You have reached your destination

So I have this reputation, let’s say, as someone who’s efficient. I can do stuff. I’m capable and sensible.

It’s all a sham.

Someone capable and sensible and efficient would not find themselves driving the same 15km stretch of road FOUR times in an hour – yes, that’s twice in one direction and twice in the other direction – because they trusted technology over just flippin’ looking at a map before they left, would they? Especially not when the technology had already proved itself to be somewhat untrustworthy.

And yet, in spite of my failings, I managed to get myself to Italy and back, to find where I was going, to catch my flights as scheduled, check into my hotels as planned, and not leave anything behind.

I did somehow forget to pack deodorant, but that’s what the supermercato is for.

Most of my hilarious travel stories involve how the satnav sent me the wrong way, and those stories don’t really have much of a shelf life so I’m not sure how many of them I should trot out now. The rest of the time … well, I spent three days travelling for 48 hours of fun, and it was well worth it.

There was this other time, though, which I will illustrate with some diagrams I drew in my notebook on the flight home, the better to remember.

Quite often in dreams I have a stressful situation where I’m driving but I can’t keep my eyes open, or I can’t see properly, or I’m somehow hampered by having to drive from the back seat or the passenger seat, or I can’t operate the pedals. And sometimes I end up precariously dangling over precipices or teetering on the edge of canyons in vehicles. All fairly standard stuff. I never actually die, though sometimes I damage the car and am always relieved on waking to remember I didn’t.

So there I was on Friday afternoon, after a lovely lunch with my sister-in-law and her friend, and I had to find my way back to the main road I’d come off, for the last half hour or so of my journey to the wedding venue. Of course, I should just have turned around and gone back the way I’d come, but instead I thought I’d give the sat nav a try. I turned it on and programmed in the name of the town I was going to. It seemed to recognise it, so I set it down and started driving, anticpating the soothing voice of the nice lady who would tell me which way to turn. The nice lady spoke up, but in Italian. I wasn’t expecting that, because the on-screen instructions had been in English, but I gamely decided I could try. I know my sinistra from my destra.

She said something I didn’t quite understand. I decided maybe it was “Go straight on” so I went straight on. She said it again and I couldn’t help thinking it was more likely “Turn around when you can”, so with a bad grace I turned around and went back the way I’d come. Then she had me turn right, and left, and right again, and soon we were deep in the zigzags of the little town. Clearly, on paper this was the most direct route to wherever she thought I needed to be, but the map did not take into account the elevation. The map looked like this:

But if you could have seen the elevation, it was more like this:

Straight up one side of the hill, around in a big sweep to where I could admire the lovely view over the lake – that’s nice, I thought vaguely, not looking, as I gripped the steering wheel gamely and forged ahead down an increasingly narrow road – and down again, via some hairpin bends on roads that were not wide enough for my modest rental car (a Ford Fiesta; but a Fiat 500 would have been ideal here) to make the turn in one go.

And so it was that I found myself in a dreamscape, but not the good sort. I came slowly halfway around a hairpin bend and stopped, facing directly into a foot-high wall that offered scant protection from the sheer drop to the road below on the other side. In front of me was, once again, the beautiful vista of the lake. Once again I was not really appreciating it. “I’ve dreamed this,” I said out loud, with just an edge of hysteria. The challenge, I could tell, because I’m SMRT that way, was that this time I didn’t have the option of floating gently to the ground, or waking up, so I just had to pull the handbrake, push the gearstick firmly into reverse, rev until I felt the catch, and back up a bit. Reverse hillstarts, with an option of Death, in a rental car I mustn’t scratch, I thought: my favourite thing. Then forward, then back, lather rinse repeat, until the car was facing the right way. And on down, effing and blinding at the nice insane Italian lady in the sat nav who I would never listen to again.

Not, at least, until two days later when she disgorged me onto the wrong motorway, in the wrong direction, 200 km from the programmed endpoint, and blithely commented – in English, because I fixed that – “You have reached your destination. Please turn around.”

