Category Archives: Ethical dilemmas

Why men should not compliment female runners

An interesting thing happened to me this morning. I was hit on. If they even say that any more.

It’s been a while. Oh, that’s nice, you might think. It’s always a confidence boost when something like that happens. It’s nice to feel attractive and admired.

Hmmm.

Let me back up and tell it properly.

Yesterday I went for my semi-regular morning run/walk round the lake. The lake is close to our house, a small, man-made watery object with a nice trail around it. There are always people there, running or walking, especially at that time of the morning, in decent weather. Not throngs of people, but several. As I left, a man in the parking lot smiled and said hi, and I realised I’d seen him before, so I smiled and said hi back. “Looking good,” he followed up with. “It’s working!” I grinned, because that was sort of nice to hear, and went on my way.

I probably should be insulted, I thought. Men are cautioned not to say things like that to female runners. Not to say anything beyond a curt greeting, perhaps. But hey, I’m sure he was just being friendly. What’s the harm?

And that was that until this morning, when I headed for the lake again, and remembered that the same guy might very well be there again, since he was a regular. And that then he might say something again and it might be awkward. For a moment, my imagination ran away with me and I wondered if he would hide in the bushes and jump out and rape me along the trail somewhere. Pretty unlikely, I thought.

But that’s why he shouldn’t have said anything, I realised. Because now I’m – not worried… concerned, maybe; just a little thoughtful. When I shouldn’t have any reason to be. A woman wouldn’t compliment a stranger like that; a woman wouldn’t even say it to a friend without quite a lot of forethought about how that comment would be taken. So if a man says it, it’s sexual, not friendly. It’s predatory. He doesn’t understand he’s crossing a line, but he is.

This morning, he was there again. I passed him on the way down the path and he said hi. I nodded in return and went on my way. As I came back, he was just leaving the picnic table where he had been contemplating the pastoral idyll, and was a little ahead of me. I didn’t run past him, but he heard me and turned around. He decided to compliment me some more.

Once again, he told me I was looking good. “Thanks,” I said.
“Do you run every day?” he asked. Friendly chat.
“When I can,” I said. Polite but short. Walking on more speedily. Not stopping to pass the time of day. Not making eye-contact.
“I should bring my shoes and run with you,” he said.
[Polite laugh noise]. “No, I don’t think so.” Continuing to walk on. Not dilly-dallying at his side. Not giggling coquettishly. Not fluttering any eyelashes.
“Do you mind me asking, are you married?”
“Yes. Happily.”
“Oh, well. No harm in asking.”
[Polite laugh.] Walk on. Reach car. Leave scene.

No harm in asking. Sure, what harm could there be? How’s a single man to approach an attractive woman these days? It was broad daylight, a public place. He wasn’t sleazy or creepy. A little tone-deaf to my body language, perhaps, but since when is that a crime?

This is the problem: he was in the position of power. There were people around, sure, but nobody else happened to be right there at the time. Physically, he could take me any time. That is not the right time to have this conversation. He should have (a) not said anything yesterday; (b) not said anything today; and (c) taken the hint when I didn’t stop to chat.

What do I do tomorrow? Next week? I continue to go, I continue to not talk to him, I continue to smile and nod and keep going. What does he do? Does he press the issue? Does he follow me home? Does he bring a gun next time?

Unlikely. But these are the thoughts he has inspired in me through that well-intentioned little interchange.

Here is the message: being hit on (catcalled, complimented, anything) by a stranger in a situation not designed for it (i.e. not a dating site, not a bar or a club) makes a woman feel:

1% Good, maybe
99% Vulnerable

It is also very unlikely to get you a date unless she’s been making eyes at you already.

Nothing bad happened to me. Nothing bad is likely to happen to me. I did not have a terrible morning. I will still nod and smile at people who pass me on the lake trail, and they will still nod and smile at me and I will not hold it against them.

It’s just a reminder, that’s all. Of how life is complicated and simple things are not always simple, and how hard it is for the person with the power in any given situation to remember what it’s like for the person without.

I think it’s called privilege.

 

I’m probably not going to publish this, I said, and kept it in Drafts for a month

… But then yesterday happened, showing that Planned Parenthood’s patrons now have to run the gauntlet not just of grumpy entitled protesters but also madmen with guns. So I pulled this out of my Drafts folder after all.

