bit.

There is also the “Santa sends us the bill” approach.  I can see the usefulness of this when kids get a bit older and are making very expensive requests, it will no doubt serve its purpose in helping to make it more likely to meet expectations.  So parents of those asking for iPhone 7, laptops, X-Boxes and unicorns – I salute you.

I am told that as children get older and wiser, Christmas is just never the same.   I will do my very best to keep the  magic alive and wring out every last drop of wonder.

Only 5 more sleeps till Santa!!!


Want to be a better mother? Get a FitBit!

Fitness trackers adorn the wrists of adults going about their daily business all over the place.  They jiggle up and down as grown ups power through the day.  There is a dazzling array of options when it comes to the style, design and various functions offered.  I think in the day of increasing obesity rates and health problems, anything that encourages us to move more is to be praised.

It’s easy to scoff at them and ask what purpose they serve, aren’t we all adults who should be able to take personal responsibility for being active already?  I used to think like that, that if you needed an electronic device to make you realise you can’t spend all day sitting, then there were bigger issues.

But now I feel sorry for the people who think like that, they will never know the dizzying heights of feeling your wrist buzz as the Fitbit announces you are AMAZING and have reached your daily target!  It’s quite a special moment, fireworks shoot across the display and the smugness spreads with the vibrations of the device.  You have taken on a daily target and won, you rock.

I didn’t realise just how target driven I am until I got my own tracker.  I was confident that I was hitting that 10,000 steps a day target easily.  It seems that for the most part I was, but on those wet days where it isn’t so easy to be out and about, it seemed there was room for improvement.

Maybe I’ve become a bit of a slave to the tracker and the reward of seeing my progress being monitored.  But in doing so, I have found that it means I am more enthusiastic to hop up and go, especially with the kids.   On top of the daily steps goal, there are also other targets you can set for stairs climbed, active minutes etc. and if you manage to tick all those boxes there are extra stars flashing for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing….

So in trying to hit those magic numbers, I have found that with the kids I am more amenable to certain suggestions and requests that I think is making me a better mother.

  1. If we can walk rather than drive, we walk.  We were already fairly good at walking to school, local shop, playground but now I’m extra conscious to grab the buggy rather than the car keys.
  2. Chase the kids around on the green?  Bring it on!
  3. If someone wants to go the long way to look at buses, it’s all good!  Buses and steps!
  4. If somebody has left their shoes upstairs, no problem!  A quick sprint up the stairs adds both steps and stairs climbed!  And when you hand over the shoes, the other one says their teddy is on their bed – no eye rolling or moaning.  Back up the stairs with me!
  5. Dancing with the kids adds active minutes and steps 🙂  Shake your money maker!
  6. I make a bigger effort to get out myself for a longer walk regularly, which is not only good from an exercise point of view but also a good opportunity for some head space.
  7. I go to bed earlier now I am more aware of my sleep patterns courtesy of the sleep tracking function.  What parent isn’t going to benefit from more sleep?
  8. There aren’t any medals in the parenting arena, so I will take what little round of applause I can get.  If that’s from the fitness tracker, so be it.
  9. All the above add up to a more active lifestyle, and that’s only going to make me feel better.

My seven year old is fascinated by the Fitbit, so much so that I got her a simple kids version online.  While she was showing her friends, someone accidentally reset her daily steps taken….. So what did she do?  Ran laps around the green to get them back!

With Christmas looming I’m sure there will be many mamas opening gifts of fitness trackers; I’ll keep an eye out for you ploughing around the park on St. Stephen’s Day while clocking your step count 🙂


Elf on the Shelf – Lazy magical tips

Festive spirit is starting to weave its magic and infect everyone and everything in its path.  Shock at the fact that is is nearly December shows on faces as they mentally calculate how many shopping days left.  Black Friday saw hordes of unnecessary, panic purchases made that at least didn’t weigh as heavily on bank balances as another day.

December is making her way around the corner, I can hear her plodding along cheerily, humming away. And she sounds to me like an elf.  I think perhaps December 1st is almost as revered in my house as the 25th. The elf makes her grand annual entrance that morning and will proceed to enthral the children and haunt the adults until Santa himself spirits her away with him.

The elf of the shelf seems like such a magical tradition to welcome.  Santa lets loose an army of scout elves to take up residence in homes all over the world and report back to North Pole HQ on the high-jinx of the children they spy on.  It serves as a cautionary measure to encourage good behaviour but more so as a fun game of “find the elf” each morning.

So as I enter my third year of welcoming the little sprite into our home, I have a few helpful suggestions to other elf-hosts.

