Being Odd

Jaysus it’s been a long time since my last post. There’s been a lot that’s happened in the last five years, new inhabitants in the cave and all sorts! I’ll slowly fill you in I suppose but in the meantime, sure I’ll tell you the little thing that motivated me to post again after so long.

Like most of us, I grew up being told to take part/join in. It felt natural for me to do the same when I had my own kids, I was always afraid that if I mollycoddled them too much and didn’t force them a bit to get into things, they’d miss out and it would be no good for them. The first few years of CaveBoy’s life I tried to do it that way and to be perfectly honest, we were all miserable. Then I copped on that we were WAY better off letting him go his own pace but I was still a bit miserable because I felt like I needed to justify myself to other people, that I needed to prove that this wasn’t doing him a disservice. But after another few years of copping on (I’m not the quickest learner) I realised that other people have enough to be thinking about with their own lives and their own children and really couldn’t give two hoots what you’re doing with yours, once they don’t feel you’re all in some kind of competition for who’s doing it best. And so I’ve continued doing things my own way and don’t even get into discussions about it any more and I have a big beaming dopey smile practiced for anyone who questions it. Slippery like a cave eel.

Anyway this week CaveBoy (now NINE by the way) and CaveNotABabyAnyMore (new moniker needed) are gone to a local sports summer camp thing. On the first morning, before we left, I got CaveBoy to put a book and some pen and paper in his bag and when we arrived I found one of the leader fellas and talked to him with CaveBoy there. I said look, sometimes big group stuff isn’t this guy’s thing so he wants to make sure that it’s OK if he sits out a game or whatever and reads his book or does a doodle. The leader guy was all oh of course! And CaveBoy had a smile from ear to ear. And then as I left I saw he was joining in happily in the first game – because he could, because he had his escape route planned. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do that years ago because I would have felt embarrassed and self-conscious about being *that* parent. But I don’t give a crap any more! It works. It works for him and he learns that it’s OK to be a bit different and it’s OK to ask for space and take a breather when it all gets too much.

I like to think of nine year old me as well sometimes when stuff like this happens and it feels like I’m mending things that were hard for me as a kid too. I didn’t know it was OK to be a bit odd. CaveHusband would argue that I’ve now gone a bit far in the other direction and a bit of embracing normality would do me no harm but like, who listens to him anyway. It’s lovely to know though that CaveBoy might have an acceptance of his differences at an early age, one that it took me so much longer to find on my own. I’m so grateful to have a perspective now on how to be with the kids that I just didn’t have when this CaveFamily first got going.

And in honour of embracing the alternative, I’ll attach to this post a picture of CaveBoy and the latest edition of his Buttman comic that he drew at summer camp, sitting behind the net while everyone else was playing basketball. He said he got hit in the head by a few balls but it was all worth it.


Wild Summer

The delays between posts here are getting longer as the CaveFamily takes the opportunity of the first really decent summer in Ireland in years to decamp en masse to the outdoors!  There’s been camping trips and days out exploring every chance we’ve got – CaveBoy is happily turning mildly feral and CaveBaby is throwing himself full throttle at his first summer as Walking Man in the Woods.

We started with a camp in a really nice site in Roundwood at the start of June.  We didn’t get away camping at all last year because the weather was a bit miserable and CaveBaby was still so small.  We made do with trips to CaveNanny’s mobile home in Wicklow instead but were ready to hit the camping with a bang this year.  The site in Roundwood is lovely, enclosed by trees and with a small wooden playground and we were able to tell CaveBoy that the park was his oyster as long as he didn’t go out the front gate.  And oyster he made of it indeed – we hardly saw him for the weekend, bar glimpses through the trees and forages back to the tent for food.  CaveBaby was in his element too, wandering around in crocs or barefoot, stealing trikes and scooters whenever he could, messing around at water taps and making ecstatic headlong runs for more freedom every now and again.  Toddler adjusting to 24 hour unbounded living equals exhausted CaveMammy and CaveHusband!  But worth all the scurrying and chasing.  We had family down for barbecue one day, went for a walk around the upper Varty reservoir the next (this link is for the lower reservoir but the upper is just the other side of the bridge), and climbed the Sugarloaf on the way home (CaveBoy delighted to summit his first mountain, CaveMammy huffing and puffing quite a bit with CaveBaby on back in sling).


By the next trip, in a gorgeous campsite near Portsalon in North Donegal , CaveBaby had adjusted to the freedom a little.  The mad dashes spaced out a bit but could still come at any time when he felt the need for the thrill of the chase.  Return from one dash below.


Our spot was right at the end of the field, looking over Ballymastocker Bay and we had brekkie in the sea air every morning.


