Category Archives: Ireland

Seriously, do I have to say this? Vote YES

I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the converted here. I mean, given the demographic of people I know on social media, I’d say it’s highly unlikely that anyone out there reading this is an Irish person who’s going to vote no in the upcoming referendum.

But you never know. Maybe I need to say it, just in case. Just in case some way I put some words together can make a change somewhere out there. Ripples, ripples.

This Friday, Ireland is voting on same-sex marriage. Ireland, the country where the concept of church-state separation is vague at best, where divorce has only existed since 1996, and where gay sex wasn’t legalised until 1993. We’ve come a long way in a short space of time, but we can do more. We owe it to generations past, and those to come. We owe it to vulnerable teenagers out there right now.

Here are a few points I’d like to make to anyone who might think they have reasons to vote no:

If you think it’s irrelevant to you because you don’t know any gay people, I’m 99.9% sure you’re wrong about that. And even if you’re not, why not just do it anyway, for the sake of happiness? Spread a little love around.

If you think it will lead to gay people getting married in the Catholic church, no, it won’t. It has nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s rules, which stay the way they are. It just means that gay people can be married in the eyes of the law in Ireland. Sure, why not?

If you think it will somehow affect your own marriage, just think about that logically for a second. It won’t make your marriage any less valid. It won’t make anyone have to marry anyone else, gay or not. I’m sure you know that, right?

If you think it will lead to the breakup of the family, I can see that the No campaign has been at you. Children need people who love them. And gay people can already have children and adopt children: this referendum has no bearing on that. This argument is In Valid.

If you think marriage just isn’t that, and that gay people have civil partnerships and that should be enough for them, think again. Marriage may have been defined as between a man and a woman in the past, but we need to move on now that we as a society understand more about real people. We understand that being gay is not a “cool” life choice, it’s not a rebellion, it’s not (god help us) a perversion or an abomination. If you thought you didn’t know any gay people, that’s because it’s something they always felt they had to deny, or at least ignore, in your presence. In society’s presence. Because they felt they were somehow, through no fault of their own, second-class citizens.

So tell them they’re not. Tell them that they get to stand up and shout to the rafters that they love this person and they’re going to marry them, just as loudly as you did (or maybe you whispered it to the stars instead, but you weren’t ashamed of it), because they’re people who get to love and be loved in the light of day.

Their mammies get to buy a hat for the big day out. Don’t deny the mammies that.

Bits, pieces, other people

The most alluring post title ever, right? Didn’t that just pull you in and make you want to read more? Oh well, I can’t be thrilling every time. Sometimes I just have some random things I want to tell you about.

Picture on the wall

Mabel drew a portrait of me and wrote an interview. It’s all squiggles except at the end it says “MOR TO COM”. This is not relevant to anything else here.

For one, there’s my friend Damien Owens in the New Yorker, as he so modestly puts it. Quoted, actually, from Twitter, when he made a funny about Gerry Adams that’s now immortalised in this very long but also very interesting, if I ever manage to finish it, article. It’s always fascinating to read about your own country from someone else’s point of view.

For another, there’s my other friend who is a court reporter for the national news in Dublin. She’s attending a trial that is by turns obscene and gruesome and bizarre and every time I read about its latest development I think of her and hope she’s getting danger money because it must be horrible to have to sit there all day and listen to it. (She is being offered counselling at work. I think that’s good.)

For a third, I just read another article about objections to plans for a retirement complex in my hometown. I was amused by the fact that someone was worried that “there would be safety issues with ‘large numbers of elderly people attempting to access [the town]'”, because I now have visions of hordes of octogenarians on zimmer frames and in motorized wheelchairs advancing as if in slow-motion on the shops and restaurants of the area, which of course will be powerless to defend themselves.

Finally, let us just pause to rejoice that spring really does seem to have sprung. We had a lot of snow last week, but this week it’s all rain, rain, rain, washing the nasty white stuff away. Yesterday we had 60 degrees and it was dry, and we stopped at the playground on the way home from school and suddenly there was a swarm of children swinging, running, chasing, whirling… it was a good day. Here’s to more of the same.

