Category Archives: America

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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Summer’s end

The cicadas are so loud this time of year. When you go outside in the evening, there’s this almost electronic noise, rising to a crescendo and dying off, almost completely, before it starts again. It’s coming from the trees. A massive choral buzzing sort of chirp, a bit like a windup toy or a pullback car that you just let go.

Before I knew, I thought the noise was crickets, in the grass. But cicadas are not crickets. They’re like giant flying beetles, except you rarely see them fly, you just hear them. It’s the quintessential sound of summer in a hot climate.

If you go down to the lake, you hear the frogs and toads as well as the cicadas. Some of them peep, long or short; some of them have an amazing resonant low-toned twang. It sounds like the string of an electric bass guitar being plucked.

When I go out to the line to bring in the bone-dry washing, tiny crickets hop away from my feet with every step. The fireflies are gone – they’re an early summer thing, and it’s late, late summer now. There’s a shrivelled aloe plant in a plastic pot on my deck. A neighbour child gave it to us for no apparent reason, and I resent plants, so I put it out there and ignored it. It’s finally dying, but it took its time. Next-door’s cat ambles past. Cats are meant to be indoor-only here, but many people ignore that directive, and next-door’s cat spends much of his time lying on our front doorstep or under our cars. We don’t mind.

The air conditioning is working hard in the shops where the knitwear is already in stock. I nearly behaved inappropriately with a cardigan in Old Navy last week, because the smooth, soft wool felt so good against my bare arms. When I walk into the supermarket I’m hit by a waft of fake pumpkin spice, and the Halloween stock is on the shelves. The world is ready for autumn, but the weather hasn’t taken the hint just yet. Tomorrow they’re forecasting record September highs – temperatures in the 90s again.

Summer’s over. I’m ready for socks, and cups of tea that don’t make me sweat. I’d like to accessorize with a scarf again. Be done, summer. Go gracefully. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

orange flower with drooping petals

In all its glory

Nature, consider this a warning. You’re on notice.

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t pulled a tick off my children all summer. This is probably because they’ve spent far too much time indoors glued unhealthily to a screen, but there are upsides. As soon as they go outside, bad things happen.

Yesterday, Mabel (who had a great first day of second grade, thankyouverymuch), came to me saying there was something stuck in her hair and to take a look. I parted her locks and saw a wriggly thing that instantly made me drop the hair and recoil with a startled “Ew!” Then I had to coax her back to me so that I could be a bit more adult about the whole thing. There was a large tick attached to the back of her head, wriggling away happily as it embedded its front teeth in her scalp. Delightful.

I removed it with my favourite loop-of-thread technique, without pulling half her hair with it, and, for want of a better plan, imprisoned it in a tupperware container where I hope it has expired for lack of oxygen by now. I could have set it free to roam again, or drowned it in alcohol (waste of good vodka) or put it in a baggie and sent it off to be analyzed, but I’ll probably just wait till it’s dead and put it in the bin. Little fecker.

It wasn’t on her long enough to pass on Lyme disease, because she would have noticed it when she brushed her hair that morning, which I know she did because, see above, first day of school, so it’s fine. Probably. I’ll watch out for fevers. I know all about the Lyme stuff. But ticks are gross.

Also yesterday, Dash woke up looking like he’d been savaged by a particularly angry horde of mosquitoes in the middle of the night. As the day progressed and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better he decided that it might be poison ivy, from when he was helping his friend’s dad with some yardwork at the weekend. Indeed it might.

Today he looks as if adolescence has abruptly descended with a really nasty case of acne on his face and neck. I might have to take him to the doctor tomorrow. I bought some stuff over the counter at vast expense and I even think it was working, but he said it stung too much to give it a second try.

Stupid nature. Safer inside playing Hungry Sharks on his iPad Mini. Sure, it’s melting his brain one cell at a time, but at least he’d be outwardly unscathed. (Also, he learns about sharks.) (No, it’s not educational. Don’t get it for your child. It’s quite gory and rated 12s and he shouldn’t be playing it at all.)

