Personal

Timing is Everything

the-persistence-of-memory-1931.jpg!Large

One of the things I struggle most with is getting enough done in a given day. I go to bed every night upset with myself for not having been productive enough. I wake up with anxiety because I haven’t done enough the previous day and, therefore, I have even more to do ‘today’.

I’ve tried ‘to do’ lists – but they are always impossibly long and become a stick with which to beat myself. I’ve tried ‘have done’ lists – but they always seem impossibly short and I am sure I’ve been too lenient on myself and wasted time. I’ve tried not bothering with lists and just ploughing through the day, but find that means I don’t always prioritise correctly and I often end up finishing the day with an important job that hasn’t been taken care of.

Last week, I tried something different and put myself on a schedule. I even scheduled a few breaks, time to eat, and I was ruthless with the cold turkey app. This all resulted in a more productive me, but I still wasn’t getting through everything on the to do list. I was interrupted by unscheduled phone calls two days last week, that I took because I felt I needed to. (One was from a recruiter, and the other was work-related, but also slightly social: It, therefore, went on for longer than it would have, had it been just work-related.)

 This week, I’ve been managing better. I have a to do list. I am writing a schedule every morning before I get started. BUT the difference this week is that, for every hour of productivity, I am adding on an extra twenty minutes. So, for example, if I schedule a piece of work at 10am, expecting to finish at 12.00pm, I don’t schedule the next piece of work until 12.40pm. Most days, I’ve been ahead of myself, which makes me feel under less pressure, less anxious and – to be honest – just that little bit pleased with myself.

I’m sure there are thousands of people out there who stumbled on this little nugget of time management long before I did, but in case you’re not one of them, I thought I’d share!

 

Standard
Parenting

Leave It Out!

Yesterday, 58,466 students received the results of their Leaving Certificate Examinations in Ireland. Cue the usual messages and platitudes on all forms of media – social and mainstream – telling those who had received their results that  they are more than the pieces of paper sent to them by the Department of Education and Skills. Posts popped up on Facebook and Twitter reassuring those who had received their results that they (the posters) had not been asked how they did in their LC since nineteen-splat. People posted stories of their own devastation, and gave jolly, positive endings to those stories.

Experts were heard on the radio telling parents how to deal with their children’s stress, disappointment, and changes of heart. There were also other experts discussing how to ask for a paper to be marked again, as well as how to cope with the financial issues that stem from having children going to college.

Pat Kenny, in the lead-in to introducing a guest and discussing the differences in the Irish and UK systems,  boasted ‘Stress? We’ll show you stress!’ as though having more than 58,000 (mainly) young people stressed over exams, and their results was a good thing.

I was struck by how, in this instance, Irish society seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth. We spend at least two years instilling in our young people that this exam is the most important thing they will ever do; it is the focal point of the final two years of school. They are prepared and primed and goaded and scolded and lectured and cajoled into thinking and feeling that the result of this examination defines them and their futures. Then, once the results are out, the tune is changed significantly and the song is ‘You are more than the sum of your points‘. If you’ll pardon me for saying so, I think it’s a case of ‘too little, too late’ if you’re giving kids this message at this point in time.

Those who defend the current system cite our points-system as a ‘leveller’ – that the only thing that will get you into a course is having enough points. I disagree, however; students who struggle and who don’t get the help they need in school have to pay for help. Only those who can afford to pay for this help can access it; so there is a distinct advantage to students from more affluent backgrounds and the idea of a ‘level playing field’ goes out the window.

Why would we want to put our children through this much stress, worry, anxiety, and fear? As parents, educators and concerned members of society, why are we doing this to our young people year after year? People who complain about the Irish education system – from ‘having’ to get their children christened in order to get them into the local school (because it’s Catholic-run), to ‘having’ to put up the system that stresses, upsets and worries their children (and them) – but I do wonder why. There are alternatives. Scoring well in the leaving certificate is not the only way to get in to college or university in Ireland. Mainstream school is not the only option. In fact, in Ireland, we are very lucky to have a constitutional right to educate our children whenever and however we see fit. It’s time, I think, that more people explored the different options; time that more people thought outside the strictures of the Irish curriculum (which discourages critical thinking, philosophy, and ignores the needs and rights of gifted and talented children); and time that more people they wanted more for their children.  More for them than the stress and anxiety and worry – and the poor standard of education – that the current system provides.

Standard
Parenting

More on Poverty & Education

My piece yesterday on education and poverty struck a nerve with many of you. I received a slew of messages here, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on my phone, from women who found themselves in similar situations. Women who tried desperately hard to educate their way out of poverty. Women who tried to grab life by the scruff of the neck and gain an education for themselves so they could lift their families out of poverty.