Pale yellow sunset

Snowy sunset

Christmas Past

I remember the spindly fake tree we had for so many years, and how much I hated it. I remember the foil milk-bottle-top decorations on it that I must have made at playschool, and a cardboard Santa with impossibly long legs and cotton wool for a beard. I remember feeling the weight of the presents on the end of my bed before daylight on Christmas morning and the almost comforting thrill of knowing they were there to wake up to in a few hours. (How restrained I was.) I remember almost busting Santa the year we stayed at my cousins’ house in London – I heard someone moving in the room, but I kept my eyes tightly shut and was all the more excited in the morning because I had heard him. I’m sure all the adults heaved a sigh of relief.

I remember the unshakeable ritual of Christmas dinner at my aunt’s, from consomme to trifle with all the requisite things in between. Turkey, ham, sausagemeat stuffing, sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, carrots, celery and sprouts. Roast potatoes of course. Lighting the plum pudding. Brandy butter and cream. A walk in Marley Park to digest, and home for the big film on the telly and some post-prandial port for the grown-ups.

I remember getting new clothes for Christmas, when times were lean and I was dressed in my school uniform or hand-me-downs from my five older girl cousins for the rest of the year. The thrill of those cobalt-blue trousers-not-jeans that matched the green and purple and blue wavy striped sweater and the (oh joy) grey pixie boots to make a real outfit of it; even if it was all from Dunnes I didn’t care, they were new clothes and they were in fashion. I wore that outfit to Sunday mass all year, I think.

I remember clinging to the traditions as they started to crumble; the first year my aunt didn’t host dinner, and how I was bereft, feeling that it wasn’t Christmas at all if we didn’t drive over the winding road past Lamb Doyle’s to Rathfarnham, seeing the lights of the city spread out below us from the heights of Stepaside. I remember the way I established traditions where there had been none, insisting that we take turns opening and admiring our presents, making little piles for each person beside their allotted seat, ensuring that no moment of delight was missed, watching my father slice open the wrapping paper at the join of the tape with a craft knife, surgeon-like, careful to keep every re-usable scrap for next year, taking careful note of who had given what to whom.

(I remember the shock when I first attended the apparent free-for-all of another family’s Christmas, where paper was ripped with abandon and nobody took time to admire each other’s gains until the frenzy was over.)

Traditions are memories that you can re-create over and over. And when they’re finally done with, it’s time to forge some new ones out of folded paper and fruitcake and gingerbread and fairy lights and wrapping paper and carols and friends and family and laughter and maybe even a few tears.

Paper snowflakes on the window

This post is part of the Christmas Memories linky hosted by Naomi at Dr How’s Science Wows. Head on over there and read some more.

Christmas Memories: A Seaonal Linky with Science Wows

The pressure

I had a post about the educational system but then I realised it was only tipping the edge of the real point I wanted to make. So I’m just going to try to tease that out here. Pull up a chair.

I was at the PTA meeting last week, as I have to be because I’m the secretary so I take the notes, typing very fast because our president moves along at a fair clip. And parents were expressing concern about the testing that elementary schoolers (grades 3-5) now have to take, and the new Common Core curriculum, which is not universally understood/adored, and I was wondering if I’m a very bad parent for not finding it as concerning as they did. I mean, it’s not like I understand it better. I haven’t even looked into it. I’m just trusting the system, gullible little fatalistic me.

I suppose I figure that somebody somewhere has employed a lot of experts to work this out, and they are probably a lot more qualified than I am. They are also working within the bounds of constraints I know nothing of. It’s not perfect, but then there are a lot of things about America that are mysterious to me, from gun laws to the disappointing absence of potato waffles, so I just roll with it.

But here’s the thing, and it’s a different thing. There were a lot of resources my national (public) school in 1980s Ireland lacked that my kids’ public school in today’s Maryland has – dedicated music and art teachers, a school counsellor, a computer room, a Russian teacher, just for shits and giggles – but here’s something else it had none of: pressure.

