Thursday 27 May 2010

Explanations, explanations

Littleboy 1 is at an interesting stage; he has begun to question everything, and no longer accepts, as he would have done even a few months ago, basic explanations of what is what in the world.

Last night, for example, he badly wanted to watch a favourite TV show and was not impressed when told it was bedtime at 8pm. I relented and said that I could record it for him and he could watch it tomorrow.

"Record? What's record?" I suppose I haven't said this to him recently, because he either watches things on DVD, just as and when they are on, or sometimes we pause the programme and watch it half an hour later.

We try to explain that the programme would be stored on the DVR box. Like a DVD, but you cannot actually see it.

"Yes, but HOW?"

I look desperately at The Doctor, who tried to explain that the DVR was like a computer, and you could look at things later. (At this point I perhaps unhelpfully chipped in with 'yes, and you're very lucky, because when Mummy and Daddy were your age we just had to watch what was on at the time!'. Which means I must be getting old).

Anyway Littleboy1 was very suspicious and clearly did not believe that this would work. He was very pleased to discover, this afternoon, that it does, but I foresee many, many more technology-related questions......

On the way back from school we had another conversation. A friend of his - let's call him Jimmy - is coming round for a playdate this afternoon, and his Nanny is bringing him. Last time Littleboy1 went to Jimmy's house and was picked up by the Nanny, who also cooked their supper.

Round here nannies are often known as babysitters, so in the car on the way back from preschool I told Littleboy1 that Jimmy's babysitter would be bringing him round at 3. "Babysitter? Babysitter? he said incredulously.

"Yes, the one who took you in the car last time and made you supper. I can't now remember what you had....was it pizza?"

"Pasta,"he replies, wearily. "But Mummy, that was not a babysitter. That was Jimmy's Mummy."

"Er, no, it wasn't. That was his babysitter."

"No, it was his MUMMY." (Littleboy 2 at this stage helpfully chips in: "yes it was MUMMY. I see her in da CAR." We had indeed watched his elder brother drive off, Littleboy2 very intrigued by the whole episode as these type of playdates are a relatively new thing).

"No darling. His Mummy was not there."

"But WHY is his Mummy not there? Where is she?" (he sounds outraged).

"Well....because I think she was probably at work."

"At WORK?" (he splutters).

I take a deep breath. Is now really the time to enter the murky waters of stay at home versus working mothers, or debate inequality at work and the glass ceiling? I certainly don't want him to think that Mummies who are out at work are in any way doing the wrong thing. And I don't want him saying anything to Jimmy about his babysitter......

I explain to him that some Mummies and Daddies go to work and others stay at home with their children. I tell him that I am a Mummy who can do work at home, and that sometimes when I am on the 'pooter, I am working. (Sometimes here being the operative word, these days.....). I add that some other children's Mummies might go to work in an office, and then they might be looked after by babysitters.


There is a silence. And then, accusingly: "So, Mummy, why don't YOU go to an office? Then WE could have a babysitter too!"

Well I guess that was inevitable, really......

Wednesday 26 May 2010

The Gallery. Friendship....

Twenty three years ago, I shared a dormitory with three friends at boarding school.

I've posted before about what an ordeal boarding school was for me, but one thing I did get out of it was some very close friendships*.

At 14, E, J, A and I were the geeky girls in our particular boarding house. There was another crowd of girls who were all very sporty, Sloaney and snobbish. They spent their holidays going to Gatecrasher Balls in London, riding horses and snogging boys who went to Eton. They were casually cruel to anyone who didn't fit their particular mould.

In contrast I was the weird one who lived Abroad and was always making up poems and stories. A and J were brainboxes; it probably didn't help that A had a dreadful perm and J was gawky and goofy. E wore thick NHS glasses and had a Midlands accent. We were definitely not the cool crowd.

I guess we were kind of thrown together, but we became great friends and the friendships lasted right up until the end of the sixth form. Afterwards, we inevitably grew apart but have continued to meet up from time to time. And they are all amazing. J has had a stellar career in banking as well as fitting in two boys; A moved abroad and has worked all over the world while her husband looks after their three kids. E has gone from nursing to a mega-successful career in healthcare management. When she moved to London for work a few years ago, we began to meet up regularly again for nights out, and she has become a kind of quasi-godmother to the Littleboys (they aren't Christened, so no official godparents).

