All I want for Christmas

Now that I’ve lodged Mariah Carey permanently in your left ear – and, be honest, she’s been there most of the week, hasn’t she – let me interrupt myself to tell you a story.

This morning I sat down to start writing and realised something was wrong. I felt … loose. Free. Sort of dangerously slippy. Unrestrained. No, I haven’t given the husband the heave-ho, or sent the children on an all-expenses paid trip to Siberia – I’d forgotten to put on my bra.

As I raced upstairs to remedy this inexplicable oversight, I ransacked my brain for excuses. I’m not the sort of girl who pulls off her bra with abandon as soon as she comes home, shedding it as she might kick off uncomfortable shoes, happy to be done with them for the day. (There’s nothing bad about that sort of girl. I’m just not one.) Once I’m out of bed and out of pyjamas, I have a bra on. I’m uncomfortable without.

My only explanation was that I’d taken off the gym gear and sports bra I’d put on first thing, but had not had a shower since I didn’t actually exercise. And apparently in my brain if I’m taking off one bra and putting clothes on straight away, I’m putting on pyjamas, which don’t get a bra. But this time I managed to put on three top layers (it’s cold), socks, and a pair of leggings, and go downstairs without even noticing that I’d missed a vital aspect of my habilliment.

I don’t know if that’s plausible. The other explanation is that I’m finally losing my marbles.

—–

So there you go. Keep a careful eye out for such a thing happening again. In the meantime, I read Sinead’s nice post about what other people wanted for Christmas and I thought I’d do one of my own. This is really my pre-Christmas list as much as my Christmas list, because some of these will be or have already been procured by me for me. But some might still be a lovely surprise.

My very lovely new bag, which I found in Marshall’s as I am wont to do, and lusted after for a while. Then I cunningly ordered three pairs of boots from Zappos, almost bought one, decided not to, sent them all back, and used the money I saved (ahem) to buy the bag. The price tag says “RRP 158” and I paid $50, so it’s a bargain.

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These were the boots I sent back. They’re lovely, but I wasn’t entirely sure they’d be as comfy as the boots they’d be replacing, which look exactly the same but a bit taller (and less new) and are still perfectly roadworthy.

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I bought a skirt in Dress Barn (shopping there makes me feel like I must be a cow, but they have some nice stuff at very affordable prices), and two tops as well. The skirt is crying out for some tall brown boots, so I’m giving myself permission to look for a pair of those when we’re in Dublin. (If money were no object and I had skinnier calves, these would be ideal.) (Can’t find a photo of the skirt online for some reason. It’s longish and dark red and velvety thin cord, A-line, quite 70s retro and very Christmassy.)

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I really need-want a nice silvery-grey scarf that goes with everything. This is a random one I found on Pinterest, to symbolize something that I won’t know exactly until I see it.

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I also want a new chopping board. Nothing fancy – I saw a nice one for 7.99 in Marshall’s. I like the bamboo ones, though.

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And these Food Huggers are really cute and would cut down on nasty plastic bags in my salad drawer.

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See, my needs are simple. My tastes are modest. Except for boots. And bags.

Tiny victories in selective eating

I know you’re all dying to know how the new dinner thing is going. Did we finally crack it? Or did I just crack, again?

I cannot tell a lie, at least not here on the blog, so I have to admit that once again we fell at about the second fence and it all came to pieces as soon as I blogged about how great I was and how we were finally on the right track. Of course it did. Will I never learn to keep my big trap (fingers) shut (still)?

BUT.

There’s a but. (Not a butt. Stop giggling there in the back row.) Reading the book and finding the blog were good, but joining a Facebook group for parents of selective eaters has really opened my eyes and given me a healthy dose of perspective on what we’re facing, how bad it is in the grand scheme of things, and what’s important.

