Tag Archives: current events

Dial it down, for the kids’ sake

When I was 11, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States. My sixth-class teacher felt strongly that we should all have a grasp of current affairs, and every morning she’d pin her newspaper up on the blackboard and have us all gather round and look through the headlines. She was a formidable woman with a strong social conscience, and CND and Greenpeace and Amnesty International were all hot topics at the time, though in spite of her efforts I personally wasn’t always exactly clear on why exactly they were in the news.

What I remember most vividly, though, was our fear of Ronald Reagan’s finger hovering over the nuclear missile button, pointed at the USSR, with Ireland right in between the two.* Nuclear fallout wouldn’t respect Ireland’s official neutrality, and we would have no say in the matter. I don’t think I was alone in that fear – there was that Genesis video a year later, for instance – but I suspect that as children my class’s understanding of the facts and the likelihood of certain things happening might have been skewed a bit. The idea of a massive nuclear blast that would wipe out half the world, followed by a long slow nuclear winter that would horrifyingly put an end to the other half seemed like an inevitability more than a possibility to me for several years. It felt like a future we were all just politely ignoring, pretending wouldn’t happen. For quite some time it felt like a when, not a remote if.

Children have no control over the greater world around them. They hear and see more than adults expect them to, and they take in information in ways that adults can’t ever quite predict. They get scared irrationally, by things that don’t exist and things that pose no threat – and they get even more scared when the adults around them are anxious, worried, angry, and letting fly about things that nobody explains to them.

I am all for explaining things to our children, and showing them that we have strong emotions too – but I also think we should let them be children as long as possible. Their lives are full of small problems, childish worries, surmountable anxieties that look really hard from their point of view. Let’s not give them our big worries as well. Their shoulders aren’t ready.

In other words, limit the agonizing, grownups. Stop making Trump sound like the end of the world. Dial down the hyperbole at the dinner table – your kids don’t understand when you’re exaggerating for effect. They take what they hear you say as the bald truth, not melodrama because you’re that kind of person. Lie to them a little if you have to. Soften it up. Tell them everything’s going to be fine – that the government has checks and balances so that no one person can have all the power. That politicians never keep their campaign promises. It might even be true.

Help them sleep at night. There’ll be plenty of time for stark reality when they’re older.

*In hindsight, I suppose his nukes might have pointed west rather than east, to reach the USSR quicker. But then they’d be travelling over US soil. Unless they started from Alaska. Okay, I don’t know which way they’d go.

Birds in blue sky

Birds, not missiles

 

Post-election brain dump

Hello are you new here I process my feelings by writing about things. I’m not done yet, but I’ll put it all here and then we shall all move along.

The Americans I know are good people. Smart, educated, intelligent, thoughtful, kind people. It just so happens that because of my personal and online bubble, and where I live, I probably don’t know many people – if any, even – who voted for Trump. Most of my friends here are all just as mystified as the rest of the world about how this happened – but I think that’s the problem. We’re so divorced from the “other half” that we can’t begin to appreciate their difficulties. Voting for Trump was a cry for help. They didn’t really care what happened afterwards, so long as their voice finally was heard.

No country is perfect. No country has figured it all out yet so that every citizen is perfectly content with their lot. Canada sounds good, sure, but it’s cold up there. Scandinavia has its problems too. Utopia is still fiction.

Therefore, it can only be expected that people will vote for something different, to see if they can make things better than the not-perfect they’re experiencing. Historically the establishment almost always gets voted out after eight years to make way for something different. As a race, we strive to improve our lot – but not always in the most rational of ways.

Almost half the voting public is so pissed off with how their lives are going that they threw their lot in with a man who is a bully and a bigot, who denies climate change and assaults women and tells us that all men are like that. They voted for him because they wanted a big change from the establishment and that’s what he represented. They voted for him because he said the things they thought nobody was supposed to say, and thousands of people cheered him on and drew comfort from the fact that they had all been thinking these same things all along. They voted for him because they hate Hillary Clinton, and because everything they watched and read and heard on mass media and social media confirmed their reasons for hating her. Older and wiser and better people* told them not to vote for him, so of course they went right ahead and did it, to stick it to the man.

This election has made me question the nature of truth and the function of the mass media. The media here is acknowledgedly biased – which perhaps is better than pretending to be balanced when such a thing is impossible. But a voter can live their entire life in the bubble of their choosing, seeing only the information that confirms all their biases, and easily disregarding anything that doesn’t already agree with the opinion they’ve been carefully fed.

