Wednesday 28 April 2010

Portrait of a Force of Nature

Littleboy 1 will be five in a few days. So this post for The Gallery is a Portrait of my son; no longer a baby, a toddler or an infant, but on the cusp of boyhood, school and a lifetime to explore....
Littleboy 1: it's hard to believe you are about to turn five. This picture was taken over a year ago, and it's not the greatest, but it's just one of many that sums you up; a Force of Nature.
You were born during the 2005 general election. Our hospital room overlooked the Houses of Parliament - but, as the nation cast its votes, you were oblivious, not caring that your mother might have wanted to watch some of the coverage on the bedside TV. Instead you wailed throughout the night as I tried to breastfeed you; you were the noisiest baby on that ward, and I ended up pacing the dimly lit corridors with you throughout Election Night, to let the other new mothers have some chance to sleep. You made your presence felt from day 1.
Five years later and another election is taking place. It's still impossible to ignore you; you are noisy, you are bouncy; you are gung-ho and are game for anything. You've marched up mountains, skied, played in the surf and thrown yourself down steep hills on a sled without an ounce of fear. Everyone in town remarks on your scooter prowess; you are the fastest five year old on wheels.
You've grown in confidence during our year in America; you'll talk to anyone and everyone and join in any activity with the utmost enthusiasm. You have a great sense of humour, whether it's guffawing at Ice Age or giving me a wickedly ironic look as I try in vain to scold you.
You love marbles, Thomas the Tank Engine, your scooter and anything that involves the outdoors. You adore your little brother. And you also love your Mummy; you tell me so every single morning when you creep into my bed.
What will you grow up to be? I often wonder. But in twenty years, if you've climbed Everest, flown a plane or competed in the Olympics (perhaps in a newly created Scooting category) I won't be altogether surprised.
Happy Birthday, beautiful boy.

Monday 26 April 2010

Would you seriously go on Supernanny?

An email dropped into my inbox the other day, sent from the local parenting association.

"The casting director of ABC's Supernanny is looking for families in XX (name of our town) to appear on the show. If you are interested, please take a look at this flyer".

Intrigued, I open up the flyer and have a read. It informs me that: We are sending our producers around the country over the next few weeks to find the next amazing families for our show, and will be in the New York area for the next few weeks. If you are interested in appearing on the show, please email the Casting Team ASAP. If you are one of the lucky families that don't need Supernanny Jo Frost's help, but you would like to anonymously refer another family, please feel free to pass their contact info on to us.

Now, the more I thought about this, the more I wondered; who would subject their family to Supernanny? I found the last sentence particularly surprising - because, if you did get referred anonymously, wouldn't your reaction be fury rather than 'oh, yes, that's rather a good idea, what thoughtful friends I must have'?

I haven't really watched Supernanny for a few years, but I have definitely seen a fair few episodes in my time. I have nothing against Jo Frost per se; I'm sure she's very good with kids and indeed, if she were to come and offer me some free advice, not for TV consumption, I might even take it. (If she could persuade Littleboy2 for instance to stay in bed once he's been put there, or actually take part in his swimming lessons, that would be fabulous).

But the show always seems to follow the same formula, whatever the problems with the kids. Family in crisis, Supernanny comes in, points out that the parents are doing it all wrong, changes a few things and Wham!, the kids are suddenly much nicer and more well-behaved.

So, basically, your whole parenting style is immediately opened up to scrutiny, with Supernanny pointing out exactly where you've been going wrong, whether it's weak discipline or not paying the children enough attention. Now, I'm not a perfect parent - and I have two spirited little boys who can behave extremely badly on occasion- but I wouldn't want the whole ABC primetime audience, not to mention my friends and neighbours, being party to my failings. Would you?

Of course, this is a well-worn reality show formula - Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares follows pretty much the same model, with Gordon magically coming in and sorting everything out. I've always wondered, again, why anyone would subject their restaurant to this treatment - OK, you might get a short term lift from the fact that Gordon's changed the menu, but surely what everyone will remember in the long term is that you were a useless restauranteur who didn't know what they were doing. However improved the food/decor/service, you would be 'that restaurant that was on Kitchen Nightmares' for the rest of your days.

Similarly, if you appear on Supernanny, you must run the danger of forever being known as 'that family with the awful kids who had to get Supernanny in'. And what would your children think, when grown up, of their childhood tantrums being played out on on the screens of the nation?

Clearly there are large numbers of people who do not feel like this; maybe they'll simply do anything to appear on television, or perhaps desperation, (either with their restaurant or their children), has driven them to the point where they can't think rationally about it. I'd be interested to know if anyone out there has ever been tempted.

In the meantime, I'm sorry Jo Frost, but I don't think we'll be needing your services just at the moment. In any case, my children just won't stay on the naughty step, so I know in advance that it wouldn't work.........

