Friday night live

The nine-year-old glides past me on a unicycle, helmeted, demanding hot chocolate. The 11-year-old whisks into the house announcing the need for a band-aid, attending to it himself, and leaving again just as quickly. There’s a cat sitting on the chair in front of me, eyeing me up for some known-to-cats-only reason. It’s just a Friday night in my kitchen, I have a glass of red right here, I don’t really need to get up. I might, to orchestrate the hot chocolate, because I’m feeling magnanimous, but I don’t have to. Even the cat looks quite content, for now.

I’m busy firing witticisms around on Facebook, because that’s what passes for Friday night excitement when you’re old like us. My husband asks me excitedly if Ace Ventura Pet Detective is suitable for the kids, but luckily the 9yo is adamant that she wants Pocahontas or Tarzan 2. At least someone knows what’s what around here.

I’ve been working this week – actual billable hours on two separate projects, not just writing that might be for nobody. Mabel’s been at school, just like she’s supposed to be. My parents are finally together in the same nursing home, and I can pay their bills out of their bank account so my dad has less to worry about. The house in Dublin is nearly sold. Things are better. We can plan ahead instead of being stuck in one-day-at-a-time mode. Everyone complains about January being 278 weeks long but I sort of like it that way because in January I don’t have to think about anything but getting back to normal. Once it’s February I have to feel bad about all the summer planning I won’t actually do till March. Such is life. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

The cat just turned around a few times and settled down to make himself comfortable. He’s settling down for the long haul. Maybe I should pour myself some more wine. There’s some issue with the chromecast so the film hasn’t started but the 9yo has found herself a Harry Potter quiz on my phone instead. There might be snow on Saturday night, but that’s a great time for snow because nobody has school until Tuesday next week. We can take some real snow now. We’ll even enjoy it, because spring is around the corner.

Spring is around the corner. I think I can cope with that.

(The 11yo has just come in and is serenading the cat with Hey Jude. This is not at all relevant but it’s so delightfully random that I had to mention it. The cat’s trying hard to go back to sleep.)

Boy holding cat

Boy, cat, tolerant

Worth working through the don’t wannas

We went away, briefly, which is always a good thing.

Before we go anywhere I’m generally stuck in the I don’t wannas. I don’t wanna think ahead, I don’t wanna pack, I don’t wanna leave the cats, I don’t wanna take a child out of school an hour early, I don’t wanna drive for hours for something that may or may not be much fun and then require driving for more hours back again. It all seems far too much like hard work.

As soon as we’re on the road, all that falls away and I remember that it’s good for all of us to get some time together, even if most of it is time singing to Hamilton in the car; to get out of the regular and do something marginally, just a tiny bit, different. Just to be somewhere else for a while so that when we come back we appreciate how nice home is. And maybe to do something nice while we’re gone as well.

I had tried to plan a weekend that would make everyone happy. Of course, such a thing is possibly doomed to failure. In honesty, I wasn’t made entirely happy myself, except by the martyr-mommy happiness that comes of seeing everyone else happy. Which I suppose is another kind of satisfaction.

So we drove three hours west to Virginia and up a mountain where the boys could go skiing for the day and Mabel and I could go to the waterpark, because she didn’t want to ski. I would have quite liked to ski, but I’m terrible value skiing because I get too cold too fast and I don’t have a lot of stamina. If you could just ski for a couple of hours that’d suit me, but they don’t arrange it that way. The waterpark on site was the same one we’d been to a couple of summers ago, and Mabel was excited about that. I’m sure she’d have had more fun with a buddy, or even her brother instead of boring me, but we had a pretty good morning alternately whooshing down the slides and bobbing along the lazy river. We had all-day passes but once we’d got dressed and gone to meet the boys for lunch we didn’t feel like going back, so that was that. They got good value out of their ski passes and had a great time, and I was just slightly jealous watching them.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think this was a Facebook-perfect post about my perfect life with my perfect children. (My husband, of course, is perfect.) We had our usual difficulties finding food (fries and more fries, but only the ones that weren’t pre-dusted with a microscopic amount of paprika thank you) and even with a pull out sofa as well as two queen beds, I somehow ended up sleeping beside the human limpet both nights, which made me grumpy and ill-rested. There was a fight over who got the sofa bed the first night and almost another over who didn’t get it the second night, when it proved less than fun, actually. There was lots of Disney Channel (we don’t have cable at home so that’s always a draw when we’re away) and somehow the first disc of Hamilton wasn’t in the car so we listened to the second half straight through about five times.