The beach there is just gorgeous and when the weather started to get hotter it turned into paradise.  We went up to a lookout point to take this photo and stood there incredulous, with a load of other incredulous people, all shaking our heads and saying to each other “this is Ireland, like”.


We were blessed with the most fabulous week of weather that the country’s had in years for our holliers and we had loads and loads of time outdoors while we were up there, falling into a nice rhythm of breakfast in front of the tent, washing up and packing a picnic, heading out somewhere for the day and then home for dinner, wrecked and sunburned and happy.  We took CaveBoy down walking to the cliffs at Fanad Lighthouse which was just stunning in the sunshine although he did come back with welts on his wrist from CaveHusband holding on just a little too tight at the edge, don’t-be-jumping-around-for-god’s-sake-you-have-me-heart-gone.  The story of the shipwreck that had happened there 200 years ago, with all souls lost bar the ship’s parrot, really took CaveBoy’s fancy and there was lots of speculation on which stand of rocks the poor men might have met their doom, along with a brief fizzle of excitement when he saw a seagull and asked breathlessly if that was the parrot.  The specks in the distance in this photo are CaveBoy and CaveHusband, one hand pointing out something on the horizon, the other clutching CaveBoy’s wrist with death grip.


Another day we went to the gorgeous Glenveigh National Park and walked the legs off poor CaveBoy while CaveBaby smirked at him from the sling.  We hiked in to the castle from the visitors centre in a dead heat, as shuttle buses passed us and CaveBoy wondered why we weren’t on the bus like everyone else.  Because otherwise we’d miss this beautiful walk we told him, wiping sweat off our foreheads and panting.  Ah but we were glad, the views along the lake were stunning and we saw lots of wild cotton and spent a while watching a dragon fly going about its business.  When we got up to the castle, we borrowed bug catchers from the education centre – caught nothing but CaveBaby enjoyed the hunt


and then we went up the steep upper path to look out over the lake and castle.


So beautiful.  And of course we had loads of beach time as well.  The boys dug holes at the main beach near the campsite


and we found beautiful warm rockpools at Ballyhiernan Bay and pretended we were in a fancy spa.


At the far end of Ballymastocker Bay we chased tiny hermit crabs fighting for sea snail shells and then scaled the rocks, with CaveBoy simply beaming at his accomplishment.   And some days, for a treat, we went to the fancy beach at Portsalon itself, where you could buy icecreams and plastic things for the sea and eat fish and chips and jump off the pier.  It was just blissful.  CaveBoy arrived home tanned and blonder than ever, coated in a thin sheen of salt and sand and not quite knowing where his shoes were.  Such should be the life of a child.

And so started the summer.  There’s a great group of people from the Free Range Kids in Dublin group interested in going a bit off-road over the summer so we’ve been packing the CaveCousins into the car with us and meeting up with them for day trips at all different locations near Dublin.  At Castletown House near Celbridge, the kids were very impressed by the beautiful big house and then spent hours pottering at a small stream and tunnel, picking up sticks, mixing mud and running around and around the trees and ridges beside it.


Afterwards, six pairs of feet were wiped with the one small facecloth, a record.  The grounds at Castletown are great for exploring and there are lots of little pathways through the trees and bushes and one particularly good climbing tree that they all made their way up one by one with triumphant grins.


In Ward River Valley Park in Swords we were spared the promised rain and the kids got to play in the shallow water while the adults sprawled around on the river bank.

ward river

CaveBaby was not impressed with the icy water and retreated to the grass to eat custard creams.  After that patch of river had been satisfactorily explored, we moved over to a stand of trees across the grass and the older kids found some lovely winding paths through the trees (having been shooed past the remnants of campfire and drinking session at one spot!).  CaveCousin wasn’t too sure of the forest so stayed with me and CaveBaby to play on a bouncy tree branch  which he said was just like a video game, a true compliment.   And at Newbridge House Demesne, they clambered over one huge fallen tree and later found another that was perfect for climbing with loads of foliage to take away the fear factor.  We could hear them from inside setting up some kind of game with the tree as the house, and also heard a very funny exchange between one Free Range Girl and CaveBoy, in which she told him that they were going to watch TV together on this particular branch and he said well, I’m going downstairs to watch the football.  You hear it all from behind a screen of leaves.

house tree

We had the regular Free Range Kids trips up to the Phoenix Park too, still blessed (mostly) with beautiful sunshine.  CaveBaby particularly likes that spot for building up the store of mud under his toe nails that never quite seems to come fully out in the bath.

mud foot

And just to prove that we hadn’t been magically transported to some wonderland of sunshine and warm breezes, we were treated once or twice to some downpours in the same place.


Rain gear on and we’re ready!  The kids barely noticed the rain and CaveBaby was just happy to see more mud.