This picture was taken a few years ago when we met up at Kew Gardens. I'm in the middle, pregnant with Littleboy 2, between E and J. A was taking the picture. There's been so much water under the bridge since boarding school and we are all very different now. But I feel lucky to know such gorgeous, talented and interesting women. And so glad that I was not in the cool crowd.

*This post is for The Gallery; this week's subject, friendship. Go over there to take a peek at some stunning photography and incredible posts.

Monday 24 May 2010

I like to be in America....

It was a year ago last Wednesday that we touched down at JFK at the start of our US adventure.

In a way I can't believe it's gone by so fast, although it does seem a very long time since I was in England. I've seen all four seasons go by; roses are blooming in the garden as they were when we first moved into our house, and the red cardinal birds have returned after presumably vacationing in Florida for the winter.

The boys have had nearly a full year of school and have developed curious Mid-Atlantic accents (Brits think they sound American, Americans still remark on their cute British accents). We've seen beaches close on Labour Day and next weekend they will re-open for Memorial Day (the official start of summer here). People I first met here with small babies now have toddlers roaming around.

So; what are my reflections after a year in this extraordinary country? I could write a whole essay on the subject, but it would take me all day so I'll leave you with a sort of executive summary.....

In short, I DO like to be in America. (We saw West Side Story on Broadway last weekend, so I'm thinking of the song....). Although everything is not free in America. Especially healthcare. Which I could go on and on about, but what I will say is that I much prefer going to an NHS GP and knowing that you will have not have to fork out for anything, rather than turning up at your kids' 'pediatrician' completely mystified as to whether your insurance company will demand a 'co-payment' or not. I haven't even been to a doctor yet myself here, and will avoid it if at all possible.

The climate is definitely better on Long Island than in London. It's not perfect - far from it - but when it's hot, it's hot, and when it's cold, it's cold. Sunny days are perfect, cloudless and blue; snow is proper snow. The seasons seem far more defined, and I'm definitely coming round to the American obsession with 'holidays' which define the year; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and the rest.

On the whole, I think Americans are friendlier than the Brits. (Although not in government offices and places like the Department for Motor Vechicles, where everyone is treated like a hardcore criminal). Customer service is generally great, and people who come to the house to fix things seem like they genuinely want to help, rather than grumbling and looking at their watches.

There is also a culture of generosity and volunteerism which I admire. I have just joined the committee of a local non-profit organisiation for parents- basically doing unpaid work, but somehow here it seems more than appropriate to be giving some of my time to charity, as plenty of other local parents do. I'm not sure a similar organisation would exist in the UK.

But there are some things that still fox me about the US. I still can't cope with the hugeness of shopping centre carparks (I nearly called them parking lots then, which shows how my vocabulary is changing). I have to park right next to the stack of trolleys or I'd never remember where the car is. And on that note, I can't BELIEVE the blatant selfishness of shoppers with their trolleys here. I think I am only person who ever returns the trolley to its rightful place rather than leaving it sitting in the middle of a parking space. I'm sure that if and when people do this in the UK they would be at least looking around furtively to make sure they weren't spotted; here, no-one seems to care.

I am still shocked by lack of environmental awareness; not just the tendency to drive everywhere, but the use of disposable polystyrene plates and plastic cutlery both in private homes and at restaurants, for instance. A friend's child's nursery even stipulated that the parents should send the lunch in plastic boxes/ bags that could be thrown away. The other day I suggested to someone that some bottles should be recycled and they looked at me as if I were mad. America has such a long way to go compared to Europe in this respect.

And I did miss the UK during Election time. No-one here even asked me about the UK election or showed much interest even when I mentioned it. I think this is partly because the majority of the US media is very insular - the New York Times covered the election well, but not the main network news. Thank God for the BBC website, Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere.

Of course there are good and bad things about America just as there are about Britain. But on the whole I am full of admiration for this country; there is a can-do attitude and a positivity which we could definitely do with a dose of at home.

With one year down and two to go, I still have a lot to learn. Will I learn to say sidewalk instead of pavement? (I already say cellphone.....). Will I be celebrating Mother's Day with the rest of them next year? You''ll just have to watch this space......