  1. If you don’t already have an elf, don’t get one.  Simple as that.  You can thank me later.
  2. If you do already have one, my biggest piece of advice is to make sure the little bugger is stashed safely somewhere you will clearly remember when November 30th rolls around.  Otherwise there will be a panicked phase where you realise you have no idea where to find it, with D-Day quickly approaching.  Putting it with the Christmas decorations in the attic is a sound choice; making sure it is at the very top of the storage box is even better.
  3. Have a lazy elf.  Nobody wants an over-achiever showing off.  If the kids become used to elaborate set ups every morning, you will only have to keep working harder.  Stick him on a different shelf each day.  Does exactly what it says on the tin.
  4. Set a reminder in your phone to make sure you move the pest each night before you go to bed.  Having to drag yourself from a warm bed when you’re half asleep to move a stuffed toy is far from fun.
  5. In my house the elf is under strict instructions to remain downstairs.  This has a two fold benefit – it means I don’t run the risk of the kids waking as I try to perch the damn thing in their bedrooms, and also that they have no expectation of it being found in their room.
  6. While I do regret every starting the elf on the shelf tradition, it’s not all hassle.  I find it’s hard enough to get the kids out of bed on a December morning ordinarily, but the “where will the elf be today?” question has them jumping out without the usual drama.
  7. There are loads of inventive Pinterest type articles which will give ideas of what to do with your elf.  Every year I marvel at them and the time and talent some parents have to put into this.  Don’t dwell too long on these posts, find yourself a “Simple elf on the shelf ideas” post and bookmark it.  If you find one of those calendars which tells you where to move him/her each night to take away any head-scratching, bingo!

If men had periods…

Clutching a hot water bottle, I held on to the bag of maltesers like they were a life-saving ring tossed to me in choppy waters.  I set up camp on the sofa and moaned about cramps and the likes to himself.  He told me he had never come across someone who suffered so much with periods… (he wasn’t being sympathetic here, he probably had spotted the Maltesers earlier and hoped to have some too).  For the record, I don’t suffer to the point that some women do, my complaints were run of the mill.

His comment got me thinking, did he genuinely believe other girls and women sail through periods and I am an exception?  And why wouldn’t be think otherwise?  I asked him how many other women routinely spoke to him about their periods; he was silenced and I was now under no obligation to share the maltesers.  In the general course of things, we don’t discuss our periods and associated issues with men in our circle of family, friends and colleagues other than close friends and partners.

Men are in the dark about the monthly hormonal roller-coasters, cramps and general discomfort (when you’re getting off lightly) that a considerable chunk of the population experience.  How are they meant to properly understand what we are going through when so much of it is hidden from public view?  I’m not suggesting we all talk incessantly to anyone and everyone about menstruation, it is a personal experience and every woman has her own feelings on how much she wants to share.  But if you do want to talk more about it, why not?

So as I ruminated further and inhaled the Maltesers (wondering if we had a straw and I could try that trick from the ad?)  What would life be like if men were the ones who had a monthly visit from Aunt Flo?

I realise that periods are part and parcel of being a woman and that if no woman ever had a period, no woman would ever have a baby.  Or would that mean all women were just pregnant all the time?  Anyway, you know what I mean.  I also know that there are biological differences here and men aren’t about to start bleeding monthly from their nether regions.  However, for the sake of pondering an alternate universe where the hormonal roller-coaster is ridden only by men let’s think about how it might play out.

  1. When a boy got his first period, he would get a present, and a party.  Maybe a presidential congratulatory note.
  2. Each month, there would be a delivery of sanitary products, pain-killers and chocolate courtesy of the Government.  No man would be out of pocket as a result of his period.
  3. Period days off work would be a protected employment right.
  4. Men would talk freely about cramps and other period issues without caring if anyone heard.
  5. Telling your boss that you have a doctor’s appointment because of “men’s issues” would not cause both parties to break out in a sweat and go beetroot.
  6. There would be no annoying names like Aunt Flo, That Time of the Month, the Crimson Wave and other nick-names that demote the reality to something fluffier; and any man-period nick names would be hard core, properly representing
  7. Tampons would not be hidden up sleeves on the way to the ladies
  8. Sanitary bins in toilet cubicles would never, ever be full or overflowing.  If this was to happen, there would be serious penalties imposed.
  9. There would be no “funny” comments made such as “oh don’t mind, he has his period” to try and down-play his reactions or opinions.  That man is dealing with his biological issues, there is no need to try and disrespect him.  He should be revered.
  10. PMT would be understood by the women watching their men folk fall apart over a toilet roll ad or losing the plot when they can’t find their favourite pair of fluffy socks.

