Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reasons why I took a shower at 4pm today

I got into the car at 5:20pm with my hair still wet, to go to a parent association meeting at Dash’s school. Everyone will think I’ve come from the gym, I thought to myself, amused by the irony, because why else would someone shower in the middle of the afternoon?

I imagined the conversation going something like this:

– Were you at the gym?

– No, I just showered now because at 7am I had to wake my third-grader with a cat and make waffles and at 8am a guy appeared on the doorstep to vaccuum all the heating vents and at 9am I was jubilantly booting the third grader in the door to school and then having a conversation with a mom-friend about our impossible children and at 10am I was back at home wondering if the vents guy had accidentally let out one or both cats and trying to write through the din of sucking how many years of dust through the tubes behind the walls and at 11am I was on the phone to the hospital in Ireland hearing about my dad’s brand new broken leg and at 12pm I was paying the vents guy an inordinate amount of money and locating in the basement the traumatized cats and at 1pm I was talking to the estate agent in Dublin about house showings and at 2pm I was printing out forms from the solicitor that I’d already signed and sent back but that appear to have gone astray in Hurricane Ophelia to send by registered post all over again and going to the supermarket for more juice boxes and at 3pm I was in the car driving to school to pick up the sixth grader and at 4pm I was finally able to take a shower so that at 5pm I could make myself a sandwich before welcoming my husband home and leaving the house again to drive to the ten-miles-away school for the second time today for this 6pm meeting.

I might have just told them I was at the gym after all, to save us all that, in spite of the ridiculous lie that would have been. But nobody asked, because everyone else’s day was probably just as busy as mine and quite possibly more so, because that’s how life is.

At 8pm I got to write a blog post with a gin & tonic and a bottomless bowl of pita chips while spinning the Twister arrow and laughing at the rest of my family contorting themselves as they sang along to the Buffy musical episode soundtrack.

They’re not so bad, maybe.

Express summer update

It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I keep starting posts and then something in our ever shifting summer dynamic shifts again and I can’t finish them.

So herewith, some bullet points, with photos of times we went outside:

  • I have a new phone, so that small children will no longer remark on how tiny my phone is. It was getting embarassing. My new phone is still an old phone, (Samsung 6s) but it has a good camera and it’s a lot smarter than my old one. There will be Instagram. (But not Snapchat because who do you think I am.)

    Girl on bike, boy on scooter, on path between grass under trees

    A trip to the park! On wheels!

  • What you know by the time you turn 44 is that if you want a nice birthday you are responsible, at least somewhat, for making it nice yourself. So I bribed the children and took them to the beach, which was slightly easier than it had been the week before, so I think they actually like it. I told the husband what I really wanted (the new phone), so I got it. I booked the babysitter for tonight so we can go out to dinner.

    Boy and girl on swings in playground

    A protracted discussion on the swings

  • The summer break began with nothing but screens and fighting, but we are all shaking down into a routine of sorts, where the children are constantly watching something and demanding food, and I spend a while working, a while trying to persuade one or both of them to leave the house with me, and a while wondering why I’m doing all this laundry.

    Boy with giant homemade bow and arrow.

    For about two days Dash was obsessed with making bows and arrows.

  • So far, Mabel is learning Spanish on Duolingo, I’m brushing up on my Italian, we’ve started rewatching the Great British Bakeoff, and Dash has discovered that he does like Minecraft when it’s in survival mode and you can blow things up with lots of TNT. We’ve also moved all the furniture around in Mabel’s bedroom and baked a few things.

    Boy and girl wading at the beach

    Cooperation at the beach

  • The pace is slower, and we’re learning not to freak out about it. We’ve gone to two different beaches. We’ve gone to the pool, but not a lot. We’ve baked fancy biscuits. Some of us have done some reading. Next week Mabel starts camp and everything changes again. We’ll work it out.

    Sandwich biscuits on a blue plate

    Viennese Whirls (not quite up to Mary Berry’s standards but they tasted excellent)

  • The cats continue to cat. They’re very good at it. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something since my last birthday, because now we have cats.

    One cat.

    Exhibit A. Or B.

The perils of cauliflower, generous neighbours, and giving your children what they want

There’s a cauliflower in my fridge and it’s laughing at me. That’s what cauliflowers do. They simper in the supermarket, saying “Buy me, I’m healthy. You can make all sorts of nice things with me.” And then I bring it home and it sits in my fridge for two weeks laughing at me because I never really want to make any of those nice things. Not enough to actually do it.

My husband says this never happens to him. He’s cauliflower-resistant. I need to be more like him.

I do have several delicious recipes for cauliflower – this one, and this one, or this one if I had some chicken – but tonight, when I was finally determined to quash that vegetable once and for all, I went and sabotaged myself by making a dessert first, which then turned out to be taking up the oven for the entire time until dinner, at the wrong temperature for any roasting of any cauliflower. Also, I was tired of cooking because the dessert was more fiddly than I remembered.

