A Family Legacy

On this, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I am finding myself reflecting on one of the most influential women in my life and the legacy that she left behind.

My Granny Marie was a wonderful woman. With a gazillion children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she was a matriarch in so many ways. I remember I used to be fascinated that she could list off all of the family members in order of age, often with their birthdays as well, up until some of the younger great-grandchildren started arriving and the list got too long to keep up.

The whole extended family was centered around her home, a little 3 bedroom bungalow in the countryside, where you went in through the back door, straight into the kitchen, and you might be treated to some culinary delights. There was “gleen glanny gloop” (with or without a spud thrown in for good measure), the best apple tart in the country (yes, apple TART, not apple pie), banana sandwiches, sugar pieces, the best toast (I don’t know why but toast made in Granny’s house was just…. different, somehow), all washed down with “two sups” of tea. At the right time of year, you might find yourself going home with one of her infamous cakes (with or without “curns”) — underappreciated and now, in her absence, sorely missed.

I have memories of the stools she had in her kitchen, round foamy seats covered in leather and metal legs. I’d turn them upside down and sit on them, navigating the stormy seas of the kitchen floor in this makeshift boat. The kind of activity that I’d probably give out to my own daughters for doing, yet making such fond memories that I still think about now. In later years, I remember sitting in the same kitchen, listening to Granny as she shared stories of her childhood, the Blitz, meeting Granda, and lots more. Some of these tales were harrowing, like the death of her little brother as they played on the streets of Belfast, hiding under the stairs with her family as the bombs fell; yet these were told in a very matter-of-fact way. She was a strong lady, they were different times, and you just got on with things. Other memories were funny; hearing the origin of some of the sayings that had found their way into family folklore (like “DO NOT. LET HIM. GET THE MILK!”), all delivered with that wonderful laugh of hers, as she threw her head back in amusement.

As well as a host of stories and interesting food, another thing that you couldn’t miss about Granny was her faith. She was utterly devoted to her family but was equally devoted to God. Walk from the kitchen into the living room and you could see that. Among the various family photos around the walls, you would see the Sacred Heart, pride of place, with the names of her children written underneath. This same image is now displayed in my own home, as it was passed on to me, partly because I asked for it, and partly because I was the one in the family who was “into all that stuff”. 😉

One of my funniest memories of Granny was when I called in to visit her on my way home from uni one day, and noticed something lumpy sitting in her front garden as I drove my scooter down the driveway and parked up in the yard. When I asked her about it, she said not to worry, that was just the Child of Prague. She had put Him outside in the garden to get good weather for such-and-such’s granddaughter’s First Holy Communion the next day. Only, in true practical fashion, she had put Him in a plastic bag so He wouldn’t get wet!

As she shared her memories with me, the faith was brought into things at every turn — instead of dates, important memories were anchored to feast days and holy days, Churches were used as landmarks to set the scene, her seven children each had saints names that held meaning for her.  She told me she prayed for everyone daily, by name, and at one point she would have said all 15 decades of the Rosary (occasionally 20) every day.  In her final days, there were times when family members noticed that her lips were moving in a rhythmic fashion — praying for her family and friends, even then.

Granny passed away on 7 January 2013 (the feast day of St Raymond of Peñafort OP, as I’m sure she would like to have noted) and life simply hasn’t been the same since. Not that it has been all bad, just that it’s not what it was. There are some people whose passing leaves too big a hole to get over, and, like many others, our family has had more than our fair share of grief over the years. But, like Granny herself, we just get on with things. And she has stayed with us over the last 5 years — an unsettled baby calming down upon hearing “Sweet Heart of Jesus”, seeing my own mother pull a particular facial expression or come out with something that Granny would have said, hearing the words “Ask your Mummy does she forget where I live…” 😉

And sure enough, as time goes on I see myself turning into my mother, just as she is turning into hers. But unlike when I was a teenager and the thoughts of that would have horrified me, I’ve come to learn that this is no bad thing.  Anything but. It’s a legacy, I guess. Whether that takes the form of passing on the baton of faith to the next generation, rocking a child on your knee as you sing “Shush Wee Toady” (to the tune of Stabat Mater, no less) or knowing how to make a lovely pot of “gleen glanny gloop” in the depths of winter, it’s a legacy that I’m happy to be party to. And hopefully, when the time comes, I’ll do as good a job at passing on that legacy of faith, family and love to my own girls as my mother and grandmother did.

