A Public (In)Convenience


Question: If a Dad of little girls (3 to 6yrs approx) is out and about with them, as the sole adult, where does he take them to the toilet?

A woman brings little girls, or boys, into the Ladies with her. I came across a situation lately that really made me think – what does a Dad do?

We were on holidays, in Ireland, in a town where a festival was taking place. The streets, pubs etc were all packed. My 9yr old daughter and I went to a pub loo together.

I opened the Ladies door to be met by a man standing by the hand-basins. My initial thought was that one of us had taken a wrong turn, so much so that I starting backing out. Catching my reaction, the man quickly said that his wife was busy watching something at the festival so he had to bring his girls to the loo.  Two girls, age approx 4 and 6 then came out of a cublicle together and proceeded to wash their hands. We carried on using the facilities and that was that.

But thinking this over afterwards, a lot of things struck me;

  • If I was this man I would have insisted that his wife bring them to the toilet
  • I would also have waited outside the toilet for them to come out. They clearly did not need his assistance.
  • If another man in this situation ever asked me to ‘keep an eye’ on his girls while they went into the Ladies, that would be fine by me too.
  • If my daughter had gone to the loo on her own, as often happens, and had come back to say there was a man in the room, what would I have said/done?

But not to focus just on this one situation, there is a bigger picture here.

What does a Dad of little girls do? If they are young enough to need help, where do you bring them? And what about nappy changing of babies in general. I don’t remember my husband ever saying he saw a changing table in a men’s room. Some places have baby changing facilities as a standalone, but this is rare. 

Which is worse – Dad bringing his 3yr old girl into the Mens or the Ladies? He has to bring them somewhere.

One solution, which is more common abroad, is the unisex loo. ie a single cubicle just marked ‘toilet’ with handwashing etc outside in a communal area. I have seen them in petrol stations and shops, usually where space is at a premium. Modern public pay-per-loo, of the ‘Tardis-like’ variety, are also unisex. They both certainly solve the problem above.

Public toileting arrangements probably stem from the quainter days when Mammy did all the childcare, and kids would rarely if ever be out with just Dad. While Mens and Ladies are still a requirement, I think planners also need to drag themselves into the 21st century. Family friendly facilities please!

Thoughts anyone?




From Apron Strings to Purse Strings – a Graduation

‘Gender quotas. Miriam for President. Mammy O’ Rourke

Amid all the talk of women in political life, you’d occasionally hear a suggestion that the country’s purse strings be handed to housewives. Specifically, to that generation of women who gave up work when they married (because they had to) and generally had more children and less income than their modern day counterparts.

Well, if they’re looking for nominations, I’d be very quick to put my own mother’s name on the ballot sheet.

As children growing up my mother would sell us a stamp, lend us a pound. Not because she is not generous – she is, to a fault – but because she wanted to teach us to value and respect money. A bigger loan amount could also be generously given, but possibly attracting a higher interest rate or maybe a shorter repayment term than available in your unfriendly neighbourhood bank.

Mam would think nothing of phoning up the supermarket to query an ‘after the decimal point’ error on the till receipt. In fact she could be best seen in action in said supermarket. Sometimes a ” pound of mince ” was a much more precise request than was appreciated. I was the red faced child beside the trolley, as the butcher was admonished to adjust, and maybe adjust again, to suit. She was way ahead of their ’rounding up’ sales drive.

I say none of this to be derogatory or in any way scathing. My mother is a complete monetary whizz and my financial heroine. My father, himself good with money, regularly takes his hat off to her. The mantra she has always lived by is ‘ look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’. As her child you would never bring home less than every single penny of the change from the shops. People who won’t bend down in a queue to pick up a copper coin make her mad. I don’t think I’ll tell her about my friend who sweeps them into the bin rather than stoop to pick them up…

My parents live their lives in the black. In so far as I know, anything needed is either paid for upfront or saved for. Bar a mortgage and perhaps a car loan, I don’t think my parents ever borrowed money. As teenagers, my siblings and I were all encouraged to get weekend jobs and start paying for certain things for ourselves. It gave us financial independence but also a respect for money. And I think we have all turned out, to a greater or lesser degree perhaps, to be ‘good with money’.

I have never had an overdraft or a personal loan. I’m good at saving and cutting my cloth. This is not a boast, by the way. If you aspire to the ‘you must speculate to accumulate’ theory, you’re probably laughing by now. But it is how I was brought up. And in the current times, I’m so very glad of it.

Thanks, Mam.

Let’s Party like it’s 1979

It is a wet Wednesday afternoon. I’m on my way from work, to the shops, with two complaining children in the back of the car. I have a dozen better things to do with my time – and money. But I’m off to buy a birthday present. Because – despite not a single invitation in my own name – I find myself on the party circuit. The children’s birthday party circuit.

It starts somewhere post arrival into Junior Infants, and seems to continue right up to age ten or so. The little envelopes are passed among chubby hands and so the social whirl begins. Being conservative, it might be ten invites in a year (and ten presents) multiplied by – in my case – two children. Can you feel the frenzy starting to build?

