A vacation and a philosophical epiphany

We’ve been away, and now we’re expecting visitors, so I have to shoehorn a post in here somehow. So here is a series of mostly unrelated paragraphs.

Today is my twelfth wedding anniversary. I can take no particular credit for the longevity of our relationship, except that we’re both people who tend to be happy with the status quo so it would take a really big upset to eject either of us. That and having happened to bump into a person who makes me feel perfectly comfortable being me, and who makes me feel like I’ve won the lottery when I make him laugh. Can’t discount that.

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We went to rural Virginia for a week, to the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding area. We saw some impressive caverns at Luray, went horse riding (no, they still didn’t let Dash gallop), and got our money’s worth at a very overpriced water park by staying all day. Mabel turned out to have an affinity for waterslides, and Dash finally decided to try them right before we left. The kids consumed a lot of the Teen Nick channel, which we don’t have at home and is always the mark of a vacation for them, but Dash elected to leave his ipad mini at home, which I was pleased about.

We have lately discovered the joys of The Great British Bake-Off, and it really is something the whole family likes to watch. Who would have thought we’d come together over the correct execution of a pie? Watching the next episode functions as a very palatable bribe.

Reflection of stalactites in still water in a cavern

“Dream Lake” in Luray Caverns

The proof copy of my book in print arrived and I am reading through it, finding places where I missed a closing quote mark or I could really do with removing some commas. I really should have printed the whole thing out before submitting it instead of reading it on the screen, but I am stingy with our printer paper and also very impatient. It will be done soon and I will know better next time.

Also, the sentences are all too long, but hey. That’s me. (There’s a new feature in WordPress that rates the “readability” of my blog post as I write it, and so far I am failing miserably on the sentence-length aspect. I don’t care, WordPress; I don’t care.)

Kids in giant inflatable rings on an artificial "river"

Floating on the lazy river at Massanutten Water Park

The news in the outside world is horrible, and it just keeps on coming. I deal with it by looking away. It’s not good for my mental health to try to take on the suffering of all the horrors in the world; it won’t help them, and it’s certainly not helping me. Being terrified of life means the terrorists have won.

That said, I wonder if every generation reaches a point where they think “This technological advance is just too much too fast; we can’t sustain it and it’s dangerous to rely on it so much.” Because I’m feeling that a bit now. But then, I bet they thought that about air conditioning, and cars, and refrigeration, and the invention of the wheel. Technology brings us wonderful things, like connection and communication and knowledge and friendship – but it makes us forget how to do other things sometimes, like go outside or talk to people, or deal with being too hot or spend three days walking to our destination and die of thirst on the way and have our bread go mouldy.

Yes, if all this technology disappeared, my family would be first against the wall – except B and Dash, who might outrun the rotten-tomato-throwing zombies for a few miles – but on the whole I’m willing to accept that this feeling I have is simply a product of my age rather than THE age. So that’s comforting. I think.

Also, for all the pricey entertainments I had lined up for this vacation, I think what my kids will remember most is messing around in the river at the bottom of the hill – which was free, and they’d happily have spent all day doing. That’s a victory over our dependence on the screens right there.

Kids on/in a small river

Naked Creek, Virginia

(If you want to know more about my book, leave a comment or drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com.)

 

Live Where You Live

I can rarely resist a writing prompt, and when Sadhbh at Where Wishes Come From turned her lovely recent post about her hometown of Bray into a blog link-up, I was in like Flynn.