————————————

There’s a business I drive by quite often locally, opposite the mall where our local Target is. I would never have noticed it, or its small sign that says Family Planning Clinic, if it weren’t for the people who loiter outside it. They loiter with intent, carrying placards and judgement. They saunter up and down outside, chatting to each other, pleased with their overt expression of what good people they are. They hang around, doing the right thing. I don’t know if they have a roster or a volunteerspot to make sure someone’s always there, or if they only show up on certain days, but lately whenever I go by I’ve noticed their presence.

I’m never there for long, just stopped at a traffic light now and then, so I’ve never seen anyone go in or come out of the medical establishment. But I can imagine how it goes. I can imagine a young woman – very young, or maybe not so young – with a friend for support or alone, unhappy and facing up to a difficult decision. It was hard enough to get to this point, to get time off work, to sneak away, to find out where and how and when and how much. To worry and wonder and buy the test and take the test and look at the two little pink lines and know what they mean for her life. To decide, or to have the decision made by circumstances beyond her control. Now she has to run the gauntlet of all these good people ostentatiously doing their right thing. Seven or eight of them, barring her way, or maybe just standing watching as she walks to the door: disapproving, feeling superior, shrouded in their smugness, proffering pamphlets and pointedly placarding.

I never saw myself as a crusader for abortion rights. But I long wondered how anyone who had never experienced a pregnancy could make a decision about it. Last week I posted about abortion rights on my personal Facebook page, because the longer I spend being a woman – that’s my whole life so far, if you weren’t paying attention – the angrier I get to see governments that are mostly made up of men thinking they get to make decisions about other people’s bodies.

In Ireland, abortion is still illegal. There’s a very tiny clause that talks about how “if the life of the mother is at stake” it may take place, but in practice, even when a woman is bleeding out on the operation table with a pregnancy that’s clearly not viable, doctors hesitate to do what needs to be done. Never mind trying to prove to a jury that you’re suicidal because you were raped and you’re a teenager in a foreign country and you just want to get this horrible nightmare over with.

Irish women go to the UK for abortions. This, obviously, adds to the time it takes to arrange and the mental and economic strain to sort it out, leading to more dangerous later-term abortions for Irish women. The UN Human Rights Committee has called Ireland out on this and said the law must be amended, but nothing has changed yet.

———–

I stopped there, because I’d run out of indignant steam, and because I was talking in generalities and couldn’t find the news articles to back up my assertions. Then again, there are probably news articles to back up any assertions you want to make, in Ireland or America, about whatever your topic is. I’m sure Fox News has plenty of stories about how evil Planned Parenthood is, and the Iona Institute will tell you how much better off Irish women are because abortion isn’t an option in their country.

 

If you’d like to read more about the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland, or get involved, you can go to the Abortion Rights Campaign‘s website.

If you are experiencing a crisis pregnancy in Ireland, the Well Woman Centre is somewhere you can go for impartial advice covering all your options.

 

Less is more

One of the things I struggle with as a parent is trying to get my kids to be content with less. Less stuff. Fewer toys. A smaller serving of ice cream.

Sometimes I feel that good parenting has to be saying “No” a lot. No to stuff, no to more toys, no to incessant whining. I’m sure that when I was a child I didn’t whine for new things every time we went out. I didn’t feel an outing wasn’t complete if I hadn’t brought home some new piece of crap to fill up the house. I got new things for Christmas and for my birthday, which were conveniently at opposite ends of the calendar. In between, barring unexpected visits from far-flung relations, I played with what I had already.

I remember, though, very much wanting to have lunch in a snack bar when we would be out on a Saturday, and to get a sausage roll, instead of the “horrible” picnic my parents would pack. Because children don’t appreciate anything, a boring sandwich in the car, watching the waves roll in over a deserted beach in County Wicklow, was not interesting to me. A lukewarm sausage roll, on the other hand, flaky and golden outside, salty and pink and spongy inside, eaten at formica tables under buzzing florescent lights – now you’re talking.

I rarely got the sausage roll, but when I did, it was a treat.

I remember trying on a new duffel coat in Dunne’s. My mother wanted the grey, because it was a sort of heathered colour that would “hide the dirt”. I wanted the navy – it was smooth and sophisticated and … oh, I have no idea why it was so much nicer in my mind than the grey one, but I wanted the navy. I tried them each on, and when wearing the navy I pranced with a spring in my step and a smile on my face; in the grey I slouched and dragged my feet. I was making them laugh, though, not really being a brat. I knew I was trying it on in both senses of the phrase.