Some of us end up pursuing more than one degree in an effort to improve our circumstances. Unfortunately, in Ireland, if you want to pursue a second degree that is not higher on the NFQ than one you already have, you will not receive state funding. That means that if you find the MA you have isn’t enough to secure employment – and you can’t, for whatever reason, pursue a PhD – you will have to self-fund. This is what I ended up doing. My intention was to use the money from a settlement for sexual abuse to pay my fees (and for the therapy I need as a result of the abuse to keep me mentally healthy).  The problem is that one of the brothers who raped and otherwise sexually abused me decided not to honour the settlement. In desperation, I launched a Go Fund Me campaign explicitly, exclusively and entirely to ensure that I stay fit enough to parent, and that I can finish my degree and graduate.  And, then, maybe – just maybe – get a job somewhere. Anywhere.

It struck me earlier today how gendered this all is. The men walk away from their financial obligations, and abuse the children they have decided not to support. They further abuse the women to whom they don’t pay child support because they know that (most) mothers will go hungry before they allow their child/ren to suffer.

The structures of our society and our legal system are patriarchal and allow men who do not wish to support their children, to walk away from their obligations. The women who are then responsible for every aspect of raising the children are then vilified by the society that does not men to account. This, in turn, enforces the belief that many of these men (and, to be honest, I am thinking of specific men; not necessarily men in general) hold; that women deserve to be abused. That women who stand up to the men who bully them need (in my ex-husband’s words) ‘to be taught a lesson’.

Even before I became a mother, I knew one thing; no woman creates a child on her own. Not even those who have virgin births or those who claim impregnation by entity. To continue to promulgate the myths around mothers who are forced to raise their children on their own shifts the focus from those who are doing nothing for their families to those who are doing everything they can for their families. Those who are doing all they can to make their lives, their children’s lives and, therefore society better.  Ironically, we are frustrated by the very society we are trying to improve as we are trying to improve it.

Ireland may no longer lock up lone mothers and sell their babies, but it has a long way to go before it can become in any way congratulatory over the way it does treat them.

 

 

Standard
Parenting

Educated Poverty

Pic of Student Card number erased

Yesterday, I read this piece in the Journal. I didn’t write it – but I could have.

Those of us who parent alone – and the vast majority of us are female – experience the highest rates of deprivation: Nearly 60% of those in single-parent households live with the lack of basic necessities. And, according to the CSO, more than half a million people live in one parent families. That’s a lot of lack.

Like many poor people, lone parents are blamed for their circumstances and for their poverty. In spite of the fact that many women are married, or in stable relationships when they have their children, they are judged as feckless ‘young wans’ whose only desire is to ‘sponge off the state’. May of the comments on the piece I’ve linked to above demonstrate this. One of the things that bothers me about nasty comments and judgements aimed at single mothers is the fact that those who deride them are picking on the wrong parent. They are picking on the parent who is actually parenting. They are picking on the parent who didn’t abandon their child. They are picking on the parent who is doing their best, in spite of the odds, which are stacked against them.

For the longest time, the accepted narrative is that the only way out of poverty is education. Sadly, that’s only half the story. As a woman who has been parenting on my own in Ireland for nearly 12 years, I have direct, personal experience of this. I returned to education when my eldest was 3.5 years old, and my youngest was just 16 months old. Four years later and I was able to put the letters BA (Hons) after my name. Now I had a degree, I was sure I’d find (or make) work for myself.

Sadly, I was wrong. I graduated in 2009, when the Celtic Tiger was in its death throes. Few places were hiring. Even fewer were hiring new graduates. Even fewer would even acknowledge an application from a single parent of two young children. After a year of trying to secure gainful employment (and giving many, many hours for free to NGOs and charities and publications), I returned to education. In 2012, I added ‘MA’ to those letters after my name. Now, surely, someone would hire me.

Again, I was wrong in thinking that I would be offered a job by a company in Ireland. To add insult to injury, several of those employers who deigned to employ me had no difficulty accepting my services for free before they had ‘openings’ for which I applied. Repeatedly, when applying for jobs I was already doing for NGOs and other agencies for whom I had done volunteer work, I was told that I lacked the ‘law piece’. So I applied, and was accepted, to the Law School at Queen’s University in Belfast.

In between finishing my MA and starting my LLM, I was accepted on to a PhD programme at Trinity College, Dublin. I did the first year ‘off books’ (a term meaning that – while I was studying – I hadn’t paid fees, so I wasn’t technically registered, and my access to certain things was restricted). When it came time to start my second year at Trinity, I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t commit my kids to another three years of poverty. I opted to go to Queen’s instead, thinking that I was better off to spend a year studying intensely and get myself a degree at the end of it, than spend a year studying intensely and still only be part way through a degree. Even if that degree was a PhD. So far, the idea that a primary degree and two Master’s degrees will open up employment opportunities has proved unfounded – but I live in hope (because, frankly, I have little else).

