Thursday, 31 March 2011

The donkey's anatomy

I just knew he was going to say it. We're at a party, and the boys are playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. It's a little girl's party, and there are many little girls there, all looking pink and pretty in princess dresses. Littleboy 1 is lining up behind several of them to take his turn.

The girl in front of him, blindfolded, pins the tail on - right between the donkey's legs.

My son turns to me, face shining excitedly and I know exactly what's coming - but there is no way to stop it. He announces loud and clear - "Mummy! That's not the Donkey's tail. That's the Penis." And, as if we hadn't all heard the first time, he then REPEATS it. (He learned the word recently, and has now decided he's going to use it, instead of the rather more innocuous Willy, at any available opportunity. After all my efforts to stop him talking about butts etc.........) Fortunately I don't really think the little girls around him really took this in. But one mother sitting nearby looked aghast. "Did he just really say that?" she asked. "Yes," answered my husband. "Well, at least he's anatomically correct."

And actually, I quite agree.......

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Staying on....

So The Doctor returned from London recently with some slightly unexpected, although not completely unanticipated, news: work-wise, it makes sense for him to stay out in the US another year.

This means that instead of heading back to England in just over a year's time, we'll be here for another two years. We'll be rejoining the London masses (if all goes to plan) with an eight and a six year old, not the seven and five year old I'd imagined. (Littleboy 1 doesn't know this yet; I'd better explain it soon, because he's always telling people he's going back to London when he's seven.....).

So how do I feel about this? Mainly, good. We like living on Long Island, and time seems to be passing so quickly at the moment that the idea of having to organise a family move again in a year's time is faintly terrifying. The boys are at good schools, I've finally found some decent writing work, we've made friends and everything's pretty stable at the moment, so why rush back and start all over again?

There are, of course, downsides. It means continuing to let our London house (oh joy - we are about to get a new, third set of tenants); I am very conscious of the danger of losing touch with friends and family; and of course, moving back will probably be that much harder because the longer we stay, the more boys (and I) will have forged stronger friendships and local ties.

In the short term, though, it has galvanised my husband into action on one front. All the (mainly electrical) things we held off buying because "we're only going to be here three years" are now mysteriously appearing in our household, the idea of putting up with life without them finally having become too much. In the past month we've gained a new TV, plus an 'Apple TV' device that allows us to watch British shows; a new clock radio; another electric toothbrush (we don't have to take turns now - laughable, isn't it?); and we've just ordered a new desk for The Doctor (no more fighting over desk-space!).

I think I'm going to have to keep an eye on him. If he goes and buys the Dyson, and that coffee maker he's been muttering about since we got here, I think I might have to start worrying we'll never go back......

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Winter's last gasp

We thought you were long gone.

Last week, the air was soft and mild. Crocuses, violets and even tulip leaves emerged tentatively from hard ground, and tiny pink blossoms appeared on the trees' bare branches.

On Friday, schoolkids queued at the newly reopened ice cream parlour wearing nothing but t-shirts. Littleboy 1 went to the park in his Crocs, and to school without a coat. We even - shock, horror - opened a window one night because it was too warm in our room.
We thought Spring was finally here.

But you weren't finished with us yet. Good thing we didn't pack away the snow shovels.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


This post stems from a conversation the Doctor and I had the other night about how, in America, nothing is ever priced at what it supposedly costs.

Not only do most shops appear to have a permanent sale on; but it is not unusual that you pick up an item in, say, Gap, and go to the checkout to find that it costs a completely different sum - usually about $10 less - than the price tag. (This is, of course, always a pleasant surprise and tends to make you feel positive about the shop, so I wonder if it is deliberate.)

The Doctor has a colleague who has some iPhone app that lets you compare prices in different shops. So, for example, he was in Staples, and found that an item actually costs less around the corner in Rite-Aid. Apparently, when he pointed it out to the store manager, they simply lowered the price for him. This has also happened to me - I recall one occasion when I wanted to buy a marker pen that didn't have a price tag, and they just gave it to me for free.

In fact, I am constantly surprised that store staff seem to have complete free rein in these matters. I'm sure that in Britain, lowering the price of an item would require lots of tutting, hours of computer research and quite possibly a phone call to Head Office. Can you imagine trying to bargain down the price of stationery in WHSmith? Er, I don't think so. Whereas here, you could probably go around a shopping mall behaving if you were in a Moroccan souk, if you had the nerve.

I suppose it's all part of the American culture of customer service; 'the customer is always right' and all that. (Apart from in government offices, places like the Department for Motor Vehicles and the US Post Office, where the customer is regarded like a highly dangerous criminal).

