Category Archives: opinions

Bregretsit

I have a friend who lives in London. He’s originally Irish, and he’s married to a lovely German woman. They just had their second child, they bought a house, he has a great job. Things are finally looking up, getting on track.
They might have to move to Germany now, because his wife may not legally be able to stay in England.

I have a friend who lives in Wales. She’s originally American but just got her UK citizenship. She’s married to a New Zealander academic and they have two children who are attending the local Welsh-speaking school. She loves Cardiff, their friends there, the walkable city, being European, and her new job at an architectural firm. She just qualified as an architect last year, having totally switched careers after starting a family and moving across the world.
She and her husband might have to move internationally yet again, because though they can both legally stay in the UK, the probably inevitable recession may well sound the death knell on both their jobs. This is not the UK she just jumped through all those hoops to become part of. Her local Polish shop just put up a sign saying they’re closing.

I have a friend who lives in Northern Ireland. She fears the return of border patrols, a future that harks back to the past her country has come so far from and tried so hard to move on from, when a drive down the road meant bringing your passport and being looked over by the army. She fears, as do many Irish, a return to sectarian violence where peace is so fragile, so recent, and so prized.

I have a friend who lives in Scotland. Seventy-five percent of her city voted to remain in the EU, but now they’re out. She works as a doctor for the NHS. The Leave campaign told the people of the UK that if they left the EU there would be 350 million pounds a week to spend on healthcare, but now they’re saying that’s not really the case.

I have a friend who lives in Dublin. (I have a lot of friends who live in Dublin, but she’s one of them.) Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, which is not part of the UK and is a member of the EU. The Irish economy, however, can’t fail to be badly affected by this decision. She worries for the business she just started last year, because it probably won’t survive a recession.

These are the people in my social media bubble. Because of the friends I have, the friends they have, the newspapers I choose to read, the TV stations and radio stations I listen to or don’t, these people’s opinions are the ones I see and hear. They are real people whose lives are being directly affected in scary and very concrete ways by a decision that was made by others, who often don’t seem to have understood what they were doing.

Yesterday I got tired of commenting on the Facebook pages of so many friends who were sad, devastated, worried, disbelieving, scared, and angry. So I just changed my profile photo and left it at that.

Captain Picard despairs of you

Sigh.

I’m talking about religion, so if you’re easily offended, look away now

In Ireland today there were jubilations and probably quite a few sore heads from last night’s party. Same-sex marriage was voted in by 62% of the people, with a massive turnout of 60%, voters coming home from the UK and even further afield to make their voices heard and drag Ireland into the twenty-first century as a country where gay people are just like other people – entitled to love and announce their love in public.

In Ireland today there were also Confirmations and First Holy Communions – lots of families celebrating traditional rites of passage for their children with parties and lunches and dinners and posh frocks. In the 2011 census, 84.2% of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholic, so I’m talking about a lot of people, not one or two.

Statue of Mary above Irish road signs

Not my photo (click for source)

This means, unsurprisingly, that many people who are bringing their children up in the Catholic faith also voted for gay marriage. A lot of them probably didn’t even think twice about their Yes vote: it was a no-brainer. That might be a bit hard for the rest of the world, and especially others of the Catholic faith, to understand, though.

When I came to the US I was still a card-carrying, Mass-going Catholic. But I discovered that the Church in America was different from the Church in Ireland. I didn’t like it so much. It wasn’t so tolerant. It seemed to think its members should keep all its rules, not just the ones they liked the sound of. It didn’t just let you brush under the carpet the things you disagreed with. It implied, in fact, that if you didn’t want to do Catholicism the way it was intended, the way the Pope said, then you were welcome to go off and be something else instead. A Lutheran, a Methodist, an Anglican, a Unitarian, even. The Unitarians take everyone, even atheists.