I don’t think it’s an Ireland/USA thing so much as a then/now thing, but it’s a change I’m sad about. Nobody seems to say “It’s elementary school: let’s just show them the basics and let them absorb it all at their own rates and they’ll all shake out when they’re older.” I don’t know what they said back then, but I don’t think they thought too much about it. School kept us off the streets, basically; we learned to read and write and memorize our times tables and fractions and very little else that has stuck with me. My crazy fifth-class teacher was always having us do projects close to her heart, like making paper bags out of newspaper to learn what life was like for children of the Philippine slums, and I’m pretty sure that particular two-day event wasn’t on anyone’s curriculum, but there was ample time for it and we were none the worse off.

Nobody talked about our futures, or going to college, or how to knuckle down and study so that you got better grades – certainly not till 6th class, at least. Grades seemed mostly awarded at the teacher’s whim, anyway – if you were well-behaved, as far as I could tell, your report was likely to feature As and Bs. And it didn’t matter. Nothing was riding on it. No school funding, nobody’s job, nobody’s annual review (probably; okay, I have no idea; but I doubt they had such things in those days), certainly not any child’s future.

I want to shield my kids from that, from The Pressure, for as long as I can. But in second grade they start with proper A, B, C grades and honor roll assemblies, sifting the wheat from the chaff (actually, it’s mostly wheat in this case; they set it up that way, which makes it all the worse for the poor left-behind chaffs), and they’ve already mentioned university to the Kindergarteners. The word hothousing comes to mind. And I don’t think it’s going to help anyone if they end up saying they peaked academically in second grade, y’know?

I get it. I know the school wants university to be on the kids’ radars. They want all the students to know that’s what they should be aiming for, and that with application and good study habits, they can get there. (Might be true. Might not.) But jeez. They’re five. And six and seven and eight. Lay off with the pressure for a few more years. Please.

Do you reckon it’s an America thing or a 2014 thing? Or something else?

Home from Home

I arrived home from Home, if you get my drift, leaving all-too-real reality to be plunged straight back into also-real reality with barely a moment to catch my breath. It’s mind-bending to have to comprehend that both realities go on independently whether I’m there to see them or not, it really is. I mean, you can know it rationally, because it’s true; but actually believing it is a leap of faith.

One night’s sleep, and I was straight back to parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings and generally picking up where I left off, with some added phone calls to make to the other side of the world where, allegedly, everything went on just as before.

You might be finally grown up when you walk into your childhood home and it’s just a house filled with stuff where two old people live. You might have finally switched allegiances when you know that home is where the family you made is, not the family you came from. You might feel spit in two, or all at sea, or strangely small, when it’s just you on your own for a while, missing your usual noisy distraction of an entourage. Or you might be too busy getting things done, because you can move around a lot faster on your own, to really dwell on the existentialism of it all too much.

I brought back with me birthday presents and teabags and Penguin bars and chocolate and new socks from Dunnes Stores and a golden snitch fob watch from a little shop in the George’s St Arcade which has already had its chain broken three times. I brought responsibilities and resolutions and numbers to call and questions to answer. I brought my trusty notebook and my laptop, at opposite ends of technology, neither of which I can do without.

I was there, and now I am here. Why is it so hard to understand?

Boats sailing inside the harbour.

Sailors out. Dun Laoghaire harbour with Howth in the distance.



Thoughts recorded while flying over Newfoundland

As I opened my laptop I thought how hilarious it would be if I had someone else’s by mistake, with all the taking out of MacBooks that happens at all the security checks (three this time; probably one still to go). And then what would one do? Consternation would ensue, no doubt. There’s probably a good story in there.

I got up at 7. I got the bus at 8. I was at the airport at 9. I did not dilly dally. I checked in at the desk (very small line) and went through the main airport security (not much waiting). I walked swiftly past duty free and ignored my rumbling tummy, following the signs with the American flags on them for pre-immigration, or whatever it’s called. When they started this I’m sure it was because it was meant to be easier and quicker to clear immigration in Ireland before your flight than to wait in those huge lines with people from all over the world at your destination in the US. But now all it means is that no matter how early you arrive at the airport, you’re starving and barely have a moment to grab a bite before being herded onto your plane.

