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 amy 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.

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.

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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

Baseball: this summer’s tiny love letter

We are approaching the zenith of Little League baseball season. We might in fact be, right now at at peak baseball. There were four games in six days this week, plus a practice that Dash had to miss. It’s lucky the kids are dedicated, because if you had a child who wasn’t really into the sport, they’d have just sat down and said feck it a while ago now.

Not actually feck it, because Americans don’t say that. This sucks, maybe.

Our Little League field is at the end of a tiny road that looks, from the other end, just like any other road in our suburban idyll. It has an electronic scoreboard that almost always works, two sets of metal bleachers for spectators, and two portapotties that are quite well serviced. There’s a little shed called the Snack Shack, where you can buy freeze pops for a quarter, cans of Coke for a dollar, bubblegum for a dime. They grill burgers and hot dogs too, during games, for a very reasonable price. It’s all manned by the parents of whichever team is deemed “home” for that game (note: all the teams are at home; they just take turns being called the guest), and run by the board of volunteers who oversee the whole league.

Behind the field there are batting cages where the teams can practice, and a basketball court as well. The whole thing is ringed by trees, and right on the other side of the trees the Baltimore-Washington Parkway meets the Beltway with a dull drone and the occasional motorbike’s roar. An eagle soared overhead this morning as the dust kicked up from the gravel and the sand. The sun’s heat soaked into the bleachers and Mabel’s skirt was too short for her to sit on the metal. We went back to the car for a blanket and spread it under the tree where most of the other spectators were already ranged. A couple of other children joined us. We knew them, sort of.

As soon as we get there, every time, Mabel starts badgering me for something from the shack: a freeze pop, a ring pop, a bag of chips, a hot-dog bun, a bottle of water. I make her wait because I know she’ll want something else a minute later: at the end of this inning, I say; when the batting is over; after your brother has had his turn; when somebody scores a run. When it’s half past. Go play on the swings. Find a friend. Don’t sit on me, you’ll just make us both hotter.

Dots appear on the scoreboard, counting strikes and balls, three and you’re out, four for a walk. Wipe the sheet, start again. Top of the second. Bottom of the third. “Good eye”, we say to the batter who knows when not to swing. “Good slice,” we say if the ball glances off the bat, living to fight another day. “Good pitch,” when we’re not batting but fielding, so our pitcher is the one looking for someone to swipe at their balls or miss their strikes. “Hustle!” when he’s nearly tagged out on the way to the plate. “Good hustle” when he runs fast enough.

I learned the lingo from the team dads. They stand at the fence, close to the field, not as far away as we are on the bleachers or under the tree. They are tall, imposing, with deep, molasses voices. One wears a fluorescent jacket, as if he’s working on the roads or riding a bike in the dusk; another is always impeccably natty. They shout directions, exhortations, to their own kids, but they shout encouragement to everyone’s. They know all the names, even when all the players look the same in a uniform and under a helmet. I get to know them by their socks, the length of their trousers, the way they twiddle their bats before they swing. If someone has new socks I’m lost.

The parents are a mixed bunch, and I say that consciously, as one of them. A mix of ethnicities, pretty representative of the neighborhood: more Black than white, not many Asians, a few Hispanics. Pregnant moms supervising tots on the playground while the game goes on; older moms who know the ropes, watching their last-born in Little League while their first plays varsity at high school. Tattooed dads in muscle tees, clean-cut dads in button-down shirts even at the weekend. Dads who are coaches, in team t-shirts and baseball caps. Coaches whose own kids are long past Little League but who keep coming back for “one more season.” Coaches who teach the kids so much more than how to pitch and catch and bat: sportsmanship, being a gracious winner and a good loser, showing up and trying your best even when you’re hot and tired, for no return but the thrill of a good catch even if you lost the game, an RBI though you were caught out yourself, a free soda from the snack shack when it’s all over.

Good game, well done, good game.

Dash at bat

Batter up, today

Last year’s version.

Objects of Me (A Blog Link-Up!)

My mother wore a small gold watch with a delicate bracelet fastening for many years. Even long after it broke and lived in her jewellery box instead of on her wrist, it was still what I thought of as her watch, on her tanned, deft wrist. She has always worn soft, fluffy, knitted hats in pastel colours in the winter, for warmth, and to save her perm from the winds and rain. She owns a bizarrely complicated flossing contraption the like of which I have never seen anywhere else. As she uses up a lipstick it takes on a strange pointed shape, completely different from my flat-topped ones. She insists on stirring the teapot when the tea has almost brewed and then waiting another minute before pouring.

