Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It is horrific that the Pope appears to have blamed the Irish "problem" on poor training. As a practicing Catholic, I just don't know what to do with myself these days. I want to continue to practice my religion - and for my children to "enjoy" the benefits of ritual and (my a-la-carte- non papist) spiritual code that they get from being in the Church - but I am so ASHAMED of being in any way a part of such an immoral, corrupt organization. I wish some decent members of the clergy would just have the courage to break themselves off entirely. Perhaps those of us still going to mass, at least partly because we are trapped in a school culture of religion, need to really stand up and make a big stand. Ordinary catholic people - and most priests are horrified by all of this. But as they say, it only takes for good men to do nothing for evil to take hold. Someone need to organize a Mass Protest. One Sunday when, instead of going to mass, we all stand outside - catholics, priests, all the people of all the religions - or no religion, - all the people of Ireland stand outside the catholic churches in silence for the shame and sorrow we feel for the victims of clerical abuse. All money donated goes to victim support. not one single penny, from one single church in Ireland goes to Rome that Sunday. That would wake the bastard up - and you can be sure it will be the only thing that will.

Monday, February 22, 2010

bred to work

Bred to work

“Any fool can get married and have a baby,” I remember my mother saying to me as a teenager. “Work” was the mantra of my mother’s generation as they drove the ideal of independence into our skulls from birth. Their daughter’s career was our mothers holy grail. Proof that generations of oppression was over, the women’s revolution complete and women were finally “free”.

Well that didn’t last long. In a recent survey it was revealed that young mothers between the ages of 18 and 34 are fuelling a switch towards homemaking as an aspirational lifestyle choice. Put bluntly, the next generation doesn’t want to go out to work anymore. They want to stay home like our grandmothers, decorating cupcakes, potting up jam for the farmer’s market and spending quality time with their children. The lifespan of the “Amazing Juggling Woman” is over. We made it look too hard.

And it is hard. Our mothers wanted us to be independent from men – but they equated independence entirely with money. So while we no longer rely on men for cash, now that we are working, we need them more than ever in so many more ways than before. The monthly wage packet no longer buys them their slippers by the fire. We need them to empty the dishwasher, and forgo their Saturday sports to take the kids off our hands so we can scrub the kitchen. Men have gone from being the petrol that fuelled the household machine, to being an essential cog in the wheel. Except now it only works when it is prodded and pushed and we have to provide half the petrol ourselves. Did our mothers honestly think that men were going to step up to the plate and take fifty percent of the fall out from a battle that was, frankly, not theirs?

My parents were both teachers. My mother worked locally, my father in the city. So every morning he would leave the house an hour earlier than my mother with his paper tucked under his arm and get the tube to work. My mother had to wash, dress, and feed and transport three of us to school, leaving the baby at home with her mother. After school she had to take us all home, feed us and do our homework and by the time my father got home, exhausted, less one hour after she did, have a hot meal ready on the table and his slippers by the fire.

The truth is she was so thrilled to be allowed to work (her own mother was a trained teacher who had to, by law, give up work in Ireland after she got married) that she didn’t take all the other ‘work’ into account. The unpaid, thankless work that women had been doing since time began, so low was the self-worth of our mother’s generation that they barely noticed that they were now bringing home the bacon and cooking it.

The drudgery of cleaning and cooking and child-rearing that had trapped women in their houses until the 1960’s it has now transpired was actually very important, and very skilled labor. So skilled, in fact, that we now need television programs to show us how to clean our toilets, and rear our children and cook our dinners. The most basic housekeeping skills, like working out how much money you have to spend each week and sticking to it, seem to have completely eluded us. Debt? Our grandmothers did not know what that meant. For them it meant your children must have been starving with the hunger and some evil landlord was trying to “come to an arrangement.” Could they have ever imagined their granddaughters would be stupid enough to spend half a month’s wages on a handbag and the other on Marks & Spencer’s ready meals? Or throw a perfectly good blouse out because of a missing button, or not know how to bake a batch of buns without looking up a lavishly illustrated cookbook. Or how about this - having to leave the house on a wet night to join fellow women in a “knitting” club – because if you try and sty at home and do it your attention craved kids are hanging out of you so much you feel like poking them with the needle.