Mabel walking along a green path in the sunshine

Walking to school, surrounded by nature, waiting to pounce

Mothballed memories

I wasn’t blogging much ten years ago, what with the move and the baby – a glance at my archives shows one short (but lyrical) entry from early August, and nothing else until the following January. So I never did write down what that road trip was like. I wrote a big screed about the first one, two years earlier, in the other direction, with the television sitting in the laundry basket on the back seat, but I haven’t been able to find it. For some reason I didn’t put it on the blog. So here are my road-trip memories, pulled out of the mothballs of my mind.

I remember that the baby cried and cried on the long highway up from Brownsville to San Antonio and on to Houston, and I made B pull over so that I could give him (the baby, that is) some boob, because apparently he was hungry, and then we’d start driving again and he’d start crying again and I’d look at him in despair because I’ve just fed you so there can’t be anything wrong, and I can’t hold you because we’re in a car, and you’ll just have to fall asleep. Eventually, he would fall asleep, but it was stressful driving.

We gave ourselves five days to do the trip, so that there was plenty of time for pulling over, and so we weren’t imprisoning the poor child in his car seat for eight hours a day. We probably sang “Don’t Fence Me In” to him a lot, because that was his theme song.

I remember thinking that it should be interesting driving through the deep south, but that the Interstate looked like the Interstate pretty much wherever you were, especially when it had those big pinkish sound-muffling walls on either side, as it so often did. We didn’t see anything of the leftovers of Hurricane Katrina even though I’m sure the towns around Mobile, Alabama, where we spent an unmemorable night, were still very much in recovery.

We had a night in Jacksonville, Florida, and I’d never been to Florida so I looked out the window with interest, trying to take it in and see something special or different about it. It was only Jacksonville, which is one of those armpit places, I’m told, so there wasn’t really anything to see. I still feel that I’ve never really been to Florida.

Trees in a square

A Savannah square

We stopped in Savannah, Georgia, because it sounded romantic and like the sort of place we’d like to see. It was very pretty, with its dangling greenery and intricate wrought-iron-work. I remember an ambulance coming past us with its siren going, waking the baby and terrifying him, making me furious at its thoughtlessness. We stayed in a cool-looking retro motel where the person who’d checked out before us hadn’t bothered taking their stuff with them: the closets still held suits and jackets and shoes. We told reception and they took care of it, as if it was a perfectly normal occurrence, but I couldn’t help wondering what sort of person just wouldn’t bother packing before they left.

South Carolina had long sandy beaches, not very wonderful to our eyes as we’d just come from the environs of the similarly long sandy beaches of South Padre Island, Texas. We stopped near Myrtle Beach and got out to take a good look. There were wooden boardwalks out over the dunes, which were pleasantly novel. And it was very windy at the Atlantic. I thought the Atlantic should feel more like home than the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s all the same water really, and it was still the wrong side of the Atlantic from the one that would feel like home.

Beach houses and boardwalks on the dunes

South Carolina coast

We had been planning to head to somewhere like Newport News, Virginia, the sort of area where Dawson’s Creek was filmed, which would probably look nothing like the peaceful inlets and idyllic tiny docks of the show, but we were being tailed by a hurricane (Ernesto, it must have been), so we headed inland instead and stopped in some tiny place whose name escapes me instead. It turned out to have nothing but a very nice Holiday Inn with a restaurant where I ordered shrimp and grits and enjoyed them mightily. I was quite getting the hang of this southern eating.

When we finally got to Maryland, we stopped in a town called Waldorf to stay at a Super8 and eat at an Olive Garden, and I wondered what sort of place this was. When you’ve lived somewhere all your life, the very sound of a placename seems onomatopoeic: you can tell that it’s rough or posh or the back of beyond or the most Stepfordesque of suburbia just from the sound of the word. But all Waldorf said to me was salad. Apples and walnuts in the Home Ec book. I still don’t know what Waldorf is like, because we haven’t been down that end of the state since, but I know the motel wasn’t very upmarket.

We had to take shifts over our dinner that night, I remember, because the baby wasn’t in the mood to sit around and watch us eat. The waiter was very understanding and kept things warm as first one of us and then the other paced up and down outside with the tetchy four-month-old. You poor thing, I thought, whisked away from everywhere you’ve ever known and staying in a new place every night for a week, no wonder you’re grumpy.