I grew up in Dalkey, a suburb on Dublin’s south coast. It’s fairly famously posh these days, with lots of fancy foodie places and having had residents the like of Van Morrison and Maeve Binchy, and Bono just up the road in Killiney. In those days – well, in the 80s it was different. Less shiny, more grubby. The main street was always full of restaurants, though, some of which were fixtures and some of which revolved. It had a modest six pubs, four newsagents, two butchers, two greengrocers, three chemists; also the post office, Quinnsworth, Harry Latham’s gift shop, the Chinese takeaway, the chipper, and the Exchange bookshop. Let’s stop there for a moment…

The Exchange was a new and second-hand bookshop. I spent a lot of time combing through the cheapest, most tattered, children’s books, sitting on the wooden floor, finding a gem I’d been waiting for or something new that sounded intriguing. The price stickers were plain white with rounded edges and I still own books proudly sporting the price I paid for them in nineteen-eighty-something – usually around 25p. When I got older they moved up the road to a larger premises and the cheapest books were on the 50p shelf. I would bring my less-loved books down and be awarded credit for them, records kept in a rolodex on the counter by the tall man with an English accent who was always there, and then I’d happily spend the credit on more Enid Blytons, Noel Streatfields, or LM Montgomerys.

The Painted Garden for 30p and The Sea of Adventure for 10p

Original price stickers from The Exchange. Bargain or wha’?

Dalkey is built on hills. It has a microclimate. You can look out of your kitchen window in blazing sunlight at squalls over Dublin Bay, or Dun Laoghaire pier shrouded in dark clouds. More often, on the way home, you look up to where Dalkey should be and find it all hidden under a swathe of white fog. My school was right beside the sea; we ran up and down the laughably “all-weather” hockey pitch while a sea mist rolled in and hid the ball from those on the other side of the centre line.

I was something of a blow-in to Dalkey, only having been born and reared there. That is, my parents both hailed from elsewhere, though my father had visited on summer holidays since he was a child. His mother’s best friend was from an old Dalkey family, so really my Dalkey connections did go back generations, if I’d ever thought to bring that up.

Street, walls, houses, Dublin Bay and Howth in the distance

The view from the top of my Dalkey hill

I lived in other places, in Ireland and America, before I lived here, where I live now, in a suburb of the Washington DC metro area called Greenbelt, Maryland. This is home now, but I can’t see it with the clarity of a child, low to the ground. I can only see it with practical eyes, ones swayed by thoughts of property prices and amenities and public transport and proximity to the city and decent schools and green spaces and things to do and places to go. I can’t see the granite walls and the corrugated cement underfoot and the graffiti on the lampposts, the way I do when I close my eyes and think of Dalkey.

For one thing, Americans don’t really do walls. There are chain-link fences and some picket fences, but very often people’s yards aren’t divided from the next yard at all, or from the sidewalk in front of their house. For another, the lampposts are all wooden, tall dark-stained tree trunks, so they don’t show up graffiti nearly as well as the pale grey painted metal of Dublin ones. And the sidewalks… well, I just don’t notice what’s underfoot the way I did as a child. I don’t retain the crunch of splayed beech-nut casings or the squish and stickiness of bright-red unshiny berries off the yew tree, the way I did when I walked over them day after day, autumn after autumn, pushing my bike back up the hills home.

But I’ll do my best to tell you what it’s like, all the same. It’s green and leafy. If it’s always autumn in my memories of Dalkey, it’s always spring in my thoughts of Greenbelt. In spring the blossoms here are astounding: pink and white and puce and lilac, bursting off the trees like popcorn. Every now and then you happen upon a magnolia tree: dark shiny leaves and the most enormous, decadent, creamy flowers you could imagine.

There’s a park with a lake at the bottom of our hill – I’m fated to always live in a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill, it seems; but there are worse fates – that you can walk or run or bike around, and admire the scenery and the wildlife. There’s more wildlife here than I’m used to from suburban Ireland – squirrels are everywhere, bluejays and cardinals are slightly exciting, chipmunks and rabbits still raise a squee from me, and now and then you run into a deer (not literally, one hopes) that left its wooded shelter and ventured too far. There are a few beavers in the lake, the source of an ongoing local disagreement between those who would protect the trees from the marauding beavers and those who would protect the beavers from the marauding humans. It makes for entertaining reading on the local listserv.

