Category Archives: spring

Learning curve

I’ve been busy. I am busy. Busy is good, right? I have an editing job on at the moment, I’m trying not to lose the impetus I have with writing the third book of my trilogy, I’m promoting the first (in my own slow, awkward and ill-informed way), and on the cusp – the very CUSP, I tell you – of publishing book two. Also, it’s spring break for child #1 this week, which makes all that a bit harder to get to. Next week will be spring break for child #2, but she’s all set up with a camp that will essentially remove her from my orbit for exactly the same amount of time as if she were at school.

Why yes, it would be more convenient to have them both on break at the same time, but no, that is not my life this year. We also had a houseguest last weekend and the weather is right there changing from spring to summer (that is, what I think of spring weather – nice – to summer weather – too hot) outside my window. Time once again to regret my sandal choices and wonder what I wear when it’s too warm for jeans.

I have to tell you that baseball is much harder than it looks. Dash has had me out throwing and catching with him today and yesterday, after chivvying me to finish my work so we could do something fun (i.e., throwing and catching), and yesterday there was a lot of missing and dropping on my part; today not quite so much. But my hand stings because he’s got quite an arm on him and even under a too-big softball mitt, when I catch one straight to the heel of my hand it makes me wince. In general I throw the way you might say a girl throws if you weren’t a feminist who knew better than to say that. I also catch that way.

The cats’ current nickname is Squoodleperps. I address them both as Squoodleperps. They seem fine with that, so they probably like it, I think.


Last week I went to talk to the local homeschool co-op (yes, you can homeschool your kids and still have to be somewhere on a rainy Tuesday morning, which some might say defeats the purpose) about my book and being an author and things like that, she said self-deprecatingly. One thing I’m starting to get through my thick skull is that I have to stop with the self-deprecating stuff because as far as other people are concerned the fact that I self-published rather than having a publisher is of very little import, and while it might make me feel like a fakey mcfakerson because all I did was put a bunch of words together and whistle up some online magic and hey presto I have a book that I say is good and you should read but nobody of real worth has said that so why would you listen … sorry, where was I? I mean, even if I think that’s not the same, as far as most people are concerned I’ve written a book and here it is, it looks great, they’d like to buy it and read it and maybe they’ll love it. And maybe they will, I’ve heard from people who do. (I love those people.) And me being all cutesy shy and self-deprecating about it is just confusing, as far as they’re concerned, so I need to stop it. Slap me if you see me doing it.

Another thing I have to do is come up with an answer to “What’s it about?” that’s not “Well, it’s about a girl, who goes to school, and … stuff…” because that’s not going to make anyone think “Hey, that sounds like a book I’d like to read” or “I should buy that for my granddaughter because she’d really like it.” One pithy elevator pitch for potential readers, stat. Saying “Just read the back” is probably not what I’m meant to do.

And I need to work out answers to frequently asked questions like “Did you always want to be a writer?” and “Did you always write?” so that I’m not sitting there gazing into space all, “Well… yes… no… yes … sort of… I suppose I did.” I can come up with something better than that. I just have to write it down first. Because yes, I always have been a writer of some sort, somewhere, even just inside my head.

It was fun, though. I chose a passage to read aloud (which I probably read too fast; slow down, Maud), and I think they liked what I said. Luckily there were several parents on hand to ask questions, because the kids didn’t have a lot (they were a mixed-age bunch, which was a little tricky to keep engaged). I’d do it again. In fact, I e-mailed the local public school to see about doing just that, maybe.

So I’m learning a lot, is what I mean. It’s good.

Maud on a chair beside a table with books on it, with a colourful and institutional-looking wall as background.

Me, beside a table full of books I didn’t write, about to talk to the homeschoolers.

 

Order

Sometimes the point of the blogging is simply that it’s nice to have one thing in my life that is within my control. My blog has no ulterior motives, it won’t do things and refuse to tell me why, it will eat its vegetables when presented with them, and if I tidy it up, it damn well stays tidy.

Other times, the chaos takes over and I’ve no energy for extras, even if they’re the extras that make me feel better.

So much for my lofty (that is, minimal) spring break plans. In the event, Mabel had a short-lived bug and then I had one that lingered, so that today is really the first day I feel like I can tackle things normally again, and the whole week is over. We got through it with a few playdates and a lot of television and minecraft time, and it’s just as well I didn’t really have anything pressing on my list of Things We Could Do, which were mostly just Things To Pass The Time Somewhat Usefully rather than Things That Had To Be Done. The kids got a break from schoolwork and homework, and we got a break from the school run and packing lunches, and the trees are in bloom and everything’s fine.