It’s even a purple cauliflower, because I’m just that fancy. And it’s still there, in the fridge, laughing at me and living to see another day.

We are also suffering from a surfeit of fruit at the moment. I know this shouldn’t be a bad thing, but there you have it, I’m a bad person. We have blueberries because a friend bought a giant container of them at Costco and then gave me some because her family wouldn’t eat them all. (As if I thought my family would be any different.)

We had rhubarb because I’d been looking out for rhubarb and it finally appeared in the supermarket and I bought some and made strawberry and rhubarb crumble and that was lovely but there was still rhubarb left over (the dessert I made today was for that).

And then our neighbour appeared at the side door with a big bag of freshly picked strawberries, which he gets at work somehow or something, and of course I was very grateful and polite and said thank you and yes please, but now they’re sitting in the fridge looking at me too. I could freeze them but I did that before and we ended up never eating them. I thought I’d make smoothies. I didn’t. Nobody eats that stuff in this house. Healthy stuff that’s not bread. Nobody.

In cat news, you would think that now that we have pets, the constant whining for a pet would have stopped. But no! You would be mistaken. They both still want a dog – of course; Mabel still wants a pet that’s exclusively hers to take care of and love and squeeze and call George.

Then yesterday she solved this problem for herself (at least temporarily) by announcing that Birch was now hers and she alone was going to feed him and scoop his poop. ‘Okay,’ we said, not remonstrating nearly as much as she’d expected. Then Dash decided that Oak, of course, was now his. We looked forward to an easy retirement from feeding and scooping the kitties. This morning Mabel insisted on getting up at 6:30 to be the one who fed the cats. (She graciously agreed to feed both of them.) However, when I pointed out that one of the cats had pooped before she left for school she said that was definitely the other one.

Cat almost on keyboard

Helping cat

However, I’m still the one at home with the cats all day, and I’m the only one who can stand the smell of the wet cat food enough to give them some, so they know that really they’re my kitties, and I’m the one they’ll rescue when they have to choose a favourite family member.

Oh wait, they’re cats. They’ll run away and leave us to our fate.

Things to worry about

About this time last week, my list of things to worry about looked like this

  • Being killed by terrorists.
  • ISIS expanding to take over all of Europe and then the USA.

and far down below those and everything related to them, quotidian things such as

  • Dying in a fiery car crash on the Beltway.
  • Being killed by a random gunman because I live in the USA, or having that happen to my husband at work or my children at school.
  • Having the house broken into (while B’s away).
  • Having the house broken into (while we’re all here).
  • B dropping dead while running, leaving me ignorant of passwords to online bill paying, so that as well as being bereft and lonely and bored with nobody to make up appropriate lyrics for any song at the drop of a hat, we would have our electricity cut off and freeze to death.
  • Getting stuck behind a fiery car crash on the Beltway so that I’m late to pick Dash up from school, and discovering that my phone refuses to hold any contact numbers any more so I couldn’t even call them to say why I’m not there.
  • Mabel refusing to open her mouth at her upcoming dental checkup.
  • Cancer.
  • Meningitis.
  • My turkey being dry on Thursday.

and so on, in descending order of terribleness or likeliness; you get the idea.

This week my sense of statistics has righted itself and those first two have dropped down to somewhere below the others. Climate change is in there somewhere too; I’m never quite sure where. And maybe the zombie apocalypse, sure, if I’m in the mood for fretting.

Of course, statistics are no comfort to all those families in Paris, in Mali, to a family not far from here who lost someone. To everyone who has died in car crashes or mass shootings or all the other terrible things that happen and continue to happen.

So, in conclusion, this isn’t a very comforting post, is it? But I really like how everyone’s tweeting cat pictures in Brussels. That seems like a very good way to deal with the tension. I’ll be over here trying to keep my worry weebles the right way up.

There’s no such thing as failure

There’s no such thing as failure.

There’s listening to your heart and your head. There’s going with your gut and trying again. There are lessons in perseverance and determination. There’s making a judgement call.

There’s listening to the universe when it drops a few hints, and picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and changing tack. There’s trying something new even if you feel old, taking a road nobody else has taken because it feels right, or exciting, or you’re up for a challenge.

If you’re still here – and even, maybe, if you’re not – you didn’t fail. You did something else instead.

Sunlight through yellow leaves

Inspirational picture

In spite of how it looks, this was not inspired by some terrible knock-back from an agent. It was just something I thought of when wondering what advice I’d give to school-leavers.