Our mothers wanted to go out to work for all sorts of reasons. Independence, freedom, fulfillment – but mainly they wanted to do it because men did it and their work was more valued in society.In actual fact, men were not valued because of the work they did outside the home, but simply because they were men. And you have to value and respect men because they have ridiculous egos and if you don’t value them and thank them and tell them they are marvelous – they won’t do anything. They set the rules, but in reality, if men don’t feel valued and important, they won’t do anything.

So we set a new rule saying, we’ll go out to work too (if you do fifty percent of the house and kids stuff. Ok – do thirty and I’ll pretend it’s fifty. Hell – I’ll pretend it’s eighty!) and in one generation we have reversed the situation so that a man who allows his wife to stay at home and keep house is doing her a favor. Economically, the woman who has time to stay home and cook her kids a dinner from scratch is not down-trodden but privileged. Menu-planning and having the time to steam clean your upholstery is a luxury ladies. I remember my poor, emancipated mother looking on aghast one Saturday afternoon as I modeled my new Anthropologie apron and my sisters and I discussed brownie recipes and Good Housekeeping tips. (Keep your bin liners in the bottom of your bin – oh, oh – a bowl of lemon juice and water to freshen the microwave.) “ I made sure you were educated so you’d discuss Proust – or at least current affairs!” We reminded her that as full time working mothers, we barely have time to read the newspapers never mind discuss them. Our homes and children have become our recreation. Our aspiration is not longer to be more intelligent, or accomplished but to become more “homey”. Money has outlived its promise as a means towards independence or even a designer handbag. What we want money to buy us now is time, the time to sit around our perfectly managed kitchens discussing current affairs. The time to not feel guilty about the amount of time we’re not spending with our kids. The time to give our cutlery drawer a right good clear out without eating into a precious Sunday afternoon. Enough time to feel that being a good mother and earning and income is not an either/or decision. Our mother’s told us we would need to learn to “juggle our lives”. Not that hard. You’ve got dishwashers now, the men are great nowadays – they’ll help out, cook a dinner with one hand tied behind your back, microwave some chips – that’ll do them. After a generation of trying to hold it all together frankly, we’ve already dropped a few balls and now we’ve discovered they were the one’s marked “cup cakes” and “cuddle baby all day”. Balls marked “2 Hour Commute” and “Midnight empty-dishwasher” we’re still endlessly throwing round, and round, and round.

We’re not fighting for our right to work any more, we’re fighting for our right to knit.

Our grandmothers thought going to work was important because men did it and that staying at home was rubbish because it was what women did. Our mother’s told us working was great. What they neglected to tell us was that women had been keeping the show on the road for centuries. That our skills as homemakers were important. That the gentle crafts of sewing and knitting – quietly embroidering tray-cloths with our family initials, pickling our summer fruits were worth something. That they were not simply things we had to do, but creative occupations that added as much value to family life as they money the men bought it. Or, as we are discovering now, more.

It seems we have screwed up the fight so much that the next generation of women want to take us back in time. The pressure of the modern working mother is turning them into Stepford Wives.

Maybe instead of passing the values of working independence to our daughters, our mother’s would have been better placed in validating the importance of being good homemakers to their sons.

With a growing macho TV chef-culture of men’s competitive cooking it looks hopeful that, before long, men will be convinced that at home growing vegetables and pottering around the kitchen, baby in one arm, roulade mould in the other is truly where they belong.

The question for us women now is – can we get back in there first before men discover the joys of knitting?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentines Day

“True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision”

That quote from The Road Less travelled by M. Scott Peck is one of the most accurate, and helpful, depictions of long-term love. It demystifies the myth of romantic love, and reminds those of us who are engaged in the hard but ultimately rewarding business of marriage that you have to “work at love.”