How the number of children affects society

It doesn’t.

There you go, it’s nobody else’s business how many children you have.

That’s the short answer, if you’ve just popped in quickly to see what I have to say on the matter. Here you will find no arguments over global warming, over-crowding, snow-flake children, pensioners needing more tax payers to prop up the welfare system in their old age…

Your reproductive choices are not open to public discussion, comment or approval. That’s the bottom line.

I guarantee you that no matter how many, or how few, children a woman has, there is a comment considered appropriate to her family situation. How many of the following have you heard?

“Ah you can’t just have the one, it would be cruel to deprive little Barry of a sibling.”

“A boy and a girl! Perfect, the gentleman’s family; you’re done now so.”

“They’ve no children, just the pair of them in that house. Wouldn’t you think they’d get a move on?”

“So, do you think you’ll have another?”

“Pregnant again? Don’t you have two at home already?”

“Only children are selfish adults and can’t share.”

“Are you going to go again for the girl?”

“Are they all from the same father? Jaysus.”

“A fourth? Don’t you know what’s causing it?”

“That poor father, living in that house of girls. Wouldn’t you think the wife would try again for a son?”

Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, in people’s hearts and a couple’s relationship. I know that for the most part people are just making conversation, idle chit-chat to pass the time while waiting for the bus to arrive.

But for those of us in the trenches, with young kids and not so young kids, chances are we know someone who is trying desperately to get pregnant; someone who would love another baby; someone who suffered a miscarriage or endured the tragedy of losing a child.

Personally, as a result of being more aware of the experiences I have seen people wade through, I am more sensitive of how comments I may have flippantly made in the past might now cut a little close to the heart for some people.

I think before I speak.

I’m not some kill joy who wants everyone reading from a set list of conversational topics, keen to stamp every interaction with a large “PC approved” label. These throwaway comments are made without any hidden agenda, but sometimes watching to see how they are received can make all the difference.

There are so many comments that can be made that are a safe zone; simply saying that someone’s children are lovely and must bring so much happiness is fail safe. No probing comments there. And if the little darlings before you aren’t acting quite so darling, then a simple “How old are they?” is enough to break the ice and open up a conversation.



An ode to The Green

To many it is a seemingly innocuous, irregularly shaped, grass-filled space. To my children and the neighbour’s children, it is an imagination playground. You might drive by in your car, reading house numbers and trying to find your destination, totally missing the magic that is happening right outside your car window.  The wonder that is The Green (or The Field as you may know it).  Suburban housing estates throughout the country boast similar spaces, an enclave of greenery in the middle of rows of houses.  An oasis of opportunity.


I realise this is more appropriate to us urban dwellers and the countryside folk with their large areas of outdoor space will probably scratch their heads.

But space isn’t just simply space; a shared space can take on extra qualities.

This is never more evident when children of all ages congregate and find ways and means to play together, sometimes amicably, sometimes with squabbles – all skills that will help them mix with others.  On the green in front of my house, my two year old can find himself part of a game with a group of kids that range up to eleven years old.  While he is highly unlikely to be following the rules and is most probably just chasing them all around as fast as his little legs will carry him, he is delighted to be included.  Equally, when one of the “big girls” says hello and waves at my seven year old on the way to school, I can see her puff up with pride.

The green is about belonging, about finding their place in a small world that offers a taste of independence.  Parents patrol the green, clutching steaming cups of tea and coffee while they supervise the younger ones from the sidelines.  Adult friendships are cultivated sitting on the wall chatting while the kids use pavement chalk to decorate the path.  It’s not just about children.  I have come to meet more of my neighbours during my time following the toddler in his attempts to keep up with the older children than I would otherwise.  Neighbours who aren’t chasing children of their own stop to talk, remember a time they spent with their now grown up children in the same space or simply commenting how nice it is to see children playing.  It is a space that encourages community.

Numerous “studies” bemoaning the state of childhood today berate the lack of outdoor play for children.  The Green helps counteract such a fate.  Children freely climb (and fall from) trees, helped and encouraged by the older ones who have mastered the art of those particular branches before them.  The games of our own childhood are repeated and enjoyed.  Impromptu performances of plays concocted require urgent parental attendance.  There are few props and toys in use, the majority of the play comes from the minds of the players, inspired by the area around them.