Wednesday 19 May 2010

The Gallery. Self....

OK, here's the thing. I've said before that I wouldn't post a picture of myself on the blog. But Tara at Sticky Fingers has made it so hard with this week's Gallery post - subject, self-portrait. And she's also pointed out, quite rightly, that we mothers don't tend to appear in pictures all that much - we're usually the ones wielding the camera, or hiding behind a cute baby.

And Tara referenced another post, by Laura at Are we nearly there yet Mummy?, on a subject close to my heart: What if my children grow up and wonder where the heck Mummy was?

I love finding new pictures of my mother, who died when I was 25, and I'd love my children to have lots of photographs of me for future reference - whether or not I live to 100. Going through our photos from the last few years, I find that nearly all of the ones that feature me are me holding one, or both, of the boys - there are hardly any of me alone, looking like, well, me.

So I'm going to post a photo I've found of me a few months before falling pregnant with Littleboy 1. I'm on a walk in the Lake District. I remember it well; I'd just got back from a round the world trip after giving up my job to go freelance, and was full of excitement and anticipation, hoping to start my family. So, Littleboys, this was Mummy, alone, six years ago. I don't think she's changed that much. But she wasn't yet a parent, just a 32-year-old girl full of hope and wishes. Can you tell?

Saturday 15 May 2010

Why my children think Spongebob doesn't live on our TV......

I was reading a post yesterday by Potty Mummy, who has just introduced her boys to the joys of Scooby Doo. My reply was that while I loved Scooby Doo as a child, my children have never actually watched it, because I have no idea what channel it would be shown on here.

This is partly because I find the enormous number of channels available in the US baffling. I watch about three of them - the main networks - and while we are changing our cable package next week to a different provider, this is solely because this one supplies BBC America (new Doctor Who here we come...). The rest are largely unexplored territory; occasionally I make a foray into Comedy Central, but that's about it.

But there is another reason actually; despite the huge array of choice in kids' programming out here, the Littleboys are only ever tuned to one channel - Nick Jr., of Dora the Explorer and Diego fame - or else, DVDs.

The reason for this is not that I am a massive devotee of Nick Jr (although some of the shows are quite sweet and reasonably educational). It is mainly because it does not show advertising. But it's also because I am censoring their television consumption in a hardline Chinese manner. I know, you see, that if they discover where the other channels are 'kept', they will want to watch them......

Littleboy 1, for instance, is vaguely aware that there are cartoon channels. On the odd occasion where I've tuned to the wrong channel by mistake, he's immediately spotted the contraband older kids' cartoons and wanted to watch them. He knows about Spongebob - he's watched it on various occasions in hotels - but so far, doesn't know that there is a channel on our TV where it can be watched. I'm sure as he gets older - probably when he starts school in September - he will swiftly work this out, and tune into the dreaded Squarepants (whose humour I definitely think is too sophisticated for preschoolers) but if I can delay that moment, I will.

I've never been one for banning TV entirely - to be honest, it is the ONLY thing that even vaguely calms them down and enables me to get on with anything else in the house (which of course involves important household matters, and not, er, blogging). In the UK, Cbeebies frequently saved my life when I was trying to work from home (again, it was the ony channel allowed) and here, they are allowed to watch TV as and when they want to, as long as it isn't for too long at a stretch.

But censor it I will. Perhaps inspired by my Mum, (who never allowed us to watch what she called "American rubbish"), the boys will live in a little world where there is only one channel for a little while longer. (No doubt in ten years time they'll be lying on some shrink's couch saying: 'My mum lied to me about Spongebob'..........)

And when the guy comes on Monday to install our new TV package, all I'm going to say to him is this; make sure BBC America works, and I'll be happy.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

The Gallery. A man of many talents....


I'm surrounded by them. Here they are, throwing sticks into a Connecticut stream.

And, as someone who grew up as one of two sisters, I'm often unfamiliar with their wants and needs. It's been a steep learning curve; before having two boys I knew nothing about Thomas the Tank Engine, Lego or model railways. As they grow up they'll find I'm ignorant of Asterix, Tintin, cricket, most football and Formula One. I have never watched Top Gear, nor do ever intend to. I'm also about the least practical mother on earth. Need someone to put up new book shelves, find out why the cable box on the TV isn't working, or fix a broken scooter? Mummy's not your woman.