You can tell I feel better because my world-view has righted itself again. Yesterday that paragraph might have been a lot gloomier.

I think I can impose enough fake order on my life again to write things down about it now. Maybe a list of the blog posts I could write but won’t would be the best way to bring things swiftly up to date:

How to Host a Harry Potter Birthday Party for a Ten-Year-Old Extrovert Who Insists on Inviting Everyone He’s Ever Known. (Contents to make themselves known after the fact, in a few weeks’ time.)

How to Lose Those Pesky Five Pounds Before Summer (MyFitnessPal is helpful or you could just catch a virus, so long as you weren’t wanting to use energy for anything, ever)

Casual Misogyny, Classism, and Racism in the Works of Neville Shute; But I Still Like The Stories

Packing For Dublin in April (Layers. It’s always layers. Maybe a wetsuit.)

That Time I Was Briefly And Expensively Paranoid And Now I’m Getting New Glasses

Dressing For A Black-Tie Wedding in Twenty-Four Simple Steps of Buying And Returning Dresses, Shoes, And Support Garments

Being Sick Is Crap And It’s Much Nicer When You’re Better

Baseball: a tiny love letter

Baseball is a funny game. It’s all hanging around, waiting waiting, and then suddenly there’s this burst of frantic action and it’s all to play for and your heart is pounding as you wait to see if it will all go so right or so wrong.

And that’s just for me, sitting on the bleachers, watching my kid.

Yesterday’s game was almost like being on a date with my husband. I brought cold spicy noodles and we had a picnic, because games are always at dinnertime and while you can buy burgers and hot dogs and even chicken breasts and nachos, I really don’t want to make a habit of that. Mabel was playing happily on the playground with the assorted other siblings and unwanted children of the baseball crowd (I mean that in the nicest possible way), and we were actually able to sit beside each other and watch the game and pass snarky remarks about the other people in the fading sunlight and it was all very pleasant.

And then Dash was up to bat, and he swung at the ball and connected, and dropped the bat and ran to first base and it was all on. A couple of batters later, there he was on third. As he made it to home before the ball got him, I woo-hoo-d and yelled at the top of my lungs (causing B to look at me in mock horror and declaim that he hardly knew who I was any more).

I’m under no illusions as to the volume of my voice – which I have in recent years learned doesn’t travel nearly as far as I think it does, no matter how loud it sounds in my head – but I’d say it carried at least three feet. The people as far away as two rows in front probably even heard me. Not so much the players on the field, but there were three other large dads with deep booming voices who were taking up the slack on that account.

That was the high point of the game. He nearly did it again later but the batter was caught out and it was the third strike and so they all had to change over and Dash’s dash was for naught. It toys with the heart, this baseball, picks you up and drops you like a ragdoll just when you think it will all work out.

Still. As dates go, we take what we can get. The noodles, and the company, were good.

A game of machine pitch baseball

Old photo; wrong field. This year’s location is less photogenic.

 

16 to nothing

Dash at bat

All those reds look a bit threatening

Dash’s baseball team lost 16 to nothing in their first game yesterday. It was, I suppose you could say, a rout. He didn’t seem terribly put out, though. The commentator had said “nice swing” for one of Dash’s three fruitless swings at the ball, and Coach said the other team’s pitcher was unusually good. Mabel and I spent the afternoon moving from the sunny side of the field (too hot) to the shady side (too cold), chatting to acquaintances (me), making new friends (her), and respectively bugging and being bugged for things to eat. It was pretty nice, really.

The “shack” at the baseball field was open selling chips and candy and ice pops and also burgers and hot dogs, so it was a good opportunity for me to give her a dollar and say she could ask for a thing and remember to bring me back the change. Since it was being staffed mostly by 3rd and 4th graders (and also sometimes their parents) Mabel wasn’t shy, and I think she finished the afternoon feeling pretty good about herself.

I’m sorry if it’s all baseball here for a while, but (a) it’s a novelty, right? and (b) it’s going to take over our lives for a few weeks. Just go with it. I’ve decided that what we need for these busy evenings are to have those hearty main-course salads in the fridge that you can eat cold (or heated a bit) whenever you need them, so that when I have to get Dash from poetry club at 5 and have him at baseball at 5:30 and then bring Mabel to T-ball and stay there with her until 7 and then go back and get Dash at 7:30, there’s something quick and easy to guzzle in the five minutes we have to turn around at home.

You know, this all sounds lovely and idyllic and domestic goddess-y. And maybe it was and will be, in retrospect, like much of parenting. It was also annoying, what with the constant being bugged, and concerning – do we need sunscreen? Will he be very disappointed? And where is my hat? – and since B was off at a conference there was an element of single-parenting put-upon-ness to it all as well. And the rest is all hellishly overscheduled and hopelessly optimistic and doomed to failure and dinners of breakfast cereal and ice-cream.

