Category Archives: neighbourhood

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.

img_3267

 

The vultures

I have to tell you about the book dealers.

Book dealers are not people I’d ever given any thought to before this time last year. I’d heard the phrase, I suppose; I knew it was a job; but if you’d asked me I would have imagined them as little old men in dusty shops, surrounded by heavy leather-bound tomes of great antiquity. If you wanted to buy or sell a particular hard-to-find book, you’d go there and have a conversation in hushed tones.

Of course, now there’s the Internet, so everyone can be an armchair book dealer if they want to. You can sell your granny’s collection of Barbara Cartlands on e-Bay or Craigslist or Adverts.ie or just get someone to take them away from Freecycle.

But if you run a used-book sale every year, even just a local PTA one, and it’s quite big and contains books donated by many different and interesting people, word gets out. And the book dealers find out about it (especially if you advertise on one of their websites), and they come to your sale.

And these people are intense. This is not a hobby. This is life or death, I’m telling you. It’s a cut-throat business.

For one thing, someone tried to sabotage our ad listing on the dealer website last year by changing it to say that the books had already been picked over by a dealer. This would make the other dealers think it was less worth their while coming. They tried to do this in an email using the (misspelt) name of the PTA president so it would look as if it was an instruction coming from us. Luckily we caught it and changed it back, because our books are never picked over. Something similar happened again this year. They don’t back down.

On the day the sale starts, we bring all the books to the venue and set them up on tables under a tent, usually by about 2pm. Then one or two of us stays to put up lights and get everything in order, and to make sure nobody runs off with the books. By 2:30 that afternoon, there was a guy wandering around, looking interestedly at the books. He was friendly and polite, and he didn’t touch anything, but he wasn’t just an idle passerby. There was another one by 3pm. The sale doesn’t open till 6. All afternoon they arrived in ones and twos, some with bags on little trundle trolleys, ready to take away a haul. They ranged themselves around the sale, and I started to kick them out of the middle rows where they were too obviously poking around.

Some of them are lovely, friendly, polite people who don’t like others giving the profession a bad name. They all see each other at events like this regularly – every weekend, maybe. I was amazed by how many of them I recognized from last year. Some of them are a little grumpy and unfriendly. But they all did what I asked and stayed out of the stacks as soon as I said they needed to move.

To be honest, it was a little bit of a power trip, having all these people do what I told them. The volunteers staffing the sale from six o’clock on hadn’t arrived yet, so I was singlehandedly holding back the tide. The semblance of perfect authority was slightly marred by my children, who were also there, dancing along behind me demanding ice cream and lollipops and whatever they thought they might get at the festival that was setting up all around us. All these adults, perfect strangers, hanging on my every word … and these two short people who came out of my own uterus, ignoring me. I caught a few amused eyes in the crowd.

I told the dealers there was no touching until six. I emphasized that we were going by my clock, not anyone else’s. I swear I saw someone synchronize their watch. They inched ever closer to the tarps tantalizingly covering up the books and the CDs (we have a media section too). At 5:50 I had to start removing the tarps. You could have cut the tension with a knife. Their eyes were bulging out of their heads and their fingers were itching to grab a box of books or riffle through a tray of music. I held all the power. I restrained myself from letting out a maniacal laugh. I watched the second hand tick by. I wondered if I could mess with them by never announcing that the sale was open.

My relief shift began to show up, and I hugged them, because the tension was getting to me, and I really couldn’t open at six if nobody else was there to run it. Three minutes later I said the word, and the surge of book dealers broke over the books. I had to leave then, because it was carnage. I*’d spent all month sorting and packing and stacking those boxes full of books and these ingrates were pulling them all out and throwing them around willy nilly.

The next morning I prowled around the now-much-calmer sale grumbling about how people should be banned because they just mess everything up, and how book sales would be much better without any customers at all.

This is probably how the people who work in Old Navy feel every single day. It’s a good exercise in letting go.

Many people milling around and under a large canopy tent

Let loose the dogs of… oh well.

*Not just me, of course. Me and quite a few other volunteers who enjoy sorting things of similar sizes neatly into boxes. But for the purposes of dramatic retelling, me.

Rooms of kittens

 

If you know Mabel at all, you’ll know that she’s wanted a pet for ever. She wants a dog, but has accepted, with some degree of maturity, that we are just not dog people and she’s not getting a dog until she’s old enough to move out and own it herself.

