Authors: Sinead Moriarty
Me and My Sisters
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published 2011
Copyright © Sinéad Moriarty, 2011
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Table of Contents
Once upon a time there were three sisters …
and a brother who lived in a tree
We stood under the tree, peering up. Even though it was only five thirty in the afternoon, it was pitch dark.
‘Uncle Gavin!’ the triplets shouted. ‘Happy nearly Christmas!’
‘GAVIN!’ I roared at my brother.
‘The name’s Willow,’ the tree replied.
‘Oh, for God’s sake – Willow, then.’
My brother’s face appeared over the branch. ‘That’s better.’ He grinned.
‘Can we come up?’ the triplets begged.
‘I’m not sure there’s enough room, guys. Why don’t we do it one by one?’ Gavin suggested.
‘How are you doing up there?’ Harry, my husband, asked.
‘It’s surprisingly comfortable,’ Gavin replied.
‘Really? Well, I think you’re stark raving mad. It’s freezing.’ Harry rubbed his gloved hands together.
‘It’s OK if you have the right gear,’ Gavin assured him.
While Harry lifted Liam up to his uncle’s makeshift tree-house, I tried to talk sense into my brother. ‘You’ve been up there a week now. Don’t you think you’ve made your point?’
‘Julie, until they agree to cancel the clubhouse expansion and save this tree, I’m going nowhere. You have to stand by your beliefs. The problem today is that people are apathetic about everything. Money is the new religion. You’ll thank me when your kids are older.’ Wagging his finger at me, he added, ‘Remember, Julie, we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’
‘He has a point,’ Harry said.
‘Don’t encourage him,’ I hissed.
‘This is so cool!’ Liam shouted down at his brothers.
‘My turn! My turn!’ Luke was impatient to get up.
I turned back to the tree. ‘Seriously, Gavin, you have to stop. Mum and Dad like coming to this golf club. They’ve practically lived here since they retired and they’re freaking out because you’re making a holy show of them. Why can’t you go and save a tree in the Amazon? Why do you have to do it half a mile from their house at their golf club?’
‘My name is
, Julie, and all I’m doing is trying to get people to think before they act. Ripping down a two-hundred-year-old tree is unacceptable. My mission is to save it.’
I sighed. There was no point in talking to him when he was like this. Gavin was an impressionable and very passionate twenty-three-year-old. I was a cynical, exhausted, thirty-nine-year-old mother of four boys whose only mission in life was to get a full night’s sleep. It had become the Holy Grail: I truly believed that it would be the answer to all my problems. If I could just get one uninterrupted night, I’d find my old self again.
Gavin was the youngest in the family by a significant amount – my mother thought she was starting early menopause when the pregnancy symptoms kicked in. With three much older sisters, Gavin had grown up completely indulged and spoilt by our mother and mercilessly teased by us girls. He was now a man-child: he wanted to ‘save the world’, just as long as it wasn’t too far from his mother’s home cooking and laundry service.
His naïveté had made him an easy target for ‘Forest’, a twenty-nine-year-old seasoned eco-warrior whom Gavin had befriended while working in a music store after finishing his finals last summer. Since meeting Forest he had begun spouting on about people killing good trees to print tabloids and how he was now an Earth warrior, and recently he had insisted that we call him ‘Willow’, which caused much hilarity among us sisters. Our parents, however, were not amused.
‘UP, UP,’ shouted Tom, my eighteen-month-old, from his buggy.
I leant down. ‘No, pet, you’re too small.’ He smiled at me and touched my face. I kissed him. My little accident. My little pet.
‘I want to live in a tree with Uncle Gavin for ever,’ Leo said.
‘It’s Willow, little dude,’ Gavin called.
‘I want to live in a tree with Uncle Willow.’ Leo tugged at my sleeve.
‘When you’re eighteen you can go and live in a shagging cave for all I care,’ I replied.
‘Cool! Can Liam and Luke come too?’ The triplets did everything together.
‘Hell, yes – and you can take Tom as well.’ Harry laughed. ‘Look on the bright side, Julie. They’re four and a half now, so only thirteen and a half more years till they move out.’
‘Oh, that’ll fly by.’ I smirked.