There was a long line for another security check – where I was lucky enough to be flagged for the super bonus security check as well – and then a really long line for immigration, where they also show you a picture of your suitcase on a conveyer belt somewhere in the building to make sure it’s really yours. Having an American passport, the line I was in was meant to be shorter than the lowly non-US people on the other side of the room, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. By the time I got through I was about to collapse with hunger and barely had time to grab a sandwich and a smoothie before they were calling the flight. Which maybe is good in one way, but reminded me again how awful this process is with small children. It doesn’t really make me want to rush back with the whole family any time soon.

Though the plane is very relaxing. I’ve had some more food, I’ve had time to start a Marian Keyes and finish knitting the hat I began on the way over and I’ve watched one episode of Bones and two of House of Cards. (Which I think we’ll have to do next. It’s like West Wing but viciously cutthroat instead of principled. Jed Bartlett would be turning in his presidential library.)

I know I said I’m not the type to strike up conversations with strangers, but at the Dart station on Saturday I was accosted by an elderly nun (is there any other sort?) who talked to me all the way into town. She was just lovely. You know, you think for a moment that nuns are these sheltered women who know nothing about the world, but a few minutes’ conversation with one will but that notion to rest. Ah, Washington DC, I know it well, she said, and then told me about the children in Kenya where she used to live, and the fundraising she did in the US, and all the children she’d taught … that woman has seen more life than I have, and then some. She was a great person. She said she’d put my name in the pot, so to speak, for the prayers at the convent, and I thanked her sincerely. Who am I to complain about such a generous gesture, to have all those people thinking kind thoughts in my direction?

Newfoundland is … bumpy. With snow in between the bumps but not on top of them. At least, that’s how it looks from up here.

Dublin had soft air, strengthening to mist, moving on up through the ranks of rain to properly coming down for a little while, and then easing off again. It was uniformly grey, and then suddenly a patch of blue would be where none was before and that magical moment would occur when you’d see the sun hit the water on its way out, fleetingly, to douse us in palest gold for a few minutes. I didn’t see any rainbows this year though. Not a one. Maybe I wasn’t looking as much.

Sea and sky

Looking back towards Sandycove from Dun Laoghaire pier

The welcome home hugs were pretty damn good, though.

Sure you’re grand

The world outside my door is an impressionist painting – pointillist, even – made up of little dots of colour everywhere. The wind blows and all the little dots shiver and dance and a few drift away from their moorings in the sky and flutter and swoop to the ground.

Autumn leaves ———

When I’m in Ireland I relax my mode of speech by a few notches. I delight in employing the vernacular in the supermarket, to the bus driver, to the person at the till. I say “Sure” (for “you’re welcome”) and “Thanks a million”, and “Sorry” (for “excuse me”) and “Ah no, sure, you’re grand,” (as often as possible) and am practically a caricature of myself. I’ll ask for ham with the flattest possible a sound, and get tomatoes and oregano and basil on everything I can think of. I’ll talk about yer man and yer one and the yoke that does the thing. And I’ll start swearing more, just for fun and effect.

This day next week I’ll be in airports, all alone, being Miss Organized and Miss Efficient and Miss This is so Easy With No Kids and also Miss Missing Them Quite a Lot. I’m flying home for five days to check in with the parentals, since we’re not going home for Christmas and it’s been a year since I’ve seen them and they’re not really so hot at things like Skype or Facetime. We spent time with most of B’s family members during the summer, but not mine. And it’s finally – finally – the time where I can do this. The kids will be fine. Their father will be fine. Everyone will survive perfectly well without me, and me without them. But I’ll miss them, all the same.

And a lot more little dots of colour will have fluttered down when I get back.

More autumn leaves


Awards Afternoon: The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

The Blog Awards Ireland ceremony took place last night in Ireland. The one I was a finalist for. I wasn’t there, but everyone else in the world was. (Apart from the other moms closer to home who were also having a night out. I wasn’t there either. Next year I will vet my husband’s choice of marathon weekend more carefully before agreeing that I’m fine to solo parent just then.) But I will now tell you all about the night out I didn’t have anyway.

Tl; dr version: I didn’t win. But some other people did, so that was good.

