Worth working through the don’t wannas

We went away, briefly, which is always a good thing.

Before we go anywhere I’m generally stuck in the I don’t wannas. I don’t wanna think ahead, I don’t wanna pack, I don’t wanna leave the cats, I don’t wanna take a child out of school an hour early, I don’t wanna drive for hours for something that may or may not be much fun and then require driving for more hours back again. It all seems far too much like hard work.

As soon as we’re on the road, all that falls away and I remember that it’s good for all of us to get some time together, even if most of it is time singing to Hamilton in the car; to get out of the regular and do something marginally, just a tiny bit, different. Just to be somewhere else for a while so that when we come back we appreciate how nice home is. And maybe to do something nice while we’re gone as well.

I had tried to plan a weekend that would make everyone happy. Of course, such a thing is possibly doomed to failure. In honesty, I wasn’t made entirely happy myself, except by the martyr-mommy happiness that comes of seeing everyone else happy. Which I suppose is another kind of satisfaction.

So we drove three hours west to Virginia and up a mountain where the boys could go skiing for the day and Mabel and I could go to the waterpark, because she didn’t want to ski. I would have quite liked to ski, but I’m terrible value skiing because I get too cold too fast and I don’t have a lot of stamina. If you could just ski for a couple of hours that’d suit me, but they don’t arrange it that way. The waterpark on site was the same one we’d been to a couple of summers ago, and Mabel was excited about that. I’m sure she’d have had more fun with a buddy, or even her brother instead of boring me, but we had a pretty good morning alternately whooshing down the slides and bobbing along the lazy river. We had all-day passes but once we’d got dressed and gone to meet the boys for lunch we didn’t feel like going back, so that was that. They got good value out of their ski passes and had a great time, and I was just slightly jealous watching them.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think this was a Facebook-perfect post about my perfect life with my perfect children. (My husband, of course, is perfect.) We had our usual difficulties finding food (fries and more fries, but only the ones that weren’t pre-dusted with a microscopic amount of paprika thank you) and even with a pull out sofa as well as two queen beds, I somehow ended up sleeping beside the human limpet both nights, which made me grumpy and ill-rested. There was a fight over who got the sofa bed the first night and almost another over who didn’t get it the second night, when it proved less than fun, actually. There was lots of Disney Channel (we don’t have cable at home so that’s always a draw when we’re away) and somehow the first disc of Hamilton wasn’t in the car so we listened to the second half straight through about five times.

Today we awoke to falling snow, so rather than find an activity to fill the morning we just headed straight home, with nowt but a stop at Waffle House for breakfast (where child A woudln’t even eat toast and just blew bubbles in a glass of chocolate milk for half an hour, but child B ate some bacon as well as a waffle, so that’s a win) and another at McDonald’s (because of course child A needed lunch well before anyone else did), and we had plenty of time to finish homework and snuggle the cats and get in some comestibles before the week starts again. But I think we’re just a little bit renewed and refreshed, so it was all worth it.

Advertisements

Reframing for the memories

Here we are, finally galloping towards the finish line as the last week of summer looms and everything goes into fast forward, after the creeping, juddering back-and-forth of the very long break, longer than ever before because this year in their wisdom the county decided to move Back-to-School to after Labor Day instead of the third week of August. Yesterday my Timehop showed me that Mabel had started second grade this time a year ago, that Dash started Kindergarten six years ago, and a myriad of other milestones. Mabel wishes she was already back at school; Dash still has to finish his summer packet so it’s just as well he’s not.

I’ve seen other people’s photos and posts about how it’s been the best summer ever, about all the fun they had and the things they saw and learned and did, and I was feeling a little down about our summer. It wasn’t the greatest ever. It wasn’t fun all the time. It was, perhaps, a summer of too much of too little to do, a summer of fights and arguments, of conflict and boredom and screens and complaining. But then I remembered it’s all about the reframing. Reframing isn’t just how we make our boring lives into enviable blog posts and Facebook updates – it’s how our brains remember things so that our childhoods glow in memory and holidays gain a sheen in hindsight that they didn’t have in the moment. It’s how our brains deal with childbirth. We focus on the good and gloss over the bad. Besides, I don’t take photos of the fights and the whining.