Harry tried to keep a straight face. ‘Well, exactly. I mean, the last four and a half years have only felt like –’
‘Five centuries.’ I giggled. Laughter was the only thing that kept me sane – there was often a slightly manic edge to it, these days. Laughing and reading were my saviours, although there hadn’t been much time for either in the last few years. ‘Come on, kids, we have to go – we’ll be late for mass.’
mmy, I hate mass, it’s so boring,’ Liam huffed.
‘Don’t say “boring”,’ Leo scolded him.
‘Or Santa won’t come,’ Luke reminded his brother.
‘Right, we’re off. I presume you’re coming down for Christmas dinner in Mum and Dad’s tomorrow?’ I asked Gavin.
‘Yeah, I’ll be home about three.’
‘OK. Well, have a good night. Here, I bought you this – you might as well open it early.’ I handed my brother his Christmas present. It was a fleece that I’d bought in the Great Outdoors. The guy in the shop had told me it would keep you warm in Antarctica, so I figured it would do just fine in suburban Dublin. My younger sister Sophie had already kitted Gavin out with the best camping equipment money could buy.
‘Thanks, sis.’ Gavin smiled. ‘See you kids tomorrow. I hope Santa comes.’
‘Mummy said he can change his mind until the last minute,’ Leo told him.
‘Bit harsh, Julie.’ Gavin pulled his new fleece over his head.
‘They drew all over the kitchen dresser with ketchup,’ I explained.
‘Ah, I see. OK, boys, be good for your mum and dad and say hi to Jesus.’ Gavin’s head disappeared behind a branch.
‘Do we really have to go to mass?’ Harry asked, as we walked back to the car.
I turned to him. ‘The last time we went to mass was last Christmas. I don’t think once a year is too much to ask.’
‘You’re right. It’s just, you know, they’ll be running riot in the church.’
‘It’s a children’s mass so it’ll be more relaxed. Come on, let’s get it over with.’
We piled into the car. Well, let’s be honest here: it’s practically a van. After the triplets were born I had reluctantly waved goodbye to my pink Mini Cooper and bought a people-carrier. I hated it. It screamed, ‘My life is over. I am a slave to motherhood. I am a dowdy, stay-at-home mum who has no life outside the home. I am boring, permanently exhausted – to the point where I am quite likely to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation – overweight, badly dressed, ignorant of all current affairs and any affairs that don’t involve celebrities in the old issues of
that I read in the doctor’s surgery, where I frequently find myself, most recently for the nurse to remove a pistachio nut lodged in Liam’s right nostril.
My waist went missing in 2005 and hasn’t been seen since. As I’m turning forty next year, the chances are slim that it will be recovered. I had high hopes of finding it
2008 when the triplets turned three and I was beginning to see a chink of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I even began exercising again … until I found out I was pregnant with Tom and my waist entered the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen again. Family packs of KitKats and Hobnobs replaced carrot sticks and low-fat hummus.
Having two thin, toned, beautifully dressed sisters does not help. You’d think I’d find it motivating, but I actually find it annoying, and thinking about their small neat waists makes me eat even more. When we go out to dinner and they order steamed fish and green veg, I order battered cod and chips. It’s completely irrational, but their self-control and discipline wind me up and I become the extreme antidote, much to the dismay of my misplaced waist.
We shuffled into a pew towards the back of the church. While Tom sat calmly on my lap, the triplets shuffled, fidgeted, pushed each other, thumped each other and kicked each other. Harry and I ignored them until they climbed on to the back of the pew in front and shouted, ‘Hello, Poohead,’ at an elderly woman trying to pray. Harry pulled them back and ordered them to sit still.
The couple beside us had two daughters, who were playing angelically and very quietly with their dolls. The mum smiled at me – a ‘God love you, you poor cow’ kind of a smile. I had seen it almost daily since the triplets were born. When they were small and I’d take them out in the ridiculous triplet buggy I’d had to order online from America, women would stop me and ask, ‘Are they really triplets?’
They’d say how sweet the babies were and then they’d walk away muttering, ‘Could you imagine anything worse? How does that poor haggard woman feed them?’ Answer: badly and irregularly. ‘How does she bathe them?’ Rarely. ‘How does she get them to sleep?’ Never at the same time – look at my eyes.