It was Saturday morning but archery (Dash’s current thing) was cancelled so we had no engagements. I had stocked up on milk (yay, planning) but apparently dropped the ball on all other breakfast goods (boo planning), so Mabel and I went out almost first thing to get some cereal, maple syrup (just in case I made pancakes), and bagels. I considered the children fed for the day and proceded to do my best to ignore them from then on while I took up my station in front of Twitter and Facebook and followed agog the goings-on on the other side of the Atlantic.

Since we’re five hours behind over here, all the excitement took place in daylight hours. This meant that, on the one hand, I didn’t have to stay up late to get to the bitter end, but, on the other, I was still nominally in charge of children who were not remotely in bed, and who were constantly demanding food and drink and other unreasonable things, and it was too early to drink. Everyone else in the Twitterverse seemed to be having a nice glass of wine, and all I had was half a bottle of flat beer (and I waited till dinnertime to drink that, I’ll have you know).

I am fully aware that life goes on in Ireland when I’m not there, but it’s not usually quite so in-your-face about it. Yesterday it was a little surreal to know that while I stood at my computer on the kitchen counter in Maryland, a parallel universe me was getting dolled up for a night out, driving to Clane (okay, let’s leave that bit out of the imaginings because I have no idea how to get to Clane), walking into a room full of semi-strangers, and getting quite squiffy and pretending to be famous, just because I happened to have advanced to a certain stage in a fairly arbitrary manner in a competition that’s really of much less consequence than it pretends to be.

Still, consequence or no, I would have loved to have been there. A night out’s a night out, after all, and who better to party with than a group of mommybloggers?

I amused myself posting things like this to Twitter, using the hashtag with abandon:

Though I might have been a little more restrained if I’d realised that all the #blogawardsie tweets were being projected onto a big screen in the room itself. The girls said it was as if I was there. I’m sure I’d have been drunker and worse at finding the little keys on my stupid phone if I’d been there, so everyone was spared a lot of terrible typos, at least.

The afternoon wore on. In Ireland, people were giving up and going to bed, much like watching the Oscars live here on the east coast of America when they don’t finish till midnight. It was exactly like the Oscars, actually, if you couldn’t watch it on telly but could only frantically follow all the hashtags instead. In Clane they were handing out five or six awards, tweeting them, and then everyone would pause for food before getting down to the next group, working in alphabetical order through the categories all the way up to best blog post and best overall blog. In Maryland I was refreshing Twitter obsessively, jumping on the announcements and then putting them on Facebook, gossiping about things on Facebook, and blithely sending smart comments and congratulations/commiserations into the ether whenever I came up with them. 

The comforting predictability of the alphabet meant that my category, Diaspora, was pretty near the start, so at least we got that over with. I didn’t win. A nice man called A Trip to Ireland did, which was fairly much a foregone conclusion because if you’re in the category called Best Blog of the Diaspora the judges want your blog to be good and diaspora-y. I only really talk about Ireland when I’ve just been there, so the blog awards take place at entirely the wrong time of year for me to be in with any sort of chance.

But there was a huge pause (main course, I think they called it) before the other categories I was emotionally invested in – Lifestyle, Newcomer (for, Personal, and Parenting (where a bunch of other friends were nominated, since all my Irish bloggy friends are from a wonderful group called Irish Parenting Bloggers. This group, I might add, saw about 40 women attending the awards, with at least 26 members nominated, spanning 11 categories plus three in the final ten for best blog post. And to think the blog awards didn’t even have a Parenting category last year because they didn’t think there was the demand for it. Sheesh.)

I got a bit stroppy with the tweets at that point.  

But we didn’t all have giant Connect-4 and floor prizes and an interval act and whatever else it was they had going on over there. Some of us were just at home WITHOUT EVEN WINE and with children who still wouldn’t leave us alone, and we needed answers.

Anyway, didn’t win best newcomer and neither did the parenting blogger who was nominated in that category, and my friends didn’t win best lifestyle blog (they were robbed) but Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers had (most deservedly) won best health and wellbeing, and then to much fanfare Lisa from won best parenting blog, which was wonderful and much deserved not least because – though this was not part of her winning it at all – she was and continues to be the brains behind putting the IPB group together in the first place.