Tertiary education, to me, means being hungry. I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally. When I’m studying, I can’t afford to eat three meals a day. So I don’t. I drink a lot of coffee (that I bring from home), and insist that it’s all in a good cause. And anyway, I can afford to lose a few kilos. Plus, I’ll get a job at the end of it, I tell myself on the days and nights when the gnawing in my stomach distracts me from the words on the page. That last, so far, has proved to be a lie.

No matter how highly educated you are in Ireland, you can’t be sure you’ll get a job. I think part of the reason for that is a lack of ability on the part of Irish employers to recognise, and understand, the value of transferable skills. The idea that the skills single mothers use on a daily basis – financial juggling, multi-tasking, fire-fighting, negotiating, prioritising, communicating with government departments, healthcare, etc. etc. – are useful in the workplace, completely escapes Irish employers. There is also a reluctance to acknowledge that people can retrain, change direction, and bring their previous experience with them. The Irish way is that you have a box that you have been put in, and you must stay in that box forever. Especially if you are a woman. And most especially if you are a woman raising children on your own.

Education, on its own, won’t help lone parents lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a start – but it’s not the complete solution. We need access to jobs once we’ve graduated – and access to quality childcare, and employers who understand that we are no less committed to our jobs than our childfree colleagues. In short, we need support from the state and the society we’re living in. We need the opportunity to put our expensive educations to good use.

 

Standard
Media, Uncategorized

Charity Begins?

It’s been another rough week for charities in Ireland. That is to say, it’s been a rough week for mis-behaving charities in Ireland. The revelations about misappropriation of funds meant for suicidal people by the charity Console has left the country reeling. Then, news came of financial irregularities in the St John Of God organisation. These come while scandals at the CRC and allegations against Bumbleance are still fresh in the public’s collective memory.

The effect of these scandals is that people who have contributed are – understandably – hurt and upset by the fact that money they have donated, or worked hard to fundraise, didn’t reach the people for whom they intended it. People are also more wary of giving money to charities. It also means that people question how this was allowed to happen. There are supposed to be checks and balances, aren’t there? Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of oversight to ensure that this kind of oversight doesn’t happen? Well, yes, there is.

I sit on the board of directors of an Irish charity and I can assure you that we take our responsibilities very seriously. We are aware that the buck stops with us – that we are personally responsible should there be any irregularities in the finances – or elsewhere – that we don’t report. We have regular board meetings and, at each of these, our accountant comes along and goes through the finances with us. He invites questions, and answers them thoroughly. We are audited annually. Recommendations made by the auditor are acted upon and we were delighted that this year the auditor had no recommendations to make, except for us to keep doing as we’re doing.

Directors of Irish charities are not allowed to accept payment for their work on boards. They are allowed reasonable expenses. In the case of the charity on whose board I sit, this amounts to transport paid at the rate of public transport, a lunch when at the meeting – we sit through lunchtime – and an allowance of just over €10 for a meal if you are away from home for more than eight hours. We sit on the board because we believe in the work of the charity and we want to support it. We sit on the board because it is a way of ‘giving back’. We sit on the board because we feel what we’re doing is important. We do not sit on the board because we want to be given millions of euros for so doing.

I think part of the reason we have trouble with charities in Ireland is that there are so many of them. I’ve said this before, but I think the Irish charity sector has a bit of a ‘People’s Judean Front’ mentality (to borrow a phrase from Monty Python). What this means is that we have a glut of charities in the country all doing essentially the same thing. We have over 20 charities and NGOs working in the area of suicide and self-harm prevention. I’m not entirely sure we need so many – though, of course, each agency would argue for their own unique angle on the issue. I still think that there should be one charity responsible for tackling suicide and self harm, and that all other charities working in the area be amalgamated. I do think that it would be much easier to keep an eye on sector’s behaviour – financial and otherwise – if there was only one agency to deal with.

Standard
Parenting, Personal

In the Flesh

Last night, I became that mother. I became the mother who looked at her beautiful daughter and said ‘You’re not going out looking like that.’

Except I didn’t say those words, exactly. I said ‘Can you please find something else to wear? I’m not comfortable with you going out exposing so much flesh.’

She glowered at me in a way she started doing when she was about eighteen months old. Now, twelve-and-a-half years later, she has that glower perfected. What she’s feeling rolls off her and comes at you in waves. You always know how she’s feeling, even if you’re not exactly sure why. Last night, as she rifled through her drawers in search of something less revealing, I knew exactly why. She was not one bit happy at her frumpy old ma insisting she put on clothes that covered more flesh than she was currently exposing.