We Brits are, on the whole, not that good at it. For example - I hate being followed around clothes shops and asked questions, and nothing is more likely to make me leave without buying anything. I'm also bad with coupons - the staple of any shopper on Long Island. We're used to supermarket loyalty cards in the UK, but redeeming a printed coupon you get sent in the post? I always forget to take it with me, and by the time I do, it's out of date.

Our family had one particularly shameful episode where we had a meal at a Wendy's burger restaurant (a slightly nicer version of McDonald's) on our way to Vermont and received coupons for a virtually free meal next time. What happened? The Doctor immediately threw them away in the bin along with the rest of the packaging on his tray. This didn't stop us going back to Wendy's the following week on our return journey - but, we agreed, the meal was so cheap it wasn't really worth losing any sleep over.

We are clearly bad bargain hunters.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Gallery: Oaks and spanish moss in Savannah.

This week's Gallery is themed around trees. Living in an area thick with tall trees, I had plenty to choose from but eventually decided on these photos, taken in Savannah, Georgia, on our holiday last April. One of the most striking things about this beautiful city is its trees, gnarled old oaks hanging with 'Spanish moss'.

The trees are everywhre, lining the shady, fountain-filled squares and avenues of this gorgeous Southern city, lending it a mysterious and and almost tropical flavour. Together with its stunning colonial architecture and the laid-back Southern vibe, they make Savannah a magical place to visit. We celebrated my birthday here, and while the presence of two Littleboys meant we didn't quite get around to the candelit meal in a plantation house overlooking the Savannah river that I'd imagined, just wandering round these beautiful streets, with the azaleas in full bloom, was enough to make it memorable.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Stitched up

Littleboy 1 had his first ever visit to the Emergency Room the other night. Really, it's amazing that he's managed to get through five years without one, considering how much of a daredevil he is, but somehow we've avoided it (or perhaps been negligent parents?). We did have one trip with Littleboy 2 in London; a rather surreal occasion when he got a hair twisted around his toe as a baby and it started cutting off his blood supply (don't ask). But, really, for the parents of two small and lively boys, we've been pretty lucky.

Anyway, looking at the deep gash in his forehead on Thursday evening - the result of running headfirst into the sharp corner of a wooden cabinet - it was fairly obvious that he would need stitches. The Doctor took him off, while I stayed home with Littleboy 2, and a couple of hours later he related his first experience of an American ER - because although he works in the hospital next door, he's never actually set foot in there.

The verdict? Very much like an NHS Casualty, he reports. No beds, so patients sitting on trolleys in the middle of the ER - he and Littleboy 1 were at one point right next to the reception desk, where they were apparently privy to all kinds of confidential patient information.

There were many, many forms to fill in and also a fair amount of incompetence; although the Doctor had said he was happy for an ER physician to do the stitching (rather than a plastic surgeon), the plastics doc turned up anyway, and apparently at one point there was a near-fight between the attendings over who was going to deal with Littleboy 1's case. They ended up going with the plastics doc (mainly because he'd already started); now we wait with bated breath to see whether we will receive an enormous bill, as we aren't clear whether our insurance will pay for all of his services. And of course, we've been given countless instructions about follow-ups with the doctor - to make sure it's all healing properly and of course rack up some more bills.......

Anyway, Littleboy 1 took it all in his stride and was pretty stoic; he even did not appear to mind that he couldn't take part in gym, swimming or basketball the next day. I think secretly he was quite excited by the whole thing, once he'd got over the initial shock, and enjoyed showing off his war wound to his teachers the next day.

Just as well, really: because, although I hope we won't be back in the ER any time soon, in all probability it won't be our last visit there....

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Gallery: One Word. Pancakes.

We ate pancakes last night in honour of Shrove Tuesday, even though it's not a tradition here. Our pancakes are different from American pancakes, which tend to be thicker and more doughy - I would call them crepes, although my pancake chef husband tells me his grandmother (American) called them 'German pancakes'. Anyway, they were delicious - first the savoury ones stuffed with cheese, bacon and mushroom, and then a couple of sneaky little pudding ones with lemon and maple syrup (well, there have to be some concessions to our American location).

For the first time ever, Littleboy 1 actually partook of the meal, and pronounced them 'delicious'. His brother still wasn't sure, but then, he doesn't actually seem to like anything but plain pasta at the moment. So now it's Lent, of course, and I have just had a virtuous cup-a-soup for lunch. Only one problem; there's still some pancake mixture in the fridge.....

This post was for Tara's Gallery at Sticky Fingers. Theme: One Word.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Moving to NY? This could be a book for you...

