Category Archives: America

Sik-ADE-ahs

Cicada was a word I’d only met in books for a long time. I wasn’t really sure what a cicada was, and I certainly wasn’t sure how to say it. SIK-ah-da? KIK-ah-da? It was a small animal, maybe. A bird? Some sort of a part of nature, anyway, that they had in warmer climes than Ireland.

(This reminds me of the katydid that was mentioned in the very beginning of What Katy Did. I’ve only recently learned that a katydid is a … quick look at wikipedia to remind myself … oh yeah, a cricket that looks like a leaf. I thought it was a frog or toad for a long time.)

Anyway, I thought I’d tell you about cicadas so you’d be better informed than I was. And because we have ’em. Lots of them but not as many as we’ll have in 2021 when brood X comes out and they’re ankle deep here … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So you pronounce it [sik-ADE-ah] with the emphasis on the middle syllable there. And it’s a large winged insect related to the cricket. At the end of summer they sit in the trees and make this amazingly cacophonous electronic-sounding buzzing noise that rises to a peak and then tails off again. It’s the quintessential sound of summer nights in hot places – if you’re Irish it’s the sound of summer holidays somewhere really nice (i.e. warm).

So you can read about the life cycle of the cicada at places that will give you more accurate information and lots of other gross/cool photos (also this page is cute because the cursor turns into a cicada when you mouse over a link), but I’m here to be your reporter on the ground, if you like, with actual footage from actually where I live. A couple of evenings ago some local friends were remarking on Facebook that the cicadas were coming out. The next day I went on a field trip with the second grade and realised too late that I should have brushed up on my cicada facts because we were all full of questions. Today there are even more of them, with discarded shells around the base of many big trees, so I decided it was time to write the big cicada post.

After a certain number of years underground – anything from 2 to 17 depending on the brood – the cicada comes out when the weather gets warm. It finds the nearest tree (probably the one it dropped out of as a baby), climbs up it, and sheds its exoskeleton. Near any given tree in the right area you’ll find a bunch of empties under the leaves or fallen on the ground below – I just went outside my house and hey presto, found this one for a photo.

Shed cicada exoskeleton attached to a tree trunk

You can see where it burst out, just like the creature in Alien. Only more slowly. More of that below. These are apparently Brood X stragglers, they’re not the whole big deluge we’re expecting in 2021. Washington Post is also on the story today. I’m so current.

When they come out they’re all white and grub-like, but after a while in the sun they colour up nicely.

Here’s one in the very act of emerging. Come on, buddy, you can do it. (It happens verrry slowly. I didn’t have to be quick to catch this. I went home, got my camera, and came out again.)

Here’s one proudly posing by his discarded exoskeleton. “That old thing? I don’t need it any more.” I’m not sure he realises the “tree” he’s on is actually a telegraph pole.

Here’s a finished product we found on a bush on our field trip. Look at his freaky red eyes. He’s about 3cm long.

Now look at the next picture and be a little freaked out, because there are suddenly more cicadas than you realised. I count six or seven here. There were more than that on the bush, and plenty more on the rest of the bushes too.

Then they go off into the trees to be eaten by birds and/or find the cicada of their dreams to make baby cicadas with, to grow up underground, possibly for another 17 years.

They don’t bite or sting, so they’re totally harmless to people – though I was just told to watch out for the giant brown hornets called “cicada killers” that go after them. Roger that.

The wonders of nature, eh?

Day of Mothers

I feel lucky today, because my husband isn’t merely smart enough to have a PhD in physics; he’s also smart enough to know that when I said I didn’t know what we were having for dinner today and I wasn’t planning to know, that meant dinner was in his hands. And that when I said “I don’t mind, you choose,” it wasn’t some sort of cruel test wherein I expect him to magically divine my wishes and conform to them: I just want someone else to make the decisions. Because it’s mother’s day, and this is what I get.

I also got a lie-in until after 9am (after getting up to feed the cats at 6.30 and having a small person crawl into bed with me an hour later, but who’s counting) and an opportunity to go and buy myself new knickers at Kohl’s on my own this afternoon, so it’s a good day.

But in general, for so many people, I think this day is awful. The assumptions, the expectations, the pressure, the impossibility of it all. Played out in full public view in brunch venues and on Facebook all over the country. Americans set a lot of store by Mother’s Day. I’m sure many Irish people put a bit more into it than my family used to – a home-made card, a flower picked out of the garden maybe, a hug; if we were doing something nice we’d ascribe it to the day, but we’d have done it anyway – but I don’t think it’s such a production as it is here.

