Stella’s mobile rang at the same time as the white button on the phone in front of her began to flash. Everything was always urgent, a world of people striving, driving hard. She stared at the button, gathering her thoughts for the seven-way conference call.
‘Hello.’ She answered her mobile by instinct, conditioned by the 353 area code to respond. Whoever it was, and only those closest to her had that number, she’d tell them to call back. The white button was still flashing.
‘Stel, it’s Amanda. Something bad.’
Laura, God bless her, so sweet and hesitant about herself, got straight to the point where everyone else was concerned. Her years of training as a journalist meant that she didn’t waste time on the unimportant.
‘What now?’ Stella tried, failed, to keep the weary note from her voice that made her sound so much older than twenty-eight. With Amanda, it was always something. Usually something big, dramatic.Noisy. Sometimes she felt as if she and Laura had been picking up the pieces for years. For ever. When had she and Laura last talked for any length without Amanda hijacking the focus of their conversation? As if, even now, fifteen years on, they were still in the shadow of her considerable glamour?
And if Amanda was with them, it was always all about her. A room with Amanda in it felt like a room with a vortex into which everything, eventually, would fall. Still, it must be pretty bad or Laura wouldn’t ring so early. Stella checked her diamond-studded Tag Heuer, a gift from Sean – barely eight am.
‘There’s a story in one of the papers. No names. It’s one of those “guess which former society beauty has been spotted” but it’s obviously her. Apparently she and Huw have locked themselves into the house in Knightsbridge. Boarded up the front door and shut off all the downstairs rooms. They’re living on the top floor. Barnes and his wife have been turned out. No one is allowed in except that rat Jake. I don’t think anyone else much tries any more. Barnes went to Huw’s family to get help, and someone’s leaked it to the papers. They aren’t eating or sleeping or talking to anyone. The place is filthy ‒ they’re filthy too. Seems it’s been going on for months. It’s really bad this time.’
Amanda filthy? Amanda, with her effortlessly shiny hair, golden skin and natural elegance, with her faint aloofness, sharp wit and deep laugh. Amanda O’Hagen, social queen from the age of thirteen, locked into the wedding-cake-white four-storey Knightsbridge house, where she and Huw had lived in the five years since they’d got married, seeing no one? Stella had been to the house just once, right before the wedding. It had been an interior designer’s dream, the kind of thing that got full-colour photographs in glossy magazines for the rest of the world to drool over, with its impeccable grey interior walls, original stuccoed ceilings, and fireplaces big enough to stand in. There was a Picasso sketch or two, a Bacon in the dining room, a small Turner onto which the light from the first-floor windows fell at evening, making it glow with a golden fire all its own. Amanda had told Stella how much she loved that painting, joking that she would have married Huw for it, even if he hadn’t been the handsomest man on earth. What must the house look like now? Stella wondered. How filthy was filthy? And why was it anything, now, to do with her?
‘So what’s different?’ Again, that weary note.
‘They packed Dora off a few months ago, back to Mrs O’Hagen.’
‘Right.’ Stella, lawyer now before friend, considered the implications. ‘And if Amanda is sending Dora back to her mother, that can’t be good.’
‘Not good at all, I’d say, when you think how long she spent keeping the two of them apart. Apparently Dora thinks she’s on holiday. She’s due to go home in a couple of weeks, but Mrs O’Hagen’s been talking about trying to get her into St Assumpta’s, so she can keep an eye on her.’
‘Oh, for Christ’s sake, Laura. Isn’t that where this whole mess started? Mrs O’Hagen and St Assumpta’s?’ Stella found she was shaking, her breath coming unevenly.
‘If they must go giving boys blow-jobs, at least this way we know they’re St Augustin’s boys …’ Laura drawled.
It had been their catchphrase for years, ever since Amanda had heard her mother say it to her father, while Amanda was getting ready to go to Dargle’s, the rugby-club disco, where all the boys and girls from smart Southside schools went on a Friday night. Amanda had been fourteen. Now, it no longer seemed funny, even though the three of them had screamed with laughter over it for years. It had been the one thing guaranteed to break the ice between them when they met up after a separation, with increasingly little in common.
