• Alison

The Only Girl in the House

Last Saturday, two of the main men in my life celebrated their birthdays, two big ones, the No 1 son going in to double digits and the husband also double digits (one with a four in it!). This big occasion in our house caused me to think about the men in my life and what a big influence, support and inspiration they are to me. We are living through the age of ‘times up’ and ‘me too’, where women are asserting so much more power in the world and rightly so, but for this feminist mum, I am very lucky to have amazing men in my life and I’d like to take the chance to tell them that.

As the ‘only girl in my house’, I do spend a lot of time cleaning up miss-fired pee off my bathroom floor and wishing my boys actually cared as much about kicking balls at my windows as I do about nice shoes. I’m pretty sure my shop-allergic boys will never spend the afternoon with me sipping cocktails and planning what shop we will hit up next when they grow up, but I’m learning to appreciate all that boys can bring to the party, well, more than farts and musical burps as signature talent!

I’m one of three sisters, have an incredibly supportive and strong mum, grandmother, aunts, fantastic cousins (Aisling I’m talking about you!), and of course my girl gang of friends. But I’m also surrounded by, and was raised by, some pretty fantastic men, who respect and laud all the women around them. My dad, for one, was raised in the West of Ireland around the time that men were definitely ‘in charge’ of the average household, however his kind and gentle mother, my late granny, instilled in him a respect for women and appreciation for all that they do. It was a natural thing that I’m pretty sure she had no idea what she was encouraging.

Growing up he taught me (well I should say drilled in to me) my times tables, helped me through my college choices, collected me (and my many slightly tipsy friends) from discos and cheered on any professional or personal achievements. He made me cry at his speech on my wedding day when he stood in front of my family in friends beaming with pride and captivating the audience with stories of my many ups and downs but how I made him so proud to be his daughter. He thinks my mum is awesome (which she is) and never puts up a fight even when she insists on rearranging the sitting room at midnight or other such madcap ideas she might have! He’s raised me to have opinions, to never stand back, to always move forward and that I, and all my siblings, can do anything we put our minds to. He’s taught me to only ever do something if you’re going to do it right and never to put off until tomorrow what you can do today. His wisdom is expressed through these any many other Irish sayings and a few he has coined himself. Recently when I was struggling to build up my strength after a week in hospital and a session of chemo, I was finding it a challenge to even get out for a walk, explaining this to him, he told me to stop being so hard on myself and know that ‘the difficult we can do today, the impossible will have to wait until tomorrow’ and all was right in the world again!

When I need a good objective opinion, he’s the man to call, if I need a hedge cut he’s the man to call and if everyone else is too worried to talk to me about what’s happening with me, he’s always there to remind me I’m as strong as an ox and all will be ok.

I’ve a couple of brothers who have inherited his vigour for life and, while I’m the only girl in my house, my younger brother is the only man in his house of five women. Now there’s a man who puts his girls first too; he’s got the most wonderful four daughters who he is raising to be charming, smart, strong and I’m so proud every time I see him brush their hair but also teach them how to drive a Landrover! They are all under eight, and although it might be illegal, driving a vehicle (aka a tractor) is pretty much obligatory before the age of 10 when you live in the country. That and how to lamb sheep, but that’s a whole different story.

Godfathers, by most standards, can be pretty ‘absent’ in the father department for most people, especially when you get to be a practising adult and they stop slipping you €50s for your birthday. But mine is a very present one and treats me like a daughter; there’s very little my uncle wouldn't do for me and while he’s a quiet man with few words, what he doesn’t say he makes up for in all the things he does for me. Things like restoring a vintage car to drive me to my wedding, building a bespoke fitted wardrobe despite the fact that he thought not having handles was a bit strange, but loved the ‘holes’ I’d designed once he made them… the list is endless. He turns up with my aunt and, with pure craftsmanship and talent, turns my ideas into works of art. His kindness is expressed in his deeds but at family event recently I overheard him tell some people who were saying how well I looked and in such good form (considering!), that ‘she always looks well and is in great form’ – defending me from people that wanted to maybe see me ‘sicker’ and that showed them he knows me and knows what I’m actually going through!