Today we awoke to falling snow, so rather than find an activity to fill the morning we just headed straight home, with nowt but a stop at Waffle House for breakfast (where child A woudln’t even eat toast and just blew bubbles in a glass of chocolate milk for half an hour, but child B ate some bacon as well as a waffle, so that’s a win) and another at McDonald’s (because of course child A needed lunch well before anyone else did), and we had plenty of time to finish homework and snuggle the cats and get in some comestibles before the week starts again. But I think we’re just a little bit renewed and refreshed, so it was all worth it.

Seventeen from ’17

17 from 17 linky Oh thank goodness, a writing prompt to get things moving here. Sadhbh at Where Wishes Come From (who has had an amazing year with the publication of her first book, Bí ag Spraoi Liom, which was featured prominently on the Late Late Toy Show dontcha know, and if you don’t understand any of that don’t worry, you’re not in Ireland) has done her annual review post, and here’s my contribution.

It’s a nice opportunity to look back at the year, both things I blogged about and things I didn’t, and to take a moment to think about it all. Head on over to Sadhbh’s and check out everyone else’s – and if you’re a blogger, add your own!

  1. Most popular post
    My most popular post from this year is one I wrote in no time at all, with very little thought applied – just a quick Snapshot of what i was doing just then, to get me out of a writing rut. Someone suggested I make it a linky, and then the whole thing spiralled a bit (as much as anything spirals on my tiny blog) and apparently it was more read than anything else.
    (My other popular posts this year were written earlier but are perennial favourites – Harry Potter wands and the Yoda cake. Also the Weaning post that brings me a lot of traffic from the Aha! Parenting site.)

2. Favourite post
I think I’ll give you this one, because it was fun to put together, even if nobody else listened to all the songs: Playlist of my Life. It was another linky, actually, from Nicola at Simply Homemade because when bloggers have good ideas they don’t keep them to themselves.

3. Favourite photo
I didn’t take this photo, and I only know two of the people in it, but it’s got to be up there. I took all my dad’s old photo albums back to America with me after my visit to clean out the house in September, and I’ve been making collages and photo books and scanning things since then. This photo is the first one in the book that has both my parents in it. On a ski holiday somewhere in Austria, probably – they’re the two on the outside of the picture. Little did they know, at that point, what the future held for them together.
Black and white photo from the 60s showing two women and two men

4. Best adventure
This was definitely my trip to Italy in July, solo, for my best friend’s wedding. I wrote about it a bit for you. It was all gorgeous, and adventurous not so much because of how far I went or what I did but because I did it alone, not as anyone’s mom or wife but as just me, for me.

5. Favourite craft
Hmm. Crafting. Hmm. I haven’t really been knitting this year, so baking is about the height of it. Does writing count? I do that a lot. I think I’ll count Mabel’s crafts, because she won a blue ribbon for her pig at the Labor Day Festival and I think it’s the loveliest pig ever.

Black ceramic pig

 

6. Most common theme
I’ve been thinking about this, and I can’t really identify a theme but I do feel that this year’s blogging was in a minor key. The whole year was, really. We faced some challenges on the home front, and I had some major moments on the personal front as my parents moved out of the house I grew up in and we cleared it out to sell it.

7. Favourite comments
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but all of them. If you not only read but also take the time to comment, it means more than you could imagine.

8. Favourite celebration
Sorry to repeat myself, but it was the wedding in Italy. It had been a long time coming, it was an event I’d always promised I’d be at, and I was so happy to be able to make that happen. And as weddings go, it was utterly utterly lovely.

9. My best move
Definitely, getting the cats. Which was a family move, but I have to admit it was mostly orchestrated by me. And they are the best, smooshiest, snoofliest cats yes you are.
Two ginger and white cats snuggling

10. Most emotional blogpost
I just made this category because the original one didn’t fit me and I wanted somewhere to put this post: Notes from the Airport. It’s about my mother.