‘Laura, I’d better go. I’ll call you back, right?’ The little white light was still flashing. Her assistant had put her head round the door twice already, looking slightly panicked the second time. Stella reached out to push the button that would bring up a huge digital split-screen showing the seven participants in the conference call. Two were down the corridor, in their own huge twenty-seventh-floor offices, but the rest were in Tokyo, including Sean. Beautiful Sean, with his strawberry-blond hair, his white-white teeth and the one drop of west-of-Ireland blood from which he had forged a complete identity. A man in the mould of John F. Kennedy, Stella thought, now seven thousand miles away from her. Also seven thousand miles away from his two perfect children and blonde WASP wife.
The white light was still flashing. They were all waiting for Stella, who had – as always – every possible fact relating to the case neatly categorized in her mind. She had read the depositions and documents with such meticulous attention that even the Japanese clients were impressed. She had a talent for hard work and fact-retention, which meant she was being fast-tracked through one of New York’s oldest, most established legal firms. Push the button, Stella, she thought. Deal with Amanda later. But she hesitated. Mrs O’Hagen and St Assumpta’s. Where it had all started. Amanda, at fourteen, the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen.
- Want to read more? Buy The Privileged here.
ABOUT THE BOOK (↑)
||is for Maternal, Meticulous, and Making the best of it
||is for On the Other hand, scrap that, I thought this would be more fun
||is for This is not what I expected, Tearing hair out and Think again
||is for Help, I must be doing this wrong, because…
||is for Everyone else seems to be better at it than me
||is for a Resounding Really? Read on…
Motherhood has never been so dissected, de-constructed and discussed. Now on baby number 3, Emily Hourican has started to wise up to the prettily-packaged ideals of perfection that mothers are drip-fed on a daily basis -- a rose-tinted concoction of Cath Kidston aprons, glowing Agas and fresh baked buns -- that none of us really has the ability to live up to. Among other things, Emily wonders:
When were we supposed to bake everything from scratch?
When did Irish women stop being mammies and start becoming mummies? And most importantly,
When did Motherhood become Mothershould?
Part memoir, part rant, part laugh-out-loud, How to (Really) be a Mother is ready to reclaim motherhood for modern mothers everywhere. Buy this book and say goodbye to guilt. Read it. Relax. Pour yourself another glass of wine. Then hand it to your sister.
“I have read innumerable other books trying to do the same job but this is really excellent: well done! A splendid book. If I get a chance to recommend it I shall take that chance...”
- Oliver James, psychologist and author of They F*** You Up and Affluenza.
“How To Really Be A Mother is hilarious. I identified with a lot. Wish you'd written it 14 years ago!”
- Rachel Allen, chef, author, mother of three
“A refreshingly honest book which gives an insight into the truth about real motherhood. This book is a must-read for those who want to have a better understanding of the obstacles that mothers face today.”
- The Irish Independent, Reader's Corner
“An honest account of being a mother, and a rejection of the kinds of endless pressures that mother's find themselves subject to these days. A funny, witty and relatable must-read.”
- Mums and Tots magazine.
“Motherhood is a lifetime contract; this book will start you on the road.”
- The Sunday Independent - Read the article ⟶
“Emily Hourican is frighteningly honest about motherhood in her hilarious new book How to (Really) Be a Mother. Hourican approaches the very touchy subject of parenting with a humorous angle and mums will be able to relate to a lot of what is written.”
- 5/5 review at Mummy Pages! - Read the article ⟶
There is no greater reality check than a baby. No matter how fabulous or dynamic you think you are, how expert in diplomacy, beguilement or client pitches, a baby will crash through all of it.
So much of what you will have been told about Having A Baby will turn out to be wrong. Unless you’re the kind of person who buys into Ponzi schemes or orders Miracle Cure-Alls from the internet, I doubt you will ever before have been intimately involved in such a process of disillusionment as the first year Post-Birth.