My little rascal sons are, of course, the two best boys, whom I hope I am nurturing into well adjusted, kind and courageous men for the new world we find ourselves in. They definitely did not come with a set of instructions (well none that I got anyway) and despite all the books I’ve read about raising boys, it can be challenging, frustrating and amazing all at the same time and on the same day sometimes! I’m sure it’s a very un-PC thing to say, but I do think it is different being a mum to boys than it is so girls (aghhh I said it). I’m not into gender stereotyping, I genuinely never dressed my boys in blue and, for a large part of his childhood, my first son had really long hair and was constantly being called a girl. But I have two ‘boys’, they like sports, kicking the shite out of each other, cartoons, lego, skateboards, tracksuit bottoms, jerseys – most mothers of sons will get this list and probably want to add more. I know things about player profiles, sock boots and who may or may not quality for the rugby world cup – all things I really have no interest in knowing but as a mum to boys, I do!

I also know as a mum to boys, no one and I mean no one will love me like these two lads, they tell me at least 10 times a day how much they are in awe of anything I seem to do. They think there is nothing I can’t so and should be a contestant on Masterchef, The Great British Bake Off and probably running the country too! I think this is easily expressed in my youngest son's ambitious plans for his upcoming sixth birthday party where he wants a ‘Lego Ninjago’ theme, with chinese food, fortune cookies, paper lanterns (no balloons, apparently ninja’s don’t like them!) and a chinese pinata. I haven't the heart to them him that they are Mexican! The fact that he has made up this plan leads me to believe, either I am way to indulgent as a parent or I’ve managed to instil in him the ability to dream big and make it happen, I’ll go with the latter! These two are my life, like any parent and I have written here about how I worry about how my illness affects them. But, I think aside from that, having them has always given me the best reason to get over all the many hurdles cancer has put in my way.

On the worst days, cuddles will always be better than any medicine, and their visits to the hospital usually revolve around the thrill of having my own toilet in the room, the controls in the bed and whether the nurses will sneak them in some ice cream while they are there. They love nothing more that climbing in to bed when I’m on my chemo days and convincing me to watch a cartoon on Netflix and knowing when to fetch me face creams, gloves and all the other bits I need. They are growing up to be kind, passionate, creative, thoughtful, confident and mostly fun to have around and I hope they never lose their sense of ‘divilment’ and bit of madness they may have inherited from me. It’s so important now that as mums we raise good men who appreciate all that the women they share the world with can do and I hope being raised by a strong woman like me doesn’t scar them for life!

Finally, and he’s not final but I thought I’d save talking up the hubbie till last. He’s a fairly private type of fella and still won’t even acknowledge I’m his wife on Facebook, so I’ll keep his name and finer details as to his identity vague enough for him to not lose it when he reads this. But he is someone who really didn’t sign up for all the last four years has thrown at him, in fairness he married a hot (I was then!) ambitious, whirligig of a woman and we had lots of plans to do all sorts of amazing things that my illness has put a stop to. His dreams have been sidetracked and sidelined too because of my illness, yet he has stuck by me and still seems to like having me around despite the moods the drugs bring on, despite the physical and mental changes I’ve gone through and especially for the increase in the amount of crap I buy when I’m bored and looking for things to do. He puts up with the notions I might take and talks me down from doing the really silly ones, but supports me in making things happen when I do need help. He definitely wears the sensible pants in our partnership, but someone has to and he keeps the show on the road when I can’t. Bills get paid, kids get collected, friends get called – all sensible but necessary to make sure life still happens. Many men would have done a runner a long time ago, but he hasn’t and if love is putting up with me and all the crap that comes with the past few years then he certainly loves me! I will stop now as he will get a big head and I’ll never get him to put out the washing ever again.

To wrap things up, I just wanted to write this post and give some high fives to the men in my life as they are going through a bit of an identity crisis culturally at the moment, and I wanted to recognise the great men that support and surround me, especially in the past few years. We women are fantastic at banding together and turning up with lasagnes and making tea to show how much we care; men find that harder but the great ones will show up and do the things like just putting out the bins without being asked and that’s important too. In a world where roles are merging, evolving and changing so much, there is still room to recognise that, although we are all humans, men and women have differences and that difference is good and needs to be celebrated. Dads, sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, boyfriends and friends who happen to be lads, you are all amazing and thank you for being in my life!



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