There are parents in the group who have fussy toddlers, in a totally normal and age-appropriate way, babies and little kids who are exercising their newly found power by refusing food, or demanding only certain foods, or not eating things they’ve always eaten in the past. There are parents of kids like mine, who are picky and selective and have limited diets by their own choosing and who won’t “eat when they’re hungry enough” no matter how much you assume that’ll be the case.

And there are parents of children who are traumatized around food because they had such terrible reflux that their oesophagus was burned by acid, or who lack the muscle tone to swallow efficiently, or who have been badgered and bullied and terrorized so that they shut down around food, or who survive only thanks to liquid diet supplements, or whose parents celebrate when they eat a teaspoonful of solid food for the first time in a week, or who spent years on a feeding tube and have to learn how to eat from scratch.

Compared to these parents, I feel pretty lucky. My child has no allergies, no physical difficulty eating, is perfectly healthy despite his limited diet, and continues to grow apace.

It also brings home what an odd relationship we in the Western world have with food. Food is energy, food makes us grow, food is vital for life. And yet we insist on categorizing food into “good” and “bad.” Often we need to do something like this for ourselves because we have so much choice, such a bounty of sugar and salt and smooth and crunchy and deep-fried and processed that we’ve lost sight of the basics. But for these kids, food is food, and all food is good. A lot of it is about trusting that when offered a variety of foods, humans will, if they don’t have reasons to do otherwise, choose a selection that is healthful and eat as much as, but not more than, they need.

So by offering a bunch of different things at once, we can help our children trust themselves, and show them that we trust them. That’s the key to the Division of Responsibility (DOR) method.

It’s hard to do it perfectly: I clearly haven’t figured out how to do it at all. I have niggling issues with timing and fear of waste and how to balance one child’s needs and wants against the other’s. But here’s what’s changed for me in the past few weeks:

  • I am more understanding of Dash’s feelings. I don’t dismiss his food concerns as “illogical” or “ridiculous” even if they seem that way to me. I’m meeting him where he is, not trying to coerce him into coming over to my way of thinking.
  • I am more likely to keep foods he likes in the house, because they’re his safe foods, even if they don’t seem particularly “good” to me. Things like tortilla chips or Sun Chips or plain bagels. I resisted this for so long, partly because I have no self-control around Sun Chips, but mostly because at some level apparently I still felt that if he was hungry enough he’d eat “better” foods. That’s not true, and has clearly not ever been true for him. I’m learning to let go of that notion and have food in the house that he’s happy to eat.

Basically, I’m being nicer to Dash: less impatient, more understanding. It’s nice to be nice to him; I think deep down inside I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be nice about food, but this is better. (It’s interesting the things I continue to discover about me, not about him, as we go deeper into this.)

So, for instance, when we were away this weekend I promised to always remember to ask while ordering his french fries whether there’s seasoning on them, and if they can please not do that. Before, we’ve not said anything and sometimes fries will come out with pepper on them, or – heaven forfend! – a sprinkling of parsley flakes – and then there’s a row because I don’t like making a fuss and sending things back, and to me it’s silly to refuse to eat them over this tiny thing. But to him it’s a huge thing. And if we order them without seasoning up front, there’s no waste and no awkwardness and it’s perfectly easy for the restaurant too. Win-win, but something I’ve been so resistant to for no good reason except that it felt like pandering to the fussy child and I thought I shouldn’t do that.

I’m more able now to treat what might seem like tiny achievements as what they really are – big deals in the world of selective eating. This weekend he tried and liked two new foods! They were crinkle-cut fries and kettle corn, which might not sound like a great discovery to most of us, but let’s celebrate our victories where we find them. Taking an existing “safe food” – in this case, straight fries and plain salted popcorn – and expanding that to a variation in shape or flavour – is called food chaining, and it’s how a selective eater can start to expand their horizons while feeling secure and unthreatened.

So let’s call this a win. Just not the one I thought it was going to be.

Dash with food.

Happy with crinkle-cut chips and chocolate milk. An excellent lunch.