And of course there was more camping: in Roundwood for another cousin’s birthday, complete with honorary birthday egg and spoon and sack races for the occasion


and then again, through the beauty of the Free Range Kids group, we got to go camping with some other families for another weekend and swap survivalist and backwoods camping tips over a cup of tea from the Kelly Kettle, the most amazing lo-tech item EVER.  The scout book was thumbed through and there was talk of building a backwoods fridge from a piece of muslin and a billy can of saltwater but fun and sloth got in the way.  Next time, next time.  We did however introduce CaveBaby to the beautiful Powerscourt waterfall while CaveBoy jumped around the rocks like a mountain goat


and managed a visit to the shores of Lough Dan and a quick sneak onto the play equipment that the scouts have set up there for their campers.


And it’s not over yet!  One more last camping hurrah planned for this month, one more Free Range Kids summer outing to go and then we say hello to September and CaveBoy starting school and all the changes that will bring *sad face*.  It’s a fabulous school where he’ll get the chance to be part of an Irish language community but, having learned so much about home education and unschooling over the last year, we would have loved to have maybe given him a few years of that before formal schooling, if the situation had been different.  But never mind – I’ve been furiously reading Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School and am looking forward to making school just one part of his life and education.  And I’ve plans to see if there’s interest among any parents in some afterschool free range activities, where we can mix language and muck in equal quantities.  So it’s bye bye to the wild summer but onwards to the new – it’ll be fun!

See you in September!

Lots of love xx CaveMammy

Free food over here

A post about the joys of foraging!  I’ve been theoretically all into foraging for wild food since I started reading some pieces about it last year but, in practice, foraging expeditions were limited until recently to a few auld blackberries in the autumn.  It’s just so hard to know how to start when you’ve never done it before.  But then my very own CaveMammy (who is the antithesis of cave-life really, living as she does in a den of electronics and computing, but she appreciates the dirt-under-the-fingernails lifestyle from an acceptable distance) bought me a copy of Wild Food for my birthday and I came over all committed to the project again.  The book’s a really nice read and describes the main types of wild food that can be gathered in Ireland over the year and gives loads of details on how they can be recognised, collected, eaten and preserved.  A good one to have on the shelf.

So first stop – wild garlic.  I was lucky enough to be out with a friend who had previously gathered and eaten it because I would have been very doubtful otherwise about picking a clump of stuff what had grown all by itself and putting it in my dinner.  The season for wild garlic is just about over now unfortunately but when it’s out it is plentiful!  This is what it looks like up close:

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And here is CaveBaby gathering some in the Phoenix Park:

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You can eat the leaves, stalks and flowers although some people apparently find the garlic flavour from the flowers too strong.  On our first trip we picked a big bagful (see artful arrangement in bowl below)

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and I used it as filling along with bacon pieces and some cheese in a crustless quiche (which, by the way, is not an omelette as it is cooked in the oven so nah).  The basic crustless quiche recipe is here but I just used cheddar in place of the recommended cheeses.  And it was seriously to die for tasty.  The texture of the wild garlic leaves means that they stand in as a kind of spinach substitute in the dish but also gave it a gorgeous garlicky flavour.  I mean look at this, how could you resist this?!!

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On the same day I’d decided to go hell for leather and harvest some dandelions for dandelion fitters as well, inspired by this great post from the daily spud.  CaveHusband was dubious.  He was tentatively agreeing to eat the wild garlic but was threatening to put the foot down at flower heads.  I pressed on and sent CaveBoy out the back garden with a scissors to cut off six of the best.  Unfortunately it was evening and they’d started to close up a bit and so they didn’t look anywhere near as pretty as the daily spudsis ones but I said we’d give it a lash anyway.  Here they are sizzling in a little batter:

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I served them and, by dint of what I call infectious enthusiasm and CaveHusband calls smiley-faced bullying, I managed to convince him AND CaveBoy to try.  CaveBoy was actually quite swept away with my talking-up of the whole thing (he trusts me, bless him) and bit in happily with an mmm, isn’t that nice dad?.  A few chews later and he politely said you know I don’t think I want to finish this one mammy.  This is how trust is eroded I guess.  CaveHusband actually said he didn’t mind them and I think he may have had a second.  The rest were all mine.  I thought they were quite tasty but then, most things deep fried in batter are.

We went on another foraging trip to the Phoenix Park shortly after and this time we collected a big old bag of the wild garlic leaves plus some nettle tips.


None of us were quite sure what we were doing with the nettles but the Wild Food book said to take the youngest little parts at the top so that we did.  With gloves and scissors of course!  I had popped CaveBaby up on to my back in the sling while we were gathering as he was being exceedingly uncooperative with regards to staying within a safe distance and not jumping off a cliff.  I must say, crouching down in a forested area, gathering wild food for your dinner, with a child slung to your back, makes you feel quite primal.  This was an intense Cave moment.

