Category Archives: waxing lyrical

Summer’s end

The cicadas are so loud this time of year. When you go outside in the evening, there’s this almost electronic noise, rising to a crescendo and dying off, almost completely, before it starts again. It’s coming from the trees. A massive choral buzzing sort of chirp, a bit like a windup toy or a pullback car that you just let go.

Before I knew, I thought the noise was crickets, in the grass. But cicadas are not crickets. They’re like giant flying beetles, except you rarely see them fly, you just hear them. It’s the quintessential sound of summer in a hot climate.

If you go down to the lake, you hear the frogs and toads as well as the cicadas. Some of them peep, long or short; some of them have an amazing resonant low-toned twang. It sounds like the string of an electric bass guitar being plucked.

When I go out to the line to bring in the bone-dry washing, tiny crickets hop away from my feet with every step. The fireflies are gone – they’re an early summer thing, and it’s late, late summer now. There’s a shrivelled aloe plant in a plastic pot on my deck. A neighbour child gave it to us for no apparent reason, and I resent plants, so I put it out there and ignored it. It’s finally dying, but it took its time. Next-door’s cat ambles past. Cats are meant to be indoor-only here, but many people ignore that directive, and next-door’s cat spends much of his time lying on our front doorstep or under our cars. We don’t mind.

The air conditioning is working hard in the shops where the knitwear is already in stock. I nearly behaved inappropriately with a cardigan in Old Navy last week, because the smooth, soft wool felt so good against my bare arms. When I walk into the supermarket I’m hit by a waft of fake pumpkin spice, and the Halloween stock is on the shelves. The world is ready for autumn, but the weather hasn’t taken the hint just yet. Tomorrow they’re forecasting record September highs – temperatures in the 90s again.

Summer’s over. I’m ready for socks, and cups of tea that don’t make me sweat. I’d like to accessorize with a scarf again. Be done, summer. Go gracefully. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

orange flower with drooping petals

Dashing onward

Baby Dash, about two weeks old, arms flailing

You have a baby, and it feels like forever. Time is measured in two-hour blocks, all day, all night, for ever. You’re constantly counting things, because it gives you the illusion of control: feeds, ounces, wet diapers, dirty diapers, weeks until breastfeeding gets easier, hours of sleep. Minutes of sleep. It takes so long, so much, just to get as far as that first smile, when everyone says things will start looking up.

He gets his first tooth, a white nub of sharpness poking through the bottom gum, and you feel a tiny chime of something, of sadness, of “over-ness” because this is the beginning of the end of your newborn, who isn’t a newborn any more anyway, he’s already up on hands and knees rocking back and forth and propelling himself backwards into the blinds on the french window instead of forwards to the thing he so badly wants to reach. You laugh and make videos because you know that in a day or three or five he’ll be going forwards after all, and he’ll never look back again.

You have a little boy, sturdy, chubby-handed, all grins and cheeks and dimples and still-fluffy wispy hair. He lisps adorably and says memote rontrol instead of remote control. You don’t teach him the right way to say it, but one day you realise he hasn’t called it the memote rontrol for ages, and you didn’t even notice that his lisp is mostly gone.

You have a boy whose elbows and knees are suddenly pointy, poking into you when he sits beside you, too big to sit on your lap (but still trying). He has grown into the gap where he knocked a front tooth out: nobody is surprised to see it any more because his classroom is awash with wobbly incisors and gappy gums and children who want to show you that their tooth fell out. Your boy has a classroom where things happen that you don’t even know about. You’re not too sure how you feel about that, even after all these years of waiting for the day when you could go to the bathroom without an audience.

Now you have a boy whose legs are long and strong and tanned and covered in bruises from baseballs and mosquito bites from staying out in the back yard making crossbows from sticks. You have no more duct tape in the house. When he lazes on the sofa playing a computer game he takes up the whole thing – the same cool brown leather you laid your shirtless newborn down on one small portion of because the hospital said you had to wake him for a feed every two hours. It has more scratches now, more pieces of breakfast cereal and dried-up pasta and toast crumbs between the non-removable cushions, and its backbone is broken from too much jumping, but it’s the same sofa.

Yesterday. Yesterday and forever. What they didn’t tell you was that after that first smile, time would catapult you forward and it would only ever get faster, never slower again.

Dash on a statue of a moose in Philadelphia

Moose express

Creativity calling

Writing is addictive.

I put words together, one after the other, flowing through my fingertips and blossoming as if by magic on the screen. I think it, and lo! it appears. If I don’t like it, I can make it go away as easily as it came.