Tuesday 20 April 2010

The Gallery. Envy.....

This week's subject for The Gallery is The Seven Deadly Sins. (What a topic, hey? I probably could have illustrated quite a few of them, especially if I had taken a snapshot of my supper this evening - a huge bowl of bolognese with a mountain of cheese in front of several DVR'd episodes of Grey's Anatomy, while The Doctor was out. That could have done for both gluttony and sloth, I think. )

But I've plumped for Envy. Last summer we met up with a friend of the family at her condo on the Upper West Side- and this was the view from her roof garden. To say that I was just a little jealous would be an understatement.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm quite happy leading an essentially suburban lifestyle at the moment, and the idea of living in a Manhattan apartment with the Littleboys is frankly terrifying. I know that most people round here moved out of the City when they had kids, in search of better schools, bigger houses and a less hectic lifestyle. But I do still get pangs of envy when I visit the City - there's a part of me that still hankers after that metropolitan, city girl lifestyle, involving smart restaurants and cocktail bars, apartments with killer views and skyscrapers. There are some days when I'd gladly swap taking the Littleboys to the playground for a job that involved looking out over the Manhattan rooftops from a magazine on Madison Avenue, or nipping to a sushi bar after work with my colleagues before jumping in a yellow taxi home.

Perhaps I'm just living a Sex and the City style fantasy, perhaps it's because I grew up in a city pulsating with energy (Hong Kong) or perhaps it's just that the grass is always greener. Who knows. I'm still envious of this view, and all it represents.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Partying Long Island style - and a slightly surreal weekend

I can report back from the Gala dinner that Americans - at least the ones round here - DO like a good party.

On Friday night, we pulled up at a local country club, a mansion overlooking Long Island Sound, built by the Guggenheim family and somewhat bizarrely resembling an English manor house on the outside and an Italian palazzo within. We were there to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the local non-profit parenting centre (with which I am becoming more involved) but it felt rather more as if we were returning to the days of The Great Gatsby, whose fictional events took place in the exact same area.

Although the event was not 'black tie', everyone looked very glamorous - the men sharp-suited, the women in cocktail dresses and gowns. The wine, meanwhile, was served in large glasses and certainly flowed - and indeed, no-one seemed to be holding back, with large amounts being merrily quaffed despite the fact that one half of every couple must have been driving.

What I will say is that later on in the evening, though, everyone still seemed amiable and not too much the worse for wear. There were no blokes stumbling sweatily round the dance floor to the strains of Come On Eileen. No-one appeared to be sitting bleary-eyed in the toilets, or pouring out their hearts drunkenly to their best friend. Whether this was a consequence of most people there having small children to get back to, I am not sure, but it certainly seemed more decorous than your typical British black tie do. Still, the party was very much in full swing when we left at 11.30 to relieve our baby sitter.

Pleasantly hangover-free the next day, we've been unable to attribute the events of this weekend to alcohol-induced hallucination - because it is me, or has the news unfolding in our native land become slightly surreal?

The fallout caused by the Icelandic volcano seems extraordinary. I am feeling particularly sorry for my sister, a teacher, who is stranded in Marrakech with a class of 40 pupils following a school trip to Morocco. Now, being stranded in Morocco as a an independent traveller might be one thing - I guess you could just go on one big bazzaar shopping spree - but imagine the logistics of having to look after 40 demanding teenage girls, probably freaking out over the situation, and thinking of alternative ways to get them home? It doesn't bear thinking about and I hope fervently that she is able to make her way home soon.

What with the British media reporting that the Lib Dems might romp home in the Election, it feels as if the whole world has gone topsy-turvy with the old 'certainties' swept away.

It seems strange, sitting here at one step removed from the whole situation; as if you are watching a surreal play unfold, while sitting behind the fourth wall of a theatre, or watching some slightly unbelievable reality TV show.

Is this the classic expat detachment setting in?

Friday 16 April 2010

The MADS - what a way to perk up my week

I've not really felt much like blogging this week.

It's a combination of post-holiday blues, tiredness (ie needing another holiday to recover), ongoing stress about our ex-tenants in London (I won't bore you with all the details but it includes walking off with our bedroom curtains and losing all the instruction manuals for everything in our house) and just being boringly busy.

But then I was delighted to discover that I've been nominated for several categories in The MADS - the Mummy and Daddy parent blog awards, which will be awarded next month.

These include the Butlins MAD blogger of the year, best MAD blog writer, best MAD blog for family fun, most inspiring MAD blog, and Funniest MAD blog of the year. (Someone also very kindly nominated me for best new MAD blog, but I'm afraid I'm not eligible for that one, having been blogging since 2008. ) I am incredibly honoured and very grateful to whoever has nominated me. (For those who haven't done so yet, you can click through from the logo on this page - and nominate your favourites. Not necessarily me although that would be lovely).