I had inspiration from the book to preserve some of the garlic in oil, make some wild garlic pesto and do up a nettle, garlic and potato soup.  So that evening CaveHusband came home to a crazy kitchen with its walls dripping in steam: kilner jars were bubbling away in boiling water to be sterilised, the soup was simmering on the back burner, there were bowls of chopped garlic leaves waiting to be submerged in olive oil for preserving and the food processor was going ninety chopping up hazelnuts, garlic leaves and cheese for the pesto.  He said nothing and walked back out.  Wise move.

And here are some of the fruits of the madness (be warned, there is much greenness).

The preserved garlic

preserved garlic

The wild garlic pesto (really strong and fresh tasting)


And the nettle and garlic soup which was DELICIOUS.

nettle soup

And that’s the foraging round-up for the minute.  The book talks about some seaweed varieties that can be gathered all year round on rocky shores so I may take a coastal scavenge soon.  Also elderflower has just come into season and I’ve heard tell of a recipe for elderflower champagne which sounds just gorgeous so am hoping to experiment with that.  The menu for garden parties at the Cave this summer will be … different.

Love, from a patch of forest and free food near you xx


Frozen streams and icy fields

Jeanie Mac, busy two months for CaveMammy!  I haven’t had a minute to write up any adventures for the last while what with the demands of work, home and a newly mobile CaveBaby that tries to scale or jump off every object that appears in his path.  It’s May now and finally getting sunnier and so the free range adventures are changing shape.  But there are still some winter stories to be told, to round things off before we put on the shorts and t-shirts in the hope of a bit of Vitamin D!  Here’s two from January.

Tue 15th Jan.  One free range Tuesday we learned that full body immersion in streams, in winter, is not a good idea.

It was an icy cold day.  We’d arranged to meet up with a few people at the Red Stables carpark in St Anne’s and were all excited to be expanding our Tuesday gang.  We geared up in the carpark like the explorers we are and set out for the park.  First stop a huge patch of mud (we later realised it smelled suspiciously of manure but we didn’t let it ruin the moment).  It was very very squelchy and there was lots of satisfying plopping and stomping.  Poor CaveBoy was having what we like to call a sensitive day and a fall into the mud with the loss of a boot was all too much.  There were tears.  A wet sock was taken off but the welly boot was rubbing.  There were more tears.  It was all going a bit Pete Tong for CaveBoy.  To save the day (ah little did we know!), we suggested heading to the steam for a play.  So we went back to the cool spot where you can cross the stream on stepping stones, climb up through a path in the trees and come back around over the bridge.  Great fun.

CaveBoy, be careful of those rocks, they’re very slippy.  CaveBoy, if you’re going to walk across that rock, you need to go slowly, you’ll slip.  CaveBoy … splash.  I think I now know what a banshee would sound like.  Full body immersion, backside first, into a FREEZING cold pool of water between the rocks.  The humanity.

After the blood-curdling howls had died down and a bit of mopping had happened, we decided to continue on.  More friends came along at this stage and we found a nice shallow, shingly spot that was great for splashing.   There were chasing games on the embankment further on and some swinging on a rope that had been hung up on a tree.  The photo below of the kids on the embankment is the only one we have on the day.  I would have loved a photo of CaveBoy in that river but I felt I might be reported to some kind of service if my first response was to take out the camera.

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But the cold was getting in on everyone at this stage.  One of the free rangers had stuffed her mams gloves into her wellies to keep her feet warm.  Another one was wearing not-quite-waterproof pink ski boots and had poor little wrinkled tootsies from all the waterlogging.  And CaveBoy was going downhill fast and starting to shake so we had to take our leave and hotfoot it back to the car.  As we passed the normal people in the playground, who hadn’t allowed their children to fall into a stream, CaveBoy was keening dramatically.  Please try to stop, said I, we’re nearly there and people are looking.  I’m sorry for crying mammy, said he, but I’m cold and wet and sad.  Arrow. Through. Heart.  Please don’t call the services on me, I’ve learned my lesson!

Back to the car and the quickest ever change into warm dry clothes.  After a singsong on the way home to lift the spirits, we deconstructed the afternoon.  Maybe next time, we won’t jump on the slippy rocks, I suggested.  An emphatic NO to that and a firm decision from both of them that they would stay clear of all water until the summer comes and the sun makes it all warm.  Ha!  They seem unaware that they live in a country where summer takes place on a specified weekend but hey, who am I to question the innocence of youth?

Tue 22nd Jan.  The ice fields of Santry.

We went to pick up CaveCousin from his preschool, as we do on a Tuesday, but there was disaster! CaveAunty had forgotten to leave the carseat!  In fact, it ended up being a great turn of events as the park we were going to (Santry Demesne) is on a bus route from our house and I had been contemplating going by bus but was wary of going without the comfort of the car and dry clothes in the boot.  But now we had no choice so decided to bite the bullet.  I couldn’t carry too much with CaveBaby on my back in the sling so I packed a messenger bag with the bare minimum – two facecloths for mop-ups/dry-ups, spare socks and gloves, a few babywipes and some water.  After the escapades of the week before, the boys were warned within inches of their lives – do NOT fall into wet mud or water or you will be cold and miserable all the way home!  Ok, Ok, they groaned and off we went with high excitement to get the bus.

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It had been very cold the week before and had even snowed a little so the air was icy.  I wasn’t too keen on coming in the main entrance to the park as the playground is in full view and I didn’t want the playground pestering to start straight away but they were happy enough when I told them they could go over for a few minutes at the end.  I’d intended to cross the main open park space near the entrance and explore the trees and steppes on the other side but we hit the motherlode when we saw that the huge pools of water in the centre, that had formed through bad drainage, had all frozen over!

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We had the best of fun cracking the ice.  We stepped forward holding hands, cracking, cracking, and then legging it back when it started to get deep.  CaveBoy liked the two feet jump method of cracking

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while CaveCousin preferred a more methodical stick based approach.

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No pool, no matter how small, was left uncracked and they can be seen here combining their tactics to finish off an outlier.

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One pool was particularly large and deep and CaveBoy took it upon himself to crack his way to the tree in the middle.  Do you think that’s a good idea CaveBoy?  Yes, Mammy – said airily.  While circling the hard ice at the base, he lost his footing and CaveCousin and I watched, jaws dropping, as he fell in slow motion.  Two seconds on the ice and back up – I’m not wet, I’m not wet!  The look of horror on his face – I’m not sure if it was fear of being ice cold again or of being murdered for falling after all the warnings.  But all was well.

The fallen logs that are there were covered in ice too so they had some fun walking along those with help – they were hugely slippy and it was an real physical and mental challenge to stay on.  I could only hold hands with one person at a time so they had to take turns, turn ending when they slipped off.  The competition was fierce!  And then finally, I relented and said we could go the playground but, when we got to the gate, there was a sign saying it was closed due to frost. Ha, score for CaveMammy!  I scowl at you playground from under my brolly.

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Drizzle was setting in at that stage and it was time for home.  CaveBaby had slept through the whole thing on my back and was slowly waking up now making puzzled squeaks.  Back out we went through some frozen mud to get the bus and it was very satisfying for once to not have to worry about changing them before the journey back but to just head off home, strip them off in the hallway of the house and send them into the warm sitting room in their pants and t-shirt to heat up.  Public transport seriously is the business.

Over the wild side

6th and 8th January

The plan was to have a Sunday CaveFamily walk, to head off early to somewhere in the Dublin mountains and take a little wander.  But it was one of those days where getting four people washed, dressed and filled with a bit of breakfast, putting together a dinner to go in the slow cooker and managing to bring some order to the increasingly disordered and dusty cave all conspired to make us later than late.  By the time we were ready for the mountains, that wintery afternoon light had set in and we knew we’d never make it in time to enjoy it before dark.  After a quick consultation, during which possible reasons for our lateness were discussed in an amicable fashion by the adults of the Cave, we settled on a trip over to the wilder side of the Phoenix Park as the best option for the day.  CaveBoy’s friend from next door was roped in for the adventure, clad in a spare pair of waterproof dungarees.

We headed to the carpark at Knockmaroon Gate, on the Chapelizod side of the Park.  It’s a fine big carpark and you’ve only to step away and up a hill and you’re right into decent forest.  There were a few trees cut down and the kids got great fun out of climbing and jumping and clambering all over them, especially as the ground at one end had dissolved into a pool of sticky muck that produced very satisfying splashes when landed in from a height.

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 Another family came along and there was a stand off between the small people on each side.  Who owns this patch of land I say?  CaveBoy took a good vantage point and eyeballed them.

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We had tried to put shoes on CaveBaby before we left the house and he had stood stockstill in the middle of the floor and screamed as if his soles had been painted with a mix of acid and superglue.  So we gave up on proper footwear.  But did still want to let him down for a little explore so popped him down amongst the logs with two pairs of thick socks on for protection. 

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He LOVED being out of the sling but was extremely perplexed by this uneven surface, so far removed from laminate flooring and tiles, and he spent almost half the time hauling himself back up on a log after tripping over a bunch of leaves or a stray thorny branch.  This is his perplexed not-sure-if-I’m-enjoying-this face.