11. Best blog moment
Let’s say it was being a finalist again in the Blog Awards Ireland, because that’s directly blog related, and it’s always lovely to feel appreciated.

12. Worst blog moment
Therefore here I have to say “Not winning”, even though it wasn’t terribly devastating. Having voluteered as a judge myself for the first time this year, I saw exactly how arbitrary the process really is, how the result could hinge on just one or two marks from one or two people whose personal taste didn’t coincide with yours… maybe it’ll be my year some other time.

13. Favourite title
I think I’ll choose Casting Off, because it was such a perfectly apt one for the moment in question. (If only I could have worked some sailing in there too.)

14. Favourite [blog] series
I’m cheating on this one and removing the word “blog” because I finished my self-published trilogy this year, so that has to be my favourite series of the year. I’m very proud of myself for writing it, though I do fear that sales suffer from the law of diminishing returns and I see very clearly why publishers don’t like series (unless you’re JK Rowling).

15. What I learned in 2017
That when you ask for help you will get it in abundance. It’s ok to ask. People want to help. The friends (and relations) who came to help me empty out my parents’ house in three days were amazing – it was a mountain I couldn’t possibly have scaled alone, but I put out the word and people came, and together it was perfectly possible.

16. What my blog did for me in 2017
As always, my blog worked best when it was a place for me to work through my own feelings. I process my experiences by writing about them, and especially at moments when thinking about my parents and the sale of my childhood home, my blog was there as my own personal therapist. If you were there too, thanks for reading.

Dun Laoghaire seafront at dawn, looking towards Sandycove

17. The biggest surprise of 2017
I’m a bit stumped here. That he who shall not be named is still president? That I finished my trilogy? That we have pets now? That parenting doesn’t necessarily get easier as the children get older? That Dash is a star pitcher and catcher? (I haven’t mentioned baseball but there was plenty of it.) That I went to Ireland twice for little more than a weekend? That cats can be this smooshy? Ooh, I saw Paul Simon play live, that was exciting. Let’s say that.

 

I started writing this on Monday so there you go

So! Here we are! A week to Christmas! Isn’t it grand!

I hope you’re as excited as my kids about that. I am … not as excited as my kids. Many things conspire to make me particularly peeved today, though I did almost find myself getting a tiny whiff of a hint of the seasonal spirit over the weekend. Almost.

So, this is what’s been going on, briefly. One of my children – I won’t say which, in a pathetic attempt at shielding their anonymity – has been experiencing school refusal. Which means we have all, as a family, been experiencing it, because it has what people might call trickle-down effects. And in spite of the way I feel on x out of y number of mornings, said child is not just doing this to be bad, or difficult, or to make my life miserable. School refusal is a Real Thing that children suffer from, for one reason or another.

I’m not going to go into the whats and whys of it all because that part is not my story to tell. But how frustrated and blocked I feel on days when the child who should be in school is not in school – I think I’m allowed talk about that here. If I’m spending all morning trying to talk someone into getting dressed and leaving the house and maybe even getting out of the car once we get to the parking lot, I’m not getting in my tiny, paltry amount of exercise, or writing anything or feeling in any way useful. Instead I’m feeling more and more ineffectual, which is not good for anyone’s mental health.

We are dealing with it. No advice required thank you. It’s just that, as the kids get older we stop talking about them so much, here in blogland – but this is when we need the support of our mom-friends just as much as ever, maybe more. We need to know that these challenges (let’s call them) don’t mean we’re bad parents, they don’t mean we’ve failed, or broken our children. The job changes when it’s no longer about poop and boobs and sleepless nights, but it doesn’t always get easier.

On the flip side, the days when school attendance is achieved, on time even, I am delighted. I do a happy dance, I feel light and free and like a leaf on the wind. I feel that this is the beginning of a beautiful new era, and that anything is possible. In short, I feel the way I used to feel when the baby (either baby, whichever) slept all night, or something like all night. It’s a glorious day.

Apart from that, a couple of nice/silly things.