So I stopped going to Mass, because things like the plaque outside the church saying we should pray for babies who died from abortions offended my sensibilities. I didn’t agree with everything – I never had; but in Ireland that didn’t really matter, they were always happy to have you. In Ireland my churchgoing was motivated by the comfort of ritual and tradition, but I wasn’t going to show up every Sunday just to be made feel guilty or to be pissed off by all the things I disagreed with that the US Catholic Church seemed determined to throw in my face.

Some time after that I sort of became an atheist, so maybe it had been coming all along.

My point is that the Irish in Ireland for the most part see no contradiction, no difficulty with the fact that on Friday they voted to let gay people get married – in civil ceremonies of course, not in the church – and on Saturday they went to Mass and watched their kids receive a sacrament, helping them make promises to honour the laws of the Church. Even though the Catholic Church officially views homosexuality as disordered and gay sex as contrary to the natural law. It cannot possibly condone gay marriage.

I don’t think the Church in Ireland is in crisis, exactly. The number of people who continue to identify as Catholic shows that. But what they mean is not, perhaps, what the Church might think they mean. They’re cultural Catholics, the way many Jewish people are non-orthodox. (If this is a terrible, awful, insulting, heretical parallel to draw, I apologise. I don’t mean it that way.)

In Ireland, something can be two things at once. It’s one of the beauties of the place. You can have two opposing viewpoints and vehemently believe in both of them. You can be a devout Catholic and also support – no, more than that, be thrilled to tears for – the cause of same-sex marriage. It’s okay.

YES - Thank you

 

As always when I write about religion, this is just my opinion. I have no intention of disrespecting anyone’s beliefs.

Photo credit: Thesis statues via photopin (license)

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.

https://www.yesequality.ie/

https://www.yesequality.ie/

One more thing for when I run the world

I’m just sitting here watching the little running-man figure that represents my husband on the handy live-tracking feature cruise his way to 40k and beyond in the Boston Marathon. Because he is All That And A Bag of Chips, so he is.

You might think if I really loved and supported him we’d all be there waving banners and shouting ourselves hoarse, but we’ve done that before and to be honest, big marathons aren’t great to support at because there are so many people you might easily miss the one you came for and then you’ve dragged two children all over a strange city for not much and everyone’s grumpy and too hot/wet/cold/hungry. I blogged about it before, if you want to know how it goes.

But I’m here to complain about something else. If you’re American (and you haven’t read my rant about Harry Potter), it might come as news to you that books published in the US that were originally written and published in the UK or Ireland or pretty much any other English-speaking country are always re-edited for US publication. That’s why you pretty much never see “colour” or “realise” or “jewellery” or “pyjamas” in print, and might not even know for a long time that they’re legitimate spellings in other parts of the world. But it’s worse than that: they don’t just change the spellings. They change the words too. They “fix” the words so that the American audience isn’t confused by trousers or footpaths or bin men or woolly jumpers.

They might even want to change “all that and a bag of chips” up there to a bag of french fries. I don’t know if they’d bother to ask me about it.

I’ve always been aware that there was such a thing as a US edition, because I was the sort of child who would read every word, including the boilerplate text on the second page where they tell you where and when it was published and which imprint it is and sometimes even what font was used. I noticed that all my books contained a copyright notice that began “Except in the United States of America…” and some blatantly stated “This edition not for sale in the United States of America.” If you’d never seen that, you wouldn’t even know there were separate editions at all – and US books do not have a similar line implying that they’re not for UK (etc.) audiences.

But I do think they’ve stepped it up recently, as some of my friends have suggested when I get annoyed on Facebook about changes made to books that just sound ridiculous. I’m reading a Marian Keyes (Last Chance Saloon – I already own it in Dublin) that I picked up at the thrift store. It’s not my only US edition Marian Keyes, because my collection is large and garnered from both Here and There, but this one has had some really painfully out-of-place changes made to it. The characters are Irish, living in London. In the first couple of chapters I’ve already come across references to the “garbage collector”, the “closet” and “liquor store”: none of these ring true, to say the least. Even if it’s the narrator’s voice rather than a direct statement, the characters would not be thinking about anything in these terms and the result for this reader is about as distracting as the CLANG of a dropped anvil.