They bought the grey one, and I wore it and thought sadly of the navy that was denied me for at least two winters.

As an only child, I probably had more than most. But we didn’t have a lot. Some years were harder than others, I know; but I never saw it in the food on the table or my Christmas presents. My parents are frugal people who hate waste and will never buy something just for the sake of it. (My mother’s handbag purchases excepted. Once or twice she shocked me to the core by buying two handbags in one day. I have not yet reached those heights of flathiúlachas.)

And now I have these children with all this stuff. They can’t go to Target without assuming the right to something from the dollar section; and I think it’s okay because it’s only the dollar section and there’s still the entire toy department for me to have to say No about. They both get an allowance now, and Dash is scrupulously saving every penny he has – not for anything in particular, but just to see how much he can get, I think. He likes to count it and gloat, Scroogelike. Mabel forgets to put her two quarters away and they float around the kitchen for a few days, or she turns them into parts of her game and I find them in the dollhouse a week later. She spent her previous amassed fortune on a mama and baby fox in Ikea a while ago, even though originally she’d been saving for an Anna or Elsa doll. But she’s not really interesting in saving for something else. It takes too long, when you’re five.

When we go to the thrift store or a yard sale, they know they can get something; though I try to enforce an exchange system – they have to bring a toy to donate. And it’s so very hard for them to choose – it’s so difficult to give up their Stuff, even when it’s totally crap stuff, because it belongs to them and they take ownership so very seriously.

It’s impossible to give your children the childhood you had. And for plenty of the time I don’t even want to. I’d still pick the sausage roll, though I’d go and watch the waves afterwards. Maybe so long as I can get them to appreciate the waves, or the flowers, or the rainbow, it’s okay to go to the yard sale once in a while too. I just need to purge these shelves when they’re not looking.

Bursting toy shelves

Debunking

Sometimes life just writes my blog posts for me. The post about Mabel’s dentist visit segued into Dash’s prosaic encounter with the tooth fairy; and then this happened…

After school yesterday, out of the blue, Mabel and I had this conversation:

“Mummy, is Santa real? A___ told me today that it’s just the parents giving presents.”
Oh really?” said I, playing for time.
“I know from the way you said that, he’s not real.”
What?
“You used that voice you use.”
[Oh crap. Really? I’m that transparent?]

Then we had a little conversation about whether it’s more fun if Santa’s real or not real, and she admitted it’s more fun if he is real, but she still wanted to know the truth. So I told her the truth. And followed it up swiftly with the Very Serious Admonishment that now that she’s in on this big secret, she must be very careful to keep the secret from the other kids.

I admit, I felt a twinge of sadness at the passing of the belief. But mostly I felt relief. I never did very well with the double standards required by Doing Santa. When you’re reassuring your kids on the one hand that giants don’t exist and dinosaurs are extinct and fairies are only in stories and there are no goblins, and then encouraging them on the other hand to write letters to the man who’ll come down the chimney and leave them presents in some totally magical manner… well, I’ve nothing against anyone who does it, but I found it tricky.

Anyway, there are great things about having Santa finally debunked:

  • I don’t have to explain how come Santa only shops at Target.
  • I can put useful things in their stockings that Santa couldn’t possibly have known they needed (and certainly wasn’t asked for).
  • I don’t have to be careful to remember which presents we gave them and which ones Santa did for years to come.
  • Santa doesn’t get all the credit for the great gift ideas that were really mine.

Don’t worry, Santa will still be coming to our house. Probably until the children are grown-up, and maybe even then a while. But if he slips up now and then and brings the wrong thing … well, I suppose the kids will know exactly who to blame.

Don’t call her cute

Don’t call my daughter cute.

I don’t mind. I think she’s cute too, sometimes. But she’ll have your guts for garters if she hears you.

A particularly chatty (and somewhat clueless) fellow customer in the supermarket made that mistake a week or so ago.

“You’re just so cute,” she said, in a cutesy-wutesy voice.

The five-year-old was unimpressed. “I’m not cute,” she countered, with a steely gaze.