Its standard issue to equate giving birth with running a marathon. Except that marathon-runners are minded, cosseted, congratulated and told to take a good rest. Some of them even get a medal. Delivering a baby is simply the overture to the real hard work.
Parenting is a blood-sport, and yes it is the most important thing any of us will do, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also hilarious and absurd – something to be laughed at, mocked, pointed at, turned into funny anecdotes and passed around.
Motherhood is not all it’s racked up to be. This is not the fault of motherhood, it’s a question of false advertising. Motherhood has been wrested from the grasp of mothers, tinkered with, then sold back to us in new, prettified versions.
The lie the images all tell is that a new baby can be accommodated into your life as easily as popping a car seat into a 4x4. In fact, it’s more like getting another person into a single bed. Your old life has to budge up, make room, compromise hugely.
We have been sold a rubbish notion of what motherhood should look and feel like, transmitted via endless pretty pictures of an idealised domestic life. It’s not Motherhood anymore, its mothershould
Breast-feeding is by far the best option for babies and small children. No one doubts or dispute this. But, it cannot make your child a genius or give them super-health. It cannot put men on the moon or solve the financial crisis. It does not prove that you are a better parent. It is only breast milk, not a magic potion or a magic bullet.
Guilt is like a parasite that lives on joy, burrowing into and contaminating it, and could well be the most consistent, if not the dominant, emotion of motherhood.
Our job as parents would be much easier if we followed our instincts. But we are way beyond our instincts on nearly everything now; we don’t even eat when we’re hungry. So instead of mothering out of a natural understanding of our children, we read books, watch programmes, draw up star charts, trying to crack the mysterious code that is childhood.
We all have the admirable, impossible, desire to see our children uncorrupted into adulthood – to encourage the best in them without infecting them with the worst of ourselves. Tragically, this is nearly impossible. They will pick up our insecurities and foibles just as surely as they will pick up colds and stomach bugs. But we need to trust that they will get a diluted form of these hang-ups, mediated by all the good things we give them as well.
‣ Yummy Mummies
What is a Yummy Mummy? Simply put, it’s a woman who looks as if she has borrowed someone else’s child for a while and will soon be giving him or her back.
Post-baby, anything nice in your wardrobe doesn’t fit, anything that fits isn’t nice. I call it the Kaftan Conundrum.
Just do it. Think of a number, double it, do it. Don’t wait to be ‘in the mood’ because you may never be.
‣ Parenting Styles
French or Asian? Really, it’s not a take-away. There are now as many ways to parent as there are variations of the flu virus, or styles of kitchen. The thing is though, we’re not a girl band. Why should we be forced into a system and given a bright little label?
Most of us have no ‘parenting system’; we are Random Mums – patient one day, ratty the next, sometimes calm, sometimes irritable; a collection of our good luck and bad mistakes.
The one simple, fundamental truth is that we all love our children and want to do our best by them.
‣ In Praise of Other Mothers
The arrogance of young women is very appealing, but does not compare for quality with the matured kindness of a gown-up woman who has weathered her share of storms and heartache.
The bond with other mothers is forged in the experience we all share, of having our deepest wish – to be a good and happy mother – daily challenged by the very people we wish to be good and happy mothers to.
The daily failures (of temper, humour, calm, good sense) and daily resolves (to be better), are what unite us.
Once we have kids, we are all just one step away from shame and catastrophe. This is what stops us staring at the woman in the supermarket who’s child is having a spectacular tantrum. Her today, us tomorrow.
Life generally has better plans for us than we have for ourselves. It gives us unexpected paths that are far more interesting than what we hoped for.
I have ghost-written two books, 'To Russia With Love,'
published in 2012, and 'Jonathan Irwin, The Story of Jack and Jill', to be
published in 2014. The experience of trying to get inside someone else's mind,
and tell their story, without losing the immediacy and passion, is one I greatly
enjoyed. Its a little bit like being an interviewer crossed with a detective.