They can come two a week, two a month or sporadically. Sometimes you hardly even get any notice of an event. I could send the child off minus present, but I don’t want to end up owing a gift, building up a backlog, or more likely still, forgetting a present. So I scurry off like a hamster to buy another present and stay on the party wheel.

Gift Box - or Pandora's Box?

And yes – doesn’t it all sound ridiculous? But once the first invite is received, the genie is already out of the bottle.

The average spend per gift seems to be €15/€20 (not too mean, not too lavish?) And yes there is an inevitable keeping up appearances element. It’s a lot of dosh when you do the annual party-math. I’ve noticed a more recent trend of giving gift vouchers or even cash. So maybe I’m not the only one with party fatigue. At this rate, we may as well just stand around the schoolyard and let the cash go round in a big ring-a-rosy circle.

I’m not against parties at all. I just find all the presents that have to be bought – and the swag-bag load of gifts that children then inevitably receive – almost maddening. I had and went to lots of parties as a 70s child. I actually just don’t remember a haul of parcels along the way. And I don’t think it’s because my memory is going.

My children get too many toys. They don’t appreciate them, don’t play with them enough. We’ve cut down on family gift buying ( too many nieces/nephews, just the Godparent should buy etc.) I recycle toys, give away to charity, hide presents for later production. I also re-gift (what a great word). And still  their playroom is an embarrassment of toy riches. I feel almost powerless to do much about it. Even specific requests for no toys, or clothing/sporting alternatives fall on deaf ears. Maybe I’m deemed a meany-bag, kill-joy Mammy…

People would probably say it’s the modern way and I’ll just have to get with the programme – so can anything be done? Sometimes – probably mid-hurtle to Smyths – I dream about texting all the other Mammies and suggesting no pressies this year, or maybe a token €5 limit. I actually imagine 7 out of 10 might rejoice – at last some one said it! But I do think some would be horrified. And let’s face it, once the party circuit kicks off for your child, it’s probably already too late to intervene.

So although I love my children small (y’know, cherubic, unworldly, ultra-affectionate) and possibly never truly want them to be teenagers – I do look forward to the post party-circuit era. Any other parents drink to that? Let’s party!

1st Day of School – there will be tears…

 It happens every September. About 60,000 times. It’s a rite of passage as routine as the ABC itself.

So why as parents do we end up in a heap about our own children starting school? I went though it with my now 7yr old, and my 5 yr old – and youngest – is currently getting ready for “Yellow School”…

Unlike our own school days, most children starting out now are already graduates of playschool or crèche. The scenario of the vice like grip on Mammy’s arm or leg is much rarer. So the child is less daunted, but what about the poor parent? Yes, you’ll see your angel again in about three hours, but it’s about much more than that.

Maybe it’s the uniform. The first day you help them into it, your baby (probably 4.5 years old, but who’s counting ) is transformed. The little starchy collar, the first V-neck jumper and that easy-as-pie elasticated tie. But they’re still all innocence, big eyes and dewy soft skin. By the time they rip it off for the very last time, your son will be towering over you, all stubble and attitude. Your daughter – all make up and attitude. And officially an ADULT.

And how loudly did I scoff at those mothers who used to ring the late, great Gerry Ryan every 1st of September, weeping and wailing. On National Radio for heavens sake. Little to be doing with themselves.

But now I can see it’s not little. It’s big. Your little precious child is starting out on a very big and important adventure. One that will last for up to 14 years. Part of our role as parents is coming to an end and another is just beginning.

So you’ll pack the little lunchbox and hope they feel like eating it. And worry that they’ll manage it all by themselves. Because even though you know they can do it, how often do you help? Pull the wrapper, open the straw, peel the skin? Just because you can. You’ll hope they won’t need the emergency tissues you put in, or if they do they’ll at least remember they’re there.

Which brings us on to the crying. We’ve talked about being brave, about Mummy/Daddy coming back very soon and how much fun it’s going to be. But it is a difficult day, so I think it’s unavoidable. You will probably cry for Ireland.

With luck , you’ll hold it together ‘til you’ve departed the roomful of brave four year olds. One idea would be to host a Coffee – and – Kleenex Morning for all the teary eyed. It might be for first-day virgins only, for a total gold star wallow in self pity. But then some of the more seasoned parents really should be there to rein you in and share their coping strategies. You can call the rolla and throw in the cúpla focail. You can eat little triangle sandwiches out of Tupperware boxes, washed down with Ribena. And make sure and ask that everyone put their hand up if they need to use the loo.

Then in no time it’ll be back to the school gates for the end of a big and special day. Soon enough we’ll probably be scrambling for missing ties, hounding them into the car, chasing to get homework done. The routine will be quickly established.

But until then there’s still a little time to enjoy the last innocence of pre-school. And to practice being brave. And I don’t mean the children…..