Giving grace

Three figures on the beach

I spent the weekend mostly not looking at Facebook.

I spent the weekend a stone’s throw from the Atlantic.

I spent the weekend reading a book and going to bed early and listening to the ocean waves crash and recede.

I spent the weekend being thankful for American restaurants that cater to children who don’t eat anything but french fries with no seasoning on them, that provide word searches and mad libs and paper for games of x’s and o’s, and chocolate milk and lemonade and apple juice. And beer.

I spent the weekend adjudicating rows and acceding to demands and telling short people to stop kicking each other, because some things never change.

I spent the weekend sharing a queen-sized bed with an eight-year old.

I spent the weekend buying buckets and spades and ice-cream cones at the end of November.

I spent the weekend with my people, by the sea, and it was good.


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Thanksgiving grinch

There’s one particular Facebook friend I have who I’m always offending. She’s in Ireland, and whenever I say something self-deprecating about the Irish or the country, to endear myself to the Americans, or ingratiate myself, or whatever, she takes it to heart. I suppose I’m gone long enough now that I’m not allowed do that any more. But I can’t criticise America either, because that’s just rude (and it has enough problems right now), which leaves me in a tricky no-woman’s-land of having to be polite about everywhere, and there’s no humour in that.

Anyway, right now is when I humourlessly criticise America and sound like a foreigner, because it’s the night before Thankgsiving and I never feel less American than on Thanksgiving. It just doesn’t have any meaning for me. It feels like fake Christmas. I don’t want turkey, but I certainly don’t want turkey and cranberry sauce and all the trimmings (the wrong trimmings, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and green beans instead of roast potatoes and sage and onion stuffing and plum pudding and brandy butter) at the end of November. All week I’ve been forgetting to wish people a happy thanksgiving or to enquire politely about their travel/hosting plans or to even register that it’s not going to be a regular Thursday. I don’t have a late November holiday spirit. I have no interest in acquiring one. I am a Thanksgiving Grinch.

Which is why this year we’re avoiding the issue entirely and running away. Rather than have a perfectly nice dinner with perfectly nice friends tomorrow, we are driving to the beach and staying in a hotel until it’s all gone away. I suppose we’ll have to eat dinner of some sort tomorrow, and I suppose it’ll be in a fairly traditional establishment so that my kids can eat pizza and/or french fries, since that’s all they eat in restaurants, so I can’t pander to my utmost desires and eat something totally nontrad like Indian or Thai, but it won’t be turkey, and I really hope nobody will even apologise for the fact that it’s not.

In other, more positive news, we have all had flu shots now, which is my major achievement for this winter and puts me well up on last winter. Checkups and dentist visits are scheduled, I have bought Christmas cards, and I’m getting on quite well with the second draft of the second book, thank you very much. Though I don’t think that’ll be out before Christmas. Not this Christmas, at least.

 

Dial it down, for the kids’ sake

When I was 11, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States. My sixth-class teacher felt strongly that we should all have a grasp of current affairs, and every morning she’d pin her newspaper up on the blackboard and have us all gather round and look through the headlines. She was a formidable woman with a strong social conscience, and CND and Greenpeace and Amnesty International were all hot topics at the time, though in spite of her efforts I personally wasn’t always exactly clear on why exactly they were in the news.

What I remember most vividly, though, was our fear of Ronald Reagan’s finger hovering over the nuclear missile button, pointed at the USSR, with Ireland right in between the two.* Nuclear fallout wouldn’t respect Ireland’s official neutrality, and we would have no say in the matter. I don’t think I was alone in that fear – there was that Genesis video a year later, for instance – but I suspect that as children my class’s understanding of the facts and the likelihood of certain things happening might have been skewed a bit. The idea of a massive nuclear blast that would wipe out half the world, followed by a long slow nuclear winter that would horrifyingly put an end to the other half seemed like an inevitability more than a possibility to me for several years. It felt like a future we were all just politely ignoring, pretending wouldn’t happen. For quite some time it felt like a when, not a remote if.