Of the ways in which we “work at love” the half dozen forced garage red roses and the ubiquitous struggle to find a last-minute table for two for Valentines night seems like the hardest.

For men especially, pushing the boat out on this “special” day is surely something of a trial. In the early days of a relationship when romance is at its height it is used as little more than a test. Girlfriends who were quite happy sitting propped up at a bar on date-night expect their boyfriend to transmogrify into Sex and The City scriptwriters inventing original ways to express their romantic feelings. For the uninitiated, untrained male Valentines Day is a minefield. Guessing the cup size for your girlfriend on the Agent Provacteur website and knowing that picking too big is better than too small, knowing not to buy smalzy red roses when her favorite flowers are lilies, taking a day off work and going for a picnic in Wicklow picking up a pre-booked hamper from Donnybrook Foods en route, understanding why a slim volume of poetry trumps trashy jewellery, knowing joke cards are a no-no, (there’s a few tips for you lads!) – are well outside the boundaries of most men’s understanding – or, indeed, interest. I remember a recently betrothed work collegue coming into work furious after her fiancĂ© has bought her a magnificent bouquet the night before. “Every man should know to send his girlfriend flowers at work,” she confessed tearfully, “ so everyone can see.”

For married men, who have been terrorized and trained over many years, it’s tantamount to little more than emotional blackmail. This is the day when your wife expects you to appreciate her via a rota of annual restaurant/hotel trips, frustratingly acquiring a collection of sexy underwear which, although it is now the right size, your wife seldom has the energy, or motivation to wear.

After ten years of marriage, we finally called a halt on celebrating Valentines three years ago.

“Where will we go for dinner?” I asked, testily.

“I don’t mind,” he said, meaning of course, “I don’t care.” Knowing enough not to say “let’s stay in this year”, (took me five years of hard-core tutting to train him out of that plea) he finally booked a restaurant (I gave him a list – with phone numbers) where I made him sit with a single red rose in a small cheap vase between us, nodding in mournful solidarity with the other men sitting in silent couples longing to be in the pub. We endured the purgatory of an average meal, talking about the same mundane parenting, domestic subjects that we would have talked about at home, except without the blessed interruption of television to keep us distracted. After dessert he looked at me and said, tentatively, “What would you like to do now?”

“I would like to go to a disco,” I said, “and dance salsa ‘til dawn, then walk home along the river and watch the sunrise.”

He looked gratifyingly horrified until I added, “What do I look like I want to do? I want to go home, put on a tracksuit and watch the last of that Curb Your Enthusiam box set ‘til we fall asleep.

“Will we pop into the Village Inn for a quick one on the way home?” he said hopefully. And there were all our friends making the most of their babysitters having put each other through the same ordeal.

When we got home I said, “Lets never do that again,” and, I swear, I think that was the most romantic thing I think I had ever said to him.

I am lucky insofar as my husband is a great gift chooser and giver. But while I enjoy and love every piece – it is the memories of the times that they represent more than the jewelery itself that I am attached to. His face when our son was born, his stoicism and strength at my brother’s funeral – the mystery of how our feelings of love have changed, and yet through celebrating births and enduring grief, something has held us together. That thing is romantic love, but it is stronger, and grittier and more visceral than merely sitting in a restaurant, or flying to Paris for the weekend, or picking out underwear from a catalogue.

Like all women, I wish I was told I was pretty more often, or bought more cups of tea in bed, or told I was loved every hour of every day and endlessly thanked for the work I do for our family.