But if I tell you about the downsides instead, to show you how real and authentic I am, am I not just being a whiny bint, with my first-world problems? Who wants to read someone else’s list of complaints? How do I craft it into a story that’s beautiful and true and tugs at the heartstrings and strikes chords with the reader without betraying all the other people whose emotions and actions my descriptions might be trampling all over? How do I turn it into a parenting epiphany or a moment of self-discovery or a brave exposure of my darkest shortcomings or some other thing that blog posts are supposed to be all about? What will make you want to read it?

—-

The Blog Awards Ireland aren’t happening this year, so the Irish Parenting Bloggers decided to fill the gaping hole in everyone’s social calendar with some awards of our own. I can’t go to the event, of course, being on the wrong side of an ocean, but everyone in the group is reading and voting and writing and voting some more, and of course it makes you extra self-conscious about what it is that you are flinging up against the cyber wall of your bloggy home to see what sticks. Is it entertaining? Is it niche? Is it too niche? Is it the wrong niche? Is it well-written and funny and homespun and beautiful and inspiring and also perhaps of special interest?

Time, and the shortlists, will tell, I suppose.

Mabel in a baseball cap pointing at the field

Mabel would like you to know where the baseball is happening

 

A new image

Spring means the gentle thunk of a bat hitting a ball, because baseball season has started. This year Dash has moved up to the Major League of Little League, where the kids pitch as well as hit (last year he was in “machine pitch” so you don’t have to rely on small kids to throw a ball the right way) and now I’ve gone and upped my own ante by signing Mabel up for T-ball too.

I had no intention of doing that, because I thought she had no interest in it. But when we took Dash to his first practice last week, on the first day of warmer weather, she asked me if she could run the bases while the big kids were busy with warm-up throws and catches. I watched her race around the diamond, and pause on one base to give a swing of an imaginary bat, and I realised I should at least make the offer. She’s been feeling very “second child” lately, and complaining that nobody cares about her and that she’s not important at all.

“Mabel, would you like to do T-ball?” I asked, when she got back to me, sitting on the bleachers in the late afternoon sunshine. I expected her to say no.
“Yes.”
So I sucked it up, found out when and where the T-ball practices are, and decided that we can do it, though Thursdays will be hectic for a while. It’s not that my kids are overscheduled; it’s just that everything happens at once: between them, for a while, they’ll have four different activities on Thursdays, not counting school. But the main thing is that she’ll get a team t-shirt for games and a trophy at the end, and she’ll feel very important.

Dash has three practices a week, plus games, which is a ridiculous amount, but at least it’s a short season. It’ll all be over by the end of June. T-ball is baseball for the youngest kids, where they don’t have to hit a moving ball at all but instead hit a ball that’s sitting on a tee – like a giant golf tee, if you like. It’s a lot more relaxed, only twice a week including games. (I am not sure how many games the T-ball league does. I imagine they’re all a bit, well, vague.)

Mabel with helmet and bat

Batter up

Postscript:
It turns out that T-ball is unimaginably cute. I don’t usually think of Mabel as small and cute much any more, but with all these other teeny 5 and 6 year olds (she’s on the old end), all swinging and missing and failing to catch the ball and scuffling over the same ball and daydreaming when they should be paying attention – well, it’s most entertaining. Dash came with me and was vociferous in his disgust at their terrible technique.

Mabel swinging the bat

This is the tee of T-ball

And she got her team t-shirt and cap already. She is busy re-honing her self-image into Mabel, ace T-ball player.

Mabel posing in Mets t-shirt and cap

(Invisible catcher’s mitt)

Spring Break Vignettes

Dash was commenting recently on how even though his parents are both less than ten years away from halfway to a hundred – thanks, Dash, that’s lovely – he doesn’t think of us as being old. “Gee, thanks,” we said, but Mabel came and snuggled on my knee and kissed me and said, “Don’t worry, Mummy, you’re very … happy and … nice.” She had to search for the right words, there, I know she did. But she really tried. Beautiful and young would have done too, but never mind, it’s probably a good thing.

Lake view through the trees

Bucolic

Mabel did admit one day recently that she had lied, once, in school. “How did that happen?” I asked, curious to see how this would play out.
“Well, Mr. G__ asked us if we liked his new glasses.”
That seems exceptionally reasonable, and I told her as much.

Hot cross buns

Easter baking. They look … artisanal, right?