 

Pics are all mine.  Please don’t use without permission.
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The Royal College of Bystanders

So, let me let you in on a little secret.  Kids don’t always behave well at Mass.  But sometimes the best thing to do is to just pretend nothing is happening….  Unless you’re willing to roll your sleeves up, muck in and give the poor frazzled parents a break.  Or are able to provide strait jackets in junior sizes, we’re not fussy.

(Sometimes even their Guardian Angel needs to sit them down and read them the riot act…)

 

Sunday morning turned out to be a bit of a washout around here, which meant that we had to load up the whole posse and head to evening Mass up in Belfast. We had a lovely visit with the grandparents beforehand and stopped off in Boojum for something to eat. (Forecast for the next 24 hours was wind. ‘Nuff said.) Tired + Hungry is always a recipe for disaster, so at least we scratched one of those off the list.

So. I lined #5 up with a tube feed and put her in her buggy so she wouldn’t try to do her celebrated impression of a demented octopus, which, when it’s feeding time, inevitably leads to vomit.

So far so good, right? Well. Here’s how things panned out for us.

#4 did a poo (perfect timing), so The Old Progenitor brought her out to the car to change her.

#3 and #1, who were sitting next to each other, started pulling faces at each other. I quietly hissed at them (as only a mother can do) to stop it. right. this. second. They didn’t. #3 started acting up, so, as The Old Progenitor and #4 returned, I took #3 and #5 to the back of the Church.

#3 started demanding loudly that I LET GO OF HER HAND RIGHT NOW so we went out into the porch where I proceeded to silently stare her down (until I was on the verge of laughing at her incredibly cute pout) before asking if she was ready to behave yet. We returned to the pew.

#5, who had been enjoying the little stroll around the back of the Church, started objecting vociferously to the fact that we were now standing still. I mean, what gives?! Rocking the buggy back and forth? Do you honestly think I’m going to fall for that old chestnut? After 5 minutes of walking around, I figured we could safely return to the pew. I figured wrong. By way of protest, #5 proceeded to stick her fingers into her mouth, trigger her very delicate gag reflex, and throw up on herself. Out to the car we go to get tidied up. Aaaaaaand back to the pew.

Now, while Littlest Missy and I were off on our wild adventures, don’t be fooled into thinking that The Old Progenitor was having it easy back there. Cushy little number, sitting there saying his prayers with 4 of his adoring daughters around him, right? Well, I’m not entirely sure what was going down in my absence, but I returned just as #4 was yelling “YOU’RE A BIG MEANIE!!!” at him, during the Consecration. Also, it turns out #3 wasn’t ready to behave after all, as she kept pinching, poking and badgering #1. She’d wait for things to settle down and then pinch her again. Fun times.

So, Daddy’s turn to bring #3 up to the back, while #5 copped on that we weren’t on the move anymore and #4 went from (loudly) asking “What is making that NOISE?!” (the choir) to yelling “I DON’T WANT YOU, I WANT DADDY!” before sticking her thumb in her mouth and putting her head on my chest. It was short lived — she joined her Daddy and big sis at the back, and we made a hasty retreat to the car as soon as the choir had finished shining their little lights. (I am incredibly grateful that #1 did NOT keep her promise to sing it the whole way home…)

The Old Progenitor proceeded to inform me that another Mass-goer had accosted him on the way out to give him “parenting advice”. Y’know. The kind of advice that comes from someone who has just been appointed a fellow of the Royal College of Bystanders. (We came to the conclusion that their mascot is a high horse, by the way.)