Here’s a nice picture of the lake in question. I took it from the bottom of the hill, not the top.

Obnoxiousness

I don’t want to sound obnoxious, but I’m having lunch with my sister-in-law on Friday.
What? Not obnoxious yet? How about this: I live in the US, she lives in Ireland, and we’re having lunch in a little town on the banks of Lake Trasimeno in central Italy.

A little obnoxious, am I right? Sorry.

This trip is basically the antithesis of the one I took to Dublin in June. That was unexpected, last-minute, stressful, filled with tricky decisions and hard work. This one has been long planned and long looked forward to. It will involve a certain amount of being-a-grownup – driving from Bologna to Perugia on my own, for instance (and back), but also the fun parts of being a grown up – staying up late, dancing, drinking wine, meeting old friends in new places. (Lunch with my SIL is actually a bonus. I’m really going for my oldest and bestest friend’s wedding.)

Yes, I am hella lucky that I can flit over to Europe twice in one summer. Though long flights and long airport layovers are not entirely my idea of fun, they are much easier (though perhaps more boring) without children who need to be fed and entertained. I get back on Monday, so I’ll probably spend longer in transit than the two days the wedding will take up, but them’s the breaks. I’ll muddle through.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I have a nice new phone and will be Instagramming my trip, so if you haven’t followed me over there, now might be a good time. Pictures of Frankfurt airport and scenic Tuscany/Umbria, plus lots of delicious food, to come. I’m @AwfullyChipper over there, same as on Twitter. (Hint hint.)

I’m leaving the kids in the capable hands of their father (and vice versa), and have stocked up on everything they might possibly run out of – pasta, sandwich bread, peanut butter, cat food, cat litter, goldfish crackers, ice pops… I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’ll miss them terribly.

Helper cat

 

I read it so you don’t have to: The Explosive Child

The Explosive Child by Ross Greene (not of Friends fame) is a parenting book I’ve heard recommended for ages, but had never got round to reading. My child isn’t really explosive, I thought to myself. Maybe a little volatile. Maybe prone to random violence. Maybe impossible. But not actually, you know, combustible. Not entirely composed of dynamite. Just, say, 60%.

Just read it anyway. Or read this and see if you’d like to read it. It provides a good technique for finding solutions to problems between two people, especially when one of them has not yet developed coping mechanisms for, you know, life as we experience it.

The subtitle is “A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.” It’s not new any more, of course, since it was first published in 1998, (though this is the fifth edition, from 2014, that I got from the library), but it’s newer than spare the rod and spoil the child, or many other tried and tested (and failed) methods you may have heard of. If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids Will Listen , this complements what’s in there quite well. If you’re a fan of gentle discipline, forge ahead without fear.

Anyway, I’m going to run over the basic points here, in case you don’t have time for a whole book in between picking up the pieces and mopping up the detritus that your non-combustible child causes.

  • Children do well if they can. Your child is not making trouble to make your life hell, or getting into trouble because it’s fun. They’re doing it because they can’t do any better.
  • The reason they can’t do better is not because they’re spawn of satan. (I’m paraphrasing here, you understand.) They simply lack the skills to be able to. Mostly, this is because their brain is still developing. The part at the front of their brain that enables them to be patient, to roll with the punches, to have emotional fortitude, isn’t really online yet. Instead, their lizard brain at the back kicks in and they respond to frustrating situations with, you know, explosions.
  • Rewards and punishments don’t work with these kids because they’re not helping the kid solve the problem, they’re just focused on avoiding the result – the explosion. Instead, we need to help them learn to solve problems.
  • We need to do this collaboratively, not by telling them what to do. Telling kids what to do works with some kids, but with others – say, my not-entirely-made-of-TNT child – it just gets their back up and makes them more certain that they’ll do anything but that. So you need to approach it with them, as a team, and let them participate in coming up with the solution. The more practice they get doing this, the better they’ll be, and their front brain part (technical term) will grow.
  • It’s best to do this proactively, not in the heat of the moment. So the idea is that you identify problems, figure out what lagging skills are the root of it, and try to plan to fix that the next time it comes up.
  • There’s a website! If you go here you’ll find lots of stuff that goes along with the book – and you don’t really need the book to use it. You can use the ALSUP checklist and guide to help you find what skills your child is lagging in that are contributing to their meltdowns. You can use the Problem Solving Plan as a flowchart to help you have conversations that identify the problems and find solutions. The Drilling Cheat Sheet gives lots of scripts to help you find out what’s really going on. (If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids will Listen… or Siblings without Rivalry it all looks pretty familiar.)