Gone fishin’

Mabel has this first-aid book of which she is extremely fond. It’s not a kids’ first-aid book, it’s an old one that’s been on our shelves for ages, since my husband once thought he should be better prepared in emergency situations or something. She found it once when she was much smaller and was entranced by the drawings of people in varying amounts of agony, skin sliced open in different ways, tourniquets and slings and gunshot wounds. There’s even one of a baby being born. (Not graphic. Lots of towels and hot water.)

One of the pages has a painful-looking picture of someone with a fish-hook through their finger, and a diagram of how exactly you would approach bandaging this (if you could then take him to hospital) or removing the hook (if you were camping in the wilds of beyond and couldn’t get to a proper doctor, I presume).

Anyway, I always thought, when my eye fell on that particular squirm-inducing illustration, “What a ridiculously obscure injury. How many people get fish-hooks in their fingers?”

You might fear you can see where this is going; but don’t worry, it’s not. Nobody ends this blogpost with a fish-hook embedded in any part of them.

However. On Saturday afternoon I took Dash to a friend’s birthday party which turned out to be a lovely lazy afternoon by the bay, where the boys waded and swam and also got to do some fishing off the little dock. Now, I know absolutely nothing about fishing, and nor does my husband, so when Dash was given pestered me until I bought him a fishing rod last year, his one outing to try it out was not very successful. So the opportunity to have people who actually know how to fish show him what to do was pretty special.

Dash fishing (from behind)

Not that he caught anything, because it was the wrong time of day. But there he was, and there were several other people near him, and they were all casting away and suddenly I felt like getting a fish-hook in the thumb would be a very very easy injury to attain, and that if I didn’t step back quickly I might be on the wrong end of a fish-hook in the eyeball instead, and the book hadn’t even addressed that one.

But instead, the afternoon continued to be lovely; and there was a Minecraft cake and a Nerf battle and we went home without any fish-hooks embedded anywhere but with a happy boy who had done some fishing.

And the understanding that one day’s obscurity is the next day’s commonplace, because you just never know how things will turn out.

My stance on mythical creatures

It’s Easter Morning and no bunny came to our house. The kids are fine with that. They haven’t really noticed. To be honest, I didn’t really notice. I thought for a good 30 seconds after I woke up to figure out what day of the week it was, and was happy when I decided it was a Sunday. I did not leap out of bed and get busy with baskets and fake grass and eggs of any description.

Not to say that we don’t do Easter things. We went to an egg hunt yesterday. There was a big guy in a bunny suit there, but he wasn’t handing out candy so my kids weren’t really interested in him.

Egg haul

Mabel’s eggs

When I first discovered – and Dash was about five when this happened so you’d think I’d have noticed before – that the Easter Bunny in America was like Santa Claus, an imaginary being who delivered things in the night, I was a bit horrified. Another one? Do we never get to give our kids anything ourselves? And since Easter always comes somewhere between B’s birthday and Dash’s, usually closer to the latter, we really don’t need an extra occasion for overconsumption.

Am I depriving them of a quintessential childhood memory? Will they complain to their therapists that the deep-seated trauma of never getting an Easter basket is at the root of their neuroses? Do I care?

I made a nice dinner for the grown ups last night, with a nice dessert to boot. Rhubarb, first of the season, grants a wish. The children didn’t eat anything, due to ill-timed large bready snacks in the late afternoon. Mabel is going through a phase (let’s charitably say) and the day ended with my carting all the soft toys and all her dolls down to the basement in a huff, because she wouldn’t even try to clean up. She’s been happily playing with Lego all morning.

Dash had a fever on Friday and is now in that “is that a rash?” in-betweeny stage. He might have strep, he might have fifth disease; he might just have a sore throat. We might go on an outing today; we might stay at home. We don’t need any more bunnies.

Dinner music

An unforeseen side-effect of dinner-at-the-table has been dinner conversation. I had vaguely wondered if I’d need to make a list of topics to discuss or something, but I had banked without the rest of my family members, who of course are far less reticent than I.

Mabel has taken it upon herself to play gameshow host at dinnertime, and plies us each with a question. Sometimes it’s “What’s your favourite colour?” but last night it was a real doozie: “What’s your favourite song?”

To a five-year-old, that’s a pretty easy one. Hers is “Of course I want to build a snowman,” a lesser-known imaginary-response version of the song from Frozen, sung from Elsa’s point of view. Her brother didn’t have much trouble deciding that his (right now) is “Beat it.” Can’t fault Michael Jackson, I suppose. Better than One Direction.

But her father and I were stumped. We spent the rest of the evening taking turns to play our contenders, just a few of them, on the iPod. If you could break it down to favourite song by a certain artist, or in a genre, or in one period of your life … but favourite song? Just one? Ever? Impossible. I’m still trying to come up with my definitive list.

Do you have one? What’s your favourite song?