And there’s the wishing. Wishing other people a happy mother’s day. Honestly, the only person I feel I should wish a happy Mother’s Day to is my own mother. The only people I think should wish it to me are my own children. (Maybe my husband, if he’d like to. I’m not fussy.) Of course, today, when other people have wished me a happy day I’ve said thank you, and wished them one back when they’re my mom friends. But random salespersons wishing every adult female a happy Mother’s Day? That way nervous breakdowns lie. (I’m happy to report that the cashier in Kohl’s today did not say it to me.)

Even if you have everything you ever wanted, and everything you ever wanted was a happy family with x number of children, you’ve still gotta set the bar of your expectations low today. (It’s okay, you’re a mother. You’ve learned to do that.) And somehow, how well your children behave or how loving and grateful they are to you, today of all days, is a direct consequence of how well you did your job of being their mother – so you’re well aware that if your day is ruined, you’ve only yourself to blame. It’s simply nature’s judgement on you. What sort of a cruel universe invented this day?

Another way I’m lucky is that I don’t have to split my day between being a daughter to a mother and being the mother of my own children, because Mother’s Day in Ireland and the UK is in March. This means that, at least in theory, I can relax and enjoy my own day without rushing around making the day special for someone else at the same time. I highly recommend this method to all of you who are wishing you could just stay at home with your own kids rather than having to host/attend/organize a brunch for your own mother today. Though I’m not sure how you can go about arranging it at this point. You could encourage your children to emigrate to the other side of the ocean, I suppose, so as not to face it in the future; but maybe there are reasons you’d rather not do that.

 

Mabel's poem (spelling preserved): "Magnifacent Cakes / Orders things./ Treats are sweet./ Hevenly cookies. / Elegant cloths./ [...]'s Mom." And a picture of flowers.

Mabel wrote me a poem at school, which I had to go and root out of her backpack just now as she was not interested in giving it to me. But I’m happy that I have elegant cloths, so everything’s good. And my garlic naan bread is nearly here, so we will draw a veil over the less good parts of the day and move on optimistically towards days that are more regular and less fraught with ridiculous expectations.

I hope your day was nice, wherever you are, and whether it was just a regular Sunday for you or a special one. The sun came out here for the first time in about a week, so that was something for everyone to celebrate.

Diversions

It’s very hard to sort out summer camps when Donald Trump is stopping legal residents of the USA from entering the country to come back to their homes and families and pets and belongings.

It’s difficult to concentrate on what we might need for new kittens when the president has barely been in office a wet week and he already seems mired in a bunch of power plays that might end in war.

It’s tricky to think about school re-enrollment forms when people are about to lose their health insurance, their ability to medicate chronic illness and keep their children alive because the ACA has been repealed with no replacement.

It’s confusing to wonder how I’m going to attend my best friend’s wedding in Italy this summer when people are being indefinitely detained at airports in spite of the stay on the order.

It’s hard to make pancakes for breakfast when I keep stopping to wonder if Trump has enough support in the armed forces to be a military dictator.

It’s hard to remember to print out Mabel’s passport photos and arrange to get her Irish passport application witnessed while noting that actual Nazi Steve Bannon was slipped onto the National Security Council as chief strategist while we were all busy watching the airports yesterday.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Still confused


I spent Saturday feeling guilty for not marching and watching the photos of all my friends who were at the march, happy and pink-hatted, brandishing clever signs, many bringing their kids to be part of history.

On Sunday I told myself to stop whining to myself and just promise I’d go to the next one.

Today’s Monday and things are confusing again, because the march had too many white women who like pumpkin spice and not enough intersectionality and I made a couple of political posts on Facebook and I probably said the wrong thing and it’s naive to wish we could all just get along and see each other as a person instead of a cog in the giant wheel of their group/race/culture/class/religion/gender/sexuality.

For someone who prides herself on her words and her diplomacy, I have a long history of saying the wrong thing to a response of resounding silence. When I was twelve we were all painting pretend graffiti at summer camp. I added “IRA”, because that’s the sort of thing you saw in graffiti. I didn’t mean I supported the IRA. Obviously. But it went down the wrong way entirely. I still have conversations in my head where I try to justify that.

Any time I try to talk about racism or politics I probably say the wrong thing too. Please understand that I’m trying to do better and I want you to tell me when I say something that drops with the sound of a million clashing discordant cymbals.

This is what I know. My two children spent their most formative years understanding that it was normal and good and right for a man with a big smile and brown skin and tight curly black hair to be President of the United States – a man who looked more like a lot of their schoolmates than like them. Now they are learning the hard truth that the person in charge of the country you live in is not always someone you are happy to look up to, and not always someone smarter and kinder and wiser and better than everyone else.

I think they already know very well that it doesn’t always make sense to choose the person who looks more like them – as a friend or in an election. We choose people for better reasons than that.

Tuesday.

The sun came out today for the first time since the Obama administration, which was nice and all, but was not reflected in any metaphorical way by the new president being any less awful or doing anything less terrible than all those things we were afraid he’d do, and a few more to boot.