Children have no control over the greater world around them. They hear and see more than adults expect them to, and they take in information in ways that adults can’t ever quite predict. They get scared irrationally, by things that don’t exist and things that pose no threat – and they get even more scared when the adults around them are anxious, worried, angry, and letting fly about things that nobody explains to them.

I am all for explaining things to our children, and showing them that we have strong emotions too – but I also think we should let them be children as long as possible. Their lives are full of small problems, childish worries, surmountable anxieties that look really hard from their point of view. Let’s not give them our big worries as well. Their shoulders aren’t ready.

In other words, limit the agonizing, grownups. Stop making Trump sound like the end of the world. Dial down the hyperbole at the dinner table – your kids don’t understand when you’re exaggerating for effect. They take what they hear you say as the bald truth, not melodrama because you’re that kind of person. Lie to them a little if you have to. Soften it up. Tell them everything’s going to be fine – that the government has checks and balances so that no one person can have all the power. That politicians never keep their campaign promises. It might even be true.

Help them sleep at night. There’ll be plenty of time for stark reality when they’re older.

*In hindsight, I suppose his nukes might have pointed west rather than east, to reach the USSR quicker. But then they’d be travelling over US soil. Unless they started from Alaska. Okay, I don’t know which way they’d go.

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Birds, not missiles

 

Post-election brain dump

Hello are you new here I process my feelings by writing about things. I’m not done yet, but I’ll put it all here and then we shall all move along.

The Americans I know are good people. Smart, educated, intelligent, thoughtful, kind people. It just so happens that because of my personal and online bubble, and where I live, I probably don’t know many people – if any, even – who voted for Trump. Most of my friends here are all just as mystified as the rest of the world about how this happened – but I think that’s the problem. We’re so divorced from the “other half” that we can’t begin to appreciate their difficulties. Voting for Trump was a cry for help. They didn’t really care what happened afterwards, so long as their voice finally was heard.

No country is perfect. No country has figured it all out yet so that every citizen is perfectly content with their lot. Canada sounds good, sure, but it’s cold up there. Scandinavia has its problems too. Utopia is still fiction.

Therefore, it can only be expected that people will vote for something different, to see if they can make things better than the not-perfect they’re experiencing. Historically the establishment almost always gets voted out after eight years to make way for something different. As a race, we strive to improve our lot – but not always in the most rational of ways.

Almost half the voting public is so pissed off with how their lives are going that they threw their lot in with a man who is a bully and a bigot, who denies climate change and assaults women and tells us that all men are like that. They voted for him because they wanted a big change from the establishment and that’s what he represented. They voted for him because he said the things they thought nobody was supposed to say, and thousands of people cheered him on and drew comfort from the fact that they had all been thinking these same things all along. They voted for him because they hate Hillary Clinton, and because everything they watched and read and heard on mass media and social media confirmed their reasons for hating her. Older and wiser and better people* told them not to vote for him, so of course they went right ahead and did it, to stick it to the man.

This election has made me question the nature of truth and the function of the mass media. The media here is acknowledgedly biased – which perhaps is better than pretending to be balanced when such a thing is impossible. But a voter can live their entire life in the bubble of their choosing, seeing only the information that confirms all their biases, and easily disregarding anything that doesn’t already agree with the opinion they’ve been carefully fed.

Then there’s this: roughly half the country identifies as Republican and roughly half the country voted for the Republican candidate. The fact that the outcome of any election depends on a tiny tipping point in the middle is the fault of the system. There can only be one winner, because America doesn’t do coalitions. A lot of people were unhappy about the Obama administration. Now a lot of people will be unhappy about the Trump administration. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

(New information: almost half the country (46%) didn’t bother their arses voting at all. So one quarter cared enough to vote for Trump and another quarter cared enough to vote for Hillary. This makes me feel like the whole thing is a fucking farce. But anyway.)

