Welcome back to my blog. Hope you’re doing OK. If you’d prefer to listen you can follow this link, and for something different I’ve recorded a video of me reading it – a chance for you to put a name to a voice. See if you agree with my husband who is always telling me that I have a great face for radio. You have to laugh!
Coming Unstuck comes to you today from a distant, tougher part of my past when I first started living life as a young independent person. It was inspired by my 18-year-old son who started university a few months ago and is having a ball. There seems to be an endless stream of invitations to parties and gigs to attend and he’s not missing a single one! I’m having to get used to my first-born staying out all night and re-appearing the next day as though he’s been dragged through the bushes backwards. As long as he’s happy, taking reasonable care of himself, acting responsibly (i.e.: not driving or doing anything stupid while under the influence) and remaining committed to his goals, then I’m not going to worry too much.
Rite of passage
It would be easy to forget what it’s like to be young, especially at my age. God it’s been a long time since I was in my late teens. The other day when my son rocked up in the afternoon after yet another night out, I was about to jump into serious parenting mode and give him a good talking to. Questions beat loudly at the door of my mind, demanding to be let out. ‘What time do you call this?’, ‘Look at the state of your hair – what bushes have you crawled out of this time?’, ‘Isn’t it time that you started acting like a proper adult?’ etcetera, etcetera. But I decided to take a moment to myself before allowing those questions to burst through the door. I went out into the garden and reflected on them. My relationship with my son is important to me. I want to be an ally for him, and I want him to feel that he can talk to me openly without fear of judgement, and without having to worry that I might withdraw my love and affection from him. From the outset, I have told him that I will always love him, no matter what. I’ve put my trust in the universe that he will never do anything that will ever make me want to forsake him.
In the sanctuary that is my garden, I sat and pondered my son’s rite of passage from his teen years into early adulthood. It was inevitable that I would come to rest in the memory of my own experience, when at the age of 18 I left Ireland to find my way alone. I had barely passed my Irish Leaving Certificate because, as a student, I was distracted, insecure and lacking motivation. The idea of going to university wasn’t even on the table. Knowing that my fate would be to work as a clerk in some boring institution, if I was lucky, in a country ruled by the clergy, I ran. I wanted a life on my terms and was naïve enough to take risks. It was this naivety that enabled me to get on a ferry in Cork, leave my country for the first time, and arrive in France with hardly anything but a head full of dreams.
Mourning what wasn’t
From those humble beginnings in a cold, cramped maid’s room in the attic of a Parisienne mansion, I learnt the hard way that life is not an even playing field and it’s harder for some than it is for others to pursue their dreams. I found employment with a wealthy family in a posh quartier of the city of love. I was hired as an au-pair to look after the two-year old daughter and ensure her beautiful bedroom and stunning ensuite bathroom were kept clean and tidy. My job was to play with the child while speaking to her in English. I was paid a nominal wage plus free accommodation albeit it very basic. I shared one toilet, a wash basin and a horrible old shower with a whole host of other immigrant workers housed in the attic who did menial jobs in the building. There was a cook, a chauffeur, a cleaner, a gardener, a security guard and they were from countries that I’d never heard of. While I felt uncomfortable being in this strange place that didn’t always smell nice, I was grateful that everyone seemed kind and friendly. I counted my lucky stars every day that I had a job. It was September 1984 and Ireland’s unemployment rate stood at around 17% compared to 4% today. Every day, when the child took her nap, I tiptoed into the luxury of her ensuite bathroom and took an indulgent shower. I didn’t ask permission to do this but given that the madame of the house was rarely around, I managed to keep it under wraps.
Feeling like nobody with no prospects
There was a second daughter in the family who was 18 and at university. Not only was she a natural beauty, but she also spoke English better than me and dressed in such style that I was constantly having to compose myself and pick my jaw up off the floor. I didn’t see much of her as, like my son, her life was one big party. When she did appear in the kitchen at lunchtime, I would be busy coaxing her baby sister to eat her mashed artichokes, with her entourage of hungry friends they would raid the fridge to refuel before heading out into the Parisienne university party life. Pangs of envy always caught me unawares. Looking back now, I can see clearly why Jack Daniels became such a good friend to me. Exhausted at the end of a day spent with a tiresome toddler, I’d climb the endless, narrow flights of stairs to go home to my cold, damp space in the eaves of the building. The liquid amber friend in the bottle helped to distract me from my perceived reality of feeling like a complete nobody with no prospects. The more I drank, the less I felt. Without feelings, there was no determination to do better. I just sank into the role of poor me. Poor me who wished she was at university – learning, making friends, partying, and pursuing dreams. Instead, I was alone in my little maid’s room, wondering how the hell I was ever going to get anywhere and feeling overwhelmed with fear and sadness.
Applying Lived Experience
Much has happened since those days in the attic. And for all its ups and downs, my life has been and continues to be very interesting. I might not have felt that I was always in control of it, but I eventually got to a place where I feel more motivated. Motivation is driven by a belief that we can achieve things. When we don’t believe, we get stuck. My son is definitely motivated from what I can see. He wants to be the best jazz drummer in his year, if not in the world. I admire his determination. I see him, and hear him (!!), practicing with curiosity and eagerness. I feel his passion for what he is doing, and I listen to him attentively when he tells me that he feels grateful for his life, for the chance to do what he loves, and for the freedom that allows him to pursue his dreams. I can only hope that these qualities and values will serve to protect him from falling into the trap of relying on a substance, like I did, to make him feel happy. I can only hope that he will continue to believe in his ability and not be afraid to do hard stuff in order to achieve his dreams. I hope with all my heart that he is learning from my lived experience that we must treat our body, mind, and spirit with the respect it deserves if we are to function at our best. And we must believe in ourselves. For me it’s a case of better late than never, but for him life is only just beginning. I am excited for him. And I am excited for myself. What are you going to do today to make yourself feel excited about your life?
I will leave you with this quote from the lovely author, Paulo Coelho, ‘It is precisely the possibility of realising a dream that makes life interesting.’
I always say that you’ve got to have a dream if you are to make one come true. So, keep on dreaming. Thanks for taking the time to be here today. I appreciate you.
Love, Gill x