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We found the steps down to the pond at the back of the forest and followed the path around to a great little stream for splashing and kicking.  CaveBaby was back in the sling at this stage and could only gaze longingly at the water while I explained that only CaveBabies that didn’t treat wellies like the work of the devil could paddle with the big kids.  There was an easy path back to the carpark but on the urging of CaveBoy, the rest of them took a hike over the steep slope, sliding down in the mud numerous times before finally getting to the top.  Sensible CaveMammy took the longer, less slidy route.

We had such a good time that we decided to come back again for our Free Range Tuesday a few days later.  We had a Free Range friend along for company, the very impressive 2 year old Ella, who was chomping at the bit for her mucky adventure and was racing round with CaveBoy and CaveCousin within minutes of getting her wellies and rain gear on.  We did the same circuit again so lots more fun on the logs in the forest.  On the way past the pond, CaveBoy spotted a few criss-crossed logs and wanted a hand to get across them.  But we didn’t count on how quicksand-like the muck around them was and there was nearly a family pile up (or at least a bruised backside for me and a mucky shock for CaveBaby on my back!).  Balance, not usually my virtue, was found somewhere and  with disaster averted, we hooshed the whole crowd of them on towards the stream.  Little Ella, who was doing really well on little toddler legs, was sold straight away on the water and hopped in with the boys.

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 You can see in this photo that the stream continues right up to the road and then goes under it.

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 We hadn’t gone all the way on Sunday but did today and found a cool looking stone drain.

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This drain was irresistible to CaveBoy.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a second but he would have been in it.  In my mind’s eye I could see the discussion with the triage nurse as I explained why I had allowed my four year old to explore a storm drain.  This is not a discussion I wanted to have so a tight leash was kept.  He begrudgingly played ball and he and CaveCousin went back to tramping through the water, bashing overgrown grass and relocating big rocks.

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And then the cold set in and little fingers started to feel the chill and it was time to head back.  CaveBoy, glutton for punishment, found another mountain to climb over while the rest of us took the easy path.  Back at the car the two little men crashed and it was a race to get them stripped, dressed and into the warm car with a snack before the adventure did them in completely.  Once three happy boys were strapped in the back, happily munching, it was time for CaveMammy to fling the usual huge plastic bag of mucky gear into the boot and drive us all back to Nanny Noeleen’s for treats and coffee and some home comforts.  Nothing like a cold day and an icy stream to help you appreciate a warm Nanny’s.

Sofa birthing

CaveBaby was born at home.  On our sofa in fact.  It was fun telling visitors afterwards that he was born “just where you’re sitting actually” and watching them gently edge to the side of the couch. 

CaveBaby’s birth was a planned homebirth with a wonderful independent midwife.  There are some opportunities in Ireland to have a homebirth under a hospital scheme but for those who don’t live in the limited catchment area for these schemes, engaging the services of a self-employed community midwife is the only way to have a birth at home.  Women don’t choose to birth at home for the same reason people decide to do a bungee jump.  Or run an ultra-marathon.  It’s not some kind of risk-seeking behaviour or an attempt to prove some level of physical stamina and capacity.  Most couples who have their babies at home do so, like us, because they know that labour and birth are normal physiological processes, which are aided by peace, calm and privacy and as little outside intervention as possible.  And while they are happy that hospital birth services exist for pregnancies with complications or if there are difficulties in labour, they believe that the hospital environment is not always the best place for a woman in normal labour to have a normal, natural birth, even if only because bright lights, clock-watching and multiple examinations are most definitely not conducive to relaxing and, you know, letting your body do its thing.  Oh plus of course, it fits with being all Cave-like and stuff. 

But the self-employed community midwives operate under a memorandum of understanding with the HSE.  And the HSE is in the process of writing into this memorandum a number of stipulations that will restrict who can have a homebirth.  The killer about this is that most of the stipulations originated as recommendations in the UK, where they are used as guidelines to help a woman and midwife decide if homebirth is the right option in their case.  But they are being translated in this country as non-negotiable rules and so a midwife who uses her own judgement to take on a case which falls outside the narrow guidelines will be in breach of the law and may face prosecution.  One of the proposed rules is that there will be two midwifes in attendance at every homebirth.  Not only is this not necessary, it is practically impossible for a couple to organise.  There is a huge shortage of independent midwives as it is, and there are many women who cannot have homebirths because all of their local midwives are booked up.  Trying to find two midwives to attend the birth and trying to find the money to pay the fees of both midwives will make homebirth a non-option in the future for so many families. 