(Don’t hate on me for not being a dog person. I love dogs, I really do. I have opinions about what constitutes a proper dog (sheepdogs, retrievers) and what’s just ridiculous (chihuahuas, yorkies), but I’m nice to all dogs and they generally like me back. But I just can’t imagine having one as part of the family – probably because I didn’t grow up in a dog house, and because apparently I lack whatever gene my daughter has that makes that not matter.)

Dash wants a dog too, not to be outdone, but with him it’s more of a passing whim. With Mabel, it’s a vocation.

Anyway. Since she knows we’re not getting a dog, she opportunistically hops on whatever she thinks might be more likely. If she thought we’d get a lizard, or a turtle, or a budgerigar, she’d madly want one of those. (A while ago she nearly had me agreeing to a fish, out of desperation – and what on earth is the point of a fish? You can’t pet a fish.) Yesterday she saw a guinea pig on an episode of The Cat in the Hat and spent the next several hours chanting “guinea pig” at us in various tones from wheedling to demanding, culminating at bedtime when she sleepily told me that guineapig no sleepypig Daddypig. Indeed. I made an imaginary guinea pig with one hand and snuffled her neck with it. She called it Percy. Things were at a pretty pass.

This morning she had me googling guinea-pig care and habitats and looking up cages. I am, apparently, defenceless against her well-thought-out plans and also her incessant demands. Anyway, I found myself saying that we could maybe go to the animal shelter and see if they had any guinea pigs. I thought they probably wouldn’t, and that it would buy me some time. Or something. I don’t really know what my thought process was – mostly I was just agreeing with things to get her off my back.

This is often a problem I have in life and parenting.

Here’s the thing: we actually live in walking distance of our town’s animal shelter. This is a fact I have closely guarded from Mabel for several years now; all the more so since she learned to read and might some day notice it on the sign as we drove past. (If ever I need to drive up that way I usually accelerate wildly or try to point at something on the other side of the road.) She knows there is an animal shelter in town somewhere, and in the past we’ve vaguely discussed going to see the dogs and cats or whatever they have, but I’ve never gone through with it.

This morning I looked at their website, and oddly enough one of the few times they’re open to the public is Wednesday afternoons. The stars, apparently, were aligning. Four o’clock came and I’d done everything else I needed to do. The kids were fighting and I wanted to introduce a distraction. “Mabel, let’s go to the animal shelter,” I said, rashly. “We can walk there.”

Dash didn’t even want to come. See, no commitment. Fair-weather pet-wanter, that one.

The other reason I’d always resisted a trip to the animal shelter was because I was afraid I’d fall in love with a kitten and our no-pets stance would crumble where it stood. Cats, I can do. We got a kitten when I was ten – a skittish farm kitten that never really warmed to people much, but I loved her. I know how a cat belongs in a house.

So Mabel and I trotted down the hill and round the corner in the sultry afternoon heat and humidity to the animal shelter, where, I was careful to note beforehand, we would ONLY LOOK. There would be no choosing and bringing home of any animals. Not today, anyway.

People, they have ROOMS OF KITTENS at the animal shelter. Really. Two rooms of kittens and one of grown-up cats. There must have been a kittensplosion recently, because the first room had two big cages with six tiny tabbies in one and five tiny grey fuzzballs in the other, all squeaking and scrambling up on each other’s heads in an effort to be first to be petted. Plus sundry other cats of various ages in other cages. The second room had six marginally less tiny kittens roaming free and sleeping in a pile, who were not nearly as grumpy as I would have been when we woke them up to see if they wanted to play. The third room had some very friendly and well-fed elder statesmen of cats who were also happy to be petted. We had to do each room twice, Mabel insisted, first to say hello and then to say goodbye.

And of course she fell in love with a grey-and-white fuzzball, and I found myself quite taken with an elegant pale tabby kitten, and our walk home was filled with her exhortations that I should talk to Daddy very seriously about getting one. Or two. And I was … not unswayed, shall we say.

Dammit, I knew I should have stayed away. But on the plus side, she’s stopped talking about guinea pigs.

Mabel looking up at the camera

Mischief managed

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.