More than that, I can bring a story out of nowhere and set it on the page as if it has every right to be there, to be read by people, to be set free and fly into the world. I don’t know where the story comes from, most of the time; but if I keep typing, something unexpected will make an appearance. I can bend this way or that, leaning into a curve, trying to steer the story, but sometimes it doesn’t want to go there. Sometimes it just stops, it wants to get off. Sometimes I have to pull the cord of the coughing outboard engine a few times, or over and over, until we’re off and chugging again.

And when it’s done, if it’s ever done, it’s a whole thing where there used to be nothing at all. It’s creation. It’s a thing that I made.

I think I’ll make another.

Snippet

red leaves in greenThe leaves are mostly still green but every so often there’s a cluster that got the memo: it’s autumn. Sometimes there’s a swathe that just looks splattered with colour, as if someone threw a bucket of paint at them. The fall colours here are audacious in comparison to Ireland’s basic browns and dark reds – here we get ruby red and lemon yellow and orange and lime green and gold all on the one tree. We wake up chilly, we look for slippers, we put on jackets to go to school. By hometime the jackets are stuffed in backpacks (with luck) and it’s warm on the playground, spreading mulch and finding hideouts in the woods and organizing societies of children, ignoring their mothers with their mother-talk and being ignored as much as possible in return.

yellow leaves in green

—–

In the morning an imperious call summons me. For some reason I always went to her bed, not she to mine except in dire straits. I sleepwalk out of bed, though it’s a perfectly reasonable hour, gone seven. But I don’t have to get up till half past. I haul myself up into her newly hand-me-downed baby loft bed, my back not yet loosened up for the day, and lie down beside her. She curls up against me and we both drift off for a little longer, snuggly. I wake further to find her squeezing my cheeks and running her finger along the lines of my forehead, not too gently, but with love.

These are the last days of such snuggles, that began with my tiny baby at my breast, in my bed. Now she’s half the size of me, it seems like, but she still looks at me with uncomplicated love and wants to have her face beside mine. I stare back at her beautiful bouncy skin, her huge eyes and long lashes, her cherub lips. She might be judging me, but she doesn’t seem to find me lacking. She accepts my difference and invites me in.

Her brother closes his door at bedtime these days. I might creep softly in to turn off his alarm on a weekend night, or to see if his duvet is over or under him, but mostly I try to respect his space. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to climb in beside him to soothe him back to sleep after a bad dream. But if we’re walking together his hand still snakes into mine, even at school. He’s not ready to renounce me just yet.

orange leaves in green

Butterfly days

Bare shoulders, freckled (mine). Sunkissed legs, growing longer (hers). A constant anthem of “I’m hungry.” (Two growth spurts, ongoing.) Huge butterflies on the orange flowers, they flip and flutter past in yellow, blue, and black; no longer a cause for excitement, taken for granted in these late days of summer.
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We’re sick of sunscreen and mosquito bites. We yearn for structure. We need a more pressing reason to get dressed than the fact that we’ve run out of frozen waffles again. The summer is done for. It’s dead and dusted and we’re apathetic and dusty and ready to move on.

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What will I keep in my heart from the summer my children were seven and four? Turning 40, going to BlogHer; baseball games and campsites and cold-pressed coffee. I feel like the summer didn’t have a theme, a particular game played or toy loved or achievement unlocked. It was the summer Dash started baseball and vision therapy, the summer Mabel got Rapunzel and learned to swim, the year we all went to Ithaca and that I went to Chicago alone with several thousand other bloggers. The summer I had a purple bag, the year Dash had silver trainers and Mabel wouldn’t wear shorts.

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I sometimes feel we’re not doing America right, especially in the summer. We don’t grill enough, we rarely dine on the deck (because of the mosquitoes and because bug spray worries me as much as the bites do). My children do not gorge themselves on berries and watermelon and corn on the cob and as a result I spend a lot more time denying access to ice-cream than enabling it. We haven’t been to the beach once this summer, and the single attempt at seeing a family movie was aborted before the trailers were over. We went camping but never lit a campfire, the kids didn’t love summer camp, and once again we did not grow any vegetables of our own.

Maybe next year we’ll do it better. In the meantime, the butterflies are beautiful.

Promise

The trees are holding next week’s blossoms tightly furled and fuzzy in the palms of their many hands, each one ready to burst forth given just a little more sunshine, a little more warmth, a little more time. They are a beautiful dark red, waiting to explode into pink.

The sky is grey, briefly blue, streaked with white, then grey again. A flurry of snowflakes, a handful of gravelly graupel, some rain that starts and stops and starts again. It’s a particularly hard March, and that’s just on this side of the Atlantic. At least here I can be pretty sure that eventually spring warmth will come – and after that (with luck, not too soon after) the hot and humid days of summer. In Ireland, though the flowers will bloom and the trees will sway green and lush in the breeze, warmth is what you yearn for and heat will probably only be found somewhere further afield. It will come, the warmth, but not as much or for as long as everyone might like.

