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?

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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.

Diversions

It’s very hard to sort out summer camps when Donald Trump is stopping legal residents of the USA from entering the country to come back to their homes and families and pets and belongings.

It’s difficult to concentrate on what we might need for new kittens when the president has barely been in office a wet week and he already seems mired in a bunch of power plays that might end in war.

It’s tricky to think about school re-enrollment forms when people are about to lose their health insurance, their ability to medicate chronic illness and keep their children alive because the ACA has been repealed with no replacement.

It’s confusing to wonder how I’m going to attend my best friend’s wedding in Italy this summer when people are being indefinitely detained at airports in spite of the stay on the order.

It’s hard to make pancakes for breakfast when I keep stopping to wonder if Trump has enough support in the armed forces to be a military dictator.

It’s hard to remember to print out Mabel’s passport photos and arrange to get her Irish passport application witnessed while noting that actual Nazi Steve Bannon was slipped onto the National Security Council as chief strategist while we were all busy watching the airports yesterday.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Still confused


I spent Saturday feeling guilty for not marching and watching the photos of all my friends who were at the march, happy and pink-hatted, brandishing clever signs, many bringing their kids to be part of history.

On Sunday I told myself to stop whining to myself and just promise I’d go to the next one.

Today’s Monday and things are confusing again, because the march had too many white women who like pumpkin spice and not enough intersectionality and I made a couple of political posts on Facebook and I probably said the wrong thing and it’s naive to wish we could all just get along and see each other as a person instead of a cog in the giant wheel of their group/race/culture/class/religion/gender/sexuality.

For someone who prides herself on her words and her diplomacy, I have a long history of saying the wrong thing to a response of resounding silence. When I was twelve we were all painting pretend graffiti at summer camp. I added “IRA”, because that’s the sort of thing you saw in graffiti. I didn’t mean I supported the IRA. Obviously. But it went down the wrong way entirely. I still have conversations in my head where I try to justify that.

Any time I try to talk about racism or politics I probably say the wrong thing too. Please understand that I’m trying to do better and I want you to tell me when I say something that drops with the sound of a million clashing discordant cymbals.

This is what I know. My two children spent their most formative years understanding that it was normal and good and right for a man with a big smile and brown skin and tight curly black hair to be President of the United States – a man who looked more like a lot of their schoolmates than like them. Now they are learning the hard truth that the person in charge of the country you live in is not always someone you are happy to look up to, and not always someone smarter and kinder and wiser and better than everyone else.

I think they already know very well that it doesn’t always make sense to choose the person who looks more like them – as a friend or in an election. We choose people for better reasons than that.

Tuesday.

The sun came out today for the first time since the Obama administration, which was nice and all, but was not reflected in any metaphorical way by the new president being any less awful or doing anything less terrible than all those things we were afraid he’d do, and a few more to boot.

But it was nice to see the sun, I suppose.

dinosaur and dollhouse mom at a desk together
I don’t have a picture of the sun so let’s let this represent the education secretary nomination and the EPA.

How does it feel?

The new president was sworn in a couple of hours ago. I didn’t watch. I didn’t listen. I don’t like the sound of his voice or the look of his face and I certainly don’t like hearing any of the words that come out of his mouth.

Mabel and I ended up playing Monopoly this morning, since she’s off school and still in her pyjamas. It was delightfully retro, but it also felt a little like preparing for the new world order. There was a slight hysteria about buying hotels and snapping up property. Well, maybe just for me.

How does it feel right now? It feels confusing. In spite of my lofty aims to stay off Facebook, I’m on Facebook. I’m not looking for news, but sometimes it comes at me. The climate change page has disappeared from the White House website. So has the LGBT rights page. Are they just preparing to replace them with something even better? Something the same with the new name on it? Are they hoping we’ll forget?

Remember in Back to the Future when the guy in the 1955 diner says “Ronald Reagan? The actor?” when Marty tells him who’s president in the future? I feel like that guy, except I’ve been here the whole time. It’s still utterly surreal that someone could show up, decide to run for president, win nomination, win the electoral colleges, become president – with no experience in politics, no knowledge of how a country is run, no human decency, no integrity at all. How can that happen? How did that just happen? He said “You can do anything you want when you’re rich,” and apparently it was true.