Thing one:

Finally, this year, when the kids are 9 and 11, we are at a point where I feel safe leaving the presents under the tree, because they can both handle the suspense and enjoy the anticipation. And they’re loving it so much – announcing to each other after school how many new presents have appeared, cataloguing them, showing their father, sneaking in parcels for each other.
So if you are wondering when or if this moment will ever come in your house, I offer you hope.
(Of course this year we have two cats, so we have to defend all the presents from them now…)

And thing two:

Dash says that when he was very small he thought that people were born whatever age they were. Evidently the whole growing part hadn’t yet sunk in. So when I told him people grew in their mummies’ tummies he thought that was going to be very awkward if the person in question was, like 40 or something.
Which just goes to show that no matter how clearly you think you have explained something to a small child, they will manage to get it arseways and make for themselves some totally bonkers explanation about it.

How’s the season going for you, then?

Bare trees reflected in the water, blue sky

Not very festive picture, but it is seasonal.

Not offended

On NPR the other day they were talking about the recent sexual harassment revelations – no shit sherlock, it’s been going on this whole time, hands up if you’re surprised – and an older gent rang in to say, in coded terms, that he thought it was all a bit of an overreaction. “If I’ve ever… offended anyone… I obviously didn’t intend to,” he said, looking for some sympathy for his plight, poor fellow.

“It’s not about OFFENDING someone,” I shouted at the radio. “Women are not delicate snowflakes with no sense of humour, which is obviously what you’re thinking, you blithering old fart.”

Let me repeat that. It’s not about being offended.

It’s about power. It’s about wielding your power over a person who has less, or none. It’s about waving your power in her face, shoving your power down her throat, maybe literally, because you know you can do that and she can’t stop you. We are not offended by the sight of your unsolicited dick pics. We are not offended by your hilarious jokes about sex in a professional setting. We are not offended by the catcalls and the conversations aimed at our cleavage and the boys’ club atmosphere. We may be variously disgusted, horrified, repulsed, nauseated, and very very weary of it all – but that’s on a good day.

(Please note: We are not, ever, turned on.)

On a bad day, we are scared. We feel threatened and made insignificant. We have our power taken from us, our power as individuals, our autonomy over our selves. We become things, vessels, objects that can be done to as someone else wishes, just because that person is stronger, is in a position where they can do what they want without worrying about repercussions, doesn’t give a shit about human decency, has lost sight of the fact that his mama taught him better than that.

Maybe his daddy didn’t.

On every day when this is in the news and people are surprised, shocked, astounded – we are angry. We are angry and incredulous at your shock and we are not very surprised. It’s anything but surprising, really, all this news, except for the fact that it counts as news. Which is, perhaps, surprising and a little encouraging.

Onwards.

 

Sorry about the vagueblogging but I just need to vent

I am very good at giving advice and very very bad at taking it.

Knowing this, I sometimes try to trick myself by pretending I’m someone else and giving myself the advice I’d give that person. But my perspective is off – I can’t tell if I’m being uber critical or giving myself a pass. Because I hate criticism. even from myself.

Nobody likes criticism, I suppose. But I feel other people probably have better defences against it than I do. I might be wrong about that, but I like to blame it on my not having siblings who said mean things which I learned to ignore. Nobody ever said mean things to me.

Today two different people, speaking in professional capacities about each of my children, said things that could, by a paranoid person such as myself, be interpreted as criticisms of my parenting.

Therefore I’m a crap parent and my children will grow up to be burdens on society except mostly on us their parents first and possibly forever.

Except that Dash is doing perfectly well at school and Mabel’s increasingly reading, which has to be good, and the cats are alive and well even if I did kill the potted herbs, and I’m making black bean brownies so everyone will have lunch dessert tomorrow and there’s a babysitter booked for tomorrow night so we can have a date night and look after our relationship and I’ve just ordered the proof copy of my third book and am close to finishing the first draft of my fourth and at least one of us will have a flu shot very soon and I switched the summer duvets for the winter duvets on the kids’ beds today and we are all enjoying watching junior masterchef together and I AM DOING WHAT I CAN.

girl with notebook sitting on floor, boy with video game beside her, cat on cat tree watching them

Trio

To Mabel, who is nine tomorrow

You are my dragon girl. You are fierce; you breathe fire.

You see injustices that others gloss over, you speak up for equality. You demand equal rights for mythical creatures and humans alike.

