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How I morphed from a mom to an Irish mammy in run-up to Christmas


Deirdre Conroy's son has left for the bright lights of New York.

Deirdre Conroy's son has left for the bright lights of New York.

Deirdre Conroy's son has left for the bright lights of New York.

Boys are infuriating. Daughters apparently call home every day when they are away from home. Some 50pc of my sons will be away for Christmas for the first time ever since I started bringing them to see Santa. There hasn't been a message in three weeks.

Since my youngest son left for the bright lights of New York in August this year, I have morphed from a mom into an Irish Mammy.

The first week he was away, I found myself on WhatsApp reminding him to look after his teeth and avoid dark laneways. I really wanted to include Barry's Tea in the parcel I sent him for Christmas but it would have put me over the 2kg, and he doesn't drink it anyway.

This is his third time using the work-holiday visa we have between the USA and Ireland, and this one had to be used within two years of finishing university. The visas are not cheap and he worked hard to pay for it himself, find a job and bunk in with friends.

It's the stuff that new Irish folklore is made of and the privilege of youth.

The most common advice I was given when I first walked down the street with his elder brother in a pram 25 years ago, was: 'Enjoy every minute, they grow up before you know it'. I doubt any of us really appreciates that advice.

We wish away the sleepless nights, the teething, the tantrums, the 'tied-down-to-school-terms cost of travel', the precociousness, the tyrannical teens, the exams, the experiments with drink and the sleepless nights again.

I have been a self-employed mother for most of my children's lives, and often a student. There was a lot of juggling.

So, even after two graduations, getting himself a job in Dublin and in New York, I still worry about the young fella's safety. Sons only phone home if there is a reason, usually a cash reason. They don't do chats or news.

There are some advantages to having him away: the exact amount of socks that went into the washing machine comes out of it. There are no plates under the bed growing penicillin, I don't have to stack a large trolley with Weetabix and tins of beans, so I can use a basket at the shops.

I don't even notice he's not around sometimes. But then I stop in my tracks when I discover that the Grand Prix is still being recorded on TV because he set it months ago.

I know he's alive and well because he contacted his girlfriend and told her to tell me to figure out Skype. I am now a relegated Irish Mammy.

And I felt a bit sad about that until I heard of another Irish mother on the radio, I will call her Margaret.

She wrote a letter to Ryan Tubridy and said she wished parents would stop complaining about how demanding their kids are at Christmas time, and be glad that they could make demands.

Margaret's son is 22 years old, the same as my youngest. But at Christmas time, Margaret has to buy him a rattle or something that makes a noise that will alert him.

He has no concept of presents or Christmas or any other time of year. She buys herself a present from him and opens it herself, alone.

It was a very moving letter, one that elicited a huge response from people who wanted to invite her to spend Christmas with them.

Margaret is one among many single Irish mothers of children with special needs.

They may get some financial help from the State as a carer, which precludes them pursuing work of another kind; but they don't necessarily get the educational facilities needed for their children, and many are in rented accommodation.

The fear of the landlord raising the rent and forcing them into changed circumstances is ever present. They, more than most, need stability and routine for their child.

Margaret sounded as if she needed a lot of community support: the feeling of being isolated and alone is not compensated by social welfare assistance.

By responding to Ryan's call to do some old-fashioned letter-writing, Margaret shared a desperately moving situation and I hope that the response has been some comfort.

Twenty-two years is a long time to rear a son and, though I miss mine, thousands of miles away, I know he will get a kick out of opening his parcel and finding smashed bags of Tayto, and he might even text me.

Christmas brings different challenges for lone parents. And for their children. The best thing we can give them is independence and no guilt about leaving home.

While other mammies and daddies have each other to console in the absence of their fledglings, the lone parent absorbs the loss themselves.

I am very lucky that I have another son and almost a daughter-in-law.

By the time they leave the country, I will have reverted to being a mom, and may even skip Christmas in Ireland. At least I have those choices.

When I hear of struggles like Margaret's, I wonder why the Pro-Life lobby has not established a foundation with their American funding, a resource that is dedicated to embracing and supporting mothers like Margaret and her special-needs son, so that her personal struggle to rear her child alone will be rewarded, as it should be.

Irish Independent