 
It’s the grey first day of spring break and already the children have dropped their bikes and invaded the neighbour’s house, where the toys are better and the snacks more plentiful. I just had a phone call from across the road to ask if they could eat a piece of leftover birthday cake. I was a little surprised that I was being asked such a no-brainer.

Purveyor of Cake: “Dash suggested I call and make sure it was okay to give you some.”
Me: “Ah, isn’t that sweet of him? What a good child.”
P of C: “Mabel suggested she’d have some even if you said no.”

That there pretty much sums up the children’s personalities at the moment. Up and down; a little give, a lot of take; potential everywhere: just like spring.

Compare and contrast

It’s a very Irish-looking day here in America, with the rain, no rain, torrential rain, less rain, no rain until you go out in it, and some rain going on all morning. Looking out the window I’m hard pressed to say what makes it America at all.

I see tall trees, taller than my house in suburban Dublin would have around it, but no taller than some in other parts of Ireland might be. They’re still winter-spindly with no sign of spring, but some of the others I noticed this morning have a tiny amount of pink fuzz, just enough to make you gasp in relief, finally heralding a change. The air is softer today too; mild, we’d call it, which is an oft-used word in Ireland for any day when it’s not bitter. Those are pretty much our extremes, I think.

The grass is wrong, I know. The grass in my back yard is dead yellow, with tufts of new-growth green in between. That doesn’t happen to Irish grass: it stays lush and dark all year. You never understand why the tourists all exclaim over the greenth of the country until you’ve had a winter somewhere else, or a summer somewhere else for that matter.

There are still dead leaves wet at the bottom of the garden, in the corners and crevices. We’re probably supposed to scoop them up, but more likely they’ll stay there and turn to mush, to loam eventually, perhaps. We can keep hoping they’ll blow away instead. Ivy climbs up the treetrunks, looking just like Irish ivy, dark green on craggy wood against a grey sky. My garden shed does not look like a garden shed. It seems here you can have two types of shed: the sort that looks like a miniature house, or the sort that looks like a barn. Mine looks like a barn, because it’s an Amish shed, I’m told. Irish sheds are not Amish. They look like sheds. (If you need further explanation, you’re not Irish. I’m not going to try.)

We have a deck, which is unIrish, and a rotary clothesline exactly like the one that still adorns my parents’ back garden. I have wooden clothes pegs and plastic ones, but my parents only have wooden ones that are blackened  and thin with exposure and use – becuase in Ireland if you miss the start of the rain, you may as well just leave the clothes out there until the wind starts blowing them again. Here, I am lazy and use the clothes dryer in the winter. I blame it on my Reynaud’s, which makes my hands painfully numb doing things like that in cold weather, but the truth is that we have the luxury of large American appliances, and I bask in that luxury and exploit it.

It’s lashing again. Torrential. Floods, cats and dogs, Datsun cogs as the old joke goes; pissing, we’d uncouthly say in Dublin. Good for spring, I suppose. A couple more weeks and we’ll be surrounded by the beautiful blossoms of the pear trees that line our streets here in the neighbourhood, and the days will be sunny and more than mild and the sky will be blue, and America will look nothing like Ireland once again. Except for my clothesline, the constant.

Rainy day backyard, trees, and deck

Room in my head

I love trying to bring up a memory that’s hidden deep in my mind. I sometimes set out to find one, or to expand one further than I think I know. There’s a knack to it, and it doesn’t always work, but you have to hook onto a thread of something – from your childhood, probably, when your memory was an open plain to be filled – and tease it out, pulling, pulling, gently, looking around and delving inwards, until you produce a gem that you didn’t know was there.

Today I noticed that a particular room I remember has become a location in more than one book I’ve read. My brain is a theatre filled with dusty sets and props – every now and then a new production pulls out the old stuff again and it’s been so long that everyone’s forgotten they were used before.

This room was in the home of a friend of my parents. Only children tend to be taken where plural children are not; they are unlikely to create mischief alone in a room full of adults, and given a book or some paper and crayons, can probably entertain themselves for a while; failing that, they can be precocious and entertain the adults while their parents attend a grownup gathering, drink wine in the afternoon, gently flirt with people who are not their spouse while observing their spouse doing the same thing across the room, and pretend that their life hasn’t changed all that much.