You create. You make worlds and homes, families and cities. You write declarations, you draw scenes, you set up tableaux, you assign everyone to their clan. You have notebooks filled with the work of your busy pencil, always multitasking while I read your bedtime story.

You are funny; funnier, perhaps than the deep, wise dragons of old who hid their dry humour far inside and scorned the silly. At their peril. You find kindred spirits in those who get the joke, who see the tiny curve of your mouth and know you’re waiting to see what they say, that this was a test. Those who pass are honoured.

You do not always sheathe your talons. But you can be caught unawares in moments of tenderness, looking out for small children, loving the stupid fluffy cats, snuggling up.

You are strong and skillful and brave. You walk the high wire, you ride on one wheel, you keep trying. You work hard for what you want, ignoring bruised shins and bumped elbows until you have mastery.

You speak in tongues: dog, Russian, nonsense, hieroglyphics. You are a linguist. You want to learn more words, more ways to say it. You obfuscate. You calculate. You want more, bigger, harder math. You burn with the desire to know more.

You know your mind, and you know who you are. It’s hard being you sometimes, but nobody else is so much, so magnificent.

You are my dragon girl: hard to decipher, challenging to guide, a delight to be in league with, an honour to love.

Happy birthday.

Reasons why I took a shower at 4pm today

I got into the car at 5:20pm with my hair still wet, to go to a parent association meeting at Dash’s school. Everyone will think I’ve come from the gym, I thought to myself, amused by the irony, because why else would someone shower in the middle of the afternoon?

I imagined the conversation going something like this:

– Were you at the gym?

– No, I just showered now because at 7am I had to wake my third-grader with a cat and make waffles and at 8am a guy appeared on the doorstep to vaccuum all the heating vents and at 9am I was jubilantly booting the third grader in the door to school and then having a conversation with a mom-friend about our impossible children and at 10am I was back at home wondering if the vents guy had accidentally let out one or both cats and trying to write through the din of sucking how many years of dust through the tubes behind the walls and at 11am I was on the phone to the hospital in Ireland hearing about my dad’s brand new broken leg and at 12pm I was paying the vents guy an inordinate amount of money and locating in the basement the traumatized cats and at 1pm I was talking to the estate agent in Dublin about house showings and at 2pm I was printing out forms from the solicitor that I’d already signed and sent back but that appear to have gone astray in Hurricane Ophelia to send by registered post all over again and going to the supermarket for more juice boxes and at 3pm I was in the car driving to school to pick up the sixth grader and at 4pm I was finally able to take a shower so that at 5pm I could make myself a sandwich before welcoming my husband home and leaving the house again to drive to the ten-miles-away school for the second time today for this 6pm meeting.

I might have just told them I was at the gym after all, to save us all that, in spite of the ridiculous lie that would have been. But nobody asked, because everyone else’s day was probably just as busy as mine and quite possibly more so, because that’s how life is.

At 8pm I got to write a blog post with a gin & tonic and a bottomless bowl of pita chips while spinning the Twister arrow and laughing at the rest of my family contorting themselves as they sang along to the Buffy musical episode soundtrack.

They’re not so bad, maybe.

How to sell your parents’ house, part 3 of 3, maybe

The estate agent rang me this morning to let me know that the For Sale sign will go up next week, probably Wednesday. So that’s a strange feeling, putting your family home on the market. Especially since my two parents are still living. It feels wrong to sell it out from under them, even though I’m not doing that at all: my father is selling his own house, I’m just doing the donkey work. He signs the cheques. I sign for my mother, because she can’t do that any more, when we get to the actual legal documents part, assuming that’ll happen in due course.

It all seems very sudden, even though it’s been on the cards since last May, when Dad looked at me and said “I suppose we’d better sell the house.”

I loved the estate agent. He looked around the house in wonder and awe and probably some internal consternation, and said “It’s really hard to value” but also appreciated all the work that had gone into it, from the very beginning, all by my dad himself.

He saw an old photo upstairs – actually, a photocopy of a photo, that my dad had framed – and audibly goggled at how cool it was – my father’s uncle in 1913 posing with his swim team. Like something from another world, really; one we can’t begin to imagine in spite of all the pictures and films and books we’ve seen. These were real people; a little bit of their DNA runs through my veins. I pulled the photocopy out of the frame and kept it with all the other old photos.