I want to find a republican and be friends with them. I want to stop reading terrifying articles about what will happen next and op-eds about what we did wrong and everything that pits one group of us against another group of us. I want a hug. I want to give someone a hug.

I want to move on.

I want to keep believing that most people are good.

*That’s a quote. From Saki’s “The Lumber Room,” if I recall correctly, which is an excellent tale.

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Picture of fallen leaves, for you to interpret metaphorically as you wish

Love not hate

I brought my eight-year-old to school this morning. Her school is the neighborhood public school, and one we’re very happy with. Its student demographics happen to be 84% nonwhite. We live in Maryland, which is a blue state, in a pretty liberal-leaning suburb of Washington DC, and my Facebook bubble confirms that Trump supporters are few and far between just here.

Outside the school someone had put up hand-drawn signs – just sheets of paper and red marker – all along the handrails where the kindergarteners and first graders line up. There were two on the doors where the upper grades enter. I didn’t go around the side to where my second grader goes in, but I bet there were some there too. There were a couple stuck to the lamppost opposite where kids get out of cars in the drop-off line.

The signs said “YOU ARE SAFE” and “YOU ARE LOVED.” With big red love-hearts.

This was the thing that made me cry, finally. These flapping, rained-on pieces of paper brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

Someone – a staff member or a parent, I don’t know which – knew that children might be coming to school this morning worried, upset, concerned about the news. Afraid that they might have to live somewhere else. Afraid that people don’t like them because of their religion or the color of their skin or maybe the fact that they have two moms. Afraid because they’ve seen their parents crying or angry or disbelieving over the news this morning, maybe saying more in the heat of the moment than they really should have said in front of the kids, who always take in more than we think they do.

And that person did something about it. Hastily, with nothing more than paper and a marker, and a few minutes, they made a difference.

I love that this was done. I hate that there was a need for it. I still think love trumps hate. I think it always will. Hate is fear with a tinge of anger. Love is just love. Let’s keep spreading the love, not the hate.

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Pantsuit universe

Yesterday one of my Irish readers was surprised by the feminist slant of my post – that aspect of the US presidential race seemed to have got lost in the general melee of “Crazy Trump vs. Hawkish E-mail Lady” media attention that people overseas were seeing.

I was surprised that she was surprised, because from where I’m sitting that’s one of the most salient and exciting parts of the whole thing, and one that I find totally uplifting.

In my experience, the glass ceiling is a lot tougher in the US than it is in Europe. Sexism in and outside the workplace is more prevalent. Attitudes are more trenchant. Personally, I’ve had more female bosses than male in Ireland and I’ve only ever had male bosses in the US. Maybe that’s coincidence, or maybe it’s something more.

I’ve been catcalled in America but not in Ireland. I’ve had dodgy experiences in Ireland and in Spain. I’ve walked home in the dark everywhere, and felt nervous as a woman alone in an unfamiliar area everywhere, and clutched my keys in a parking lot so I can stab someone in the eye at short notice everywhere. Nowhere has a clean record. Nowhere has a monopoly on good or bad behavior. But you can’t deny that when women earn 80c for every dollar men earn, and that a government made up of mostly men thinks it should be able to legislate on women’s bodies, things could be fairer.

Today women in America are wearing pantsuits for Hillary Clinton. They’re wearing white for suffragettes. They’re wearing family heirloom earrings and pendants and voting with their mothers and their grandmothers in their hearts, and with their daughters in their arms and their minds. They’re lining up at Susan B. Anthony’s grave and covering it with the little “I voted” stickers you get when you leave your polling place, because this is what she worked for and didn’t get to see.