And this is roughly how, ideally, a conversation is meant to go. Of course, it might not. The book goes into all the various iterations of what might happen and how you get it back on track, but very basically…

– I’ve noticed you have difficulty doing x. What’s up with that?

-Well, I hate y.

-So you hate y. Anything else?

– And it’s really hard because of z.

– Ok, so you hate y and z gives you trouble. Anything else?

– No, that’s it.

– Let’s think about how we can solve this problem. I wonder if there’s a way to avoid y and make z easier. Do you have any ideas?

Then you come up with some ideas, together. The solution has to be realistic and mutually satisfactory. If it turns out not to be realistic after all, you come back and find a new solution, as many times as it takes.

The more often you have these conversations and work together to find solutions, the better your kid gets at doing it, and so they start building those skills that they were lacking, and your life becomes inestimably better.

That’s the theory, anyway. It’s worth a shot. Let me know how you get on. I’ll be gazing into calming waters and breathing deeply.

Fountain

Calming waters, deep breaths

Summer loving

We all know I love a linky, and this one from Fionnuala at Three Sons Later is just perfect for a lazy summertime blogger. What are you loving, what are you not so much loving, this summer? Hop on over to her link and read all the others.

Wait? Where are you going? I mean, after you read this one. Sheesh. Settle down.

Loving

I have a little bit of work-life balance in my summer, for the first time ever. Mabel’s in camp for the month of July, Dash is at home doing a spot of schoolwork and playing with a friend, and I have relative peace and quiet to do some work. And I have some work to do – fixing up draft 3 of book 3 of my trilogy, in between actual paying editing work for other people, which is both enjoyable and interesting. I also could be doing housework and grocery shopping and other more boring things, but it’s nice to have a reason to avoid them.

What’s more, at the end of the month I’m heading off on a five-day jaunt to Italy, to attend my best friend’s wedding. She was my one and only bridesmaid, we’ve been friends since we were seven, I always swore I’d be there, so I’ll just have to, you know, force myself. It’ll be tough, but I’ll grit my teeth and bear it.

I was stuck for dinner a while ago and aired my woes on Facebook, as you do, which yielded a lovely selection of new summer meal ideas from my friends. Since then we’ve enjoyed such delights as this salad (great dressing; I used feta and toasted my almonds a little), this other salad (very tasty, used the rest of the same dressing), and this – yes, more cauliflower – which was very quick and hugely tasty even without any olives or capers.

Less than loving

The weather, of course. They don’t call it the swamp just because of the objectionable politicians, you know. It’s swampy here in the environs of DC. Hot, humid, moist, damp, airless. Even if it’s raining, it’s hot and sweaty. (Though honestly, I prefer it raining. The sun is too shiny and it burns.)

Also, children who are older and don’t go to bed. I mean, I still love the child, but I’m not loving his bedtime. It turns out Dash only goes to bed in a timely manner during the school year because he knows he has to get up in the morning. Now that he’s not doing anything, his bedtime has disappeared, and we spend all evening exhorting him, nay, pleading with him, to just go away. I don’t care if he goes to sleep, but I would like him to at least be in his room so that we have some time to watch crap adult TV on our own before we go to bed. So far, results are mixed. Some nights he’s the last one upstairs. This is going to take some recalibration of expectations, because I suppose it’s not going away.