20170824_124016
I know the waves don’t look big here, but the beach shelves dramatically just there

So our almost-week at the beach was … nice. Yesterday I realised that when I think back I won’t really dwell on the things we didn’t do or the times we disagreed, or even the spectacular sunburn I managed to procure because I am the queen of making sure everyone else puts on their sunscreen but I’m a bit blasé about doing my own. I prefer my swim top and my big floppy hat, but sometimes I happen not to be wearing those and … oh well. Sun and me don’t go. You’d think I’d know that by now.

Kids in bumper boats
Genuinely the most fun at the amusement park

So: we had a lovely time. My children were impressively brave (but not foolhardy) in the big waves on the shelving beach. My children were adventurous and tried new things (go-karting, bright red tortilla chips). My children fulfilled long-held ambitions (doughnuts for breakfast every day) and laughed at each other’s jokes till milkshake came out their noses. We walked home in the dark singing variously, simultaneously, songs from Hamilton and hits of the 80s. The people-hating eight-year-old easily made friends on the beach a few times. We saw an eclipse. (Not totality, but about 80%.)

Girl and man looking up at sky wearing eclipse glasses, shadows through trees
Eclipse watching. See the little crescents in the shadows of the leaves? That’s the eclipse.

I did no laundry, the absolute minimum of shopping and cooking, and was forcibly prevented from Facebooking too much because I didn’t have my laptop and I’m terrible at typing without a real keyboard. I sat alone in the serene peace of the screened porch and read a book instead. I drank real coffee and ate too much sugar. It was almost like a holiday, not just the same old thing in a new location – at least some of the time.

beer in sunshine

Now there will be buying and eating of fruit and vegetables, imposing of schedules and picking up of schoolwork, making of appointments and doing of useful things, because we are refreshed, because a change is (almost, maybe) as good as a rest, and because we’re nearly there.

Beach looking back at the sunset
Quiet evening beach

A short story about Luther Vandross

My best friend from Ireland got married in Italy a week ago and I’m so glad that I was there to see it.

People I met at the wedding were asking how I knew her, as people do at weddings, and there’s no short answer. “Friend of the family” is sort of true because our dads worked together. “Childhood friend” doesn’t quite cut it, since we grew closer as we left childhood behind. We did a J1 summer in San Francisco together – a formative experience indeed – and we went to London together (and with a bunch of her college-mates) the summer after that. We did the same one-year post-grad course and shared a flat as adults. She was my only bridesmaid. She’d have been my firstborn’s godmother only we didn’t do the church thing. She’s basically been the closest thing I’ve had to a sister.

The wedding was just as beautiful, well-planned, thoughtfully put together and utterly perfect as I knew it would be. No need was left uncatered to, no want unanticipated, and if some of us only just squeaked into the ceremony with a minute to spare, that was nobody’s fault but our own for each assuming someone else knew exactly where the church was.

There was a tree in the area where we all milled around before and after dinner that they’d decorated with old family photos from both sides – pictures of the bride and groom as babies and children, of their parents as young adults and their parents’ weddings. There I was too in one of the photos, in all my metal-mouth, terrible hair, twelve-year-old glory. It made me feel like one of the family. I barely restrained myself from dragging all the new friends I’d just made during dinner over to show them.

After the amazing dinner, the even more amazing desserts, the cocktails and the conversation, after the most excellent swing band had played the first dance and all the dances that followed, there was a DJ. I made friends with the DJ.

If you’ve ever gone dancing with me, you may know that this is a thing I used to do, in my wild and shameless youth. I would always endeavour to “make friends” with the DJ – i.e. go up and talk to him, maybe make eyes a little, you know how it is, and ask him to play something good for dancing. Maybe ask him to play something “not crap.” DJs love that. It always works. Ahem.