But underneath the nagging, needy insecurity of being a female in a world where romantic desire is depicted as the be-all-and-end-all over the duller and more everyday realities of love such as trust and loyalty and respect, I believe that

romance, real romance, is so much more complex and beautiful and mysterious than the ridiculous and commercialized hype we have turned it into. It’s in the everyday, often so well hidden that you have search to find it. An unexpected “I love you” that you are too often busy to hear. That sneaky and inappropriately timed offer of sex when you bending over the vegetables in your gardening gloves. It’s noticing how beautiful your husband’s eyes are when he takes off his glasses, and allowing yourself to revel in that moment of desire instead of nagging him about going for laser eye surgery. While open expressions of desire and love are great, for some of us romance is much more subtle thing. Of course, perfect love is when love and romance merge together.

On Liveline this week there was the ultimate Valentines success story when an older man, Don Mahon told the touching story about how, on the day of his wife’s funeral in 1998, he received a Valentines card that she had posted to him 18 months beforehand.

Proving that romance is not something you can force any more than you can force a good red rose. It’s nature and fate colliding. It’s the mysterious shadow of love, and sometimes it works better when it is left where it is and not dragged into the limelight.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Christmas in Killala

“Happy Christmas” has to be one of the most over-used, yet under-utilised expressions in the English language. Aside from a few short moments on Christmas morning watching the children open their presents, the day itself is always fraught with stress and heightened emotion. Having thought I was on the home-stretch by ensuring that the turkey fits in my oven, and that I have a baking tray big enough to hold it, I will be frantically searching the house for bits of leftover foil with which to cover it. By mid morning I am topping and tailing sprouts and cursing my husband for insisting we find a way of transforming these fiddly green knobs into something that does not resemble cabbage for the one day of the year that he eats them. Having spent three weeks arranging fronds of fresh holly and candles in our “good room” – I am overcome with fear that one of the kids will smear the Mars Bar from their 7am selection box on my once-a-year sofa. Instead of enjoying the gift giving, I am glowering miserably at the piles of packaging and wrapping paper fretting over the next recycling bin collection date. My husband always buys me some wonderful trinket which makes the novelty mug and Dunnes socks look even more dreadful than they are, and the stress of the last few weeks trying to make the perfect Christmas – sending cards to all the right people, buying gifts for everyone, finding a dressy red cardigan and gathering advice from Sunday supplements on what to do with those wretched sprouts, has fuelled me with such wild expectation that the day itself somehow always disintegrates into a toxic state of exhaustion and regret. By mid afternoon, I just want everyone to go home so I can settle into the Big Movie (which I have invariably seen already on my one cinema trip this year) and indulge my regretful addiction to Quality Street.

This Christmas is going to be different. Not because I have a Jamie Oliver sprouts recipe or have bought my husband a Tag watch. For the worst and best reasons in the world, 2009 has given me a different perspective on Christmas. My husband and I are facing into the festive season without our two only brothers, who both died suddenly this year, and now my father-in-law is seriously ill in hospital. In what has been an extraordinary year for us, we have also gained two new members to our family as my sister in law and myself both gave birth unexpectedly. Where previous Christmases have been dominated by co-ordinating decorating schemes and scoring wild smoked salmon for the starter – this year we’ll eat farmed salmon for a fiver from Lidl and I couldn’t give a damn about the decorations. All I care about is the people I’ll be with.

The truth is all the decorating, and cooking and shopping and glittery table dressing is so often used as a distraction for the main business of being with our family. Not the favourite sister, or the adored children – but the extended family. The mother-in-law who makes better gravy than you, the verbally incontinent uncle, the vegan cousin who has to be especially catered for, the sibling you haven’t seen since last Christmas when he got into a drunken fight with your husband after an argument playing Family Fortunes.

“How to Survive Your Family this Christmas” is in every popular women’s magazine, and people keep saying to me “it’s a difficult time of the year.” And it is going to be difficult in our family. My mother and sisters have all gone to London so they can visit my brother’s grave on Christmas morning, and I am spending this Christmas at home in Mayo with my in-laws, keeping the home fires burning as they travel up and down to Castlebar hospital every day.