On the other side of the park is the town’s epicentre: the community centre, the library, the pool, the cinema, the shops. The shops are a little run down, a little tatty and old-style, because we’re tucked away and only Greenbelters come to shop in Greenbelt. But our cinema is a wonderful single-screen Art-Deco movie theatre that is lately becoming a centre for so much more than blockbusters, as my friend who runs it now shows free kids’ movies on snow days and for summer camps, cult classics after closing time, art-house and indy movies twice a day all week. There’s a farmers’ market every Sunday morning. There’s a parade on Labor Day and a festival all that weekend with rides and bumper cars and a huge second-hand book sale, and there are fireworks at the lake on the fourth of July. There’s a cafe that has terrible coffee – but it has great hummus and amazing baklava, with live music and beer on tap around the back.

And I find I have come to the heart of it right there: my friend runs the cinema. I know the staff at the pool, the cashiers at the supermarket, teachers at the schools. Some of them I know just because they work there, and some I met through school or friends or neighbours. If we go to a movie and across the way for a beer afterwards, chances are there’ll be a couple of friends in the bar. I personally am the chump who’s organizing the massive second-hand book sale for the Labor Day festival this year.

Where I live now lacks the connection with childhood memories that are deep in my soul: instead it gives me a connection with people, it makes me part of the pattern. And that’s why it’s home, too.

Footpath, grass, trees, two bikes in the distance

The view from the top of this hill

Click over to Where Wishes Come From to check out the other entries in this link-up.

 

Faking it

I am fake-it-till-you-make-it-ing like crazy today. It’s the only way through. I don’t exactly want to call it impostor syndrome, but it’s a new way of defining myself, and I’m not entirely sure of it yet.

Technically, as of yesterday, I’m a published author now. I just have to resist the temptation to demur and dissemble, to shake my head and say “No, no, not really. Any fool can publish their own book, it’s so easy these days. It’s not like I have a contract with an actual publisher.” For one thing, many people don’t really understand the difference, and don’t care. For another, the difference really is becoming less important as self-publishing becomes more and more mainstream. For a third – I did the work, I really did write all those words – which still surprises me sometimes – and I put them all together and I fixed them up and then I formatted it all and uploaded it all in the tedious process that is submitting your book to the self-publishing machine.

I also paid real money for cover art and design. I have to confess that I didn’t pay real money, or even Monopoly money, for editing. I know the book could have been even better if I’d had it professionally edited, and as a professional editor myself that’s what I always tell people. But this is, when it comes down to it, a vanity project. I don’t expect to make any money off it, and I blew my budget on the cover instead. If I break even I’ll consider it a really great achievement. So I edited it myself, which is a terrible thing to do because it’s hard to take off your writer hat and put on your editor hat and read it as if you’ve never seen it before.

Then there’s the “It’s only a children’s book” self-put-down. A children’s book is also a real book. It’s 40,000 words long, so I think it counts. Someone told me today that it’s really hard to write for the 9-12 age group. I usually think of it as just channelling my inner immaturity, because it seems to come pretty naturally to me; but I’ll do my best to let myself take the compliment.

So there was this moment today when a friend posted my link to the book on Amazon in a Facebook group, and I realised that to anyone in that group who doesn’t know me personally, this is who I am now. I’m a person who writes books. And that therefore, it is the case that in real life I am a person who writes books – or at least, has written one, with aspirations to continue. It’s quite an adjustment, mentally, to think of myself that way, even though I’ve been doing this book-writing thing for quite a while now. I just haven’t been shouting about it, and now I have to shout about it – at least on social media – because that’s part of doing it.

That thing about the crack team of designers that my imaginary publisher would have provided me with – they would also have had a crack team of editors, from developmental to proofreading, and a crack PR team too, to publicize my book and send out press releases and all that jazz. Except, the way book publishing is going these days, authors who are signed even to very large and reputable publishing houses are expected to do a lot of their own – well, let’s call it “outreach”. And hey, I’m a top editor myself (in the vein of Bridget Jones’s “top, top people”), so all I have to do is get over myself and put the word out without being all sheepish and humble about it. Faking it like crazy.

