Sorry about the vagueblogging but I just need to vent

I am very good at giving advice and very very bad at taking it.

Knowing this, I sometimes try to trick myself by pretending I’m someone else and giving myself the advice I’d give that person. But my perspective is off – I can’t tell if I’m being uber critical or giving myself a pass. Because I hate criticism. even from myself.

Nobody likes criticism, I suppose. But I feel other people probably have better defences against it than I do. I might be wrong about that, but I like to blame it on my not having siblings who said mean things which I learned to ignore. Nobody ever said mean things to me.

Today two different people, speaking in professional capacities about each of my children, said things that could, by a paranoid person such as myself, be interpreted as criticisms of my parenting.

Therefore I’m a crap parent and my children will grow up to be burdens on society except mostly on us their parents first and possibly forever.

Except that Dash is doing perfectly well at school and Mabel’s increasingly reading, which has to be good, and the cats are alive and well even if I did kill the potted herbs, and I’m making black bean brownies so everyone will have lunch dessert tomorrow and there’s a babysitter booked for tomorrow night so we can have a date night and look after our relationship and I’ve just ordered the proof copy of my third book and am close to finishing the first draft of my fourth and at least one of us will have a flu shot very soon and I switched the summer duvets for the winter duvets on the kids’ beds today and we are all enjoying watching junior masterchef together and I AM DOING WHAT I CAN.

girl with notebook sitting on floor, boy with video game beside her, cat on cat tree watching them
Trio
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Reasons why I took a shower at 4pm today

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

I imagined the conversation going something like this:

– Were you at the gym?

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

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

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

They’re not so bad, maybe.

The annual curmudge

I’m a big old St Patrick’s Day curmudgeon. This is not news to anyone who was here last year or any other year. I don’t want to wear green today or get drunk today (well, sure, but children) or set up leprechaun traps today or listen to traditional Irish music today and I’m only just getting over the mortification of having to see Enda Kenny visit Donald Trump today.

When the word went out that this year’s international dinner at Dash’s school this Sunday would have live Irish music and dancing, I went from vaguely wondering if we could get out of it to deciding that I really didn’t have to show up to everything they put on.

Old map of Ireland, framed, from unusual perspective.
No, it’s not sideways. That’s the way they drew the map.

Then I wondered if I was really a terrible person, denying my children access to their heritage like that. Am I like one of those immigrants who refuses to speak the language of the old country to their children so that they’ll assimilate better, thus taking the wonderful benefits of bilingualism out of their family’s grasp?

Actually, no. I don’t like traditional Irish music or step dancing. It’s part of my national heritage, but it’s not something I feel any personal connection to. Same goes for GAA (that’s hurling and Gaelic football). And we’re not even Catholic any more. But you know what my kids will grow up with?

  • A Hiberno-English vocabulary that they can turn on and off at will.
  • A bookshelf full of books by British and Irish authors many of whom are less well known here, from Oliver Jeffers’ picture books to Joyce’s Ulysses and a lot in between.
  • Knowledge of the canon of Father Ted, Monty Python, The Two Ronnies, and various other bits and pieces of nerdy 80s trivia befitting children of Irish people our age.
  • A better grasp of Irish and European geography and history than many Americans.
  • An understanding that other countries are just as valid and real as the USA and that normal is an ever-shifting concept.
  • Familiarity with the Dublin Monopoly board.
  • Access to plenty of excellent Irish hits of the 80s and 90s, should they choose to indulge.
  • Their grandfather’s watercolours of Irish scenes and historical maps of Ireland on the walls.
A pile of books by authors including Marian Keyes, Kate O'Brien, James Joyce, Julia Donaldson, Liz Nugent, Flann O'Brien.
Not all Irish authors, but all from that side of the pond

And then there’s that book I wrote, too. It’s set in Ireland.

I think they’ll be secure enough in their cultural heritage even if it doesn’t extend to a spot of the old diddly-aye.

Framed watercolour painting of a Galway hooker with brown sails on the water
An Irish painting of an Irish boat

Invisible invulnerable invaluable

And then poor George Michael only got one day in the news because of Carrie Fisher. What a crappy year, seriously.

