So tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I hated it in my teens when all the popular pretty girls in our secondary school got inundated with cards and flowers (the sixth form used to sell single roses which they would deliver to the classroom of your Valentine – I think the proceeds went to charity) and it very quickly escalated into a contest to see who could get the most. I never got – or for that matter sent – any, and in our school that singled you out for sneering and ridicule.
In my 20’s although I had some relationships I never actually managed to be in one on Valentine’s Day and by the time I was in my mid 20’s I was heartily (ha!) sick of the whole overblown marketing fiasco that I considered it to be.
Then I fell in love. Big time. And the man I fell in love with is very romantic. Not just in the hearts and flowers way but in the little gestures and moments that mean so much. I still have the roses (now dried) that he gave me on the Valentine’s Day he asked me to marry him. The first Valentine’s Day after we were married I sent a bouquet to him at work. Over the intervening years our lives have changed, and we agree that for us spending a load of money on flowers and gifts each Feb 14th is not what we want to do – we have other things we’d sooner do with our money and we mark the day each year in a way that means something to us. A couple of years ago we bought the box set of one of our favourite TV shows and had a lovely evening cuddled up watching it.
One thing that drives us both mad about the marketing of Valentine’s Day is the way so much of it seems to be saying that it is a day when men should buy things for the woman in their life. A lot of the ads I’ve seen and heard over the last few weeks have been “what should I get her? will she like this card? Is that a big enough bunch of roses?” etc etc. If Valentine’s Day is about (so the card companies tell us) celebrating love and romance and being with the one you love the most, then doesn’t that work both ways? I cannot think of an ad on mainstream TV or radio that I have seen or heard which portrays a woman choosing a Valentine’s gift for a man. Don’t even get me started on the dominance of heterosexual relationships in these ads!
You might say that’s just marketing and advertising, well maybe so, but I have seen on social media over the last few years a tendency amongst some women to expect gifts on Valentine’s Day from their husband/boyfriend yet not even consider that maybe it should be reciprocal. I know women personally who would be upset if they did not get a card/bunch of roses/chocolates tomorrow but have not bought their lover anything. They seem to see it as a day for women to be spoiled by men. Since when did this come about? And I know that not all women think that way so please don’t jump down my throat, but in my experience and observations there are a sizeable number that do. Rant over.
So how, you might wonder, am I going to spend Valentine’s Day this year? Well, firstly and most importantly, with the two people I love the most. The three of us (that’s me, husband and daughter just in case you were wondering) are going to Termonfeckin in Co. Louth to take part in Erin’s Run, a 5km run (in my case a walk) in memory of my friend’s beautiful daughter Erin who died last year. It’s also to raise money for BUMBLEance who do such an amazing job and get no state funding at all. Other very dear friends of mine will also be there – with assorted husbands and children – so I will get to spend some time with some of the other people in my life who I love and who mean so much to me.
In the evening we are treating ourselves to a great meal from a local restaurant that does take out, a good movie or two and each other’s company. Comfort, love and contentment. That’s all I want or need. However and with whomever you spend it, Happy Valentine’s Day.
I have an amazing group of friends. Well, I have lots of fabulous friends but there is one group in particular who are pretty damn special to me. These eight women have laughed with me, cried with me, marched with me and generally helped keep me somewhat sane for the last few years. These women are all mums to children with special needs, as am I. That’s how we all know each other. Our children have a wide range of needs and conditions and our family circumstances are all very different. We live in various counties in Ireland and only get to meet up in person once or twice a year. Thank goodness for Facebook and other social media!!!
At the moment some of us are anxiously waiting for decisions to be made that will hugely impact on our children and families. Decisions like will a child of 10 continue to have an SNA in his mainstream school? Will a child with complex medical needs owing to her condition have all the equipment she needs in place to start special school? Will a child of 5 be allocated a suitable transport place to enable her to attend the only unit in her county that meets her current needs? Around this time last year, other mums in this close-knit group were equally anxiously waiting to hear about SNA allocation, placement in appropriate units etc. I wonder what we will all be waiting to hear about next year.
And we are only nine families. The tip of the proverbial iceberg. We chat online most nights . We discuss the attractiveness or otherwise of certain male celebrities. We talk about books we’ve read or are planning to read – not just 50 Shades of Grey! We laugh about the funny things that happen in everyone’s lives. And we share the hard days when some of us might be worrying about our children. And we rant and complain about the lack of services for our children. Or about the fighting we have to do to access certain things which should be our children’s by right – like education, like speech and language therapy. But increasingly a note of something approaching despair is creeping in. Despair at having to keep fighting, despair that our State seems to be endlessly cutting back at services (and if I hear the phrase “budgetary constraints” again!!!) I said to them all earlier tonight that I truly feel this State (Ireland for anyone who doesn’t know where I am) does not consider our children – or anyone with a disability – to be an equal citizen with the same rights and entitlements as anyone else. None of them disagreed with me. (They wouldn’t dare ;))
But surely to goodness there is sometihng very wrong in a country when nine women of different backgrounds who are linked primarily by their children’s conditions all feel like they and their children are getting a raw deal. Like I said earlier, we are only nine families. But there are thousands more like us. Do they feel the same? In my bleaker moments I despair over the attitudes in wider society towards those with disabilities – do they also see my child and all the others as less than equal?
And in its those bleak moments that I am so thankful and grateful for the friendship of those eight women. Without their love and support and virtual safety net we have created I fear I would surely have fallen by now. So to A, A, C, G, K, L, N and T – thank you all for everything xxxxxx