But this time I actually did make friends with the DJ, because I met him in the queue for the loo. We exchanged a couple of sentences, and I was a little confused because he was dressed like a waiter (black trousers, white shirt) but seemed to have an Irish accent, like the guests. All was explained a few minutes later when I went back outside to find a tiny DJ station had been set up and my new buddy was standing beside it working the turntables.
“Are you the DJ?” I asked, putting my staggering intellect to good use.
“Yep.”
“So . . . are you Irish?”
“Yeah, I’m Irish, but I was born in Rome,” he said. (When I recounted this to some of the other guests they shook their heads as if to say “Well then, he’s not Irish”, but evidently I’ve lived in America for too long because it made perfect sense to me. Maybe his parents are both Irish.) Anyway, he’d spent a fair few formative years in Ireland and now he lives back in Rome again.

And he didn’t have a playlist, just a vague instruction to play songs from the 60s to the 90s. He would welcome requests, he said. You don’t have to ask me twice. What an opportunity.

I pretty much squandered it because after “Love Cats” and “Kiss” I ran out of things I could remember I liked to dance to, but several other guests took up the cause and we ended up with a great selection of dancing tunes. There came a moment when I was bopping half-heartedly to something someone else had requested. I told her apologetically, “It’s a bit… Luther Vandross-y for me.” Even as I said it I thought to myself that that was a weirdly specific allusion that would probably be lost on her, as she was definitely younger than me, and I wondered why on earth that particular musician had come to mind just then.

“It IS Luther Vandross,” she said.

I was impressed by my astuteness. Is Luther Vandross back in the charts? I still don’t quite know how that happened.

 

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

 

Lagging

New Year’s Day
I feel vaguely as if I’m coming down with something but I think it’s probably just the jet lag, or the time displacement, or whatever you want to call it when you’ve had enough sleep but you’re five hours out of kilter. Yesterday we went to a kids’ New Year’s Eve party, which is a lovely tradition we seem to have become caught up in, and was just the ticket for us, because we got to count down and release the balloons and sing Auld Lang Syne at about 7:15, and we were home by 8:30. Whereupon three of us went swiftly to bed and one decided he was going to stay up and stick it out no matter what. Around 2am I heard noises downstairs and investigated to find a morose ten-year-old who had unaccountably been unable to keep his eyes open after 10:45 and had missed the whole thing. Since midnight here was 5am in Ireland, where we were until two days ago, I’m quite surprised he managed to stay up that long.

I have a 2000-piece jigsaw on the go and mostly I’d have liked to spend all day staring at it but instead we went out to a New Year’s Day party this afternoon, which was probably the best thing to do because there’s nothing like being in a room full of friends and watching your kids running around in a pack with all the other kids they know to remind you that it’s not so bad to live in a place you don’t come from, if the place you get to live in is this one.

There’s always that touch of the blues that comes with the return journey for me, that makes me wonder why we do it, why we leave what’s so right and familiar and is part of our bones and our souls – the sea and the sky and the stones and the trees – to come to this other place that has all our stuff but none of our history. Except it has all the history of our children’s childhoods now, and as our lives are entwined with theirs, so our futures and our pasts must be too.

Mabel just asked me why we can’t have someone deliver the pizza, instead of going out to get it. I made noises about it being quicker, and it being hotter that way, and because we can, but really it’s because if we got the pizza delivered, America would have won and stolen our souls. (Never mind the fact that people in Ireland also get pizza delivered.)

The day after
Today I feel properly woozy, as if I’m on a boat, or as if I just got off a boat and the world is still rocking. I keep having cups of tea and eating unhealthy things to make it stop, but so far only going back to bed for a while has actually helped. Now the boys have gone off to Rogue One and Mabel and I are watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with a large bowl of popcorn.

My jigsaw met an untimely end, for now – but the good thing about jigsaws is that even when they’re broken they’re not actually broken. I’ll take it out again some time when it’s not the last day before back to school and small tempers aren’t so frazzled.

I’m starting to crave properly healthy food like lemony broccoli and yogurty dressing, but all I could throw together without a trip to the supermarket was roasted sweet potato wedges and chickpeas, with halloumi draped over them. Not bad, but a little dry.

Tomorrow, back to school, back to fresh air and exercise and normality and reality and some writing. It’s going to be good. Here goes, 2017. Don’t fuck it up for us.

Mossy tree beside a small river.
A picture from our walk in Powerscourt three days ago and half a world ago.

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.


img_3290