But I still couldn’t even contemplate making dinner because the best blog post prize hadn’t happened yet. I turned on the oven anyway, as a gesture. The kids were … I’m sure they were around somewhere. Hand-wavy gesture towards the rest of the house. Whatever. Suspense, man.

And then just as we (those of us stuck at home, not at the party, in Ireland or abroad) were giving out on Facebook about how long it was all taking, suddenly it transpired that one of the givers outers had just won best blog post. So that was very exciting too, and there was much squeeing, and after that I think everyone just danced a lot and some people fell over a few times because they had terrible shoes on and someone slept in a van and some people took home the table centrepieces and I probably should stop now before I say anything I shouldn’t.

And then in America we had oven chips and broccoli for dinner because I wasn’t up to anything more complicated. And while I missed all the fun and the dancing, I also missed the late night and the hangover, so I suppose there’s that.

(I hasten to add that the title is mostly Douglas Adams, lest anyone would think it was just me.)

Feels like America

It’s that time of year when the weather is glorious, but lurches from high summer to chilly spring with very little warning. It’s the time when I scramble to figure out what I wear in summer and what we eat when it’s too hot to cook and which sunscreen I should buy this year and who needs new sandals. (Me. I need new sandals.) And then after complaining that it’s too hot one day, I’m back pulling out an extra blanket and finding a fleece that I’d put away and carping that nobody can see my pretty new toenails the next.

In other words, it’s spring in DC. The Americans can’t fathom it when I tell them this 75-degree weather is like the most sun-burnished summer day imaginable in Ireland. The Irish people will be spitting in July when I’m so done with 90 degrees and a million percent humidity and the need, the so tedious need, to take the kids to the pool again today because what on earth else can we do except flop around a darkened house complaining about needing a cold drink and an ice-pop and maybe a penguin habitat.

But the kids are playing outside a lot, which can only be a good thing. Dash has a baseball game twice a week and practice on Saturdays, and can also be found playing soccer on the street (thank goodness for cul-de-sacs) most of the time. Mabel eschews balls, but cruises around on her bike or her scooter and has taken up sidewalk chalking too. Soon the mosquitoes will be out in full force once it’s past 6pm or so, but for now it’s really very pleasant.

One day last week was a really hot one. I went to the supermarket early, straight after dropping Mabel to school, and when I came out the full blast of heat from the parking-lot asphalt hit me, the way it does when you come out of an air-conditioned environment; the way you never ever experience it in Ireland. “Ugh, it feels like America,” I thought, unbidden.

Well, that’s funny, I followed up with. It’s always America. But this felt like that other America, not the one I live in every day, but the one I used to visit sometimes, or the one that was new and strange still. It was like the America that was Texas, probably, most of all. It wasn’t just the heat; it was the unsalubrious surroundings of our frankly kind of ghetto little mall, and a tiny moment when the familiar became unfamiliar again. In the same way that the damp concrete footpaths of Dublin will always be absolutely home with their every nook and cranny and patch of moss and littering crisp-packet, the beating heat of crumbling grey asphalt and faded yellow paint will always be alien to my heart no matter how long I’m here.

Mabel with ice cream cone, shades and sunhat

Practicing for summer

I love the Internet.

About a year and a half ago, I stumbled across an Irish parenting blog called “And My Baby” (now defunct). It led me to a Facebook group, quite newly formed, called the Irish Parenting Bloggers. After a little hesitation, I joined the group, happy that they’d have me, considering the way I’m not entirely an Irish blogger (except when I am).

Anyway. That was then. Over the past week, I’ve found myself frantically messaging and writing and editing and giggling and logging in and checking and updating and discussing, and generally marvelling at how amazing the Internet is. Here I was, working, collaborating, with a group of women I’d barely or in some cases never met, on something we hoped could be really big.

We launched it on Tuesday. It’s called It comes from a team with a dizzying breadth of professional and personal experience, and I’m very proud to call myself one of them. We hope it will be topical, relevant, local, global, intelligent, entertaining, irreverent, thought-provoking, and informative. I’d love to see you over there too.

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