And then I shall sit back and watch the pennies roll in. Maybe even two or three at a time.

Branch overhanging still water, and its reflection

Here’s a nice picture I took today that bears no relation to the text; feel free to interpret it metaphorically

By its cover

When you daydream about writing a book, you might sometimes think about how much fun it’ll be when you get the the part when you’re instructing your cover designers, a top-notch team on the payroll of your publisher, of course, in exactly how you think the cover should look. It’s like daydreaming about baby names when you’re trying to get pregnant – there’s quite a large element of “I shouldn’t even think about this because it’s just tempting fate,” but it’s so much fun you sometimes let yourself do it anyway.

When you decide to self-publish, you have to find your own crack team of cover designers, which puts all the power in your hands, but also shows you just how much you don’t know about this part of the process. I could have found someone from Smashwords (the website through which I’m publishing the ebook) or on some other freelancing website, but I’d rather give work to friends than to strangers, and I have a lot of talented friends. (Note: I didn’t say “sponge freebies from”, I said “give work to”.)

It takes a bit of time, though, especially when you’re as vague as I am about what you actually want in a book cover. I know what I like, when I see it. I even had some ideas about what my book cover could show. I needed help brainstorming, and I needed to see lots of possibilities. It took three people and several months, but I’m finally at the point where I have a cover I love and it’s almost ready to go.

The writing inside is irrelevant if nobody buys your book because the cover put them off. It might not be a bad cover, but it might not look the way they want their books to look. It might look too twee, or too brash, or – when you’re talking about children’s books – for the wrong age group. I never noticed how age-group-specific cover design is until I had a cover I thought I liked and my seven year old said it looked like a little kids’ book. Redo, redo, redo!

And did you ever consider how much the title’s font affects your decision about a book? Not the words, just the shape of the letters – such tiny differences, and yet so vital. I spent all yesterday morning trying out different fonts until I was googly-eyed, and even though I can stop now I keep noticing them everywhere. Children especially, are massively judgmental, and unwilling to even try something that doesn’t look the way they think it should look, no matter how much it’s recommended to them. Especially if it’s recommended to them, if they’re anything like my children.

(I remember how often my mother told me to read Little Women and how long it took me to look at it, purely because she said I should. Then one day I took it off the shelf and started reading, and thought the only way out was to be about halfway through by the time she noticed. I wonder where Mabel gets her contrariness from?)

Now I have a book cover that looks modern and quirky, interesting and fun. It stands out in a crowd – or as a thumbnail on a page filled with other book cover thumbnails – and I think it will appeal to the right demographic. You’d remember noticing it before, and think “I’ve seen that before; maybe this time I’ll check it out.” I love it.

(If you want to know more about my book, drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll send you the relevant links. I’m trying not to cross the streams, here.)

Dashing onward

Baby Dash, about two weeks old, arms flailing

You have a baby, and it feels like forever. Time is measured in two-hour blocks, all day, all night, for ever. You’re constantly counting things, because it gives you the illusion of control: feeds, ounces, wet diapers, dirty diapers, weeks until breastfeeding gets easier, hours of sleep. Minutes of sleep. It takes so long, so much, just to get as far as that first smile, when everyone says things will start looking up.

He gets his first tooth, a white nub of sharpness poking through the bottom gum, and you feel a tiny chime of something, of sadness, of “over-ness” because this is the beginning of the end of your newborn, who isn’t a newborn any more anyway, he’s already up on hands and knees rocking back and forth and propelling himself backwards into the blinds on the french window instead of forwards to the thing he so badly wants to reach. You laugh and make videos because you know that in a day or three or five he’ll be going forwards after all, and he’ll never look back again.