There are probably things, I got to thinking, in my life that are as clearly “me” to my children as all those things are my mother to me. They stand for much more than the sum of their parts: they are pieces of my childhood landscape and they bring with them a sensation of warmth, safety, and security. They are the elegant and the everyday; small, simple, ritual objects.

What are my objects, I wondered? What will my children think of when they think of me? (Is my laptop one of them?) I didn’t ask the kids, because it’s hard to project yourself into the future and see what will seem important then; but I took a few pictures. If you’d like to add your own blog post, there’s a Link-Up button at the end. I’d love to read it.

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Thinking about my mum’s watch brought all this on, and mine is probably as much a part of me as hers was to her. I’ve certainly had it, and worn it daily, since before my kids were born, because I bought it in Las Vegas as a late birthday present in 2005. I hope to never need a new watch, because I do love this one.

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I have a fancy new camera now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my little green old faithful. It’s still much handier to pop in my bag or my back pocket than the big Canon that shouts “I’m taking a picture” at you, and it’s very “me”.

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This is my keyring. I’ve had it for years. It’s smooth and hard and tactile, and I admit that babies have gnawed on it, though I told them it was filthy. It didn’t have all those tiny dents and scratches when I bought it; those are life-marks.
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I’m cheating a little here, because these sandals are still new. But they are so very much exactly my thing that I’m pretty sure in years to come when my kids see something like this they’ll say “Yep, those are very Mom.”
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I have a new hat this year, that’s sturdier and straighter and has a lovely curve and dip to the big ol’ brim. But this is still my go-to hat for the summer, to stuff in a bag or take to the pool (it’s had a swim a few times and come out not much changed) or shove under my uxter as we run out of the house. When my kids remember summers, I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the bendy brim and nubbly texture of this hat. And the face underneath too, I hope.

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Soundtrack of my life

Mabel came with us on Dash’s school run this morning, because I was taking her to the doctor straight afterwards (to ascertain that her ongoing sniffles-and-cough-and-ear thing is probably two colds back to back rather than anything worse, like maybe a sinus infection; doctor said if she’s not over it in another week she’ll call in a prescription for us; AANYWAY). Usually, Dash’s traffic-clogged trip to school has the soothing soundtrack of NPR talk radio, but Mabel hates NPR. She wanted the crappy music stations; more specifically, not any songs but preferably the ads. She likes the ads. Why would anyone like the ads? (I like the crappy music stations too, I hasten to clarify, but I like the songs, not the ads.)

So I put on the classical music station and told the kids it was a compromise: a compromise is when nobody gets what they want. In retaliation, Dash started to sing his favourite dirge from music class, which is a two line hum where half the class sings a low monotonous wail and the other half sings a high chirpy incredibly irritating tiddly bit. Maybe it sounds good when they put it all together in music class, but one part at a time sung by Mr I-never-get -bored-of-the-same-line-over-and-over does not. Mabel started to build an imaginary brick wall to shut herself off from him. I glanced back to see her happily spreading invisible mortar and placing invisible bricks. Once her wall was done, she sang her own song: a brief and whiny rendition of Dash’s nemesis in tune form, ‘Shake It Off’. He protested. She said he couldn’t hear her because of her brick wall. I listened really hard to Mozart.

But because it was morning, and we’re all well-rested and not yet grumpy, things didn’t turn ugly, as they easily could have later in the day. Instead of screams and kicks and threats of turning someone out on the Beltway (where quite honestly they would probably get there quicker walking, but also probably flatter), they joined forces. Dash started humming the theme tune to Star Wars, and Mabel joined in, but singing the words ‘Let it Go’ to the melody. (They both hate ‘Let It Go’, which they view as horribly babyish and something they only liked as their immature three-years-ago selves. This about-face happened just after I bought Frozen on DVD.) They happily worked themselves through the themes to Indiana Jones and Harry Potter this way, and finally moved on to a rousing chorus of ‘Shut Up and Dance’.

I was not allowed to join in.

(And now I have remembered this post, from a million years ago, which was mostly inspired by me and B in the car singing along to whatever it was we were listening to, and thinking we needed some underlings to teach to sing along too, before they decided that we were uncool and so were our tastes in music. I think we’ve managed that, though it maybe didn’t turn out exactly as I envisaged. When does it ever, though? We did pretty well.)

