PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD SEPTEMBER 2019
It’s funny, when I think back to years ago, how people would often greet each other with the words, “Well, how are you – keeping busy?” That’s funny because life in Ireland really did used to be considerably slower than it is nowadays, and often, we weren’t very busy at all.
The term “keeping busy?”, then, was more a figure of speech than an actual question demanding a response. If we were to answer, it’d probably be something like, “Uh…no. Not really, no. In fact, I’m decidedly un-busy, if such a word exists.”
In 2019 Ireland, the whole thing has been turned on its head. These days nobody who considers themselves cool uses folksy turns of phrase such as “keeping busy?”
They all greet each other with “Hey, guys!” in a stupid put-on accent, because they watch way too many videos of American vloggers and are secretly ashamed of the fact that they grew up in a bungalow outside Kinnegad. (They also hate that their parents, those irredeemably gauche bog-trotters, still cheerily use “keeping busy?” Like, the embarrassment!)
But I digress. The second part of my ironical diptych is the fact that, in direct contradistinction to our 1980s and ‘90s forebears, life in Ireland now is incredibly busy. I mean, ridiculously so – especially if you have children aged anywhere between about three and 18.
This is the time of year when, along with returning to school – which brings its own time-pressures – extra-curricular “activities” are also cranking back into gear. From last week to the end of this month, most of our little darlings’ classes and pastimes will have returned in full flow.
And my God, it’s like trying to arrange a land invasion of Afghanistan. In fact part of me suspects that certain geopolitical string-pullers deliberately engineer wholesale warfare just so they can avoid helping Mrs String-Puller sort out little Johnny and Mary String-Puller’s calendars.
It’s mad, how busy the whirl of our children’s lives has become. I only have two of my own, and there are two grown-ups sharing the load here.
But still, I had to sit down and literally draw out a chart, noting down each activity’s day, starting and end times, and what date it begins. You also have to mark down what needs to be brought to school the following morning: sports gear, musical instrument, whatever. Even with this clear, geometrical, easy-to-understand diagram, I’m barely able to keep up.
And my nippers wouldn’t be the busiest in their year, by any manner of means. Some kids seem to have pre-school, after-school and evening classes, of some sort, each night of the week, with a few thrown in on Saturdays and Sundays for good measure.
Then there are playdates, organised birthday parties and sundry road-trips of an educational and/or inspirational nature at weekends, which make you feel even more like the kids’ social secretary and personal assistant than their mam or dad. (You’re also the unpaid maid, chauffeur, chef, laundrette, psychotherapist and general all-round emotional punch-bag. Ah, the magic of parenthood…)
Now obviously you don’t want the children to do nothing but sit in front of the telly all day; a life not spent being at least some bit busy is only a life half-lived. It is objectively a good thing for kids to learn music, sport, self-defence, chess, art and so on and so forth. I have no disagreement with any of that.
Still, though – I wonder has the balance tipped too far in the other direction? I refer you back to my activities wall-chart for an answer.
I bet my own parents didn’t have a chart on their wall for me and my siblings, and there were six of us. Of course, this is because the only extracurricular activities available during my childhood were standing outside in the cold, standing outside in the rain, being given jobs to do, being given a clip around the ear for reasons of varying degrees of plausibility, asking your parents for things and being refused, sharing a smoke with whichever of the local yahoos was closest to you in age, and staring into space at mass on a Sunday. No need for a chart!
I’m half-thinking about taking up taekwondo this winter – basically, I want to quit being such a wuss and get to the point where I can take a belt to the head without crying like a big baby. Mentioning this the other day, one of my children asked why I hadn’t done martial arts as a kid.
Reader, I laughed. (Bitter tears.) Dada never did taekwondo, I told them, because back in the 1980s the nearest class was probably in Los Angeles. Though those local yahoos with the cigarettes were handy enough with the old kicks to the head, now that I think of it.
All that’s about to change, though, as I finally get the chance to transform myself from soft office-wimp to steely, fists-of-fury type killing machine. All I need to do is find an empty slot on that wall-chart.