I asked her later why she doesn’t like it – not because I disagreed with her stance, but just because I was interested in her reasoning.

“Cute means small. I’m not small. Babies are cute. I’m not a baby.”

Fair enough. Much like Thumbelina, in her heart she’s six feet tall. It’s not her fault that grownups are all still bigger than her.

On Friday, the dentist’s assistant tried to call her cute. Mabel was nervous about the visit, but I could tell this was galling her, so I came gallantly to her defense:

“She doesn’t like to be called cute, actually.”

“Oh? Well, what would she prefer?”

I took the opportunity to put some words in her mouth, since she wasn’t feeling quite as perky as she had been in the supermarket, and I suggested, “How about, I don’t know, smart?”

The dental assistant took that on board, though it’s not as easy to believably tell a child you just met and who won’t meet your eye, never mind talk to you, that she’s very smart.

But you know what, you wouldn’t tell a stranger you’d never met that she was very pretty. (Unless you were in a bar and trying to score, and bolstered by alcohol, and even then she might not appreciate it.) So how about you stop making superficial remarks about children in front of them, and instead, wait for them to talk to you first? That way, if they want to tell you about their new shoes or the fact that you’re buying their favourite snack because it’s their birthday next week, or that their favourite animal is the proboscis monkey, then you can legitimately have a conversation, at the end of which you might just be able to remark with sincerity that they are, indeed, a smart kid.

And then I will try to help them learn to take a compliment graciously, with a smile and a Thank you.

Stick police

Things that go through your head when your kids start playing with someone else’s kids at the playground:

Isn’t that nice, they’re all playing together.
My children are so well socialized, obviously.
They’re playing a nice game of tag.
Wait, where did that stick come from?
Oh, that’s okay, they all have sticks.
Wait now, that’s not a stick, that’s half a small tree.
Is the other parent here? He must be the man in the car. Where does he stand on the stick issue? Should I say something? Am I a helicopter parent if I wade in yelling “No sticks!” or am I a negligent parent if I don’t? Is he judging me?
Okay, they’re in teams. That’s nice.
No, wait, you can’t exclude the little one.
Uh oh. Here comes the little one to talk to her dad.

… 

Maybe I’ll just go have a word with them. Make sure they’re all playing nicely together.

“Hi! What’s your name?”
“Sarah, this is Mabel. Mabel’s four. Are you four? Is that your brother? He’s in second grade like Mabel’s brother? That’s nice. Now you can be friends. Be careful with the sticks. Maybe we should put the sticks down. Dash, how about playing tag with no sticks? Hmm? No, you don’t have to defend yourself. Well, yes, I can see that the other boys have sticks … Fine, just everyone play nicely, right?”

Well, that cleared everything right up.
Girls against boys?
No, but, the girls are four and the boys are seven or eight and that’s three against two… oh good, she wants to be on his team…but now it’s everyone against the little one again…
I should not be policing this.
But that father is sitting there in his car.
Judging me.

He wasn’t judging me. He looked out his car window and we had a nice conversation about how you should let the children just play, but that it’s always hard to know where another parent might draw a line that you don’t. And then I decided that playing dodgeball with sticks was probably a good moment to draw a line, and announced that it was time to go home.

Free-range parents v. the Lorax

One of my favourite things about our neighbourhood is the Sunday morning farmers’ market. We show up some time after ten, the kids get chocolate croissants, we get coffee, we sit on the grass, friends appear, kids run around, we chat, it’s nice. I buy some vegetables, usually.

The children all like to climb two trees nearby – one in particular is sturdy and child-friendly, branches low enough to the ground for a tall five-year-old to boost themself up, spread wide enough to hold four or more at once. They play monkeys, and baby birds, and jungle animals, and every now and then a parent is called over to put up or take down a smaller child and be drawn into the game.

Yesterday morning was just the same.
“Where’s Dash?” B asked me.
“In the tree,” I said, waving vaguely in that direction, where I could see a flash of blue Superman t-shirt between the green leaves.

A few minutes later Dash and his friend came back to us. The friend was looking upset and as she sat on her mother’s lap and began to cry, I asked Dash what had happened, afraid she’d hurt herself.

“She’s a bit unhappy because a lady told us to get out of the tree,” he told me.
“What lady?”
“The lady over there.”
“Why? Were you doing something wrong?”
“No, we were just in the tree.”