Then there’s this: roughly half the country identifies as Republican and roughly half the country voted for the Republican candidate. The fact that the outcome of any election depends on a tiny tipping point in the middle is the fault of the system. There can only be one winner, because America doesn’t do coalitions. A lot of people were unhappy about the Obama administration. Now a lot of people will be unhappy about the Trump administration. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

(New information: almost half the country (46%) didn’t bother their arses voting at all. So one quarter cared enough to vote for Trump and another quarter cared enough to vote for Hillary. This makes me feel like the whole thing is a fucking farce. But anyway.)

I want to find a republican and be friends with them. I want to stop reading terrifying articles about what will happen next and op-eds about what we did wrong and everything that pits one group of us against another group of us. I want a hug. I want to give someone a hug.

I want to move on.

I want to keep believing that most people are good.

*That’s a quote. From Saki’s “The Lumber Room,” if I recall correctly, which is an excellent tale.

pinkish leaves on the ground

Picture of fallen leaves, for you to interpret metaphorically as you wish

Love not hate

I brought my eight-year-old to school this morning. Her school is the neighborhood public school, and one we’re very happy with. Its student demographics happen to be 84% nonwhite. We live in Maryland, which is a blue state, in a pretty liberal-leaning suburb of Washington DC, and my Facebook bubble confirms that Trump supporters are few and far between just here.

Outside the school someone had put up hand-drawn signs – just sheets of paper and red marker – all along the handrails where the kindergarteners and first graders line up. There were two on the doors where the upper grades enter. I didn’t go around the side to where my second grader goes in, but I bet there were some there too. There were a couple stuck to the lamppost opposite where kids get out of cars in the drop-off line.

The signs said “YOU ARE SAFE” and “YOU ARE LOVED.” With big red love-hearts.

This was the thing that made me cry, finally. These flapping, rained-on pieces of paper brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

Someone – a staff member or a parent, I don’t know which – knew that children might be coming to school this morning worried, upset, concerned about the news. Afraid that they might have to live somewhere else. Afraid that people don’t like them because of their religion or the color of their skin or maybe the fact that they have two moms. Afraid because they’ve seen their parents crying or angry or disbelieving over the news this morning, maybe saying more in the heat of the moment than they really should have said in front of the kids, who always take in more than we think they do.

And that person did something about it. Hastily, with nothing more than paper and a marker, and a few minutes, they made a difference.

I love that this was done. I hate that there was a need for it. I still think love trumps hate. I think it always will. Hate is fear with a tinge of anger. Love is just love. Let’s keep spreading the love, not the hate.

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Pantsuit universe

Yesterday one of my Irish readers was surprised by the feminist slant of my post – that aspect of the US presidential race seemed to have got lost in the general melee of “Crazy Trump vs. Hawkish E-mail Lady” media attention that people overseas were seeing.

I was surprised that she was surprised, because from where I’m sitting that’s one of the most salient and exciting parts of the whole thing, and one that I find totally uplifting.

In my experience, the glass ceiling is a lot tougher in the US than it is in Europe. Sexism in and outside the workplace is more prevalent. Attitudes are more trenchant. Personally, I’ve had more female bosses than male in Ireland and I’ve only ever had male bosses in the US. Maybe that’s coincidence, or maybe it’s something more.

I’ve been catcalled in America but not in Ireland. I’ve had dodgy experiences in Ireland and in Spain. I’ve walked home in the dark everywhere, and felt nervous as a woman alone in an unfamiliar area everywhere, and clutched my keys in a parking lot so I can stab someone in the eye at short notice everywhere. Nowhere has a clean record. Nowhere has a monopoly on good or bad behavior. But you can’t deny that when women earn 80c for every dollar men earn, and that a government made up of mostly men thinks it should be able to legislate on women’s bodies, things could be fairer.

Today women in America are wearing pantsuits for Hillary Clinton. They’re wearing white for suffragettes. They’re wearing family heirloom earrings and pendants and voting with their mothers and their grandmothers in their hearts, and with their daughters in their arms and their minds. They’re lining up at Susan B. Anthony’s grave and covering it with the little “I voted” stickers you get when you leave your polling place, because this is what she worked for and didn’t get to see.

Irish people are always quick to point out that Ireland elected two female presidents in a row, starting way back in 1990. Which is true, and wonderful – but the president in Ireland is mostly a figurehead, much like the English monarch. Ireland has yet to elect a female Taoiseach (Prime Minister). If Hillary Clinton is elected she will be, to coin a hackneyed phrase, leader of the free world – and also, simultaneously, a woman. While the rest of the world has to bite their nails and just wait and see, I got to go out to my local polling place this morning and have a say in that decision – as a woman, and an immigrant, and an American citizen.