I’ve been blogging for so long that I can tell you exactly how I felt when Dubya was re-elected. I was sorely disappointed, but then I shrugged and said that the world keeps turning.

This is different. This is not normal. This is not business as usual. The world is still turning, Obama said it’s never the end of the world until the end of the world; but it’s all wrong.

Frankenstein

I’m cradling a cup of tea in my hands (in between typing) but I’m afraid to drink it. I think I have to wait until it’s lukewarm, and I hate lukewarm tea. I’m looking at a sheet of instructions that tell me “do NOT spit, floss, rinse, chew hard food, sticky food, consume hot food or drink, drink through a straw…” and wondering how this is meant to work.

I’ve taken a sip. It’s not too hot but it’s a little warmer than lukewarm. I think it’ll be okay.

The inside of my mouth looks like Frankenstein’s monster. I got home at 11:00 but it took me two hours to look in the mirror because I didn’t want to see it. I had a periodontal procedure. If you don’t want to know any more, skip the next paragraph, where I will describe it at your peril.

I had a gum graft, which means they take some tissue from the roof of your mouth and sew it on to the bottom of your teeth where you should have gum but you don’t because your gums and or teeth are stupid and useless. They did it on four bottom teeth in a row, because for some reason that may or may not be related to my orthodontic work as a teenager, the gum there was eroding badly.

It was a “simple” procedure that took an hour in the chair and only a few more injections than your basic filling. It didn’t hurt, really, but it was awkward and uncomfortable and icky and I’m glad it’s over. Now I have three different sets of pills (anti-inflammatories, painkillers, and antibiotics) and a follow-up for next week, and I’ll be getting a fancy night guard so that I don’t push my teeth out of alignment again. I’m hoping this lasts until I’m 90 so I don’t have to worry about it again. Maybe 100.

Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t want to know that, but that’s what’s on my mind so that’s what you got.

Another thing on my mind is Saturday’s march. I really don’t give a crap about Friday’s inauguration, since it’s happening and I can’t stop it so I’m just going to ignore it. La la laaaaa. Don’t feed the troll by paying attention to him. That’s what he thrives on. But the next day there’s this big march you may have heard of planned for downtown DC. A lot of people are planning to go. Even people who don’t live here are moving heaven and earth to be there.

I’m a woman. I live within spitting distance of Washington DC. I certainly disagree with Trump’s presidency and all he stands for. But I don’t want to go.

That’s my gut reaction. I’m not usually overly crowd-phobic, but the idea of all those throngs of people just sets off my internal alarm bells. And someone on the radio this morning helped me figure out why else it is that I have the don’ wannas about this: it’s not the end. It’s as if many people have focused on this march as an end in itself: but for one thing, its aims are sort of fuzzy and nonspecific – to show Donald just how many people will show up to let him know they don’t like him; way more than will have shown up the day before to say they do – and for another, January 21st is not the end. It’s the beginning. Maybe I think I should save my energy for the four years to come. Maybe I think I should do something more concrete than going out and walking around to show my displeasure.

Maybe I’m just lazy; that’s always an option. Since I’m right here beside DC, I practically feel like I’m as good as there whether I go or not. I feel guilty about not wanting to go, but I’m not going to go just to stop myself feeling guilty.

Anyway, that’s where I am. And where I’m not. Pass the ice cream.

Giving grace

Three figures on the beach

I spent the weekend mostly not looking at Facebook.

I spent the weekend a stone’s throw from the Atlantic.

I spent the weekend reading a book and going to bed early and listening to the ocean waves crash and recede.

I spent the weekend being thankful for American restaurants that cater to children who don’t eat anything but french fries with no seasoning on them, that provide word searches and mad libs and paper for games of x’s and o’s, and chocolate milk and lemonade and apple juice. And beer.

I spent the weekend adjudicating rows and acceding to demands and telling short people to stop kicking each other, because some things never change.

I spent the weekend sharing a queen-sized bed with an eight-year old.

I spent the weekend buying buckets and spades and ice-cream cones at the end of November.

I spent the weekend with my people, by the sea, and it was good.


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