Anyway, that has certainly improved my week no end. Having just spent a lively kickboxing class pretending I am throwing punches at the tenants (ha!) I am feeling much more perky. And I'm off to a smart Gala dinner tonight, where I shall find out whether Americans drink like fishes at these sort of functions (like the Brits) or are demure, sensible and well-behaved. Stay tuned.....

Monday 12 April 2010

Fasten your seatbelts; it's the great American roadtrip....

We are back. And now that I've made some inroads into the laundry pile, opened the large box of mail and sent various furious emails off into the ether regarding our London tenants (don't ask) I can breathe again.There is so much I could say about our roadtrip from New York to Florida and back again. But I thought I'd begin with some observations. First, the do's and don'ts of an American roadtrip with two small boys...
DO take the Auto train. There is only one of these in the whole of the USA, from Washington to Orlando, and it cuts out about half of the driving. It is also a very comfortable experience, with a proper dining car, a 'hostess' who sorts out your bedding (putting French couchettes to shame), and even a free glass of wine when you arrive (hurrah!). The Littleboys were very excited by it all. Which brings me to ....

DO take lots of activities for your children on the train. One sticker book each won't cut it - as we realised after about 30 minutes. Thinking that they wouldn't need the portable DVD player and leaving it in the car was a Big Mistake, as they rampaged up and down corridors while we sped into the Southern evening.

DON'T fret when your car is virtually the last to come off the train (out of 200 cars) at the end. It is probably not a conspiracy, despite your husband being convinced that all the Hondas came off last.

DO visit Disneyworld, even if you only have time for half a day there. It may be the most crowded week of the year, the queues for rides may be horrendous, but the children will love it and even cynical parents will feel faintly excited as they exit the Monorail at the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Orlando itself is also an education, with a theme park virtually every ten yards. Our hotel overlooked the interstate. But somehow, it didn't matter.....

DO spend a few days in the same place, with no driving. In our case we were lucky enough to be beautiful Sarasota, Florida, where we stayed with my brother-in-law and family. An excellent and thoroughly relaxing time was had by all - Easter egg hunting, swimming, beachcombing, eating out and seeing flamingoes, alligators and monkeys at the zoo.

DON'T look too worried when the fisherman on the idyllic beach where you've just been swimming (see picture) catches what looks like a baby hammerhead shark. It's a BONNET head shark, silly. Totally harmless. Or so you are led to believe....

DO go to Savannah, Georgia. One of the most beautiful cities I've seen in this country, and certainly the most charming. Full of beautiful shady squares, fountains and trees hanging with Spanish Moss. Spring was the perfect time to see it, with the azaleas and blossom all in full bloom (see picture).
DO go on a trolley bus tour while there. Even if you have to bear the indignity of being one among many, many tourists wearing trolley bus tour stickers milling around the town. It is a great way to see the place without your children whinging that they are fed up of walking every two minutes.

DON'T think smugly that driving all day will not be a problem because your children are so good in the car. They may be good all day, and even sleep, but when you arrive at your destination they will turn completely feral, running up and down manically and screaming loudly in your hotel room or escaping to rampage the corridors (again). You will have to make them run around for at least an hour before you can even contemplate going out to eat with them.....

DO make your children visit the 'restroom' at each rest stop/meal. Even if they say they don't need to go. If not, after five minutes you will be frantically trying to exit the interstate and look for a place for them to wee. Or taking them furtively into Starbucks for a quick poo.

DO pass through North Carolina. There is pretty scenery there, and lots of history...

DON'T think you might be able to stop off for a coffee somewhere in rural NC during your afternoon's driving. The only places there will be dodgy looking half boarded-up shacks called 'Ray's Grill' where you fear you might never emerge from....

DON'T stay there and expect to find a decent meal that isn't fast food. You will get the gruff answer that the nearest family restaurant is an hour and a half away. Another local will tell you that one of the fast food places you saw is actually a 'proper restaurant, ma'am'. But it isn't. It still has polystyrene plates, a counter where you order and the only drinks are Coke and Kool Aid. At this point, you start to feel very grateful that you live in New York....

DO expect plenty of comments on your lovely British accent down here. You get the feeling you are a real curiosity, with a voice most people must have only heard in films.

DON'T panic when you are pulled over by a car with a blue flashing light, your husband having just performed a U-Turn on a minor road where you stopped for Littleboy1 to have yet another pee. The nice policeman just wants to know whether you are lost.

DON'T worry about carting unsuitable items such as Easter eggs and butter around in your hot car. Your husband has devised an ingenious system involving Thermos flasks and insulated coffee cups for their safe keeping....

DO bear in mind that four days on the trot in different motels is about as much as little boys can take. And DO expect an endless stream of 'are we home yet?' on the final day of the journey.....