I cuddled Tom closer. At least one of my kids was well behaved. When I found out I was pregnant with him, I freaked. He was the accident that happened when I forgot to take the pill due to exhaustion. Three weeks later, with my head down the toilet, I realized my mistake. My first reaction was ‘FUCK!’ My second reaction was ‘
When I finally wrapped my head around it, I thought, OK, well, it’s obviously going to be a girl. I’m going to get a little angel girl like my niece, Jess, who sits quietly and never raises her voice. Finally I’ll get to buy pink, and instead of playing football, wrestling or engaging in a home-made version of
that involves causing maximum harm to the other person, I’ll get to play Princess.
‘It’s a healthy boy,’ they announced, when Tom was born. My first reaction was ‘FUCK!’ My second reaction was ‘
’ But it turns out that Tom is my saviour. He was the sweetest baby and is now the sweetest toddler. Sometimes I secretly hope he’s gay so he can be my buddy. We can go for coffees and he can advise me on what to wear, and we can gossip and go to chick-flicks together.
I foolishly told Harry this one night and he was decidedly unimpressed. Men seem to think that having a gay son somehow emasculates them. Honestly, I’d love it if he was. I wonder is it OK to pray to God on Christmas Eve for your baby son to be gay?
‘Earth to Julie.’ Harry shook my arm. ‘The boys have gone AWOL.’
My head snapped around. ‘What were you doing?’
‘With your eyes
‘Yes.’ He put his hands up. ‘I know, incredibly stupid of me. Can you see them?’
I looked right and left. Nothing. Then I saw movement in front of me. Oh, God, they were in the manger.
‘Manger!’ I hissed.
Harry followed my eye line, and groaned. ‘Rock, paper, scissors.’
‘No way,’ I protested. ‘You took your eye off the ball.’
‘You were daydreaming.’
‘OK, go on.’
Harry did paper and I did rock. Damn. I stood up, handed Tom to his dad and gingerly made my way up the side of the church to the altar. I could see the three
s rolling about in the straw at the back of the life-size manger, squealing with glee. I could hear furious mutterings from the pews around me.
‘Where are the parents?’
‘Those children have ADHD.’
Not for the first time – and I’m not proud of myself for this – I thought about disowning them.
By the time I got to the manger, Luke was lying in it and the other two were trying to wrestle him out so they could get in. When they saw me, they jumped in and dived under the hay. I had no choice: I dived in after them. Thus ensued five minutes of me trying to rugby-tackle them on to the floor, but I only have two arms. I managed to get Leo and Liam under each one, but Luke escaped. Eventually a middle-aged man, who was watching all this with much amusement, came to my rescue. He hauled Luke out and followed me and my red face to the back of the church, where Harry was waiting with Tom strapped into his buggy, ready to leg it as soon as I got there.
I thanked the man, and when we got outside I turned on Harry: ‘Why the hell didn’t you help me?’
‘Because Tom just puked all over me!’ He pointed to his vomit-spattered coat.
‘I hate my life,’ I cried.
‘Is Santa not going to come now?’ Leo asked.
‘No, he bloody is not. I’m furious with you. Why can you never behave yourselves?’ I lashed out.
‘Sorry, Mummy.’ Liam’s chin wobbled.
‘Sorry, Mummy.’ Leo’s eyes welled up.
‘Sorry, Mummy.’ Luke was bawling.
‘It’s OK, boys, Mummy didn’t mean it.’ Harry glared at me. ‘Of course Santa’s coming. Now, come on, let’s get home and get you ready for bed.’
I looked at Tom. He smiled and threw up all over me.
.’ Harry threw down the screwdriver.
‘Calm down, it can’t be that hard.’ I peered at the instructions for the zillionth time.
‘Well, then, why don’t you assemble it?’
‘Sesus, sesus.’ Tom gurgled.
‘Great. Now he’s cursing.’ I sighed.
‘He’s trying to say “Jesus”.’
‘Yes, Tom, good boy, it’s Jesus’s birthday.’ Harry nodded to his baby son.
‘Can you please stop criticizing and help me?’ Harry demanded.
‘I am helping. I’ve been holding the instructions for two hours and handing you all the right nuts and bolts in between cleaning up Tom’s vomit and changing his pyjamas.’
Harry got up to stretch his back. ‘Right. Let me see those instructions again.’
I handed him the sheet of white paper, densely covered with diagrams. ‘Remind me again why we thought it was a good idea to get the boys a life-size sleigh in a country where it rarely snows?’
‘Because I know they’re going to love it – and, besides, these wheels are supposed to be attached to the bottom so they can sleigh all year round, even in the summer.’