If you’re wondering, a garbage collector is a bin man, a closet is a cupboard or a press, and a liquor store is an off-licence. It’s true that the average American might not immediately understand those terms, but then they have two options: they can ignore it and just keep reading, or they can go and find out. With the entire Internet at most readers’ disposal, that’s not much of a demand. And if publishers didn’t keep pandering to the US readers by making these changes, they might already have encountered them in other books.

Last night in bed I found the most egregious thing to date: there’s a crude joke (look away now if easily offended) about someone being nicknamed Flora because “she spreads easily”. (Flora is a brand of margarine.) Now, I know that’s what it must have said originally, but the copy I’m reading had “she opens easily”. Maybe the person who made these changes didn’t know what it meant; maybe they did but they thought that making it look like a flower reference would be a clever way to keep the joke but make it accessible with minimal changes to the wording; I don’t care. It’s wrong! It’s a liberty too far.

When I am in charge of the world, such books will have minimal changes made and a glossary or footnotes added to explain unfamiliar terms, if deemed necessary, without distracting the reader or changing the author’s voice. That’s all.

(He finished the marathon, by the way. Way to go, B the B.)

Unsmart: Not an early adopter, not yet a luddite

I don’t have a smartphone.

At least, technically I do, but I don’t use it smartly. I have a little Samsung that has smartphone capability but I don’t have a data plan so unless I’m at home or somewhere with free wireless, it’s not smart. And even then, I don’t bother. I tried to set up Facebook and Twitter when I got it, but on the rare occassion that I try away from home, they don’t seem to work .

When we were on vacation last week, others were amazed that neither of us have iPhones. As far as they’re concerned, an iPhone is a constant requirement, much like food or oxygen. How could you survive without one, we were asked? But we’re both usually within spitting distance of a laptop, so why would we court arthritic thumbs just for the joy of doing it all on a smaller screen for a hefty monthly fee?

However. There comes a point when you’re actually falling behind on the technology curve. What starts out as a somewhat smug and superior, money-saving “I don’t need that fancy newfangled thing” can turn into a much less desirable “The idea is actually a little scary now, because everyone knows how to use it and I don’t.”

But I’ve felt like this before. I felt like this when I was 20 and some of my friends at college were playing around on the tiny Apple Macs on the third floor of the library and I had no idea what they were doing. I felt this way in about 1995 when I didn’t yet have a mobile phone but most people did. Both times, I got with the program a little while later. I’m just not an early adopter: that’s okay.

I don’t see myself getting an iPhone any time soon, simply because I hardly ever use my phone even as a phone. It sits in my bag and runs out of batteries for a couple of days before I’ve noticed. Unless I start spending a lot more time out of the house, I’m more likely to get an iPad first, probably; but the technology’s much the same, so that would work out equal, right? And even at that, just now the idea of an iPad mostly makes me think of an annoying keyboard and another thing for the kids to demand to play games on more than anything I’d regularly want to use myself.

Finally, I spend a lot of my day online. If leaving the house provides me with my offline time, I’m wary of getting an appliance that takes that away. Then I’d have to practice some sort of self-control, and that’s just not my bag, baby.

How about you? Could you live without your iPhone? Do you think someone who doesn’t have one by now is beyond all hope for survival in the modern world?

 

 

The trouble with writing parenting articles

The thing about writing serious parenting posts is that nobody really wants to read them. You might happen to catch someone just there at the point where they’re either pregnant and reading everything they can get their hands on, or going through exactly that problem and wanting to learn about it. But mostly people just want to read things that support what they’re already doing. Nobody wants to read an article slapping them on the wrist about the way they’re parenting badly. They’ll just click away. They want to be validated. They want to be told that the kid is like this because they’re a kid, that’s all. And that they’re doing the right thing. And possibly that they should trust their instincts, because that’s the same as saying “You were right all along.”