We all went to the supermarket this morning, it being spring break and us being totally out of milk and cereal and bread and basically everything anyone eats. As we left, Mabel was cradling the pineapple we’d bought and singing a little song to it. Because that’s how she rolls.

Mabel with a book in the car.

This is not a pineapple.

We went down to the playground yesterday and called on our friends who live across the road from it. They came out to play and an epic game of Harry Potter began. Mostly I read my book and sat on the bench that – purposely, I’m sure – faces directly away from all the playground equipment, so you can’t be tempted to try to save anyone, but I did at one point hear Dash announce, “I’ll be Hedwig and Buckbeak.” Which seemed ambitious.

IMG_0638

Cherry blossoms. Finally. And it’s suddenly sunscreen weather, and shorts and t-shirts weather, and sandals weather and painting toenails weather. It won’t stay this way, this is just our little teaser to remind us to go through the summer wardrobes and discover that everyone’s grown out of everything. Again. But the blossoms are glorious.

IMG_0643

 

 

Atheist children and deep thoughts about George Michael

I have to admit it’s nice to live in a secular country where I can get stuff done on Good Friday instead of hiding out being bugged by the children (or going to an interminable stations of the cross service, which we would obviously never dream of doing with the children even if we were still church-going Catholics). Today we went to the thrift store, went out to lunch (what I saved on baseball pants I spent on a high-class fish burger), popped into the library, and finally got some vitals at the supermarket, including a bottle of red for dinner. Catch anyone doing that on Good Friday in Ireland.

The children are on spring break, as of yesterday afternoon. That’s why all this productivity is notable, because they were with me. These days, when I’m so hedonistically child-free for six hours daily from Monday to Friday, I can usually do most of those things without either of them cramping my style. Though I suppose lunch wouldn’t have been so much fun without my two french-fry munchers, who were very good while I insisted on telling them why fish was traditional for this particular day of the year.

It’s so funny raising atheists. I mean, “sin” was a new word to them very recently, that needed to be explained, all theoretically, of course. I love that, I can’t lie. (That would be a sin, after all.) How will they do without all that vital Catholic guilt weighing them down? It’s going to be interesting to find out.

I had this epiphany about George Michael’s lyrics on our way home from New York as we delved our iPod’s back catalogue for some good 80s/90s road-trip music. There was George writing all these songs and making videos with beautiful women in them, and there we all were, us girls, imagining that George wanted to be our lover – and all the time he was probably having a great time thinking what eejits we were because every single song was about gay relationships. Of course. Which are just the same as straight ones in so many ways. Very subversive. Anarchic, practically.

Happy Easter. I changed my header for you – more seasonal, don’t you think?

PInk fuzzy blossoms

More of the same

 

For The Birds

The sun came out and the snow melted and the hour went on, and suddenly children were playing together after school and I was chatting with my neighbours and we all remembered that this is what it’s like, life, when we emerge from our carapace of winter and interact with each other again like human beings.

Carapace is a good word. Everyone should use it.

Onwards. I have a story for you.

Mabel is currently in a phase. This particular phase is quite annoying. (I believe all phases are annoying. The ones that aren’t, we call maturity and/or good parenting, and are delighted about; until they disappear, and then we call the disappearance a phase.) She won’t go to the bathroom alone, she screams blue murder if you try to leave while she’s in there, and she won’t stay upstairs or downstairs alone either. She blames her father. (So do I. Why wouldn’t I? Her genes are 50% his, so it’s a good bet.) Specifically, she blames him for encouraging her to watch North By Northwest with him a few weeks ago. She seemed to like it at the time, but apparently some scenes were a little too tension-filled for her liking, and suddenly she’s scared of people bursting through walls while she poos, or something.

I suspect that if she hadn’t happened to watch North By Northwest there’d be something else she’d be pinning this new fear on. I think it’s just something that has come over her and it’ll go away in a few weeks. But that’s no comfort at 4am when she’s just noticed that I’m not in her bed any more and she can’t go back to sleep without me. (Did I mention that part? The part where she won’t sleep without me either. She won’t sleep without me, or at least not as soon as she rolls over and finds me missing.)

However! Silver lining! Today there they were watching Word Girl in their post-school veg-out TV time (and it’s educational! PBS for the win!) when suddenly I heard her laugh and exclaim, “It’s just like Daddy’s film. They’re climbing up Mount Rushmore!”

So obviously, having a pint-size movie critic who can already recognize an homage (say it in French: ohm-ahj, like the Americans do) to Hitchcock at 6 years of age is clearly worth all that time spent standing as directed in the corner of the bathroom beside the vent while she pees. I’ll just send the husband in next time, since it’s all his fault.

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

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