My seven year old takes off in the evenings the moment the car doors are opened, off to play with whoever else is roaming about.  She is old enough now to not require constant supervision and it is wonderful to watch her blossom and her confidence grow from my vantage point inside the sitting room window.  While she enjoys having her little brother along too, most of her daily timetable is dictated by his requirements so it is important that she has that outlet, just for her.  Boys and girls, young and older play together.  Finding common ground and learning from one another.  It does my heart good to watch the gaggle of children tear from one end of The Green to the other, all shouting in unison and rushing to escape whatever imagined villain is pursuing them.

We feel exceptionally lucky in the neighbours we share The Green with; its value is appreciated and savoured.  There has been community BBQs with kiddie sports days organised.  Afternoon birthday parties have been celebrated that bled into the evening with take-away pizzas ordered so as to allow the adults stay out enjoying the company.  Picnic blankets and folding chairs appear at the peripheries of the space on sunny days as the adults gather to chat and enjoy the weather while the kids play.  It is the heart of our community, and in a time where community is a struggling concept, I will cling to The Green.


Dads don’t babysit

Men are not dogs.  I’m convinced this is the root of this problem; somewhere along the way I remember “advice” circulating that recommended approaching men’s behaviour as you would your dog.  Reward good behaviour and ignore the bad.  Simple!  Soon your man would be cooking up a cordon bleu storm in the kitchen and sorting the laundry like a pro.  We have been told they respond better to positive feedback, and therefore to stop pointing out the negatives.  This in insulting to all concerned.

Things have gotten out of hand.  It needs to stop.  I am taking one for the team and I will confess that my husband does not get trained as a dog.  He gets criticism, both negative and positive.  I’m sure he would argue the positive comments are few and far between, but I believe he is sometimes coming from a place where he expects to be applauded for putting down the toilet seat.

The generation of women before us play no small part in this.  I imagine I’m not the only one who constantly hears admiring grannies, aunties and random women in the park comment on how great the fathers of today are.

It’s not helping ladies, please stop.

Praise is a helpful tool in encouraging progress and growth.  But it needs to be balanced. In this case, there is no balance.  Daddies are fantastic for simply being present and playing with their kids, changing a nappy or wiping dirty faces.  And unlike dogs, men perfectly understand language and take all this on board.

They have internalised the notion that they are doing an amazing job and sure wouldn’t their own mammy have given her right arm to have his father tell him a bedtime story every second night?  The mother of his own children is lucky to have him!  Look at him flex his fatherly muscles and reward himself with a cool beer in recognition of his parenting feats.

Except they’re not parenting feats; it’s quite often not even an equal division of parental and household labour between father and mother.

There’s probably an up-ended box of Lego at his feet as he puts them up to better enjoy his beer.  Chances are there is a permission slip from school to be signed on the kitchen table that he walked past as he opened the beer, or a birthday present to be wrapped on the counter as he sought out the bottle opener.  He doesn’t see any of it.  His job as a better-than-ever father is done.  Story read and toddler asleep.  Self-congratulatory beer in one hand and remote control in the other, he’s earned it.

I fully appreciate that the fathers of today are more engaged with and active in the upbringing of their children than our own fathers and those before them – which is wonderful and to everyone’s benefit.  But that’s not the only change and it needs to be viewed as part of the bigger social picture.  Mothers “back then” did more child-rearing and household management in general (I’m making sweeping statements here, I realise it’s not a one size fits all situation but it’s not possible to discuss each and every variation throughout) but they didn’t tend to be employed outside of the home.  The home was their workplace.

Mothers these days are more likely to be working outside the home, commuting to an office where they have to be present and capable in the same way as fathers are expected to.  Yet I don’t hear the platitudes about how amazing mothers are, creating such examples for their daughters and sons, contributing to the household finances.   Why not?  A mother’s role has changed as much as a fathers.

Stay-at-home mothers don’t have it as easy as the ones before them either.  There is a ticking schedule of play-dates, extra-curricular activities, and god knows what else to ferry small people to and from.  There is more pressure than ever on the sort of food the children “should” be fed, screen time, social media and a whole other host of worries that simply didn’t exist before.

Mothers needs fathers to pull their weight – and in saying this I am not saying that a lot of fathers are not pulling their weight, but that is is needed.  Not because they will be rewarded and praised, but because it’s their job!  If we keep telling fathers how fantastic they are for “minding the kids” or “baby-sitting” when in fact all they are doing is parenting their own children, they seem to believe they are going above and beyond what is expected of them.  It’s akin to praising a child for learning a-b-c and then never encouraging them to continue with the rest of the alphabet.

We are selling our men short, they are capable of much more.