I know this is true because it’s how I approach articles. I read them if they appear, by the headline, to be confirming what I already believe. If they fall into the category of “other”, I might skim them in order to see if I can ridicule them, but I’m more likely to just ignore. I don’t want you to tell me all the things I’m doing wrong. I probably know about them already anyway, and I don’t surf the internet because I’m not feeling guilty enough already.

In fact, the longer I go on reading parenting articles the more likely I am not to bother reading any new ones at all, because I know what they’re going to say. Even if I write them myself (my favourite kind, of course, because I agree with every word), it’s all getting pretty boring and samey at this stage of the game. So unless you have genuinely come up with a new angle that I haven’t thought of yet – and can convey that to me before I decide not to bother reading your piece – I’m probably not going to bother.

If you’re funny, mind you, I might stick around. If you have nice pictures, you might reel me in. If you make pop culture references that I understand but are just niche enough for me to know not everyone will, you will make me feel smart, and I will listen more closely to what you have to say, because you think I’m smart.

So I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind with anything I write. My bubble of Internet is one big circle of self-validating parents, high-fiving each other for our good choices and making in-jokes about Republicans/Gina Ford/people who don’t watch Doctor Who.

Converting others, then, is a lost cause. We may as well all just flex our tolerance muscles and stick to entertaining each other as best we can.

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.

The homework debate

My second-grader is doing his homework. It’s quick and easy and it doesn’t take long. But I started reminding (/asking/exhorting) him to do it when he got home from school at 3.45. He finally began at 7.20pm, after some outside playtime, some TV time, dinner, dessert, some more outside time, and a glass of milk. I’ve come to accept that this is how it is with him, and for now it’s working. He knows that ultimately he is responsible for his homework being done. I worry about how things will go next year, when they say the homework load really ramps up, and when if he starts at 7.30 he won’t finish till long past bedtime. I suppose he’ll live and learn. He’s not one to stress over his homework; I’m lucky that he’s a relaxed kid who loves school for its social aspects and has not yet been turned off learning for its own sake.

People used to think that we should show children it’s a tough world from the outset. Some people still feel that way, on one matter or another. You shouldn’t pick up your crying baby. You shouldn’t tolerate tantrums. You shouldn’t let that five-year-old sleep with the light on. They need to learn that life’s hard, and people are mean, and they need to buckle down and do their work; and the sooner they figure that out the better.

I think we should be kind to our babies and love them while we can, because life is short – and childhood shorter – even more than it’s hard; and because they will find out the rest soon enough.

And so I’m thinking about homework again. I’m not saying that people who expect children to do homework are cruel, Dickensian types, or that making a kindergardener come home from six hours of school and asking them to sit down and do homework is like forcing a three-month-old baby to cry it out – but then again, maybe one day in the future it will be seen that way.

I’m not big on research. I like to read the headlines and let other people do the heavy lifting. But I can tell you a few things I’ve seen recently that have stuck in my mind:

Homeschooling is a wonderful option for many people, but I am not one of those people. I like our local public school and I want to be part of it. My son loves school. I enjoy sending him to school every day and picking him up at the end of it. I don’t enjoy bugging him to do his homework for an hour or more every day while he strings me along with promises of “Yes, yes, after this,” and finally sits down to do it right when it’s dinnertime, or maybe bedtime.

I really don’t like the conversations I’ve had with other parents who have more intense children who burst into tears crying “I just want to play” when it’s time for homework, or whose studious third- or fourth-graders won’t hear of stopping after 45 minutes even when their mom says they’ll write a note because that’s long enough.