So while I also visited this room on quiet afternoons with just my mother, what I remember most is tucking myself away in a corner while the adults mingled and jested and nodded and guffawed and tried out this newfangled wine-in-a-box. I remember the Russian dolls that lived in this house, dolls that I was always allowed to play with most carefully, and how the biggest one squeaked painfully every time her belly was wrenched open along its slice to disgorge her daughters and granddaughters and greatgreatgreats. I remember getting to the point where I would seek out my mother and pull her sleeve and ask, “Pleeeease can we go now?”

I think I remember, too, curling up on the spare bed in the front bedroom, with its soft black woollen coverlet of some sort of holey 70s knitting, and going to sleep there during an occasional evening party; at the end of which my parents would just hoist me up, toss me in the back seat of the car, and drive home. I do remember how the streetlights looked from my horizontal position, cosy in my sleeping bag, watching them flick past against the black; restful orange or bright white, hurting my eyes and sending out spears of light when I squinted.

And then we’d turn into the second-last road and then there’d be a sharp corner and I could always tell our hill by the gradient, as gravity pushed me against the join where the bottom of the seat met the back. Then a quick swing around (my father was quite the rally driver) and the same again as he backed down the steep driveway to the hidden carport at the back of the house.

And then I’d be picked up and I’d pretend to be asleep, and I’d be fireman-carried into the house and up the bumpy stairs and plopped into my own bed under the eaves, under the wooden ceiling, where I belonged.

Pretty cool

Dash is still pushing the envelope with his sister, and she’s still yanking his chain:

– I love you a million. But I love mummy and daddy and friend-across-the-road giant.
– So do you love me giant?
– No.
– Tell me the truth.
– I love you seven. That’s the truth.
– But do you love me infinity? I love you infinity.

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Somehow, a dichotomy has been established in our house between cool and pretty. Cool things are boy things and pretty things are girl things. Every time I hear some variation on this being trotted out, I tell them “cool can be pretty” and “pretty can be cool” and “nothing is just for boys or just for girls” and I hope some day it makes it through and out the other side by osmosis because at the moment they are rigid in their definitions.

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And I want to tell my daughter something:

Pretty is fine, but you don’t need to be pretty*.

I want you to be strong, I want you to be heard. I want you to stand up for yourself and for others. Polite is good, consideration is vital; but I want you to above all keep yourself safe and sane, which means demanding the respect that is due to you and no less, as a member of the human race and as a woman.

  • First, use common sense. You’re smart. Act smart.
  • Second, listen to your gut. Follow your spidey sense, never discredit a “feeling”.
  • Third, it’s never too late to make a change for the better.

Pretty is fine, and good is nice, but strong is beautiful. Be strong, my beautiful daughter, and you will rule the world.

*Inspired by this blog post I happened upon recently, which quotes (but doesn’t really attribute) a famous thing Diana Vreeland once said. And I have no idea who she was, but she seems cool.

In dreams

There’s a road I walk along often in my dreams. The sea is on one side, a high wall on the other. The waves tend to be choppy and white-crested, the weather harsh. I am trying to get to an exam, or walking an impossible route to catch a train, or late for a performance of something unlikely. I may or may not be missing some clothes, or have lost my glasses. Maybe I’ve only visited this place once or twice in some very vivid dreams, but it feels as familiar to me as a path I tread every week.

I’ve always known exactly where it is, because this place exists in real life – though the wall might be a little craggier and the sea a little wilder in my dreams. It’s near my old school, by a tiny local harbour with a marine-supply store my dad often went to. I don’t know that I’ve ever walked that particular part of the path in reality, as it’s beyond where we’d turn off to go down to see the boats, and I’d never need to go further by that route – but in unreality, it plays a frequent role.

I have no idea why my subconscious chose this place as the site of so many incongruous and frustrating adventures, and it had been a long time since I went there in person. I was driving to my parents’ house a few days before Christmas, and I took the sea road, as we often do when we’re home – I like to see the sea. The road turns up inland after a little and we usually follow it straight up the hill, but this time I turned back down a smaller road to go past the harbour.

There it all was: the stone of the tiny pier; the narrow concrete path, single-file wide; the sheer, slightly mossy granite wall – I probably hadn’t been there for more than a decade, but I’d seen them all so recently and so regularly that if I stopped to concentrate, my feet and my fingers could trace every inch of it.

We didn’t stop, though, because while in my dreams I’m usually alone, singular, in the daytime world I had two cantankerous and jetlagged children in the back seat, who were getting tired of being told to admire the sea.

“Why do we have to look at the sea again?” they whine.
“Because it’s a rule,” I say.
“It’s not a rule.” They are too canny.

But it is a rule. The sea is always there, and even when I’m an ocean and a landmass away, I have to stop and look at it in my dreams.