My friend (also a mom of tree-climbers) and I went over to see what was what. The children all came with us, six of them, all a little unsure and wondering what was going to happen. We told them that they were allowed climb in the tree, because all their parents said they could. We told them it wasn’t against the law. We put those who wanted to climb back up in the tree.

The elderly lady approached us, looking disapproving. We thanked her for her concern. We said that we allowed our children to climb the tree, that they were doing it no harm, that they played here every week.

She told us they shouldn’t, that they were damaging the tree. We said they weren’t. They all know not to put their weight on branches that are too slim to bear it. It was a face-off, it really was.

“Make them come down, or I’ll… I’ll call the police,” she wavered, beginning to rummage in her fanny pack for a phone.
“Okay, ” we said. “Call them.”

We stood there putting one child and another up and down according to their whims, as she ambled away and then back, and then took up sentry duty sitting on a nearby rock. She glowered. The children were a little worried and kept telling us she was still there. “That’s okay,” we said. “You’re allowed be in the tree.”

A few minutes later, when most of the kids had tired of the tree and run off to play hide and seek, a police car rolled up and came to a halt in that corner of the parking lot. The lady began to talk to the officer. As I approached from the other side, I heard him say “…it’s not illegal…”
He looked over at me enquiringly.

“Thank you,” I said. “We just wanted to confirm that it’s not illegal for children to climb trees.”
“It’s not,” he said, and I gave him a little thumbs up and a smile.

There was just one four-year-old still in the tree at the time. Then the officer leaned out of his window and asked his mother to take him down, because of “citizen complaints.” So she did, because we are all good law-abiding citizens who do what the police tell us, even when we were abiding by the laws the whole time.

We were pretty disappointed in that. The policeman probably took the path of least resistance, and decided that appeasing a cantankerous old lady by removing a child from a tree was the easiest thing to do.

But it leaves us in limbo and with unanswered questions from our children. If it’s not illegal, why should they have to stop doing it? Why should the cantankerous old lady win? Should we just take our children to a purpose-built playground structure if they want to climb so badly? But what if we want to enjoy the market at the same time?

And I feel bad for the old lady, who may be many years away from remembering how much fun it is to climb a tree, or even how it’s nice to watch your children climb trees instead of playing computer games; who might feel that a tree like that, in a public place, is a treasure that must be protected from little limbs and weighing-down torsos, from children who are little more than vandals and their parents who are jumped-up rebellious teenagers in her eyes.

And I admit that there was a little thrill there, in standing up to an old lady. We tried to be as respectful as we could while letting her know we disagreed and felt she was overstepping the line. We tried to model – what? good rebellion? – for our children. We tried to show our children that we were the grownups who knew the right thing to do, that they could always trust us to be their moral compasses even when others who saw themselves as authority figures might have different messages.

Climbing trees is more complicated than you might think.

———-

To be clear, I don’t want to make the old lady the villain of the piece. She has her opinions, and one of them is that our children shouldn’t be climbing that tree. Like the Lorax, she speaks for the trees. And I don’t blame the policeman, really, for asking us to get the kids down. His job is to keep the peace, and he probably knows that old ladies with nothing much else to do all day are more likely to disturb his peace than busy families who can just head on elsewhere.

It’s just a funny story, really, about the day the police came to tell the children not to climb a tree.

That said, we’ll all be back there next weekend, I think, and if the kids want to climb the tree, we’ll be letting them.

Children climbing a tree

Pope-ular

Yesterday I had to leave the house at 3.00 to get Dash from school, as usual. The new pope was due to be announced and I had the tv on, but even though I waited – “Come on, it’s two minutes past, where is he?” – I had to leave without finding out who it was.

Not that I even knew who the contenders were. Dougal wasn’t one of them, neither was Grumpy Cat, and they were the only possibilities my Facebook feed had informed me of in the past weeks; but suspense is suspense and the Vatican knows how to play up a theatrical moment. I asked my friend-and-neighbour, as we bumped into her on the way up the road, if she knew, and we reminisced about past popes, as you do.

“When Ratzinger was elected I was teaching middle school…” she started to tell me.

Hang on. What? But she was a teacher a lifetime ago, and Ratzinger is almost new. I know it’s a lifetime ago because her kids are the same age as mine, and she taught before they were born. I was … wait, I was in southmost Texas, so it was my kids’ lifetimes ago too, but I feel like the election of the last pope is still a pretty recent event because I blogged about it.