But as I look out at the sea, for the first time I can see the snow-settled mountains in Sligo melt into the skyline and I realise that the gift that losing my brother has given me this year is the ability to reflect and appreciate the life I have and, crucially the people I have left in it.

Christmas is a time when everyone tries to be the best they can be. From going to their only mass this year, to putting on a glitzy outfit just to sit in their own houses or trying to turn dry, dull turkey meat into something magnificent. Not everyone gets it right, but it’s the time of year when it’s worth remembering that everyone endeavours to be their best selves, even if it is annoying or crass, even if they have to be drunk to get through it. The message of Christmas – “goodwill to all men” – is a challenge to tolerance and acceptance. At best, it’s a call to love. Not just the people it is easy to love, our partners and children - but the old, the difficult, the jaded, and the boorish – the ignorable relations. It’s not an easy time, but then I have learned this year, life is not easy – and the only thing we truly have in this life that is worth holding onto is people.

So instead of tolerating Christmas this year, I am going to treasure it. Because in the holding of this annual Christian tradition, society offers us the opportunity to share, not just the presents and the food and the hospitality, but of ourselves and our human spirit. The ability to be graciously outshined by our mother-in-law’s gravy, watch our husbands guzzle back the sprouts and forget about the bickering and disappointments of the other 364 days of the year because this day, this moment is all we truly have.

Midnight mass, usually an interruption to the stuffing and peeling frenzy that is Christmas Eve, will take on a special significance this year. An opportunity to get dressed up and meet our neighbours in the village at a time when the pub seems overwhelmingly social. While the “A La Carte Catholics” annual token trip can be a cause of irritation for the faithful as they arrive early and hog all the good seats, there is something solid and comforting about a community gathering to celebrate the mystery and magic of Christmas together. As mothers, the Christmas holiday somehow invites us to set aside the recent horror of the Ryan and Murphy reports to enjoy the miracle of birth and the innocence of childhood.

There will be sadness in our house this Christmas – instead of phone calls and cards - Tom and Fintan will be represented by candles lit on our mantlepiece. Their pictures remind me that greatest gift I can give myself – and my family - this Christmas is gratitude. There are always things to treasure, even in hard times. My children have never looked more beautiful or happy to me. Our family may be depleted by death and illness, and I will miss my own sisters and my mother on the day – but I will treasure the people who are with me, bring them closer to me and try to make it a day of warmth and memories, not just for the children – but for all of us.

We never know what the next year will hold, but on this one day, although our loved ones aren’t always with us in body, in spirit at least we will gather around the same table and eat the same food – and even if the brussel sprouts recipe has changed, there is always hope in the magical routine of Christmas Day.

Happy Christmas from Killala, County Mayo.

I was ten weeks pregnant when my brother died suddenly in London. It was a beautiful day in Killala. The tide was in and the sea was as still as glass. The phone call came in at 2pm on 6th February 2009 from the metropolitan police in central London. Tom lived alone, and had been found by a neighbour that morning and taken to the coroner’s office. I threw the phone down and started to howl like a trapped dog. My husband picked up the receiver and hurried out of the room. When he came back he carefully gathered me back into myself and we did what had to be done before making the journey into Ballina to tell my mother that her only boy - her magical, musical son - had died of a haemorrhage.

Over the coming days the family gathered and were swallowed by the vast wave of sympathy and support that happens when you lose somebody in Ireland. People bought us hot dinners, filled our kitchen with cakes and apple tarts. Old school friends of my mother’s distracted us with anecdotes; new friends of mine fed and entertained my son. Our husbands stood sentry over all of us women. The usually noisy, overpowering feminine gaggle of our female-heavy family now muted by grief, they quietly took care of our business and prayed they’d get us back soon and in one piece.