But we’re still here. We’re your people, and we’re here. Isn’t that enough?

He was a baby. That was enough.

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Decade

Ten years ago in the last few days of August, the B and I put our four-month-old baby in the Corolla and started the drive from southmost Texas to Maryland, two years after we had first driven all the way there from Pennsylvania. In many ways, driving back north felt oddly like going home, even though Maryland is technically below the Mason-Dixon line (and therefore still in the South, unlike Yankee Pennsylvania). Texas was pretty alien. I’d only lived in Pennsylvania for 18 months before that, but B had been there a whole PhD’s worth of time. Maryland felt reassuringly familiar.

Lone palm tree by the water looking over at buildings in the distance

Buh-bye, Texas

We’d rented a place to live, sight unseen, which is always a horrible way to go about it. It was not very close to B’s new place of work, because we were assured that we didn’t want to live in that particular county. We should live one county over, where it was – I don’t know, nicer, safer, more expensive, something. In retrospect this was a bad decision because with B driving the car off to work every day I was left trapped in the apartment, in walking distance of one set of shops but nothing else. Every day I pushed the baby up to the supermarket, took a look in Sears, stopped at Starbucks if he was either cheerful or asleep, and back home. He’d fall asleep on the walk back, but often wake up when I tried to get him back inside, which involved one flight of steps up to the front door and another down to our basement-level apartment.

Baby having his toes dipped in the water on a long beach

Hello, Atlantic Ocean

I didn’t meet anyone while we lived there. I don’t know who our neighbours were. I didn’t make any friends. I tried to find a moms’ group but the only one I could find was about 30 miles away. We went once, making a game effort, but it was too far. It was lonely, but it was temporary, because we’d only rented that place for three months.

At the end of our three months we were more familiar with the area. We moved to a condo across the road from B’s place of work, in the dodgy county, where rents were lower and everything else, as far as we could see, was exactly the same. (We hadn’t encountered the school system yet. That’s where the biggest difference lies.) But for me, it was the beginning of actually making a life here rather than just pushing the baby around on my own, day after day. I had the car: I could go places. I found the library. I found the community center. I found a local group of moms and dads that met at the playground every Wednesday. I found my space.

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Baby’s first DMV historical site. (George Washington’s birthplace in Virginia, where we stopped for… lunch, or education, or something.)

But ten years. If you’d told me then, as we drove the highways north of New Orleans, along the Gulf shores of Mississippi and Alabama – communities still reeling from Hurricane Katrina the year before – through the panhandle of Florida, into Georgia and up along the coast of the Carolinas, that we’d still be in the US ten years later, I’d probably have demanded that we move home straight away. This was not the plan. (This is why nobody should know the future, even if it’s perfectly good.) The plan was another couple of years in the US and then home to Ireland to buy a house and settle down and send the baby to a nice Educate Together school if possible and be perfectly normal Irish people.

We still have the Corolla, but we have a Subaru too, because we’re true suburbanites now. We bought a house that’s still close to B’s work, but not where they’re out dealing drugs on the stoops. (Apparently that’s what went on in our second rental’s neighbourhood. I had no idea at the time.) Some of the friends I made that first year are still my friends, and their kids are my kids’ friends, and we’re all Americans now. (Even B. has a citizenship application in the works at the moment.)

Oh, we still have the baby too. Sort of.

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*****

I nearly forgot to mention my new stickers. I’m delighted to be shortlisted once again in the Personal Blog – Diaspora category of the Irish Blog Awards – but there’s a public vote element to this round. If you’d be so very kind as to click through here and take a moment to log in (sorry!) and vote for Awfully Chipper, I’d be eternally grateful.

Blog Awards Ireland 2016 Vote Now Button

Live Where You Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the top of my Dalkey hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footpath, grass, trees, two bikes in the distance

The view from the top of this hill

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

 

Watch your language: Baseball English

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

Step up to the plate

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

Out of the ballpark

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

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

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

Three strikes and you’re out

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

A good inning

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

Heads up

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

Cover all your bases

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

Baseball diamond

Pro baseball, minor league

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.