And on the whole, I know that my household has it easy right now. So far, the amount of homework he has had has been very reasonable, his teachers have been undemanding, and he’s not the type to stress over schoolwork. Once he finally sits down to do it, it goes pretty quickly these nights. Additionally, our school has said that roughly ten minutes per grade is as much work as they should be doing – 25 minutes for my second-grader, then; under an hour for a fifth-grader. (Does that mean zero minutes for a kindergardener?)

Children are not miniature adults. They are not just university students in training. Their minds and bodies are still developing and they have more learning to do than can be taught in school. Childhood is not the time for them to learn how to buckle down and work for a further two hours (or even 45 minutes) when every fibre of their being tells them they should be running and jumping and climbing trees and playing soccer and organizing skipping games with the other kids on the street and finding out what it is they love to do. They’ve spent six hours clamping down on their wild sides – or having them clamped down for them – when they get home it’s time to do the other thing.

I want there to be no homework. Not just less, but none, for the sake of our quality of life four nights a week, and my children’s childhoods. And I’m almost fired up enough to do something about it.

Slippery slope (A grammar rant)

You know what annoys me?

Well, okay, plenty of things. The sun is too sunny, mosquitoes bite, I have no cookies in the house and yet can’t bring myself to make any because then I’ll eat them all; but no, something else.

The plural of euro, that’s what.

I know, I just lost most of you. Never mind. Come back tomorow, I’ll talk about kids or something.

The euro is the currency of many countries of Europe, and has been for several years now. It was introduced in Ireland only a few months before I left the country, which is why I still have to hunt and peck in my purse to find the right coins whenever we’re back there. At the time I was fully and gainfully employed as an editor – in a whole department of editors, no less – so the issue of how to properly refer to the new currency was discussed in a professional capacity, as it were.

We looked into it. It was discovered and agreed upon that the official word was that the plural of euro (in English) was to be “euros.” Sensible and obvious, since to make a plural in English we pretty much always do just add an s, especially when the singular ends in a vowel.* 

So why is it that, since that time, the entire country of Ireland decided, en masse and seemingly of its own volition, with no editiorial consultation, that if you had ten of these new units of currency, you would not have ten euros? No, no, of course you wouldn’t. You would have ten euro.**

I’ve tried to be good. Lord knows, I’ve done my damndest to hold the line, even from this distance. I talk about euros whenever I can, even in Ireland. All it has done is to make me sound like one of those crazies who insists on saying “fort” instead of “fortay” because it’s a French word, not an Italian one. (This may be another argument for another day.)

Apparently, much as has recently – heinously – happened with the definition of literally – about which I am figuratively hopping mad – common usage has triumphed and what was wrong has become acknowledged as right just because it’s what most people do.

I hate that. Talk about a slippery slope. One minute it’s euros, the next minute people will be advertising banana’s and apple’s and how its over their in the lady’s department and nobody will know where they stand and they’ll have to abolish the apostrophe all together, as well as common decency and saying thank you and not farting audibly in public.

*Collins still says this:
euro. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/euro

** Dictionary.com is a flipping flip-flopper that refuses to have an opinion, so it says that the plural is either euro or euros.

Too old

Lately, I’ve found myself saying to people that I’m too old for that.

It’s a good thing.

I’m not telling them I’m too old to dye my hair pink (should I so desire) or bungee jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge (sure!) or wear a short skirt or exercise or eat dessert or read teen fiction or have lilac toenails. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I’m too old to spend time worrying about what other people think, because I trust my own judgement.

I’m too old to care about what other people are wearing, because I’ll wear what I feel good in.

I’m too old to bother with fake tan, because I’m finally learning to love my fair skin.

I’m too old to worry about what the bitchy girls are saying.

I’m too old to even take the time to figure out who the bitchy girls are.

You don’t have to wait till you reach the illustrious age of 40 to embrace this liberating mantra. You can be too old for all that at 20, or 30, or even 16, if you’re really ahead of the game. But I have to say it seems to come more easily as the years go on.