If you have a minute, maybe you might sign this petition in relation to this issue.  It means an awful lot to many women in Ireland.  Let CaveBaby2 be born on the same sofa!  And in the meantime, here’s a little story about our birth at home that I wrote for the Home Birth Association magazine, that might show how relaxed and beautiful it can be.



Our birth at home, November 2011.

“I’ll be honest, although I was so excited about the home birth throughout the pregnancy, I was also very fearful that it wouldn’t happen naturally and that we would end up in hospital at some stage in the process, either to be induced or for lack of progress or for some post-birth issue.  This was my second baby. My first labour was quite stressful as I felt I was “arguing” with the hospital midwives about interventions that I didn’t want to happen.  I avoided some but when I wasn’t progressing as per the stupid bloody chart they have, my labour was artificially augmented with synthetic oxytocin.  This was with my reluctant consent.  The contractions became quite intense from that point on and I was very disconnected from the rest of the birth.  When he was born I was totally shocked and numb and had a very hard time for the next few months, both with my physical recovery and with my relationship with my new baby.  I continued to feel very disconnected from him for a while after.  Thankfully, I eventually recovered really well physically and he and I developed a gorgeous bond, to the point where it is hard to remember how different I felt in those early days!  I was keen even from that point to have a different birth experience for my next child and started to look into home birth.  But although I knew that the interventions on my first birth had been unnecessary, there was a horrible nagging doubt in my mind that I might not be able to progress my labour without the use of drugs.  I worked hard to let go of that fear but it never disappeared completely – I mention it because it stayed with me all through the birth and was as much part of my experience as the peace and calm was! 

So, to the story.  As I went a number of days overdue, I was getting more and more anxious (while trying to stay relaxed – eek!).  I did all the things everyone does, long walks under the full moon, extra mmm mmm, pineapple and curries, the works.  Also had some reflexology when I was 9 days overdue but nothing seemed to be budging this baby.  At 11 days over I started to get mild contractions every 20 minutes or so and was fairly sure things were starting.  But the contractions didn’t get any closer or any more intense and I didn’t know whether to get the midwife out (she has an hour’s journey to our house) because I was afraid to look silly!  We texted back and forth and eventually I asked her to come and rang my mam to pick up the older lad when he woke up.  So my mam arrived and got him, the midwife came shortly after and, well, everything just slowed right down! I now think that all that fear and the adrenaline of finally deciding “this is it” made me shut down for a while.  I was having pains but not regularly so I got dressed and went for a walk around the estate with himself.  We had a good laugh because I kept threatening to get down on my knees at the neighbours’ windows and do some labour roaring.  We got back and I kept moving around the house as the midwife wanted me to get labour get a bit more established before I got into the birth pool we’d set up.  By about 3, we were back in action with good strong regular pains.  So into the pool I went.  It’s gas, as much as I wanted a birth where I was in the driving seat and allowed to go at my own pace, I was stunned to realise that I was craving someone to tell me how far I had progressed, to give me the stats in centimetres you could say.  The midwife would ask me a question about the pains or the sensations and inside I was saying “you tell me!”.  Very hard to let go of white coat syndrome. 

The next few hours in the pool just passed by so peacefully.  I was listening to the Gentlebirth music on my headphones and breathing through the contractions.  The house was silent outside of my CD player and the midwife was in the sitting room, coming in and out to check on me.  At around 4, himself decided to make a stew and I think that was the moment that told me I wasn’t in hospital birth Kansas any more, as I breathed through a contraction in a pool in my kitchen, listening to peaceful music, while in the distance, I could hear carrots being scraped.  At one stage I asked him if he was going to have to brown mince as I might head into the sitting room for a while in case the smell made me ill.  He looked at me like I was bonkers and said “I can leave off the mince you mad thing, it’s not that important!”. 

But I let him brown the mince, would have been a shame to waste all the stew preparation.

As the contractions started to get more intense, I was finding it harder to stay relaxed.  Himself was great and kept repeating the birthing prompts that I’d gotten from the Gentlebirth workshop, especially the one “shoulders limp, body limp, chest relaxed”.  That really helped.  I had a wobbly moment where I thought it would all be better if I could get out of the pool (as if that’s where the contractions were coming from!).  I got them to help me into the sitting room, had two contractions there, realised they were better in the pool (!) and got them to bring me back in.  It was around 7 at this stage and the contractions were massively intense and each one felt like being steamrollered.  I was panicking a bit and remember wondering if this meant I was in transition.  I asked the midwife for some gas and air and that took the edge of a bit and helped me stay calm.  The two of them had a bowl of stew each at this stage but I wasn’t in any fit form for eating by then.  Soon enough after that, I started feeling a lot of pressure and we moved into the sitting room which they had set up so nicely with towels and candles and the fire on.  A few different positions and a bit of hard work and suddenly baby was up and on my chest and roaring at the world. 