You have a little boy, sturdy, chubby-handed, all grins and cheeks and dimples and still-fluffy wispy hair. He lisps adorably and says memote rontrol instead of remote control. You don’t teach him the right way to say it, but one day you realise he hasn’t called it the memote rontrol for ages, and you didn’t even notice that his lisp is mostly gone.

You have a boy whose elbows and knees are suddenly pointy, poking into you when he sits beside you, too big to sit on your lap (but still trying). He has grown into the gap where he knocked a front tooth out: nobody is surprised to see it any more because his classroom is awash with wobbly incisors and gappy gums and children who want to show you that their tooth fell out. Your boy has a classroom where things happen that you don’t even know about. You’re not too sure how you feel about that, even after all these years of waiting for the day when you could go to the bathroom without an audience.

Now you have a boy whose legs are long and strong and tanned and covered in bruises from baseballs and mosquito bites from staying out in the back yard making crossbows from sticks. You have no more duct tape in the house. When he lazes on the sofa playing a computer game he takes up the whole thing – the same cool brown leather you laid your shirtless newborn down on one small portion of because the hospital said you had to wake him for a feed every two hours. It has more scratches now, more pieces of breakfast cereal and dried-up pasta and toast crumbs between the non-removable cushions, and its backbone is broken from too much jumping, but it’s the same sofa.

Yesterday. Yesterday and forever. What they didn’t tell you was that after that first smile, time would catapult you forward and it would only ever get faster, never slower again.

Dash on a statue of a moose in Philadelphia

Moose express

Just another day

Today is my birthday. Forty-three is okay, I’m here to tell you. It’s not significant – it’s neither a new decade nor a new demographic bracket. It’s practically the same as 42, but with fewer Douglas Adams quotes. I feel about 37, which is a nice age to feel, and I look… oh, I have no idea what age I look. Let’s not worry about that. It’s irrelevant, because I’m on the inside, not the outside.

Anyway, right now I don’t have any deep thoughts about another passage around the earth. I feel like I should just enjoy what I’ve got because this is the youngest I’m going to be, and anyway, age is meaningless, it’s what you do, and who you do it with, that matters.

That said, right now I’m on my laptop writing a blog post while each of my children stare at another device and I slowly try to convince them that we should go for a picnic in the park. The weather’s beautiful after a very hot, humid, day yesterday and big thunderstorms last night.

….

Wildflowers in yellow, blue, and some red

Enthusiasm for the picnic has dwindled to an all-time low (that is, the one child who was vaguely up for it is no longer) but now one of them is making things with sticks (and magnets and batteries, causing me to mutter things like “Don’t electrocute yourself” and “Don’t short out the house”) so that’s a step forward. I suppose.

I always feel compelled if not to have my best possible day on my birthday – because that’s beyond my control – to at least be my best possible self. Even if I’m doing the laundry and making my own cake, there’s a spring in my step and I’m all whatserface Amy Adams in Enchanted, flitting around domestically and imagining woodland animals (less of the vermin, thank you) helping me with my work.

….

That was then. Now my kids are fighting, I have nothing nice for lunch, I can’t get a babysitter for the weekend, Wednesday’s the worst day for a birthday (well, Tuesday isn’t great either), and apparently if I ever want fresh air and exercise for myself this summer I’ll have to to outside and walk up and down our street because nobody’s leaving the house ever. Even to please me on my birthday. Maybe I have to bribe them with ice cream but to be honest I’m not sure if even that’ll work.

I have a cake to make, because if not me, who; and this evening is Dash’s baseball playoff which willen haven been the final if they win, or the penultimate game of the championship if they lose, because it’s the best of three and they won the first.

Mabel sitting on a rock looking at the water

…..

In conclusion, it being my birthday doesn’t stop it from being a perfectly ordinary day. It never really does.