There is no doubt that moving abroad is a huge upheaval - especially if you have a young family. Over at her blog, Home Office Mum is currently debating the pros and cons of a move to Seattle, and it reminds me of when I was worrying about our imminent move to the US two years ago. I was lucky enough to receive plenty of good advice via the comments on this blog - for example, essential information about whether Marmite is readily available (it is) and what to wear on your feet in an East Coast winter (LL Bean boots - I now own a pair). For the uninitiated moving to the US, I would also highly recommend Pond Parleys, which holds weekly debates on aspects of UK versus US culture.

For that reason, a PR request to review a book aimed at expats moving to New York recently caught my eye. The book, New York New York: So Good They Named It Twice* is subtitled An Irreverent Guide to Experiencing and Living in the Greatest City in the World. The press release compared author Rob Silverman to Bill Bryson (a favourite of mine), so I agreed to write a review.

The author is a Brit but came to New York in his twenties, married an American and has never left. He's quite clearly madly in love with Manhattan, but is able to critique it quite well from a British point of view. Bryson he ain't, but he does a decent job of covering all the basics: how to rent an apartment, how to drive and park in the city, how the school system works; even how to order a sandwich in a deli (an eye-poppingly lengthy process involving many, many condiments and different types of bread). He also does a good job of explaining the tipping culture - something that completely foxed me when we arrived here.

Having said that, quite a bit of the book is not really relevant to me - I live in the suburbs, not Manhattan, and indeed the author is scathingly rude about the suburbs, citing friends who have moved there and turned into boring, Stepford-wife type families who have nothing better to do than gossip about the neighbours. Well, I have to say, I can't really blame him; I used to think like this when I lived in London, but having lived in the suburbs for 18 months now, it's not all bad - not all suburban kids spend their lives being ferried around in cars from mall to mall. I also love the community aspect of being in a smaller town - Silverman boasts that he has no idea who his neighbours are, but I've found having friendly neighbours a godsend after arriving here and knowing nobody. I'm not sure I'd want to have moved to Manhattan with two small kids and never interact with people in my apartment block....

Anyway, the book is pretty practical, and if you're thinking of moving to New York City with a family, it would be a useful read. The author is at his most amusing when describing family anecdotes - for example, having to make restaurant reservations for his wife at the last minute, or putting the phone on redial to get through to a private school's admissions number. And he's clearly passionate about his adopted home city; something I can completely understand.

*available from Broadfield Books, $17.99. I received a free copy for writing this post.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Out of the mouths of babes....

Before I came to the States, one of my worries about the Littleboys would be that they would pick up American accents which would take years to wear off.

Funnily enough, this no longer bothers me. So what if they sound like little Yankees when we return to London; if they pronounce bath as 'bay-yeth' and fast and 'fay-ast'. In a way I think I'd prefer that to either a Sarf London accent (which they'd have picked up if they had gone to the local school) or sounding like a mini Hooray Henry (if we'd gone private, perhaps...).

However, it has been dawning on me recently that there are certain expressions here that, while they seem perfectly acceptable in America, would not go down well in a British school.

For example: we've been given a book to read by Littleboy 1's school. It's a book that the whole school is supposed to read, two chapters a day, to encourage a love of reading, and of course, I'm all in favour of that - although I do think that a chapter book that appeals to 8 year olds is a little over the head of a five year old who can't even read yet. But, still. We started reading it yesterday and in the first chapter, was the sentence: "What a bummer!"

Reader, I missed it out. I do not want my five year old going around saying 'bummer' - which I am sure he would find hilarious. Sure, he's bound to pick up such expressions as time goes on, and I know it's not exactly a swear word (or curse word, as they would say here). But I don't want it to be from a book - surely that would sanction it as being something that's absolutely fine to say? And it's not the first time we've had that in a book - it was there in another kids' story, which he brought home from the school library.

The other one is 'butt'. Now I may be wrong, but isn't 'butt' perceived as pretty crude in the UK? (Personally it makes me think of Beavis and Butthead- ugh). I don't know what small children should call bottoms in England - bottoms, I think is probably the best - I'm not sure I'd even be comfortable with bum till they are a little bit older, and definitely, arse can wait until later. But here in the States, butt appears to be a perfectly normal word, used by teachers, gym instructors and everyone else. Consequently, Littleboy 1 always now refers to 'my butt' (usually with weird kind of gyratory actions) and also, annoyingly, seems to have picked up the expression 'butthead'. Again, I really don't know how this would go down back in England, especially at school........ so I keep telling him to stop using the word, and have even tried to explain the differences between here and there. (Sadly I think the horse may have bolted on this one...)

So tell me, should I just chill out? After all, my own language isn't exactly perfect, and I don't object to adults or older children saying these words. Am I over-reacting, and should I just let it lie......or accept that it's, well, a bummer?