 

Just another day

Today is my birthday. Forty-three is okay, I’m here to tell you. It’s not significant – it’s neither a new decade nor a new demographic bracket. It’s practically the same as 42, but with fewer Douglas Adams quotes. I feel about 37, which is a nice age to feel, and I look… oh, I have no idea what age I look. Let’s not worry about that. It’s irrelevant, because I’m on the inside, not the outside.

Anyway, right now I don’t have any deep thoughts about another passage around the earth. I feel like I should just enjoy what I’ve got because this is the youngest I’m going to be, and anyway, age is meaningless, it’s what you do, and who you do it with, that matters.

That said, right now I’m on my laptop writing a blog post while each of my children stare at another device and I slowly try to convince them that we should go for a picnic in the park. The weather’s beautiful after a very hot, humid, day yesterday and big thunderstorms last night.

….

Wildflowers in yellow, blue, and some red

Enthusiasm for the picnic has dwindled to an all-time low (that is, the one child who was vaguely up for it is no longer) but now one of them is making things with sticks (and magnets and batteries, causing me to mutter things like “Don’t electrocute yourself” and “Don’t short out the house”) so that’s a step forward. I suppose.

I always feel compelled if not to have my best possible day on my birthday – because that’s beyond my control – to at least be my best possible self. Even if I’m doing the laundry and making my own cake, there’s a spring in my step and I’m all whatserface Amy Adams in Enchanted, flitting around domestically and imagining woodland animals (less of the vermin, thank you) helping me with my work.

….

That was then. Now my kids are fighting, I have nothing nice for lunch, I can’t get a babysitter for the weekend, Wednesday’s the worst day for a birthday (well, Tuesday isn’t great either), and apparently if I ever want fresh air and exercise for myself this summer I’ll have to to outside and walk up and down our street because nobody’s leaving the house ever. Even to please me on my birthday. Maybe I have to bribe them with ice cream but to be honest I’m not sure if even that’ll work.

I have a cake to make, because if not me, who; and this evening is Dash’s baseball playoff which willen haven been the final if they win, or the penultimate game of the championship if they lose, because it’s the best of three and they won the first.

Mabel sitting on a rock looking at the water

…..

In conclusion, it being my birthday doesn’t stop it from being a perfectly ordinary day. It never really does.

Children on a wooded trail

Postscript:
We went for the walk. It was lovely. I bribed them with ice cream.

Mabel with her ice cream

That was lovely too.

Dash enjoying a cone

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.

Walkers

This morning Mabel had planned to walk to school on her own, with a friend from a few doors over. The friend, a year younger but much braver, was all for it. Mabel had been enthusiastic, but I wasn’t surprised when, last night, she started having second thoughts. On Friday, I had belatedly and panickingly wondered if she even knew how to safely cross a road (things you might forget to tell your not-firstborn), so I went over the importance of making sure a driver sees you even if they appear to have stopped. I’d done the job a little too well, though, and now she was worried about the roads, and the cars. (There are a few small roads to cross on the pleasant and suburban half-mile trot to school. The last is actually an exit from the school, but the big yellow buses come out there with their drivers seated way up high where they’re hard to see.)

Mabel often worries about things at night that are no problem at all the following morning (don’t we all?), but this morning she was adamant that she still wanted me to go with them after all. The friend, who appeared at our side door on the dot of 8:40 as planned, was a little disappointed, but I promised to hang back and let them pretend they were walking alone. Two sets of bare legs, not yet summer-bronzed, preceded me to school – Mabel’s skirt much shorter than I had thought; maybe it should be relegated to weekend use; where did those extra three inches of leg above her knee come from, I wondered – two smooth-haired heads turned towards each other with giggles and assertions all the way there, explanations of the project poster Mabel was carrying, declarations of a nonsense game where they were in higher grades, were each other, had funny names. Mabel looked back to make sure I was still there every few minutes, though.

I don’t really want to stop walking her to school, though I do want her to walk herself home (with some friends) next year because that will make my life a little easier. I have to push her a little, bolster her confidence and give her the tools she needs without making her too scared to venture forth with my talk of what could go wrong – she comes up with the worst-case scenario all too easily by herself.

She can rise to the occasion perfectly well, and she will.

Two girls on the sidewalk

Not today’s picture, but t’will do.