That’s democracy. It’s an exciting time.

"I voted" sticker.

Yes I did.

 

Just a girl

When I was growing up, one of my best friends was a boy. He lived at the top of my road, and our parents were good friends, so we were in and out of each other’s houses, and riding our bikes up and down the road, and happily duelling Sindys against Action Men and all that sort of thing for several years. But sometimes, especially as I got a little older, I didn’t always want to play the same games he did. “Let’s play cops and robbers!” he’d say. “Let’s do acrobatic tricks on our bikes,” I’d counter. So I’d be a robber escaping acrobatically from the cops, or a policeman doing an arabesque on my saddle as I pursued him.

Now and then, I had to pull out the oldest excuse in the book to get out of playing some game or other I didn’t feel like. I knew it was wrong at the time. The burgeoning feminist inside me cringed, but sometimes, to get out of things that looked too hard or too high or basically too uninteresting, I’d say to him “I’m only a girl.”

I don’t even know where my burgeoning feminist came from. She’d never heard of feminism. Her mother was not really flying the flag of liberated women, coming from the generation who had to give up work as soon as they got married, and not seeing any reason why a married woman would “take a job from a man”, as it was so quaintly perceived in those days. But she was the part of me who scrambled over rocks and climbed trees and turned cartwheels and read books and knew perfectly well she could do everything just as well, if not better, than her friends who were boys. Maybe that was why I knew it was wrong to say – it clearly wasn’t the truth. I may have heard it somewhere or read it in books, but in my own experience there was no reason to connect “only” with “girl”.

Tomorrow I’m taking my daughter with me – my fierce, independent, trail-blazing fighter of an eight-year-old girl – to vote for a woman to be the president of the United States. And I know that my daughter will never ever say she’s only a girl, because those words don’t go together at all. She’s everything a girl.

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Bregretsit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Picard despairs of you

Sigh.

First grade, third year

Dash and Mabel in the airport

Three years and three days ago

It’s December 14th and I have a first-grader again, just like three years ago.

I remember picking Dash up from school on this day in 2012. I was trying hard not to think about the news that was still coming out, but already terrible, unthinkable, not to be thought of. I remember looking at the faces of the other parents waiting outside the school, wondering if they had also been glued to the news, the radio, the internet, before they left the house to come here. Wondering if I should tell them, in case they didn’t know.

There’s something about bad news. You have to pass it on. Not because you want to make other people miserable, but because it feels dishonest to let them keep going without knowing about it.

I didn’t say anything to anyone. I continued to try not to think about it. I waited for my little boy, my gap-toothed, tousled-haired, inventive, smart, mile-a-minute first-grader to run out the doors so that I could hug him and take him home and give him extra cookies and not tell him why.

I didn’t even know they were first-graders then. The news said they were kindergarteners. That’s okay, I thought, clutching at any straw I could to distance my life from the lives of those who were being torn apart that day. Mine is in first grade. It wouldn’t have been him.

It could have been him. It could have been anyone, but it was twenty first graders and four teachers in Connecticut, in a perfectly nice neighborhood, in a perfectly safe school, where terrible things never happened. Couldn’t possibly happen.

In the three years since, my children have heard about planes that crashed into skyscrapers, about people who have nowhere to live because of war, about shooters in Paris and bad people in other places. They’ve become used to emergency drills in school in case a bad guy ever comes and they have to hide in their classrooms. They think it’s normal; it doesn’t worry them unduly.

I’ve never told them about Sandy Hook.

It was a Friday, three years ago. The following Monday I didn’t have to send my children to school because we were flying to Ireland for Christmas. All the televisions at the airport were showing CNN, a nonstop news update on the victims, the shooter, the guns, what and where and how and why. I sat my two children directly below a pair of TVs, so that they couldn’t see them. I put headphones on their ears and movies on their little screen, and they were oblivious to the repeated words that might have caught their attention: first grade, teachers, elementary school, children, mother, son, dead.

This year I have a first grader again. I sent her to school this morning, just like every morning.

Mabel on a field trip

First grade on the march

I’m probably not going to publish this, I said, and kept it in Drafts for a month

… But then yesterday happened, showing that Planned Parenthood’s patrons now have to run the gauntlet not just of grumpy entitled protesters but also madmen with guns. So I pulled this out of my Drafts folder after all.