Children wearing headphones


White stuff

All this white stuff is getting me down. It’s doing nothing except getting in the way at the moment. It’s piled up at the sides of the road, turning slowly black from the car exhausts, slushing in the driveways, lying slippily in wait in the shadows where you least expect it, blocking the way at every turn so people are walking on the roads and can’t get from the bus stop to the bus without clambering over an Everest and possibly leaving a shoe behind in it.

And even though forecast temperatures for the rest of the week are in the 50s, (that’s over 10C), we’re expecting possibly another inch or two tonight, as a sort of farewell gesture. If school’s cancelled tomorrow I’ll be … I’ll be… actually, I can’t even muster the energy to threaten anything. It’s been so long since Dash went to school (last Wednesday, it was) that I’ve forgotten what it’s like.

While it persists, never mind the ever-present children, I can’t get down to anything. Everything is too much work. Everything is temporary, about to melt away any moment (if only it would). Everything is on the long finger, for when things go back to normal, when everyone goes back to school, the ground goes back to looking like the ground instead of treacherous uneven cold wet stifling white stuff.

Snow and trees

Little Americans

I didn’t get selected for the Listen To Your Mother cast. That’s fine, really. It gets us out of a babysitting hole because one of the unmissable rehearsal days was when B would be on a very rare work trip. It would have been fun; I might audition again next year.

Anyway, it means I have a ready-made blog post for today. This is the piece I wrote for it.


I never meant to have American children.

Years ago – far too many years ago to count in public – I was in Boston with my boyfriend. (He was from Ireland too.) One day on a dusty baseball diamond near where we were staying, we saw some kids playing T-ball. I heard their little shouts and watched their little legs run and realised that their American accents were already in place. You know how when you’re in a foreign country it’s amazing that even the three-year-olds can speak the language? It was like that. “They’re tiny Americans,” I thought. “They’re going to grow up to be American all the way down. How bizarre.”

If you’d told me then that I’d have American children, I’d have been positively insulted. That was one thing – the one thing – that I would definitely not do. My children would be Irish, like me and my mother before me. They would grow up with the wind and the rain, rosy-cheeked and soft-skinned, they would paddle in the chilly Irish Sea and complain about their Irish-language homework and criticize Bono (because that is the birthright of natives) and sound like suburban Dubliners, just like their parents.

What’s that saying about fate laughing at your plans?

It began with thinking we could have a baby in America so long as we moved home to Ireland before he knew what was what. Things progressed, so that I felt if we moved before he started school, that would be fine. Oh look, now I have a second-grader and a rising kindergartener and hey guess what, they’re American.

Becoming a mother so far from my mother – and everyone else – gave me a certain freedom. If I’d been surrounded by all those people whose opinions count, whose merest incline of the head I might interpret as a judgement of my parenting choices – well, I might have made different choices. As it was, I was free to read the books I wanted to, to find my tribe on the Internet, to follow my instincts and trust myself with my babies. If people looked askance at me in America for whatever I might have been doing – breastfeeding in the supermarket, for instance – well, I’m a foreigner. A European. And we all know what those Europeans are like.

Similarly, if in Ireland my mother wondered when I was going to stop breastfeeding in the supermarket, for instance (or wherever), she could put it down to the hippie dippie influence of America, where they have no inhibitions at all.

Probably, nobody was judging me, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was free to play the crazy foreigner card on both sides of the Atlantic.

So my kids have American accents. Of course they do: they were born here. They have American passports and American birth certificates and American social security numbers. My kids learned to swim in a lovely warm outdoor pool in a swelteringly humid DC summer. My son rattles off the Pledge of Allegiance every morning with his classmates. Despite their parents’ best efforts, they say mailman and sidewalk and zee and twenny and sometimes they even talk about to-may-toes.

And that’s okay. Maybe time has softened me. Maybe I’m coming to terms with being almost-American myself. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because when they meet their Irish cousins – once the first amazed comments from their aunts and uncles about how American they sound have been registered, for the record – they all start talking about Disney movies and My Little Ponies and superheroes and the Irish cousins are saying “awesome” and quoting Star Wars just as much everyone else.

Life does funny things. You can tell it where you want to go, but it’s not a taxi driver. Sometimes it just picks you up and swirls you around and points you back the way you came, or to exactly the wrong spot; and you can rail against it, and you can decide to get off the bus and walk, or you can recalibrate your expectations and work with what you’ve got. Mostly, you have to do a bit of everything and muddle about and see what happens.

If I had been so dead-set against having American children, maybe I shouldn’t have taken up with a boy whose ambition was to go study in the States after he finished his undergrad degree. But I have no regrets.

Last summer, my seven-year-old signed up for baseball. He ran his little American heart out on our local dusty diamond, and I sat on the bleachers and cheered for him.

Machine-pitch baseball