Definitely not loving

Ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, jellyfish… nature, basically, in all its less delightful forms. So far our tick count is minimal (one, on me), the mosquito bites are mounting (mostly on Dash, who scorns bug spray but I wish he wouldn’t), we’ve had two tiny patches of poison ivy, and we managed to dodge the jellies at the beach last week even though the water was too murky to spot them until it would be too late. (The waters of the Chesapeake shore are not the most crystal clear.) Oh, and I got stung on the toe by something I didn’t see when I went outside in bare feet last week. It can only get worse, probably.

Beach view with two rainbow shade umbrellas.

Gratuitous beach photo. This is where we avoided the jellyfish.

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.

Zoom zoom

Big screen at the concert with Paul Simon playing the guitar on itI got back from Ireland on the Tuesday evening of that week. On the Friday, B and I did something we haven’t done for years and years – we went to a concert. A real proper concert, not just a gig. We saw Paul Simon, and it was amazing.

There were moments during the evening when the long relationship I’ve had with Paul Simon’s music, and how it’s been intertwined with that other long relationship in my life – the one with my husband – made my brain do that expand-and-contract thing (imagine, if you will, a slidy trombone noise) as it tried to take in the expanse of time from my first experience of Paul Simon to where I am now. Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly indeed.

Sometimes all the points in my life seem to be laid out on a flat surface rather than along a timeline. The distance from any one to another might be near or far but bears no connection to such two-dimensional things as years and decades. I can vividly remember a moment when I was 20, but not necessarily last week.

The older I get, the more this will happen, I bet. It’s unnerving, this living in the world business, if you look at it from a height.

Though maybe it was the jetlag too. It was a very whiplashy week, going from filial responsibilities and reminders of inescapable mortality to pure selfish entertainment with a side of romantic nostalgia with little but a transatlantic flight and the graduation from elementary school of my elder child to buffer the two extremes.

That sort of enforced perspective can really mess with your mind. Maybe just as well we don’t manage to do it very often.View of the stage (from way back) with teeny tiny Paul Simon and his band

Notes from the airport

When I saw my mother on Thursday they told me she was a bit agitated. She was delighted to see me, of course, when I explained that I was me, but she didn’t really retain it. She kept saying she should go and check on the people in the other room, see if anyone needed anything, offer them some tea. She felt that she must be the hostess, but she wasn’t really sure who all these people were. She asked me where Dad was, and if he was looking after them. She told me the lovely nurse we’d been talking to was the new maid, that she was excellent and they were lucky to have found her. She was tailoring her narrative to her reality as well as she could, but it kept breaking down because she knew she was missing something. I’d sit her back down every time, telling her that the people were being looked after, that she could relax and just take her ease, but she didn’t really believe me. As I left I looked back into the room and saw her standing up again, a nurse heading over to settle her.

When I saw my mother on Saturday I brought my dad with me. I brought him in a wheelchair, because his knee is very dodgy and he can only progress very slowly with a walking frame. She was so happy to see him. She held his two hands in hers, all their knuckles knobbly, their skin blotched and stained by age. The staff watched in delight, teary, because they say she asks for him all the time, wants to know where he is and how he is and when he’s coming to see her. We stayed for some tea and biscuits and halfway through the conversation she rediscovered who I was and was delighted all over again. When we left she told him he’d been a lovely husband and the nurses all blinked back their tears again.

She’s a real lady, they all said to me.

He’s such a gent, they all say about my dad at the hospital.