Children on a wooded trail

Postscript:
We went for the walk. It was lovely. I bribed them with ice cream.

Mabel with her ice cream

That was lovely too.

Dash enjoying a cone

Bregretsit

I have a friend who lives in London. He’s originally Irish, and he’s married to a lovely German woman. They just had their second child, they bought a house, he has a great job. Things are finally looking up, getting on track.
They might have to move to Germany now, because his wife may not legally be able to stay in England.

I have a friend who lives in Wales. She’s originally American but just got her UK citizenship. She’s married to a New Zealander academic and they have two children who are attending the local Welsh-speaking school. She loves Cardiff, their friends there, the walkable city, being European, and her new job at an architectural firm. She just qualified as an architect last year, having totally switched careers after starting a family and moving across the world.
She and her husband might have to move internationally yet again, because though they can both legally stay in the UK, the probably inevitable recession may well sound the death knell on both their jobs. This is not the UK she just jumped through all those hoops to become part of. Her local Polish shop just put up a sign saying they’re closing.

I have a friend who lives in Northern Ireland. She fears the return of border patrols, a future that harks back to the past her country has come so far from and tried so hard to move on from, when a drive down the road meant bringing your passport and being looked over by the army. She fears, as do many Irish, a return to sectarian violence where peace is so fragile, so recent, and so prized.

I have a friend who lives in Scotland. Seventy-five percent of her city voted to remain in the EU, but now they’re out. She works as a doctor for the NHS. The Leave campaign told the people of the UK that if they left the EU there would be 350 million pounds a week to spend on healthcare, but now they’re saying that’s not really the case.

I have a friend who lives in Dublin. (I have a lot of friends who live in Dublin, but she’s one of them.) Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the UK and is a member of the EU. The Irish economy, however, can’t fail to be badly affected by this decision. She worries for the business she just started last year, because it probably won’t survive a recession.

These are the people in my social media bubble. Because of the friends I have, the friends they have, the newspapers I choose to read, the TV stations and radio stations I listen to or don’t, these people’s opinions are the ones I see and hear. They are real people whose lives are being directly affected in scary and very concrete ways by a decision that was made by others, who often don’t seem to have understood what they were doing.

Yesterday I got tired of commenting on the Facebook pages of so many friends who were sad, devastated, worried, disbelieving, scared, and angry. So I just changed my profile photo and left it at that.

Captain Picard despairs of you

Sigh.

Watch your language: Baseball English

It wasn’t until Dash had been playing baseball for a while that I realised just how many expressions in common use – on both sides of the Atlantic, these days – come straight out of the game. If you ever wondered why we say some of these things, here’s your answer:

Step up to the plate

Metaphorically: We use it to mean that it’s time to take action, put your money where your mouth is.
In baseball: The plate is the home plate, where the batter stands (and where he returns to when he’s made a run). So when it’s your turn to bat, you step up to the plate.

Out of the ballpark

Metaphorically: Way out, far away, unrealistically far.
In baseball: If you hit the ball out of the ballpark, you’re guaranteed a home run, because nobody can catch it.

In the ballpark ( or a ballpark figure, for instance)

Metaphorically: Something likely, reasonable; an estimate that’s realistic.
In baseball: Obviously, a ball that’s hit within the bounds of the field. It can be caught, or it might not be, but everyone has a chance to make something of it.

Three strikes and you’re out

Metaphorically: If you do the wrong thing three times, you don’t get any more chances.
In baseball: A strike is when the batter swings at a ball but misses. It also happens when the pitch was good (within reach, as judged by the umpire) but the batter didn’t swing at all. If you get three strikes, your turn to bat is over and you don’t get to run.

A good inning

Metaphorically: A decent length of time; often, a good life.
In baseball (and cricket too): The game is divided into innings. One team bats until they’re out, while the other team fields. The this is top of the inning. Then the teams switch for the second half – the bottom of the inning. When the first team bats again, this is the next inning. A little league game usually has at least six innings. If you scored some points, or stopped the other team from scoring, you had a good inning.