We let the cord stop pulsating before clamping to make sure that all of the baby’s bloody supply transferred to him.  I wasn’t prepared for this meaning that fierce contractions continued and was a bit shocked but I sucked the gas and air and got through it.  We just rested together for the next hour or two, little man had a good feed and the midwife pottered around cleaning up.   Baby was born at 9.01pm and by midnight, she had us both cleaned up, dressed and tucked into bed and left us  to enjoy our first night with the new addition. 

Birthing at home was amazing.  I felt so empowered by it and so much more connected to the process and to the new baby as a result.  Himself can’t get over it, he says in hospital for our first he felt like a useless lump but at home he actually felt like he had a part to play.  There was no rush, no panic, everything went at just the right speed for little man to make his way to us and straight afterwards we got to cuddle in our own family bed.  Older brother took to him well although when he saw a post-birth picture of him the next morning (with the new baby wrapped in an old towel) his first reaction was ‘that’s my towel, he has to put that back in my room’!  Sibling rivalry straight away. 

Oh and I had a bowl of the stew for lunch the next day and it was only gorgeous.”

peadar towel

Follies, follies everywhere

Tuesday 13th Nov 2012

This was the day I discovered how absolutely fantastic St. Anne’s Park in Clontarf is for adventures.  We had barely scratched the surface on the first trip!

CaveCousin wasn’t able to make it with us this day but we had the great company of a friend, who lives near St. Anne’s, and her gorgeous baby girl.  This was supposed to be CaveBaby’s first escape from the confines of the sling and he was all geared up in his red rain dungarees for the occasion but in the end we spent so much time on the walk that it was getting too late and too dark to desling him when we found a suitable spot.  So his feet didn’t get to touch soil and he was so disgusted he refused to talk to us on the car journey home.

Fiona knows the park well so led us off towards the stream.  On the way we passed a tree which looked excellent for climbing and so a pitstop was made.  Fiona was initiated into the wonderful (and repetitive) world of little boys and superhero games and was designated the role of Green Goblin by CaveBoy.  In repayment, CaveBoy then babysat little Luna while Fiona climbed the tree.


There is so much cool stuff everywhere in St. Anne’s.  On the way down to the stream we passed under a stone arch and the path turns up ahead so you can’t see exactly where you’re heading as you come through it.  And there are exposed tree roots on all sides so there was as much clambering and sliding as any four year old could require.


We hit the path by the stream at that point and were searching for a good paddling spot.  The side of the stream is a bit steep and slippy in places and then, when we did find a spot easy enough to get down, it was realised very quickly that the water here failed the crucial does-it-hit-the-top-of-your-wellies test.  Retreat!

Eventually we found an excellent place for a good play.  There are big stones laid across the stream here that are handy for stepping on and that also make a bit of a dam and waterfall that’s very exciting altogether.  Even better, when you step across the stones to the other side, there’s a pathway cut through the trees that curves around and deposits you back on the bridge over the stream.  Rushing water, secret passageways and elevated vantage points?! Kid heaven I tell you.


Further on there’s another folly built high up on the side of the path.  If I knew my architecture I could tell you something about the style but I don’t so let’s say it has pillars and a veranda and you get there by climbing tree roots and we’ll leave it at that.  I will freely admit that I do have a low excitement threshold when we’re out and about and I can be enthralled by very little but this was really, properly, magical stuff.  CaveBoy thought he’d discovered a ruined castle.  Me and CaveBaby scrambled our way up the tree roots in a most ungainly fashion and surveyed our domain from the balcony.  

And this wasn’t the end of it.  On down the path we came to the lake with an island and waterfall in the middle and another mysterious building to explore at the side (I’m fairly sure it was a boathouse but we left the mystery untouched for the moment).  There was more climbing here and Fiona was pressed into more superhero games while CaveMammy took the chance of a break from being one of a list of villains.  As we circled back towards the playground we came across another spot that you could spend an hour in alone, with a bridge and a tower and, wait for it, a cave.  Fiona insisted the CaveFamily be pictured.


(Note: the attempt to lean forward to get CaveBaby in the shot has given CaveMammy a fairly unflattering posture in this photo.  In truth, I look a little demented.  But CaveBoy still loves me so all is ok with the world).  Anyway, it was starting to get dark and cold at this stage so we made our way back to the car.  We’d a quick detour to the lovely wooden playground on the way; CaveBoy ran around a few slides and I got on the swings with CaveBaby but he was not for turning and remained unimpressed that he hadn’t been let out to explore all the tree roots.  So we gave him space.

Sometimes it’s hard being a CaveBaby.

Till next time xx