I wasn’t happy – and it wasn’t Ishthara I was unhappy with. It was myself I was unhappy with. I felt like a hypocrite. All her life, I’d been teaching my daughter about bodily autonomy, about how her body belongs to her, and her alone. I’m also of the belief that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, when they like, where they like, and not be subject to abuse, intimidation, assault, or body-shaming of any description. I have mentioned this belief, several times, to my daughters. Yet here I was, telling my gorgeous 14 year-old that she needed to cover up before she went out.

I fumbled through my first attempt to explain myself to her.

‘It’s not that you should be ashamed of how you look,’ I started. Then I tried again.

‘You’re beautiful – because of how you are, more than because of how you look – and I don’t want you to feel that you should have to hide your beauty but…..’

I stopped. What the fuck was it I was trying to say? I couldn’t find the words, and I didn’t have time to dwell on finding them because I didn’t want her to be late for the disco. She’d been excited about it for weeks and her bestie was standing on the landing waiting. and I was making everything worse.

I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.

‘You’re gorgeous and I love you more than my own life and…you are all that matters…and people judge, and I’m sorry that they do, but I don’t want people to judge you on what you’re wearing….’

I was close to tears at this stage because I knew I was bollocksing this up. And I knew it was important. And I knew it was important that I didn’t bollocks it up.

‘Teenage boys are bastards!’ burst out of me before I could stop it. I was horrified at myself. ‘I didn’t mean that. It was horribly sexist of me and a gross generalisation. What I mean is, some teenage boys are bastards and…some of think that they can touch anything they see, and the more of you they see, the more they think they can touch.’

That was no better. I was still making a complete pig’s ear of it.

‘I don’t want you to have to change what you wear because of what other people will think but that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do. I’m sorry…’ I was so conflicted, I was tormented by it. For a fleeting moment, I wished I was one of those parents who just lays down the law, and rules with a hard heart and an iron fist.

By now, Ishthara had found something else to wear and was keen to change and get going.

‘I don’t think you should have to hide yourself away, I just…’

She sighed. A deep, painful sigh.

‘Let’s just go.’

As we were heading out the door, I put my hand on her shoulder and turned her to face me. I didn’t want to make things more awkward for her than they already were. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable around her best friend. But this was really important and I needed to get it right, no matter how many attempts it took.

‘Isha…’ I started again. ‘You are beautiful – and, of course I’m going to say that because I’m your mum, so that’s not empirical – but you are 14 and you look 20. You have the figure of an adult woman. And you have the poise of someone older than you as well. You look 20, but you’re not 20. You don’t have the life experience of a twenty-year-old. That’s nothing to do with being mature, or responsible, or anything other than the amount of years you have been on this planet.  What that means is that you don’t know how to react when people treat you like you’re a lot older, or a lot more worldly than you are. I don’t want you to go out exposing any more skin than you are now because I don’t want you to be in a position where someone else says or does something that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t know how to deal with it.’

Ishthara nodded.

‘Okay,’ she said, less sullen than she had been earlier.

‘D’you remember, last year, when the man on the bridge started hitting on you?’

She nodded again.

‘And do you remember how you felt? And how it wasn’t very pleasant?  And at least I was there, and I was able to deal with him?’

‘Yes.’ I could tell she was listening, taking it all in.

‘Well, when you’re older, you’ll be well able to cope with that kind of attention because you’ll have been around long enough to figure out how to deal with it. It’s the same with the kind of attention you’re going to get by dressing in a way that shows more skin, that is – for want of a better way to but it – sexier than what you’re wearing right now. I don’t want you to feel you have to change anything about yourself, not even your clothes in order for you to feel comfortable, but for now, until you learn how to cope with the attention, how to handle it, I’d prefer if we took care to avoid it.’

Another nod, and this time, a smile.

‘I get it,’ she said. ‘I really do. Now, come on, can we please go?’

Later, as we prepared hot drinks and snacks in the kitchen before bed (she’d been too excited to eat before going out), Ishthara told me she was glad she’d changed before going out.  Apparently, she felt more comfortable in a place with nearly 2,000 strangers when she was wearing more rather than less.

‘It’s okay, Mum. I know you love me,’ she finished.

As long as she remembers that, I think we’ll get through these teenage years intact. In spite of my propensity for foot-in-mouth disease.

 

Standard
Uncategorized, Writing

The A to Z April Challenge

SAAM

Over on my other blog (hazelkatherinelarkin), I’ve joined in on the A to Z Blogging Challenge. The idea is to take a theme and blog it through the month of April, working your way through the alphabet while you’re at it.

 

Given that it’s also Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’ve decided to marry the two and will be blogging an A to Z of sexual assault for the month of April.

 

If you’re interested, you can find the first post here:  http://wp.me/s6sNwP-abuse

Standard