I heard an interview with Carrie Fisher on the radio recently, and she struck me as a woman who is at that point in life where she really has no fucks to give. She tells it how it is and she doesn’t have to be something for anyone else any more. She wasn’t putting on her best self for the Terri Gross interview, she was just there, talking. If we wanted to listen, that was up to us. We should all aspire to such levels of notgivingafuckitude. I feel like she and Hilary Clinton could have run the world so well, but instead we’re left with TinyHands OrangeFace and a fairly vague Han Solo.

(I found it hilarious that from what Carrie said, Harrison Ford didn’t actually have to act at all for Star Wars. That terse, ultra-dry-witted man is exactly who he was/is in real life.)

There’s this thing about how older women are invisible, and how it’s really hard to come to terms with this new phase if you’ve been generally known as a pretty or beautiful woman in your younger days. But older women have such strength – think of Carrie Fisher, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Hilary Clinton – women who kick ass, take names, and give no fucks. (I hope Hilary is doing yoga, centering herself, drinking red wine, wearing leggings and letting her pores breathe, enjoying not having to give a shit about what she’s projecting to anyone any more. She’s proved herself a million times over.) Who told me that the Dalai Lama said that Western women will save the world? If only the world will let them – but hell, they’re trying so hard.

Women over 50 have walked through the fire of the gaze, the vulnerability, the judgement, for all those years. They’ve held it together, all of it, all at once, probably for everyone else at the same time as for themselves. They’ve done it all and fallen down and got up again and done it all some more, and even if they think they failed they’ve done it anyway. That’s what women do.

And then sometimes some of the best of them have a massive damn heart attack and it’s not fair at all.

Why is it different for women? Because men are never vulnerable. Not until they’re aged and infirm, and even then they’re less vulnerable than old women. (I just heard a story about an old man who confronted a burglar in his house, made him a cup of tea, and saw him out the front door. Admirable; but an old woman can’t do that.) Most young men have no enemies but themselves – if they can avoid getting killed through their own sheer foolhardiness or stupidity, they won’t have to worry about their personal safety for a long time.

Men don’t even know why women move in packs and go to the toilet in pairs and bring a friend to the party – we barely remember ourselves, we think we’re just more social than boys, but the truth is that we don’t go places on our own at night. One of us always has to be the more sober one, the most sensible one, the one who can make sure everyone else gives the right address to the taxi driver and doesn’t throw up in the car. One of us will always rise to the occasion. The boys can just get rat-arsed all they want, because they can probably wander home as slowly and alone-ly and darkly as they like.

Apart from personal safety issues, women have run the gauntlet of each other’s judgement since they were old enough to be told that’s a pretty dress now go and brush your hair. Opining on other women is like breathing. It’s what you do while you’re not doing anything. You look around, you see other people, you think things. Good, bad, pretty, fat, thin, nice shoes, horrible jeans, I wouldn’t do that with my hair. Older than me, younger than me, more friendly than me, quieter than me, shrill, short, bossy, judgmental. Who’s judging me today? Who am I doing this for? Who am I trying to impress? Why is this important?

And eventually you might get past it and stop trying to impress and you start seeing inside people a little better and ignoring their outsides a little more easily.

And then maybe, just maybe, you get to be something near as kick-ass as Carrie Fisher.

 

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

Quietly booming

Well, the Blog Awards were on Thursday night and I didn’t win, but it’s all right because Fionnuala did, with her lovely blog from Germany, and I’m happy that the judges went for a catch-all parenting/lifestyle blog not so unlike my own (though clearly superior), because in previous years I always felt that they wanted something very touristy or “diaspora-y” for the Diaspora category, which I couldn’t possibly give them.

Anyway, head over to Three Sons Later and give her some love, not least because she was kind enough to give me a shout-out when she won, and I’m pretty sure that has something to do with the way WordPress has just informed me that my “stats are booming!” (Booming for me is more of a gentle nudge. But appreciated nonetheless.)

While I’m at it, you should check out The Airing Cupboard and Office Mum and also Department of Speculation because I’m giving them my very own Awards For Being Excellent At This and Robbed and also Very Supportive Commenters and Lovely People. Not that they need my puny referrals, but for what it’s worth.


We’ve been talking about introverts lately. I finally picked up a copy of Quiet, by Susan Cain, which had been recommended by a friend ages ago, and though I’m not far into it yet, it’s fascinating and illuminating reading.