Which just goes to show that I’ve been blathering on here for a long time. For more than a whole pope, you could say, using the ancient and irregular unit of measurement.

Everyone’s saying – where “everyone” is the people I know who might discuss these things – that they hope this pope is more open to change and more forward-looking and more willing to let in tiny things like, say contraception or women priests to the Catholic church. I said it myself yesterday.

But I’ve changed my mind.

The thing is, if the Catholic church did all those things that I and many other Catholics and ex-Catholics want it to, things like accepting contraception, and considering married clergy or even women priests, and acknowledging that it’s okay to be gay (not even touching on the more controversial topics like abortion and euthanasia), it wouldn’t be the Catholic church any more. So I think I actually agree with what Benedict said about wanting a “smaller, purer church.”

If all the people who genuinely disagree with the church’s teachings but still wish to participate in organized religion voted with their feet and left, heading instead for some more inclusive and accepting place (Anglicanism is not a huge stretch), the church would be much smaller – and perhaps have fewer resources and therefore less influence.

So many people stay in the church for the sake of tradition: because they were raised that way and it’s what they know, and they like the warm familiarity of the hymns and the responses and doing what they always did at Christmas and Easter. Maybe because your mother would be devastated if you didn’t, because you’ve never heard of anyone moving church – sure one’s as good as another, even because your in-laws wanted to know when the party was when you had the first baby, so you had a christening even though you hadn’t been to mass in years, and things just snowballed from there.

But unless you’re particularly attached to the other things that only come with Catholicism – transubstantiation and venerating Mary and the saints are all I can think of right now – maybe it’s time to move on. My mother was never a big fan of “a la carte” Catholics who take what they like and ignore the rest, and I’m starting to come around to her opinion, albeit from the opposite direction.

I know many people talk about working for change from within, which is laudable indeed. But the Church doesn’t want to be changed. The Church would rather you left, actually, if you want things like equality and contraception. God is God, and I’m firmly convinced that he/she/it doesn’t care what religion you adhere to and whose rules you follow so long as they’re not hurting anyone else.

Then again, I’m an atheist 85% of the time, so you can feel free to disregard my opinions on God altogether.


Disclaimer: As always when I talk about religion, I don’t wish to offend anyone and absolutely acknowledge your right to believe whatever you want so long as you respect everyone else’s point of view too. The flying spaghetti monster endorses this post.


Rebel

Last night, all over this great continent, some people were primping and priming themeselves and their wardrobes in preparation for today’s celebration of love. Others were scrambling to order flowers online or find a card at the second-last minute. But everyone I know was cursing their children’s classmates for their hard-to-spell names and their sheer numbers, and wrestling with printers or glue or tape or stickers, and wondering just how upset a class of three-, four-, five-, six-, or seven-year-olds would be if they didn’t get a Valentine’s card from every single other classmate.

Well, I’ll tell you this afternoon, becuase my two went in with nary a card to their names. (That means nothing.)

Last week, as I think I mentioned, I was delighted to find some cute pre-made Valentine’s cards in the local store. I got a pack of superhero ones for Dash, princess ones for Mabel. They, in turn, were also delighted, and sat down forthwith to write in the “To” and “From” names and seal them with a sticker. That was all they had to do. Crafts are for the birds, I thought. This is perfect.

They both got about halfway through their class lists. “That’s great,” I announced. We’ll do a few more each day and by next Thursday they’ll all be ready.”
“Not so fast,” said Fate to me.

The next day, Dash’s teacher sent home a note saying that everyone should bring in 24 blank envelopes and a packet of candy hearts on Thursday. The blank envelopes confused me for a while – should there be anything inside them? How would the cards get to the right people if their names weren’t on the outsides? Also, our cards didn’t come with envelopes. Also also, I try to minimize the candy, especially the no-redeeming-features sugar-and-Red-40 type candy. If everyone brings in a pack, there’s going to be a lot of candy in the classroom. (They plan to use them for math before eating them. So that makes it fine, right?)

A short consultation with Facebook enlighted me about the envelopes: what she meant was that the Valentines should have a sender’s name but no recipient’s name, for ease of distribution. Which makes it only almost, but not absolutely entirely, pointless. But Dash had done half the names already. Should he finish up the rest or not?