But it was nice to see the sun, I suppose.

dinosaur and dollhouse mom at a desk together

I don’t have a picture of the sun so let’s let this represent the education secretary nomination and the EPA.

How does it feel?

The new president was sworn in a couple of hours ago. I didn’t watch. I didn’t listen. I don’t like the sound of his voice or the look of his face and I certainly don’t like hearing any of the words that come out of his mouth.

Mabel and I ended up playing Monopoly this morning, since she’s off school and still in her pyjamas. It was delightfully retro, but it also felt a little like preparing for the new world order. There was a slight hysteria about buying hotels and snapping up property. Well, maybe just for me.

How does it feel right now? It feels confusing. In spite of my lofty aims to stay off Facebook, I’m on Facebook. I’m not looking for news, but sometimes it comes at me. The climate change page has disappeared from the White House website. So has the LGBT rights page. Are they just preparing to replace them with something even better? Something the same with the new name on it? Are they hoping we’ll forget?

Remember in Back to the Future when the guy in the 1955 diner says “Ronald Reagan? The actor?” when Marty tells him who’s president in the future? I feel like that guy, except I’ve been here the whole time. It’s still utterly surreal that someone could show up, decide to run for president, win nomination, win the electoral colleges, become president – with no experience in politics, no knowledge of how a country is run, no human decency, no integrity at all. How can that happen? How did that just happen? He said “You can do anything you want when you’re rich,” and apparently it was true.

I’ve been blogging for so long that I can tell you exactly how I felt when Dubya was re-elected. I was sorely disappointed, but then I shrugged and said that the world keeps turning.

This is different. This is not normal. This is not business as usual. The world is still turning, Obama said it’s never the end of the world until the end of the world; but it’s all wrong.

Frankenstein

I’m cradling a cup of tea in my hands (in between typing) but I’m afraid to drink it. I think I have to wait until it’s lukewarm, and I hate lukewarm tea. I’m looking at a sheet of instructions that tell me “do NOT spit, floss, rinse, chew hard food, sticky food, consume hot food or drink, drink through a straw…” and wondering how this is meant to work.

I’ve taken a sip. It’s not too hot but it’s a little warmer than lukewarm. I think it’ll be okay.

The inside of my mouth looks like Frankenstein’s monster. I got home at 11:00 but it took me two hours to look in the mirror because I didn’t want to see it. I had a periodontal procedure. If you don’t want to know any more, skip the next paragraph, where I will describe it at your peril.

I had a gum graft, which means they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and sew it on to the bottom of your teeth where you should have gum but you don’t because your gums and or teeth are stupid and useless. They did it on four bottom teeth in a row, because for some reason that may or may not be related to my orthodontic work as a teenager, the gum there was eroding badly.

It was a “simple” procedure that took an hour in the chair and only a few more injections than your basic filling. It didn’t hurt, really, but it was awkward and uncomfortable and icky and I’m glad it’s over. Now I have three different sets of pills (anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and antibiotics) and a follow-up for next week, and I’ll be getting a fancy night guard so that I don’t push my teeth out of alignment again. I’m hoping this lasts until I’m 90 so I don’t have to worry about it again. Maybe 100.

Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t want to know that, but that’s what’s on my mind so that’s what you got.

Another thing on my mind is Saturday’s march. I really don’t give a crap about Friday’s inauguration, since it’s happening and I can’t stop it so I’m just going to ignore it. La la laaaaa. Don’t feed the troll by paying attention to him. That’s what he thrives on. But the next day there’s this big march you may have heard of planned for downtown DC. A lot of people are planning to go. Even people who don’t live here are moving heaven and earth to be there.

I’m a woman. I live within spitting distance of Washington DC. I certainly disagree with Trump’s presidency and all he stands for. But I don’t want to go.

That’s my gut reaction. I’m not usually overly crowd-phobic, but the idea of all those throngs of people just sets off my internal alarm bells. And someone on the radio this morning helped me figure out why else it is that I have the don’ wannas about this: it’s not the end. It’s as if many people have focused on this march as an end in itself: but for one thing, its aims are sort of fuzzy and nonspecific – to show Donald just how many people will show up to let him know they don’t like him; way more than will have shown up the day before to say they do – and for another, January 21st is not the end. It’s the beginning. Maybe I think I should save my energy for the four years to come. Maybe I think I should do something more concrete than going out and walking around to show my displeasure.

Maybe I’m just lazy; that’s always an option. Since I’m right here beside DC, I practically feel like I’m as good as there whether I go or not. I feel guilty about not wanting to go, but I’m not going to go just to stop myself feeling guilty.

Anyway, that’s where I am. And where I’m not. Pass the ice cream.

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.


img_3290

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.

Birds in blue sky

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.

pinkish leaves on the ground

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