Like, srsly. Instead of criticizing a family struggling with lots of little kids who are tired, fractious and getting on each other’s nerves at the end of a long, hot day (and that was just us), how about lending a hand? A friendly word to a child who is acting out could be enough to stop them in their tracks and let Mummy or Daddy catch their breath. Instead of telling a parent how they should be reacting, how about stopping to think about how YOU are reacting? Because, as the saying goes, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all!

 

P.S.  On the up side, #2, who is usually in the thick of it when it comes to making trouble around here, was sweetness and light yesterday.  Wonders never cease!!

P.P.S.  Sorry, Father.  I didn’t catch a word of your homily.  But I’m sure it was great!!

 

Grumpy Gargoyle and Baboon Photos from Visualhunt.com
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Naomi, Abortion & the Irish 8th Amendment

It’s been hard to ignore the fact that the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment is taking place in Ireland in the next few days — a referendum which, if it goes through, would strip the unborn baby of the right to life, equal to that of his or her mother. It’s an issue that invokes a lot of emotion, understandably so, and I’ve seen a huge amount of name calling and mud slinging going on all over social media over the last while. It’s made me very reluctant to wade in and say my piece, but I think in these final days before the votes will be cast, it’s time to tell you about our little miracle.

Meet Naomi.

Naomi is the youngest of 5 beautiful, crazy girls.

(They’re insane.  But in the best way possible.)

Here are the girls with their baby sister the day we got her home from the hospital…

However, this wasn’t the first time they met Naomi.  They first met her 130 days earlier when she was born at 26 weeks and 4 days, weighing a mere 685g.  That’s 1lb 8oz.  Not even a bag of sugar.

(That’s Naomi down at the bottom of the picture.  We had dolls at home that were bigger than her.)

See, like with the last 2 out of her 4 big sisters, I developed pre-eclampsia, among other health issues.  Each time it would kick in earlier and be more severe than the last time.  With  this pregnancy it was so severe that the doctors were starting to doubt themselves, wondering if it even was pre-eclampsia.  I have always been anything but textbook when it comes to medical issues in pregnancy!

My first two pregnancies went to term (42 weeks and 39 weeks) and were relatively straightforward.  With #3, the issues began, but I made it to 37 weeks before delivery.  With #4, things started off earlier, and we got to 33 weeks before the benefits of delivering the baby outweighed the benefits of keeping her in any longer.  So, when my blood pressure started misbehaving at 22 weeks to the point of needing medication, things did not bode well for our little #5.  In fact, within a few days I had finished work and was in hospital, where I remained until Naomi arrived.

Now, why does all this remind me of the Eighth Amendment referendum?  Well, we’ve heard all about the hard cases, we’ve heard that they want to bring in abortion up to 12 weeks for any reason under the sun, up to 24 weeks/viability for “fatal foetal abnormalities”, and up to birth when it is likely (greater than 50% chance) that the baby will die.

We got Naomi to 26 weeks.  That’s the point where the scales tip from there being a 50% chance to an 80% chance of survival… But we were on a knife edge the whole time.  I was transferred from my local hospital to another hospital (with the regional NICU) at 24 weeks because I was in immediate danger of having a stroke and they thought they’d have to deliver that night.  If they had, there would have been a 39% chance of survival.  If it had been a day earlier, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation, that would have been a 17% chance and they might not have intervened.  It was the expertise of several consultants (and a cocktail of different medications) that helped us get another two weeks, improving the odds massively.  I was being monitored very very closely, with the team ready to act at the drop of a hat…  Which they did, in order to save both my life and our daughter’s life, once things had gone as long as they could.

We knew that our girl was going to be born very early, so as a result we knew that there was a high likelihood of there being issues.  Possibly big ones.  And once my BP went AWOL at 22 weeks, we knew that was likely to happen within the month.  In a different time, in a different place, to different parents, that baby would have been aborted due to issues they might possibly have.