Labels are something that I’m wary of giving my children, because I don’t want them to become self-fulfilling prophecies, to create self-imposed limits – but sometimes it’s important to feel that you have a tribe, and that you’re not just a lone outlier. (Oh, the irony, if you’re talking about introverts.) And it’s been clear to me for a long time that Mabel is an introvert. Dash is an extrovert, that’s not hard to divine; and B and I are both on the introvert side of the scale too, but fairly social ones.

Mabel, I think, is more than that. She’s shy as well, but it was the way even as a toddler she’d need to decompress after a social event with a good old solo imaginary-play session at the dollhouse that really clued me in. She couldn’t just head to bed, no matter how late we’d been out – she had to spend a while playing first. These days she gives me the evil eye if I’m in the same room, and likes to keep the TV on so that I can’t hear the voices she’s doing, but the compulsion to play is just the same.

Yesterday we went to a start-of-year potluck picnic for Dash’s school. Dash was in his element, happily buzzing around with his classmates, old and new, and B and I were chatting quietly to a few parents and teachers. I was happy that Mabel had headed into the fray of children, rather than hanging out of me the whole time as she had done last year. But she wasn’t really enjoying herself, and after a reasonable length of time we ducked out. She was tired and tetchy and I was on the alert for a meltdown, so nothing untoward happened. But in the car on the way home I started telling them about the book I was reading.

A short description of the characteristics of introverts and extroverts had Dash and Mabel instantly placing themselves, and wanting to know more. When we got home, Mabel wanted me to read bits of the book to her. We talked a bit about how our society favours extroverts and tries to make everyone think they should behave in the most outgoing way possible, but that it’s perfectly good and excellent and fruitful to have a more quiet, withdrawn, thoughtful personality.

I think, just as much as finding out we could say Dash was dyslexic was a good thing, letting Mabel define herself as an introvert will be helpful too.

And it’s so much more socially acceptable than saying you just don’t like people very much.

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Connect

Blogging ain’t like it used to be.

I don’t know why. Well, I do. It’s not it, it’s me. It’s me, and it’s my kids. They’re people now. I can’t go whining about them on the Internet, because what they do is no longer unconscious behaviour, it’s not just because they’re a baby, it’s not all about me. It’s about them, and I can’t write about it if it’s not fun and funny, entertainment, light and fluffy and a quick boost for the reader on the bus. Don’t bring anybody down. Keep it easy. Take it handy.

Maybe I don’t have any readers on the bus. Maybe all my readers are people who know me anyway, who care about what I’m doing and how I’m feeling – but in that case I certainly can’t go airing my dirty laundry in public. Anonymity only goes so far.

When my daughter has a screaming fit of rage over something inconsequential, it drains me.

When my son ignores my request – telling – demand – shout – to stop doing the thing he’s doing until I physically remove him from the situation, it makes me angry. And guilty. And angry.

When I’m the one who always picks up the giant mess, I feel like a crappy parent because I got it all wrong.

When I make three dinners for four people, night after night, I wonder when they’ll grow out of it, and at what point I was meant to make it be different, and how that was meant to happen, and whether it was easier for everyone else or if I’m just particularly bad at it.

I don’t want to dwell on these feelings, because I’m mostly a positive person who doesn’t find it so hard to look at what I have done, at the good things, at my kids’ accomplishments and the times when they exceeded my expectations… but it’s all valid. The coin has two sides.

I feel this, and if I do, quite possibly you do too. My blog is not Pinterest perfect, Facebook happy, more than chirpy holiday snaps and snippets of hilarity as I show off my kids for their comedy charm and cuteness.

My blog is where it all hangs out – I tell you how insecure I’m feeling about my writing (hey, guess what, there are two spelling mistakes in the print version of the book, and I’m done with uploading corrections now) or how I worry about Dash’s dyslexia and how it will affect his future, how Mabel bit someone or how much of a double-edged sword tandem nursing is.

Because my blog is for connecting, and if everything’s perfect I can’t connect, except with all the other people pretending everything’s perfect for them too.

That’s not the connection I’m looking for. That’s not why I’m here. Why are you here?

Upside-down "Detour" sign by water.
I knew this would come in handy.

I wrote a book. It’s fiction for children aged 9-12, mostly, with a nostalgic Irish twist. If you want to know more about it, drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com or tweet me at @awfullychipper.