Irish people are always quick to point out that Ireland elected two female presidents in a row, starting way back in 1990. Which is true, and wonderful – but the president in Ireland is mostly a figurehead, much like the English monarch. Ireland has yet to elect a female Taoiseach (Prime Minister). If Hillary Clinton is elected she will be, to coin a hackneyed phrase, leader of the free world – and also, simultaneously, a woman. While the rest of the world has to bite their nails and just wait and see, I got to go out to my local polling place this morning and have a say in that decision – as a woman, and an immigrant, and an American citizen.

That’s democracy. It’s an exciting time.

"I voted" sticker.

Yes I did.

 

Just a girl

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a boy. He lived at the top of my road, and our parents were good friends, so we were in and out of each other’s houses, and riding our bikes up and down the road, and happily duelling Sindys against Action Men and all that sort of thing for several years. But sometimes, especially as I got a little older, I didn’t always want to play the same games he did. “Let’s play cops and robbers!” he’d say. “Let’s do acrobatic tricks on our bikes,” I’d counter. So I’d be a robber escaping acrobatically from the cops, or a policeman doing an arabesque on my saddle as I pursued him.

Now and then, I had to pull out the oldest excuse in the book to get out of playing some game or other I didn’t feel like. I knew it was wrong at the time. The burgeoning feminist inside me cringed, but sometimes, to get out of things that looked too hard or too high or basically too uninteresting, I’d say to him “I’m only a girl.”

I don’t even know where my burgeoning feminist came from. She’d never heard of feminism. Her mother was not really flying the flag of liberated women, coming from the generation who had to give up work as soon as they got married, and not seeing any reason why a married woman would “take a job from a man”, as it was so quaintly perceived in those days. But she was the part of me who scrambled over rocks and climbed trees and turned cartwheels and read books and knew perfectly well she could do everything just as well, if not better, than her friends who were boys. Maybe that was why I knew it was wrong to say – it clearly wasn’t the truth. I may have heard it somewhere or read it in books, but in my own experience there was no reason to connect “only” with “girl”.

Tomorrow I’m taking my daughter with me – my fierce, independent, trail-blazing fighter of an eight-year-old girl – to vote for a woman to be the president of the United States. And I know that my daughter will never ever say she’s only a girl, because those words don’t go together at all. She’s everything a girl.

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10 Things I’ve Learned about Parenting

Here are some things I have learned, in my ten and a half years of having small people hanging out of me. They are deep wisdom and I will give them the hashtag “parenting truths”.

  1. Sleep when the baby sleeps is both true and bullshit. Yes, you should, and maybe you could, but time spent zoning out on the sofa without a small body attached to you is also very important.
  2.  The days are long and the years are short. But the nights are longest of all, and staying in the moment is sometimes the last thing you want to do.
  3. It’s good to be present, but it’s good to take photos too because some people have crappy memories.
  4. When you’re a stay-at-home parent, the other parents in your community are you co-workers. Treat them accordingly: with respect, friendliness, and an awareness that you’re going to be encountering each other for a long time to come, so don’t burn any bridges.
  5. It’s okay to look at your phone at the playground. You’re not ignoring your child, you’re fostering their sense of independence. And you might be reading War and Peace, not Facebook.
  6. You can breastfeed anywhere you want. If someone doesn’t like it, squirt them in the eye.
  7. The most important reason not to use your device to distract your child is that you will want it back. And they will drop it. Or discover Minecraft. And then you will have to buy yourself a new device. Which they will want, because it’s better. So you’ll give them the new one and have your old one back and then you’ll have to put up with a crappy device with a cracked screen for ever.
  8. Teaching children to read as early as possible is a terrible idea. You don’t want them reading distressing newspaper headlines, or the profanity-laden text you just sent, or the No Parking sign you just flouted.
  9. Always get the dye-free Motrin. Your kid might be fine with Red 40, but your white cushions won’t be.
  10. What your child does is not your fault. Unless it was the right thing. Then it’s 100% down to your excellent parenting.
Mabel aged 1.5 or so

It’s her birthday, so she gets to be in the photo