Out there: How to cope with life in the emotional jungle
On a Friday night at 8pm my phone buzzes. "Yo lady, in hospital, sh*t's going down bigtime".
The boy who has left his mark on me
It is from my friend, who is soon to become a father for the first time, and I think it's fair to say, is having the mother of all reality checks. Next to him, having the mother of all contractions, is one of my best friends in the world. She is about to become a mum, no two ways about it.
Since my friend has been pregnant for the best part of 10 months, I don't know why I drop my phone in horror and immediately feel like I need to pee and drink water at exactly the same time. It's just dawned on me, they are having a baby and they are having it now.
I run upstairs and crack a beer open, waiting for another text so I can toast the moment the baby arrives kicking and screaming into this mess of a world we call home.
I wait, and wait, opening beer after beer and eventually fall asleep on the couch with my legs crossed.
When I wake, I text daddy dearest back asking what the god-damn hold up is. Apparently, these babies don't just slip out like a soft pat of butter, there are things called cervixes that must dilate and that agonising process takes time.
Some 24 hours later in a pub downing Guinness, I get another message from Papa Smurf. Their baby boy has arrived, a 9lb pat of butter - and mummy, daddy and baby are all doing well.
A week later in Cork, I am holding the little dude in my arms, just a bit too tight but he doesn't seem to mind. He is tiny and soft and smells addictive. We crack open bottles of prosecco and mull over his perfect features.
When his mum needs to feed him I hand him back and realise he has peed on my new silk top which I take as a certain sign that we will be lifelong friends.
Man of my dreams will stay in my dreams
I suppose I've never been particularly lucky in love. I've made some drastic mistakes. I used to devour Mills and Boon novels when I was a teenager, and I suppose I always saw myself being swept off my feet by the lord of the manor. Clearly this didn't happen, and all my dalliances were with poor folk. More likely to be the groundsman or the butler.
I maintain it's easier to sustain a loving relationship when he's loaded. But I lived in hope. And I fell in love easily. Madly in love. Heart throbbing, weak legs (that might have had something to do with the old drink), doe eyes. The lot. This is it, I said on numerous occasions. And then, bit by bit, I got fed up. Every little foible they had went from an endearing little idiosyncrasy to a reason to kill in cold blood.
I was lying in bed one morning about a year ago and, as is my wont, I went into a world of fantasy. I had retired to my little quirky farmhouse in rural France and was sitting out in my garden one morning eating my own home-made produce (just shows how far I can go with the fantasy), when along came a very distinguished man of about my own vintage - older, in other words- and engaged in conversation with me. Turned out he was a retired rugby player. A widower. Ten caps for the French team before injury halted his prowess. He even had a name, Jean Claude. I invited him to partake of my produce and we sailed into the sunset after that. He was wildly impressed that I knew so much about rugby, his grown-up kids loved me. He would say things like "Eleanore, until ze day I met you, my life eet was not complete" I would do the weak-knees thing again.
I'm beginning to think the fantasy is better than the reality, and I'm not sure I could ever go back to a situation where I ended up picking up underpants, cooking meals, being quizzed about where I was until four in the morning and vying for the remote. Call me a sceptical romantic.
Suddenly there's more than one love story
For a long time in most families there's only one romance in the house. There are other love stories, mostly between parents and children, but the only romance is the one on which the family was built. Usually, by the time the kids come along that romance will have mellowed into something more compatible with ordinary life. And if it hasn't, the arrival of the kids should sort that out.
This Foundation Romance trundles along, ebbing and flowing according to all kinds of factors but hopefully surviving in some way. The first sign of its days of exclusivity being numbered are when the kids start getting wise. They complain about parental displays of affection and look suspicious when you claim to be fond of play wrestling in your room of an evening. So suspicious they knock on your bedroom door instead of bursting straight in.
A corner has been turned, and then, all of a sudden, there are new pheromones in town. Yours is no longer the only romance in the house. Not only is it not only not the only one, it's the least fervent, the least giggly, the least skin glow-y, eye-twinkly show on Romance Road. Seeing your kids discover love, or infatuation, romance, is a bittersweet thing. Cute and terrifying. Mostly terrifying.
As a parent, it is hard not to project your own experience of romance onto your children. Most of us have had our hearts shattered at some point - you remember it and hope they won't know that, but, if a parent's experience of love has been bitter, is it difficult to see a child venture into the field? If you've been badly stung, is it difficult not to pass on the poison? What is it like to see your child enjoy something that has eluded or hurt you?
And whilst the endless giggling in the kitchen can occasionally stray into headwrecking territory, love is infectious. Having it in your orbit can be a nice reminder of all the good stuff love can bring. Old romances can be resprung, and new ones can blossom at the most surprising times.