Like many second-generation Irish families, ours is divided. I have always felt more Irish than British, and have worked and lived in Ireland for almost twenty years. My mother moved back to her Mayo birthplace after she retired, and my younger sister and her family followed her while my other sister and one brother stayed in London. Tom never understood the appeal of rural Ireland. He spent every spare moment exploring the galleries and concerts and museums of London. He sucked up the culture of his city and sent us postcards from the Tate Modern telling us about some wonderful exhibition we must see. Up to our elbows in work and nappies, we never took much notice of his pleas to expand our cultural horizons. But when the time came we knew that London was the only place Tom would rest in peace.

My two sisters and I went into overdrive organising the funeral. The English don’t really “do” funerals - and there was two weeks between Tom’s death and his burial. So we used that time to give our only brother the ‘wedding he never had.’ We tracked down school and university friends. We catered and flower-arranged and designed orders of service: we organized and bossed and bickered, three capable control freaks trying to distract and demote our shock and grief to a more manageable size.

My younger sister, who was early for her own wedding, managed to get us to the church almost a full hour before the funeral service began. We sat on the wall outside Our Lady of Dolour’s, Hendon, our childhood church, (where Tom had been an alter boy and tortured us into giggling while taking communion) and marvelled at the mild, sunny day that was in it. We were able to greet everyone as they arrived, and all agred that the early arrival had been a blessing. There was a huge turnout. “More like an Irish funeral than an English one” an author friend of my mine commented. People travelled from Ireland but from all over London too. Our oldest and closest English friends were there for us, and bought back memories and feelings I thought I had left behind. An old friend, (the great love of his life) organised the music, a cellist played his favorite piece, and members of a Westminster choir he sang with came, bursting quite unexpectedly and gloriously, into the Gospel acclamation. Although burials in England are generally private, family only affairs, we invited the entire congregation up to the grave where we made them stand and say a decade of the rosary. I met friends of Toms that I had never met before and was reassured that he was loved and cherished by a wide circle of good people, living the life of a single man in Central London – a world away from his hen-pecking bossy Irish older sister.

All in all it was a wonderful funeral. Full of old and new friends - and every moment drenched in love. In that one-day that we buried him, we also bought him back to life with stories and laughter and music.

Then came the hard bit. Back to normal life – away from the distraction of sandwiches and seeing friends and the suspension of life that death brings – it hit me. He’s gone. Oh My God – my baby brother Tom is dead. I had become temporarily lost in the drama of his death, the constant reassurances from kind religious, the comfort of being with my mum, aunt and sisters every day – but back in my own life I struggled to accommodate my overwhelming grief. Some stupid tune we once danced to at a Catholic youth club disco came on the radio and I slid down my kitchen wall, sobbing.

Nothing anyone said seemed to help. “He’s at peace now.” “I don’t want him to be at peace,” I felt like screaming, “I want him back, my unreasonable, annoying brother so that I can finish the last row we had – and even let him win it!”

“He’s with you all the time, ask him for a sign,” spiritual friends said, but try as I did, I couldn’t feel him. I couldn’t grasp Tom as an ethereal floating ghost. He was a solid, chunky, visceral presence - except when he played music. Then he existed on another plane. And so I set the car radio to Lyric FM and let my brother send me messages though music. But the only message he ever sent me was “I’m dead – and I’m never coming back.” Every five minutes I was looking for a lay-by to pull into and weep.

My husband, my rock who had been so supportive, so strong and silent throughout - began to waiver. I could sense his exhaustion with my unprompted crying jags and relentless sadness. Grief is a frightening thing to live with, especially when your sleepless red-eyed wreck of a wife is carrying your baby.

He was worried by the way his usually sturdy wife was unravelling. I was worried myself. So I did what I generally do when I am really worried about something, which was take a deep breath and get busy. I knew I wasn’t ready to start writing again, so I threw myself into organising a couple of charity events. I put on my lipstick, got myself blow-dried to within an inch of my life and faced out into the world. Let’s reign in the horses and turn this chariot around, I said to myself. I spoke at a book lunch in aid of Ballina Arts centre and everyone marvelled at how great I was doing. In the moment I was being bombarded by admiration and approval, I felt good. But as soon as I was alone, out of sight, the empty grief washed over me again.