When I got back from Ireland I was very productive for a few days, writing thank-you cards and feverishly sorting through the loose photos, writing on the back, trying to put them in chronological order, despairing when a random wedding picture had no names, no faces I knew, not even an indication of which side of the family it had come from. I went to Ikea, made a lovely photo collage for the wall, hung it up, even. Such industry, in a house otherwise crumbling around me (crumbling at least in terms of undone housework and un-put-away toys, constantly on the brink of running out of milk and bread).

Here’s a list, in two parts.

Things that were easy to put in the skip: (That’s a dumpster, Americans.)

  • Garden waste.
  • Very old pillows.
  • My bank statements from 20 years ago.
  • A nasty rolled-up rug.
  • Used makeup, old hairspray, battered shoes without mates.

Things that were hard to put in the skip:

  • My mother’s cushions. (You can’t donate cushions. They’re like pillows, nobody will take them.)
  • The last bits and pieces from each room, the things I couldn’t decide about, the things I left for my friends to remove because I kept wanting to leave a little something, for character, to make it look at least a tiny bit personal.
  • The photo albums that weren’t old enough to be interesting – the ones of my parents’ trips or travels over the last twenty years or so, visiting people I don’t know, or people who have their own pictures of that day.
  • The Hummel figurine that someone knocked over on the way out to the garden; probably one of the very helpful people who were giving up their Saturday afternoon to help me out; they didn’t even notice. I shouldn’t have left it there, so close to the door. But it had survived so long, and now it was in three pieces. Poor little boy in the apple tree.

It’s weird being entrusted to get rid of other people’s stuff, even two people as uncaring about material goods as my parents. I kept the things I wanted. I kept a few things I thought other people would want. I gave away as much as I could to friends and family members who wanted them, who would take them and keep with them the memory of the place they came from – or even who would say “A lady gave it to me one day when my parents went to her house. I don’t know who she was, really. A friend of Mum and Dad’s who they hardly ever see, I think.”

My best friend told me I had no sentimentality, as I shot down her suggestions of things I might want to keep. I had two suitcases, mostly already full of photo albums, and a house full of junk over here already. I have no space for sentimentality. She left with a shelf that we unscrewed from the wall along with its curly brackets, and some of my mother’s jewellery, and the Dyson. Sentiment and practicality right there. I was happy about that.

A house story

And now I am here again, at my kitchen table, thinking about back-to-school nights and bringing in the washing, instead of there, thinking about the ends of things. It was an intense weekend-and-a-bit, but with a lot of help from a lot of great people I accomplished almost all I had hoped to.

It was very … elemental, maybe, is the word I want. Very much about life, the hard parts of it that are the most real. I met a friend who was coming from her father’s funeral, buying balloons for her son’s fifth birthday party. I gave small children things from my aged parents’ house, sent them back to their homes with the last of my childhood books, dominoes, pretty boxes, and my spare recorder (sorry).

But there was a story I wanted to tell. On Saturday afternoon, someone helping me put things in boxes pulled a string in the kitchen and it broke. It was fine, it didn’t matter. They noticed the string was attached to a little bell that rang when you pulled it. They wondered why. I explained.

My father’s office was downstairs in the basement, ever since the recession in 1987 or so caused him and his partner to downsize and move to working out of their respective homes. There was a phone down there, and a phone upstairs in the hall beside the kitchen, so if the phone rang during business hours my dad would answer it down there, professional-like. If it happened that the call was actually for my mother, rather than have to open his office door and shout loud enough to be heard through the door to the basement, or come all the way upstairs, he rigged up a little bell with a string that went straight down through the floor, so that he could ring the bell from right where he was to let her know it was for her. (Or for me, maybe, even.) No undignified yelling required.

It is a perfect example of how our house worked, and how the things in the house were exactly tailored to suit its inhabitants. A little thing, that nobody seeing that bell would know, once I’m not there to tell the story any more: not the person who shows the house to prospective buyers, not the one who looks at the house wondering how they will mould it to their needs, not the one who rips it off the kitchen wall after the house has been sold.

So now I’ve told the story, and the reason for the bell will always be here, not lost after all.

Table covered in vases and jugs

Right at the beginning of the ending