When I saw my mother yesterday she was having breakfast in a pink dressing gown I’ve never seen before. She was calm and sensible and very much herself. She got all the news from me, anew – that Dad’s in hospital and will have to go into a nursing home and she will join him wherever he chooses, that I’m back off to America today because I can’t stay, that we’ll sell the house. That she lives in that nursing home, and has a lovely view of the sea from her window, just the same view as from our kitchen window but without the neighbours’ hedge in the way. I brought some pictures for her walls and some new toothpaste and socks because they’d told me she needed toothpaste and socks. We shared a whispered joke, because her hearing’s still fine and she’s as amusing as ever. ‘Well,’ she said philosophically as she looked around the breakfast table at her companions, mumbling their toast and picking at the tablecloth, ‘it’s all a new stage, isn’t it. I must remember that. Maybe I should take up a new hobby.’

She was so much herself that time, her real normal my-mum sensible self, that was the one that nearly broke me when I left and got into my little red rental car and drove down the hill for the last time. That’s what’s bringing the tears here in the chilly boarding area of the airport as I wait for a plane to take me far away, back to the other people who love me too, whom I love too.

Getting old sucks. Not getting old sucks as well. There’s no way around it; we can only forge on with whatever hand we’re dealt, and hope we have as much good humour and grace as my lovely mum.

A blown poppy, dropping its petals over grass.

I just missed the poppies. This was the last one.

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.

Sik-ADE-ahs

Cicada was a word I’d only met in books for a long time. I wasn’t really sure what a cicada was, and I certainly wasn’t sure how to say it. SIK-ah-da? KIK-ah-da? It was a small animal, maybe. A bird? Some sort of a part of nature, anyway, that they had in warmer climes than Ireland.

(This reminds me of the katydid that was mentioned in the very beginning of What Katy Did. I’ve only recently learned that a katydid is a … quick look at wikipedia to remind myself … oh yeah, a cricket that looks like a leaf. I thought it was a frog or toad for a long time.)

Anyway, I thought I’d tell you about cicadas so you’d be better informed than I was. And because we have ’em. Lots of them but not as many as we’ll have in 2021 when brood X comes out and they’re ankle deep here … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So you pronounce it [sik-ADE-ah] with the emphasis on the middle syllable there. And it’s a large winged insect related to the cricket. At the end of summer they sit in the trees and make this amazingly cacophonous electronic-sounding buzzing noise that rises to a peak and then tails off again. It’s the quintessential sound of summer nights in hot places – if you’re Irish it’s the sound of summer holidays somewhere really nice (i.e. warm).

So you can read about the life cycle of the cicada at places that will give you more accurate information and lots of other gross/cool photos (also this page is cute because the cursor turns into a cicada when you mouse over a link), but I’m here to be your reporter on the ground, if you like, with actual footage from actually where I live. A couple of evenings ago some local friends were remarking on Facebook that the cicadas were coming out. The next day I went on a field trip with the second grade and realised too late that I should have brushed up on my cicada facts because we were all full of questions. Today there are even more of them, with discarded shells around the base of many big trees, so I decided it was time to write the big cicada post.

After a certain number of years underground – anything from 2 to 17 depending on the brood – the cicada comes out when the weather gets warm. It finds the nearest tree (probably the one it dropped out of as a baby), climbs up it, and sheds its exoskeleton. Near any given tree in the right area you’ll find a bunch of empties under the leaves or fallen on the ground below – I just went outside my house and hey presto, found this one for a photo.

Shed cicada exoskeleton attached to a tree trunk

You can see where it burst out, just like the creature in Alien. Only more slowly. More of that below. These are apparently Brood X stragglers, they’re not the whole big deluge we’re expecting in 2021. Washington Post is also on the story today. I’m so current.

When they come out they’re all white and grub-like, but after a while in the sun they colour up nicely.

Here’s one in the very act of emerging. Come on, buddy, you can do it. (It happens verrry slowly. I didn’t have to be quick to catch this. I went home, got my camera, and came out again.)

Here’s one proudly posing by his discarded exoskeleton. “That old thing? I don’t need it any more.” I’m not sure he realises the “tree” he’s on is actually a telegraph pole.

Here’s a finished product we found on a bush on our field trip. Look at his freaky red eyes. He’s about 3cm long.