Heads up

Metaphorically: We talk about giving someone a “heads-up” if we want to warn them about something in advance.
In baseball: Shouted when the ball accidentally goes flying towards the spectators, or anywhere outside the bounds of the field, so that everyone pays attention and doesn’t get conked on the head. It’s the “Fore!” of baseball.

Cover all your bases

Metaphorically: You might talk about covering all your bases if you want to be sure you’ve planned for all eventualities.
In baseball: The fielding team has to have a player protecting each base to make it harder for the batting team to get their players around and back to home.

Baseball diamond

Pro baseball, minor league

Minx

Today is Mabel’s last day of first grade. She did not deign to pose for a photograph.

IMG_2969

She bought her own chocolate croissant at the farmer’s market yesterday morning. Not even with me standing beside her: she left us sitting on the hill and headed off to the bakery booth by herself, a five-dollar bill flapping in her hand. I don’t know if she was polite, but she got what she went for and brought us back the change. She wrote thank-you cards to three of her teachers last night, with minimal prompting from me and no dictation required. They weren’t exactly individualised, but they were quite nice and very neat.

She made a poster for her brother’s lemonade stand, but then she quit the job because he wouldn’t give her any free samples. You need to negotiate your terms of employment up front, I told her. But I told her he needs to learn some managerial skills too.

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She builds houses and towers and spawns wolves and ocelots in Minecraft, she wheedles me into putting more games for her to play on my Kindle Fire, she can quote The Princess Bride at an apposite moment.

She still draws while she watches tv, piles and piles of papery people with varying expressions and colourful clothes. She still puts her babies to bed under blankets, and makes families of puppies and little tableaux of Playmobil figures or plastic dinosaurs. She still wants someone to stay with her until she falls asleep.

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She is still completely unreasonable quite often, but she does it with such minxy insouciance that half the time we have to laugh. “Miss Unreasonable-Pants,” I called her the other night, and she spent the next five minutes narrating an argument between the two legs of her unreasonable pants.

She’s seven and a half. When did she get so big?

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Optimism is genetic

My children, they are sometimes so very much my children.

By which I mean, they too know the delight of planning, but sometimes fail on the follow-through.

Today, as we drove to yet another baseball game (but this time a real one, the attendance at which was a fundraiser for the kids’ ones), I regaled them with my notions of What We Will Do This Summer. We’re just at that point where I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it will have to happen, the summer break, and I’ve come up with some ideas for Ways We Can Survive and Maybe Even Improve Ourselves, and it’s too soon for all this to have come crumbling down around my ears, so I’m full of optimism. Ahh, can you hear it? The tiny thrilling trill of undiminished hope, all around.

Here’s my plan, I said to them. We’ll do some exercise, all of us, every day. And we’ll read something, and learn something, and clean something, and make something. And when we’ve done all that, we can have our screens.

And bless their hearts, they barely even balked at the “clean something”, though their ideas ran more towards cleaning windows (fun spray bottles) than the room-tidying I’d been hoping for. They were full of ideas about things that could be made, and learned, and even read. Mabel said “Mummy, can I write out a schedule of what I’m going to do every day at what time, so that I remember to do it?”
“Yes, my dearest,” I said to her, for I am benevolent, indulging her every whim. “You can do that.”
“I don’t want to give up math time to reading, and I want to do an experiment every day,” Dash pointed out, trying to swap some cleaning for some reading, or something.
“We’ll work it out,” I told him. Heaven forfend you lose any math time.

In about three weeks’ time, when we’re all grumbling and grumpy and screen-time has swollen to mammoth proportions and is taking over our lives like a hungry octopus, I will remember this moment of bright, lovely, scholastic optimism in the car.

And how I will laugh, briefly, before Facebook sucks me in again.

Dash and Mabel by the car

Momentarily in accord