————————————

There’s a business I drive by quite often locally, opposite the mall where our local Target is. I would never have noticed it, or its small sign that says Family Planning Clinic, if it weren’t for the people who loiter outside it. They loiter with intent, carrying placards and judgement. They saunter up and down outside, chatting to each other, pleased with their overt expression of what good people they are. They hang around, doing the right thing. I don’t know if they have a roster or a volunteerspot to make sure someone’s always there, or if they only show up on certain days, but lately whenever I go by I’ve noticed their presence.

I’m never there for long, just stopped at a traffic light now and then, so I’ve never seen anyone go in or come out of the medical establishment. But I can imagine how it goes. I can imagine a young woman – very young, or maybe not so young – with a friend for support or alone, unhappy and facing up to a difficult decision. It was hard enough to get to this point, to get time off work, to sneak away, to find out where and how and when and how much. To worry and wonder and buy the test and take the test and look at the two little pink lines and know what they mean for her life. To decide, or to have the decision made by circumstances beyond her control. Now she has to run the gauntlet of all these good people ostentatiously doing their right thing. Seven or eight of them, barring her way, or maybe just standing watching as she walks to the door: disapproving, feeling superior, shrouded in their smugness, proffering pamphlets and pointedly placarding.

I never saw myself as a crusader for abortion rights. But I long wondered how anyone who had never experienced a pregnancy could make a decision about it. Last week I posted about abortion rights on my personal Facebook page, because the longer I spend being a woman – that’s my whole life so far, if you weren’t paying attention – the angrier I get to see governments that are mostly made up of men thinking they get to make decisions about other people’s bodies.

In Ireland, abortion is still illegal. There’s a very tiny clause that talks about how “if the life of the mother is at stake” it may take place, but in practice, even when a woman is bleeding out on the operation table with a pregnancy that’s clearly not viable, doctors hesitate to do what needs to be done. Never mind trying to prove to a jury that you’re suicidal because you were raped and you’re a teenager in a foreign country and you just want to get this horrible nightmare over with.

Irish women go to the UK for abortions. This, obviously, adds to the time it takes to arrange and the mental and economic strain to sort it out, leading to more dangerous later-term abortions for Irish women. The UN Human Rights Committee has called Ireland out on this and said the law must be amended, but nothing has changed yet.

———–

I stopped there, because I’d run out of indignant steam, and because I was talking in generalities and couldn’t find the news articles to back up my assertions. Then again, there are probably news articles to back up any assertions you want to make, in Ireland or America, about whatever your topic is. I’m sure Fox News has plenty of stories about how evil Planned Parenthood is, and the Iona Institute will tell you how much better off Irish women are because abortion isn’t an option in their country.

 

If you’d like to read more about the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in Ireland, or get involved, you can go to the Abortion Rights Campaign‘s website.

If you are experiencing a crisis pregnancy in Ireland, the Well Woman Centre is somewhere you can go for impartial advice covering all your options.

 

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.

Asshole-proof

Mostly, my Facebook experience is a happy one, filled with other people’s amusing anecdotes, pictures of delicious food, heartwarming snippets, cute kids, and kittens. I carefully curate my friends list and those whose notifications I see to keep it this way. I know it’s a bubble, not representative of humanity as a whole – and that’s how I like it.

This week I’m seeing chinks in my bubble, if I may mix metaphors. Of course, my friends are all lovely right-thinking (that is, left-leaning) people; but some of them, through no fault of their own, have other friends or relations who are not. I’m also in a neighbourhood Facebook group that does not screen for membership on the basis of whether or not you’re an asshole.

So it’s disheartening to discover that there are actually lots of Americans out there who conform exactly to the stereotype of the closed-minded, ignorant, xenophobic American the rest of the world often thinks of. The type I never encounter, to my knowledge, in real life. And, because they conduct their Facebook business mostly in their own hate-filled bubbles of like-minded people and jingoistic militaristic gun-totin’ Fox-news-watching memes, I can’t tell whether there are in fact more of them out there than sane, decent people or not.

Which is worrying.

I don’t think Irish people are inherently better than Americans. I imagine the ratio of assholes to non-assholes is probably about the same everywhere, give or take a few culturally specific beliefs or practices. And Facebook assholes might even seem like perfectly nice people if I met them out and about, seeing as how I’m a non-threatening white soccermom type who doesn’t fly the flag of her feminist anti-gun tree-hugging liberal pro-equality leanings at the supermarket checkout. I don’t often even wade into the fray online, though I’m not above a little passive-aggressive point-scoring grammar/punctuation/spelling correction when moved.

A friend asked this morning whether things are getting worse or she’s just getting older. I have to confess to having the same thoughts myself lately. On the whole, to save our sanity, I believe we have to decide that there’s just as much good as bad out there. That sometimes, often, there’s more.