Mabel sitting on Dash, on the sofa, sort of.

A sibling moment, but at least not in the car.

Just a note

I heard part of an interview with Paul Simon on the radio today. I had to get out of the car to pump my gas/petrol just when it was getting interesting, but when I got back in he said this, and I really liked it:

“I’d rather take the dark subject and touch on it and then say something funny or, you know, back away from it. When you really get into tender areas in people’s lives, you don’t have to, you know, put a stick in it. You just – if you just touch it gently, it hurts enough. And then you move away and – just to indicate that you have some compassion for how tough it is for just about everybody to make it through this life.”

(You can read the whole interview here.)

He was talking about how he approaches sad events or tragedy in his songs. I think it’s a perfect rule of thumb for any writing – no reader wants to be made miserable (Cormac McCarthy, I’m looking at you). I’d much rather tell a story and let people find the little points of parallel for themselves.

The sea at Dublin Bay

Here’s a picture. Imagine it portrays pain, but just a little.

 

Walkers

This morning Mabel had planned to walk to school on her own, with a friend from a few doors over. The friend, a year younger but much braver, was all for it. Mabel had been enthusiastic, but I wasn’t surprised when, last night, she started having second thoughts. On Friday, I had belatedly and panickingly wondered if she even knew how to safely cross a road (things you might forget to tell your not-firstborn), so I went over the importance of making sure a driver sees you even if they appear to have stopped. I’d done the job a little too well, though, and now she was worried about the roads, and the cars. (There are a few small roads to cross on the pleasant and suburban half-mile trot to school. The last is actually an exit from the school, but the big yellow buses come out there with their drivers seated way up high where they’re hard to see.)

Mabel often worries about things at night that are no problem at all the following morning (don’t we all?), but this morning she was adamant that she still wanted me to go with them after all. The friend, who appeared at our side door on the dot of 8:40 as planned, was a little disappointed, but I promised to hang back and let them pretend they were walking alone. Two sets of bare legs, not yet summer-bronzed, preceded me to school – Mabel’s skirt much shorter than I had thought; maybe it should be relegated to weekend use; where did those extra three inches of leg above her knee come from, I wondered – two smooth-haired heads turned towards each other with giggles and assertions all the way there, explanations of the project poster Mabel was carrying, declarations of a nonsense game where they were in higher grades, were each other, had funny names. Mabel looked back to make sure I was still there every few minutes, though.

I don’t really want to stop walking her to school, though I do want her to walk herself home (with some friends) next year because that will make my life a little easier. I have to push her a little, bolster her confidence and give her the tools she needs without making her too scared to venture forth with my talk of what could go wrong – she comes up with the worst-case scenario all too easily by herself.

She can rise to the occasion perfectly well, and she will.

Two girls on the sidewalk

Not today’s picture, but t’will do.

Sunshine

After a record-breakingly wet most of May, summer has arrived on our doorsteps with a thud. (That’s the sound of ladies fainting.)  It’s only 85 or so, but I’m convinced that I can’t possibly survive in such temperatures, that by July I’ll be dead, and that I have nothing to wear. (That last is true, of course. All my t-shirts have sprouted holes.)

School lunches at this point in the year are a half-hearted, last-minute effort, and for some reason the first grader has a project to do (the reason, I’m well aware, is multicultural day, with its PTA-related multicultural dinner, but for the purposes of my argument let’s pretend I don’t know that), which is not something I want to have anything to do with, except that I have to because she’s a first-grader.

I’m eating fruit all of a sudden: cherries, rhubarb, peaches. My next-door neighbour dropped in a bag of freshly-picked strawberries. It’s asparagus time. The farmers’ market has opened again. At this rate we’ll be grilling any minute.

After a long weather-related hiatus (you can’t play when the field is waterlogged), baseball is back on. Spring season part two, we call it.

Sunny little league baseball game with spectators

No-rain baseball

And I’m working. I have actual editing work that pays money, and I’m writing in between times. The new thing, not the old thing, which I’m going to publish as an ebook any second now, just as soon as my cover art is done. I have a website and a Facebook page for it too, so don’t say I didn’t do my own PR – at least as far as I can without being required to talk to real people in real life and say “I wrote a book; please read it.” Because I’m not sure I can do that.