Thursday, 27 April 2017

When Men Get Creepy, A.K.A. Why the Hell Do I Need to Explain This?

One of the new habits I've developed now the kids are older is taking the time to go for a solitary walk on the beach. We live two and a half blocks from the sea, and it's three miles from my door to the end of the beach, so it's a good way to get some exercise, fresh air and generally chill out. I don't do it every day, but I try and do it whenever the weather's good.

Of course, this is the first time in at least seven years that I've regularly gone out walking without children or my husband, and so I have rediscovered the fascinating culture of catcalling. I thought I'd aged out of this phenomenon, but I had underestimated the area in which we live. Ocean View is... special. It's usually not on the beach that I get the attention--there people are exercising themselves and their dogs, or they're fishing. However, walking along the road as a woman alone is a totally different experience.

Is there some level on which I'm flattered by the attention? I don't know. Maybe? I mean, I'm in my late thirties... sexual prime, right? I genuinely don't mind if a guy tells me that I look beautiful, but a lot of guys don't express it as a compliment; they want to show their interest. That might sound harmless, but it gets creepy really fast.

This morning, I left the house at what I thought was an innocuous time of 9:10am. When I reach the main road, I walk along it, watching for a break in the traffic so I can cross. On the far side of the road, a white pickup truck goes past with the driver blatantly staring out of his window at me. That's creepy. Annoying rather than concerning, but already creepy.

Ahead of me, the truck reaches the intersection and does a U-turn, stopping just inside the turn off--i.e. it's now on my side of the road and I'll have to go around the vehicle when I reach the intersection. Still creepy; now unsettling.

Thankfully, I had my break in the traffic and as the driver finishes his U-turn, I am already crossing the road. My route to the beach will take me down the other side of the intersection, directly opposite from where he is now waiting. This is a quiet dead-end road with no traffic, and I consider staying on the main road where there are plenty of people (witnesses) around. However, it's also a short road (this is the half-block), he can't curb-crawl me once I'm on the steps that lead over the dunes, and there will also be people on the beach itself.

Besides, he wouldn't be so blatant as to cross the intersection a second time to keep following me... right?

As I make the turn, a car honks. Might not have been the truck, but there aren't any other stationary drivers around. Halfway down the road, I hear a vehicle behind me. I do not turn around at this point, mostly because I fear that if I make eye contact, my innate Britishness will take over and I will feel compelled to have an unwanted conversation. But it's entirely possible that it's some other vehicle with a large engine that happens to turn into the road for the first time in my personal experience and come all the way down to the dead end.

I don't turn around, but I watch the steps over the dunes, reassuring myself that I will reach them in time. (I have a moment of genuine panic when I think they have been blocked off, but it's just a trick of the light.) The sound of the engine is far too close behind me, but what I'm really listening for is the engine being switched off and the sound of somebody getting out. Thankfully, that doesn't happen. I reach the steps, walk up them and away.

I didn't look around until I was on the beach. By this point, I fully expected him to follow me on foot, but apparently he'd reached his limit. I was still concerned that he might hang around waiting to see if I would come back. Usually, I leave my sandals on the beach side of the steps, and put them back on when I return. This time, I carried them with me and, although I doubted he'd wait the hour that it usually takes my walk, I took a different route off the beach.

Statistically speaking, I assume this guy was a particularly brazen opportunist who was hoping to get my number or maybe some fully consensual truck sex. But I don't know that he wasn't planning on hauling me into his truck and making me his personal sex slave in a basement somewhere. Call it Schrödinger's Rapist... and forgive me if I'm not going to hang around to open the box.

And that's the difference between being paid a compliment and being freaked the F out. That guy probably shrugged this morning off as a swing and a miss. Personally, I wanted to go for a relaxing walk without having to improvise escape plans as I went. Too much to ask?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Building our own Obstacle Courses

In Virginia, spring is the best season to be outdoors... not too hot, not too cold, and no mosquitoes. We spend most of the year guiltily cultivating a habit of hiding indoors, and when spring break rolls around, I make grand resolutions of spending more time outside.

Because we live in a flood zone, we've never invested heavily in outdoor play structures. We have a tree on which we've hung a swing and a hammock chair, but it's tough to hold the kids' interest, and if they do go out and play, they're more likely to go into the street than the garden. We live on a dead end, so the street's safe enough, but my British sensibilities are perturbed by the notion.

Inspired by a recent birthday party my son attended, I decided that the theme of this spring break would be obstacle courses in the garden. So it was that our first excursion of spring break was to Home Depot. We purchased three 8ft long 2x4's and six 8x8 concrete blocks, and came out with change from $20.

Once we got home, we built a balance beam:

It would never pass any health and safety requirements: the blocks were not stable on our tufty grass, so the whole thing wobbled and we had a couple of occasions where the wood slid off while the kids were walking on it—though at less than two feet up, this was more exciting than dangerous.

My priority was that the children could move all the materials themselves. It would be very simple to create different configurations, we just had to use a little imagination... and any other supplies we could rustle up. (Like a search for free logs on Craigslist. Or the wooden pallet which a neighbour serendipitously put out by the side of the road.)

Here's how the rest of the week went:

The beanbag/cushion stuffed hammock swing was really too light to be more than a mild inconvenience. However, if you replace the beanbag with a child, you have a wrecking ball with some punch and a fun game for the whole family!

Rubber bracelets and yarn handcuffed the children to one end of the rope. They had to make their way to the free end.

The see saws were my favourite.

Figuring out the route through a concrete block maze with just two portable 'bridges'.

Throughout the week, this experiment was a success. While the kids didn't always play on the day's obstacle beyond the first run, they stayed outside. The novelty of each day's extra feature, plus the gradual accumulation of accessories throughout the week seemed to be enough to spark their imaginations. They've also been using the swing and the basketball hoop more than they have in month.

For my kids at least, the balance beam was the biggest thrill. "Don't touch the grass, it's lava!" "Poisonous, spiky lava!" (Truly, the most deadly kind.) Their legs are covered in scratches and bruises, which they don't remember getting, and that's my favourite testament to the project's success.

What they haven't tried yet is to build their own courses. They find the rough concrete blocks painful to carry and have been satisfied with my daily constructions. But I'm done making those. The next step is to wait and see if they will still be excited to play outside, and if they are... what will they build for themselves? (And do I get a turn?)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Picture Books are Awesome

I've just started getting my eight year old to read aloud to me in the evening to practice his speech. Every night we pick a different picture book, because they're short and lively. When he reads it, he has to make sure to "say all his sounds"... and to make it entertaining.

I had forgotten how much fun some of these books are to read out loud. Tonight's was The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems, where the pictures and text are so good at demonstrating emotion... after my son had finished his dramatic enactment, his six year old sister (still a new reader) wanted a turn. Then he re-did it so he could improve on his first go-round so of course she wanted an encore too. For the final curtain call, they insisted I read it with all the gestures they had come up with in their performances.

While I know the kids still revisit the picture book shelf, particularly my daughter who is fervently practising her reading at every opportunity, it had been a long time since I had picked anything up from it, and it must be close to a year since I read one. Tonight reinforced my decision to keep that shelf, no matter how old the kids get, and that's the recommendation I'd pass on to every other parent. There are so many picture books that are very cleverly written with a view towards reading aloud. Once upon a time, we got a huge kick out of reading them to the kids. Reading them to each other looks like it will be even more fun.

Some suggestions:

The Pigeon series by Mo Willem.
The Book with no Pictures by BJ Novak
We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss (this is a great two-person read)
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson
Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith