Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

I’m an American living in Ireland. Thanksgiving Day comes and goes with great fanfare in the States, but I usually forget the date. (I had to ask my facebook friends when Thanksgiving was going to be.) This Thanksgiving, for example, my husband is taking a class in the evening, and I will be boiling pasta for the kids. Everyone, who has a job, is working today. Everyone is working tomorrow. Schools are in session. And we don’t have sales until January over here, so no “Black Friday” fun for me.

Yesterday, the Irish government presented an outline of a series of spending cuts and tax increases to be applied for the next four years. The cuts are severe, and sure to contract the economy. We have to accept these new financial restrictions, we are told, so that we can pay back the massive Irish government deficit, mainly incurred trying to prop up our banking system. The IMF and EU central bank was called in over this. They have, in effect, dictated the terms. My family’s financial circumstances are a reflection of the state of the nation.

But, this doesn’t mean I’m not thankful. I am. My kids are healthy. Well, one has a cough and the other an ear infection, but you know what I mean – they’ll get over it. We’re well fed. We’ve cut out filet steaks and pate, but I made a damn fine beef stew last night. The cars are running (more or less). The lights are on. My husband is in good health. I’m enjoying my writing projects of late. And, I’m falling slowly in love with Twitter. Life, financially, is fairly crappy. I say no a lot to the kids over sweets and toys in the supermarket when we’re out.

Oddly, as the economic downturn in Ireland has taken us in its grip, sunk its teeth into our flesh and started chewing, my mood has lightened. Through the emotional freefall of loosing work, pay cuts, tax increases, falling house prices, the lot, I have felt strangely liberated. I feel free. It must be all the time setting my own schedule (that’s a laugh; really my schedule is dictated by the kids). But...they’re napping right now, and I’m writing on the laptop. I look out the window and the sky is blue, the hills are green, the rooks are evacuating the farmer’s field across the way in favour of the trees behind my house. The cattle are in the sheds for the winter, but we occasionally hear their lowing drift on the wind from their winter shelter to our garden patio. The weather—cold and crisp—is dry.

Thanksgiving has come to Ireland.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Eye Gouging, Kicking, Biting and Other Activities for Boys

I often leave the living room to go to the kitchen to prepare a meal or wash a cup, only to hear hysterical screaming about thirty seconds later. I get about as far as the breakfast bar before I have to turn around, go back to the living room doorway, and say “What’s going on here?” Sometimes I don’t even bother returning to the living room. I just yell, “Stop that!” from the kitchen, blindly. They stop whatever it is they were doing which caused the ruckus. I don’t even care what it was--I just want a quiet, aggro-free life.

I never knew how much violence would come with raising two boys. My husband keeps saying, “Welcome to the world of boys”. (He has 2 brothers and three sisters; I have none.) My two kids are forever kicking, biting, scratching, knocking each other off of chairs, and pushing each other into doors.

The worst came yesterday. I’m not entirely sure of the sequence of events (I was, of course, out of the room at the time pouring a cup of tea or washing something in the sink). I think Max, the 2 year old, tried to turn the TV off. Land Before Time was playing, one of Zach’s favourites. (It’s not the Land Before Time of our youth with the pylons and furry humanoids. It’s an animation with singing dinosaurs.) Zach, fed up trying to keep little brother from the TV set on/off switch, grabbed his head in his hands, and gouged his left eye with his thumb. I walked back into the room to find Max crying hysterically and Zach hiding behind the sofa. I took Max in my arms, and asked Zach what he did. Zach told the truth, then paled when he saw the look of horror in my face.

Photo: Sky Sports (on site)
Max’s eye was fine in the end, but Zach spent a LONG time on the naughty step, and was not allowed his cartoons that evening. While it was the best I had in my arsenal, I know it won’t stop the aggro. What will stop the aggro?

They fight over everything. Any little thing Zach has, Max wants, anything, even a broken piece of plastic. If Zach shows the least bit of interest, Max screams, “Mine!” Equally, if Max has something that peaks Zach’s interest, it could get snatched out of his hands. Only when they’re totally engaged in something that I’m supervising do they not attack each other. I literally have to stand there and say, “Zach, you kick the ball. Good. Now Max, your turn. Don’t hold it...kick it back...good, now, Zach, your turn...kick it back...great. Now, Max, your turn...” Clearly, I can’t do that all day. I try to keep them exercised: playground, scooter, bicycle, walks, “nature trails” (where we go down the lane with the nature book and try to identify insects – the only animals to which we can get up close and personal, aside from the cows and cats). I’m not sure if it keeps them from attacking each other, but it wears them out.

*Sigh* I don’t know what to do. Brendan is just like: get used to it. He’s probably right, but I still worry this will all lead to one or more visits to A&E.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What is Poetry? A Judgement Call

Dave Lordan and I were messaging back and forth recently around the topics of writing and why you write – is it for yourself? Is it for readers? Publishers? If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a writer writes and no one is there to read it, does it make a difference? This led me to thinking of when I was young, and wrote alone, in my bedroom, with no intention of showing any of it to anyone.

I bring this all up in context.

Zach walked up to me recently and asked, “What is a poem?”

I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Me, the lady who studied fiction and poetry in grad school, and likes to talk. I’m kind of staring at him.

He looked at me, “Mom?”

I had to think about it for a minute, “Uhm...its words...”


“Like a story...but not...not as many words on the page. Also, there’s not necessarily a beginning, middle or end like a story...but there could be. Sometimes it does tell a story, and is really long...Sometimes it rhymes...but not could be really, really has rhythm like a there’s no music playing when you read doesn’t always make sense the way a story does, but you figure out what it’s saying by listening to the words and making a picture in your head...” I was struggling, pitifully. Ms. Manrique, I hear Marilyn Hacker in my head, you get an F.

Zach’s staring at me.

“Uh – let’s go to your bedroom and get the STORIES AND RHYMES FOR BOYS book. I think I have to show and not tell on this one.”

I was wondering why the sudden interest in poetry, then I found out. I picked Zach up from school subsequently, and the teacher handed me a note. It asked my permission for him to participate in a poetry reading competition. The teachers would prep him in reading and interpreting the piece. It would be my responsibility to drive him into town, to an auditorium, where he would stand, on a stage, in front of judges and other children and adults, and read his poem, with expression. He could win or lose or get honourable mention, or whatever it is kids get these days when they’re good but not the best. He would be judged.

He’s 5 (as of yesterday).

That seems awfully young to be standing up in front of crowds of adults who will judge you. Maybe he’s judged all the time. The teacher – he’s always trying to please her. His mother and father – we’re always observing, hovering, encouraging, whatever you want to call it. This child – has he been performing the whole time? He performs when he says he didn’t hit his brother, and I know that he did because of the way Max is crying and the way Zach is looking at me (the slight curl up one side of his mouth and the questioning glint in his eye, which asks: “will she buy this?” No, I won’t. I have eyes like CCTV cameras, strategically placed throughout the house. I know when a baby has been pushed from 2 rooms away).

My husband and I signed him up for the competition. I consoled myself, thinking: I can always pull him out of this later if he’s not happy, if it isn’t working out, if he can’t stand up in front of people...

In the face of the judgement, will he lose his interest in what poetry is, and turn away? Maybe I need to leave him alone to just like poems. If Zach one day writes and no one reads it, it’s still worth something. It’s worth Zach writing it. It’s worth Zach.

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