Now look at the next picture and be a little freaked out, because there are suddenly more cicadas than you realised. I count six or seven here. There were more than that on the bush, and plenty more on the rest of the bushes too.

Then they go off into the trees to be eaten by birds and/or find the cicada of their dreams to make baby cicadas with, to grow up underground, possibly for another 17 years.

They don’t bite or sting, so they’re totally harmless to people – though I was just told to watch out for the giant brown hornets called “cicada killers” that go after them. Roger that.

The wonders of nature, eh?

Day of Mothers

I feel lucky today, because my husband isn’t merely smart enough to have a PhD in physics; he’s also smart enough to know that when I said I didn’t know what we were having for dinner today and I wasn’t planning to know, that meant dinner was in his hands. And that when I said “I don’t mind, you choose,” it wasn’t some sort of cruel test wherein I expect him to magically divine my wishes and conform to them: I just want someone else to make the decisions. Because it’s mother’s day, and this is what I get.

I also got a lie-in until after 9am (after getting up to feed the cats at 6.30 and having a small person crawl into bed with me an hour later, but who’s counting) and an opportunity to go and buy myself new knickers at Kohl’s on my own this afternoon, so it’s a good day.

But in general, for so many people, I think this day is awful. The assumptions, the expectations, the pressure, the impossibility of it all. Played out in full public view in brunch venues and on Facebook all over the country. Americans set a lot of store by Mother’s Day. I’m sure many Irish people put a bit more into it than my family used to – a home-made card, a flower picked out of the garden maybe, a hug; if we were doing something nice we’d ascribe it to the day, but we’d have done it anyway – but I don’t think it’s such a production as it is here.

And there’s the wishing. Wishing other people a happy mother’s day. Honestly, the only person I feel I should wish a happy Mother’s Day to is my own mother. The only people I think should wish it to me are my own children. (Maybe my husband, if he’d like to. I’m not fussy.) Of course, today, when other people have wished me a happy day I’ve said thank you, and wished them one back when they’re my mom friends. But random salespersons wishing every adult female a happy Mother’s Day? That way nervous breakdowns lie. (I’m happy to report that the cashier in Kohl’s today did not say it to me.)

Even if you have everything you ever wanted, and everything you ever wanted was a happy family with x number of children, you’ve still gotta set the bar of your expectations low today. (It’s okay, you’re a mother. You’ve learned to do that.) And somehow, how well your children behave or how loving and grateful they are to you, today of all days, is a direct consequence of how well you did your job of being their mother – so you’re well aware that if your day is ruined, you’ve only yourself to blame. It’s simply nature’s judgement on you. What sort of a cruel universe invented this day?

Another way I’m lucky is that I don’t have to split my day between being a daughter to a mother and being the mother of my own children, because Mother’s Day in Ireland and the UK is in March. This means that, at least in theory, I can relax and enjoy my own day without rushing around making the day special for someone else at the same time. I highly recommend this method to all of you who are wishing you could just stay at home with your own kids rather than having to host/attend/organize a brunch for your own mother today. Though I’m not sure how you can go about arranging it at this point. You could encourage your children to emigrate to the other side of the ocean, I suppose, so as not to face it in the future; but maybe there are reasons you’d rather not do that.

 

Mabel's poem (spelling preserved): "Magnifacent Cakes / Orders things./ Treats are sweet./ Hevenly cookies. / Elegant cloths./ [...]'s Mom." And a picture of flowers.

Mabel wrote me a poem at school, which I had to go and root out of her backpack just now as she was not interested in giving it to me. But I’m happy that I have elegant cloths, so everything’s good. And my garlic naan bread is nearly here, so we will draw a veil over the less good parts of the day and move on optimistically towards days that are more regular and less fraught with ridiculous expectations.

I hope your day was nice, wherever you are, and whether it was just a regular Sunday for you or a special one. The sun came out here for the first time in about a week, so that was something for everyone to celebrate.