On day one, we were sat down and told that our precious Naomi was a very sick little girl.  She had a grade 4 bleed on her brain (and in the following days, had another grade 4 bleed on the other side), extremely premature lungs, and wasn’t responding to treatment.  If she survived, and that seemed to be a very big if, she was likely to be profoundly disabled, wouldn’t be able to interact with us, wouldn’t have any quality of life worth talking about.

When I first got to see our youngest, it was while she was hooked up to a high frequency ventilator (oscillator) and on 100% oxygen.

 

Just that morning, I had been treated to a quick 3D scan, and saw this precious little face looking at me.

A few hours later, she was on the outside, still the same precious little face, our beautiful girl.

That evening, she was visited by her sisters, her grandparents, and her big cousin, and, very importantly for us, by a friend of ours, Fr Martin, who baptised her.  We let our friends know what was going on and asked them to pray.  And pray they did.  The prayers started flowing in from all over the world — thousands and thousands of people — it was very overwhelming yet very comforting.  And, against the odds, she stabilised and made it through the night.  And the next day.  And the next night.  And she started to improve ever so slightly….

And we dared to hope.  Because at the end of the day, God loves her way more than we ever could.  She’d either get better or she wouldn’t, but nobody could have looked us in the eye and told us that our lives were better off without her in it, even for a short period of time.  One doctor told us that all these scans, all these tests, they only show a part of the picture, they never tell the whole story.  Sometimes a child with a devastating MRI (like Naomi’s) can be fine, maybe a slight limp, and a child whose MRI is “not too bad” can be profoundly disabled.  We were definitely blessed to have doctors who were more than willing to be proven wrong on how they thought the outcome would be.

She was not the smallest, earliest, or sickest baby in the NICU at that time.  Two of her little buddies are 24 weekers, another wasn’t quite as early but has very complex issues, and another little boy we know of (different hospital though) was born insanely early, at 22 weeks.  Two weeks before what is considered “viable”.  He’s now a gorgeous, cheeky one year old.

 

The next several months were a rollercoaster.  One step forward, two steps back…  We nearly lost her several times, she would come on leaps and bounds and then have a setback.  We learned to take one day at a time and to find something positive in each day.  Some days that would be “She’s on room air today!” and other days it would be “Well, she’s still alive.”  And alive she was!  The nurses referred to her as “feisty”, which usually translated to her pulling out her tubes and batting them off when they tried to do anything.  (Some things haven’t changed!)

We got her home after 4.5 months, hopping off one rollercoaster and onto another.  It hasn’t always been easy but it has most definitely been wonderful.  It was never guaranteed that she would ever be able to do anything, so every smile, every giggle, every crawling-over-and-pulling-her-sister’s-hair… we rejoice in all the little things because we don’t take them for granted.  And, as it turns out, 20 months down the line, we’re yet to see any of these massive disabilities that we were told she would have.  She has an NG tube for feeding, as she has some issues with her weight, but otherwise we haven’t had any major issues.

How many Naomi’s will be aborted if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, by parents who are being told that their lives will be better off without going through the heartache of having their child die?  We’re being told repeatedly to “trust women to do the right thing” -what makes us think that Irish women are going to be any different to anywhere else in the world where abortion has been introduced, initially under restrictive terms?

However, we trusted our littlest woman to fight for her life, and look at her now.

 

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And So It Begins…

After working away in the background of TCC for the last couple of years, I’ve taken the leap and joined the giddy throng.  My apologies that the site is not as I’d like it to be; things are rather hastily thrown together and I’ll be tidying up as I go along (or shoving it under the bed… whichever works).

(Disclaimer:  That’s not me.  Or our house.  And our house would never be as clean as that in a million years.  Perhaps you’ve missed the part where we have 5 kids…)

 

But in the meantime, in the interest of getting something out there, here you go.  Our new blog, about life with 5 children and hopefully a wee bit of wit to keep you coming back for more. 🙂

 

 

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/cleaner-bed-the-push-rod-2537314/
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