Hospitality

The weather has taken a retrograde step. It was just perfect there for a little while: warm, sunny, not too hot, delightful for sitting on the bleachers hearing the “pock” of the baseball bat or taking your lunch outside and listening to the birds twittering their tiny hearts out on the bursting green branches. But now it’s chilly and grey and the forecast is for more drippy, dismal, not-very-warm days. I know I like it not hot, but I also wanted to show off our perfect weather to our Irish visitors, and it’s not optimal. Warmer than Ireland, a bit, but just as unsunny.

But I keep looking around to see how it might seem to new eyes. I always do this when we have visitors. I always want to give them the full immersive experience of Life In America, which is impossible in three days, especially when they’ve never been to DC before so we’re really honour-bound to trek into town and take a few photos outside the White House and with Lincoln and so on. Posing outside the White House is not really representative of our day-to-day lives here, but it would be remiss to omit it.

If you come to visit me I will hoover upstairs as well as downstairs. I will dust the windowsills and the picture frames. I will put out the good slightly better towels and make up the guest bed. I will plan delicious dinners and stock up on wine. I will spend long happy moments anticipating our conversations, in which I explain everything that we do and impress you with how many people I know. (I don’t know why being acquainted with people is impressive, but for some reason it’s what I always want to do.)

I will drive you around and try to make you understand the geography of the town, because orientation is important, and the socio-economic undercurrents and the architectural history, because it’s all part of understanding how it is to live here. None of this will make any impression because you have other interests, but I’ll enjoy telling you. I might not even get to tell you, because we’re friends, so we’ll probably have other things to talk about. But the general gist is going to be that I like it here. It’s a good place. I want you to go home and tell people that we live in a nice place, that we have a nice life, that we’re very lucky.

We are very lucky. I should know; I’m here every day.

But you might be horrified by my children’s exuberance. (They’re always particularly over-exuberant when we have a visitor, because they want to impress you with their prowess at throwing themselves around, at singing and dancing and talking to you and interrupting and having your pay all the attention to them.) You might be appalled by their lack of discipline and the fact that I feed them separately, in front of the TV more often than not, so that the grown-ups can have a civilized meal in peace. That, in short, they are terrible and the jury is out on whether they will become less terrible as a natural course of events or whether they need somewhat more input from the parentals.

If you bring children with you, of course, you’ll probably be experiencing the same thing in reverse, so hopefully we’ll all just pour a glass of wine,  boot the children outside, and relax. The house won’t stay clean, you’ll notice things I didn’t expect you to and breeze right by the picture frames and the socio-economic lectures, the weather will throw an oar into our sightseeing plans, and we’ll have to remain flexible and patient, but we know how to do that because we have children.

We’ve got this. Come and visit me.

 

 

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.

 

Autumnal moments

Every time the wind blows, a flurry of yellow leaves rain down twirlingly onto the lawn (I use the term loosely, and optimistically) and the deck outside my window. It’s very pretty. The autumn colours are spectacular just now. And here I am, inside, listening to 80s music and my children playing/fighting/play-fighting, because suggesting that they go Out Into Nature is clearly ridiculous.

Yellow leaves on the deck and the grass beyond

B ran a marathon this morning, and we didn’t make it into the city to support him even though it was a local one, because everyone was too shattered from the rest of our busy weekend, which included a 5k race wherein Dash won the Under-12s section and a lot of pumpkin carving and walking. (Pumpkin walking, if you didn’t know, is following a trail in the woods that’s lit only by jack o’ lanterns, with hot chocolate or hot cider at the end. It’s magical and romantic and enchanting, so long as you don’t trip over a log or have a terrified toddler with you. We did neither, and it was nice.)

Glowing pumpkins at dusk with a musical band playing in the background

So instead of hotfooting it into town at the crack of dawn (or a little after) and dragging unwilling childers onto the metro and around the nation’s capital to crane our necks and possibly mis-time the encounter with our one runner of choice, we slept in, got up slowly, collected our pumpkins from the woods, had an ice cream at the farmers’ market, and bought ingredients for lasagne. Dash made a chocolate cake – with a certain amount of supervision because when you’re dyslexic a 2 can look like an 8, apparently, and other such potential disasters – and it’s really all quite peaceful.

Red, orange, yellow and green leaves with the sunshine behind them