The decision was made by Dash deciding not to do any more, and not to bring any in. Mabel also fell off the wagon and gave up on her cards, so this morning I said:

“Right, are either of you bringing in Valentines today?”
“No,” they chorused cheerfully.
“Okay then.”

I did not say “Well, how will you feel if you’re the only child who doesn’t give cards in your class?” For one thing, the four-year-olds won’t notice. For another, the six-year-olds probably won’t either. And for the most part, I don’t like being held hostage by Hallmark, the craft industry, the school, and some imaginary set of judgemental parents for yet another thing to think I should nag my children about if I want to be a good mother.

My children did not bring in any cards today. I’m fine with that. (But if I meet you I’ll probably apologise profusely, just to be on the safe side.)

Official

The people in the waiting room had taken the American government’s vague requirement to be “properly attired” in a fascinating variety of ways. There was a diminutive, aged Indian woman in a pale blue sari with silver embroidery. There were men in suits. There was a Rastafarian in his best dreadlock-covering hat, his best leisure wear and silver chain. There were women clearly dressed in their “good” dark-denim jeans with a plain sweater and clogs. There was Sunday-best and dressed-for-work. Some people kept their important documents in a plastic bag, some held manila envelopes. Mine were in a green cardstock file folder.

Mostly people came and went through the heavy door at the back of the room without expression, without incident. I read my book and tried to ignore the 24-hour news channel exploring an unimportant incident in far too much depth, from all the wrong angles. A young black woman bounced out of the room, smiling and making jubilant motions in the direction of her husband, who was minding the baby. She had obviously dressed with care: her tiny frame sported a shiny, teal, drainpipe-legged pantsuit, finished off with bright white bouncy sneakers. Her long cornrow braids shook with triumph as she kissed her little boy.

I had gone through at least three outfits the night before, rejecting the trousers that don’t really fit any more because it was eight years and two babies ago when I used to wear them to work, and ended up in the exact outfit I wore for my mother-in-law’s funeral last February: purple dress, teal slim cardigan, black boots. I was comfortable and felt like myself, not some other version of me that’s not around any more or never was. And I looked as if I’d made an effort, which is all that “proper attire” turned out to mean.

My name was called. I followed the lady back to her room, where she shuffled and hole-punched and checkmarked pieces of paper as she asked me rote questions in a routine voice. First I had to stand up and promise to tell the truth, as if that would make any difference to an unscrupulous person. She wrote with her left hand at right angles to the pages, initialing and circling and numbering in red ink as she went, checking a whole row of boxes at once to catch up to what I’d already answered. I remained calm and collected and was a model student, getting all my civics questions right first time, even that elusively random number of Representatives in the House: 435. I wanted to say “Guam. Ask me the one about Guam. And that Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General of the United States. Those are my favourites,” but I didn’t, and she didn’t.

Then she asked me about my family, and whether I’d ever been in prison, and whether I’d ever conspired against the goverment, or been a Communist, and some other questions. And then told me that she’d be recommending that I be granted what I had come for. I could take the Oath at two this afternoon if I liked.

I didn’t like. My town has a Naturalization ceremony once a month and I’d assumed I’d do it at that; I hadn’t planned to be away all day. Beyond that, I wasn’t ready to seal the deal just yet. One step at a time, without thinking too hard, is the way I’m doing this.

Midway through the questions, I had almost started thinking about what I was doing, as she leafed through my Irish passport looking for stamps and dates. There’s no requirement to give up my Irish passport; I’m allowed to keep it. I’ll never not be Irish. I just don’t like that one line that goes “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…” That’s a lot to take on. That’s a lot to ask.

I’m just going to say it and not think about it, which I’m sure is exactly not what the people intended, but there you go. It makes sense to do this, it’s the practical thing to do for our family, to make sure we can stay here, where we’ve made our home, as long as we want to rather than finding ourselves chucked out at some sudden date if things go wrong and funding goes away and the letter of the law must be adhered to. I’m a sensible person. In the end, it makes no difference to my day-to-day life. America needs me, I tell myself, to be a sensible liberal-leaning democrat-voting, atheist, lactivist supporter for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I’ll say it, and I’ll do it.

But always and forever, if you cut me, I’ll bleed green.