Niall announced our pregnancy on Facebook.

“I’m going to be a dad,” he said.

“Does Morag know?” my sister replied from London.

Everyone laughed. Everyone was delighted for us. People made the connection between Tom’s tragic death and this new, growing life. I grabbed onto the idea that my pregnancy might became the antidote to Tom’s death. “My brother died but hey! Guess what? I’m pregnant.” The joy of new life cancelling out the messy awkwardness of unwelcome grief. I had waited for this second pregnancy for seven long years and, in my mid forties, it had been as unexpected as the tragic events that followed it. Although I tried to be cheerful and push myself forward, I was frightened by my lack of control – and not just over the event of my brother’s death. The feeling of helplessness was spilling over into the pregnancy. In its early stages I had been shown how terrible, unexpected things could happen to people we love. Just a year older than Tom, my life, as far back as I can remember, had been defined by my “taking care” of my younger brother. Right or wrong, as the eldest child I had always felt a sense of responsibility towards my younger siblings – especially Tom. He was artistic, vulnerable, the only boy – a special, talented person. I had always believed myself to be his keeper – where in reality I was just a controlling bossy older sister. Now that he was dead I could not help but feel I had failed him. I didn’t want to be in charge of anybody any more and yet here I was taking the ultimate responsibility for another human being. This growing being was inhabiting me, dictating what I could and couldn’t eat, giving me chubby arms and legs and a swollen stomach, taking over my body with the same insistence that Tom’s death had taken over my emotions.

Last week we went for a private scan - one of these state of the art 3D jobs, where the baby actually looks like a real human being instead of a black and white blur. I wanted the three of us to bond with the baby. Mostly though, I wanted to find out the sex so I could feel in control again. Pick a name, decorate the nursery: I wanted to stop pretending to be happy when I was, in fact, just terrified and angry and sad. In a selfish recess at the back of my mind I was hoping for a girl: someone who would grow into a strong woman who would hold me up when bad things happened. A daughter to do what we girls had done for our mother: take me to the hospital when my hips need replacing, break bad news to me. Boys were too painful, I had decided. They abandon you by marrying bad women – or die before their time.

Leo, our seven year old, sat up on my husband’s knee and gazed at the screen as the baby came into focus. I watched it’s limbs and features writhe around slowly as if it was on a TV screen. The radiographer cooed and chatted and eventually said, “It’s a boy.” My husband looked at me nervously as I let out a muted cry. “Have you got a name for him yet?” the lady asked Leo.

“Tom,” he replied without hesitation, “after my uncle who died.”

“I lost my brother recently,” I explained.

“I’m sorry,” she replied – but I could hear the silent append, “Still never mind, you’re having a baby eh?”

And then it happened. I saw the unborn boy push his legs against the walls of its watery sack. As I felt the familiar kick I realised, for the first time, that this small life we had made was as inevitable and uncompromising as my brother’s death had been. This child would be born, in September and I would love him with the same passion that I love our other son. And that love would expose me to the same pain I had felt at losing my beloved brother – but it would also enrich my life in so many ways – even if I was in too much pain to imagine them right now.

With the certainty of our new son’s coming I felt – not the untrammelled joy I’d been hoping for – but a small measure of acceptance and yes, a little hope.

We took Leo to Macdonald’s to celebrate and I rang my mother to tell her the news. She was thrilled.

“You know Tom adored his sisters,” she said, “but he always longed for a brother.”

For a fleeting moment, I felt he was there.

Welcome to my 'good room'

The Irish good room is where special guests come for a gossip - share recipes - thoughts and chat. Mine is in my home in Killala, County Mayo on the West Coast of ireland, where I live with my husband Niall and two sons Leo (age 8) and Tom (age 5 months). I hope you'll join me here to share my life and thoughts.