So it's lucky that they have a father that is superbly practical; a man of many talents. The Doctor can assemble an Iron Man Lego car in under ten minutes; he constructs intricate marble runs and impressive feats of engineering on the Thomas track. He spent Sunday afternoon setting up their new trampoline pretty well by himself with only a little help from me (the instructions said it would take three able-bodied adults). He can fix computers, unblock sinks and cooks far better than I ever will. I called him The Doctor here because of his medical career, but really, he does have an uncanny ability to swoop in and save the day like Doctor Who (albeit with a real rather than sonic screwdriver).

We've been married for 12 years as of last weekend, and not a day goes by when I don't wonder how I would cope without him.

Happy anniversary, darling.

*This post is for The Gallery: subject, Men. Head over there and check out some of the other great entries this week. Or alternatively you can just ogle lots of blokes......

Monday 10 May 2010

It's all parties, parties and awards.......

I am pleased to report that Littleboy1's party was a success.

We eventually ended up with 12, plus 2 extra sibilings, so had just about the right number of kids. (Although The Doctor now thinks I was unnecessarily worried, I did have to point out that this was partly down to my hard work chasing non-RSVPers in my politest British phone voice and inviting other friends at the last minute - but it was worth it, and we eventually ended up with a good mix of school and other friends).

I also caved in to his demands for a Thomas the Tank Engine cake. Realising that creating such a thing was definitely at the limits of my own cake-baking 'skills' (Ha!), I ordered a custom-made one from the supermarket bakery counter. What with this, an hour of gymnastics at the party, and a huge pile of presents, he was in seventh heaven and yesterday evening announced that 'this has been the best day ever, Mummy.'

We did still get a lot of comments about how brave (read: foolish) we were to hold a party on Mother's Day. Yup, OK. I think I've learned my lesson on that one. It's about as optimistic as expecting any American friends to be interested in the British election result......

Anyway, the combination of the party and an exhausting trip to the Statue of Liberty on Saturday (high winds; small boys; lots of queuing) has left me quite worn out. But I've been perked up a little by the receipt of a lovely Beautiful Blogger award from the wonderful Mothership . This involves revealing seven things about myself and then tagging some other bloggers to do the same. So here are some (vaguely interesting )nuggets for your perusal.

1. I am one quarter Portuguese. My grandfather was the descendant of Madeiran immigrants to the West Indies (he grew up on Antigua). I have some distant West Indian cousins, one of whom is a piano teacher in NYC and one who is apparently a famous steel drum player.

2. I am allergic to cats. Which is a shame, because I like them. Or used to. But now my heart always sinks when I hear a friend has bought a kitten....

3. I played the 'cello at school, until the age of 16. I got to Grade 5. But I never practised enough, and found it terribly hard to cart around. I'd love my kids to play instruments, but would definitely suggest smaller ones.

4. I love learning languages. Before Littleboy1 was born we took evening classes in Italian. This has now fallen by the wayside, but I'm determined to learn one day.

5. I've been interviewed by Sky News twice. Once talking about M&S, once about Sainsbury's in my capacity as a business journalist. I have never worn so much makeup in my life.

6. Speaking of Sky News, someone I once recruited as a reporter is now their Business Editor. He was far and away the most talented person I ever worked with, and deserves his success.

7. One of my favourite films of all time is When Harry Met Sally. It never fails to make me smile.

And now I'm going to pass on this award to the following bloggers and ask them to reveal some fascinating facts:

Gone Back South (who has recently returned to the blogosphere)
Pants with Names (previously known as Brit in Bosnia)

Friday 7 May 2010

Election cake

Recipe for Election Night...
1. Invite fellow Brit friend over for supper on Election Night and decide to have a traditional British meal.
2. Decide on bangers and mash. Husband fortuitously finds 'Irish bangers' at Whole Foods (pictured). Wonder if this will be enough to sustain us through the night.
3. Look in fridge and remember large bowl of uneaten frosting from cupcakes made for Littleboy1's birthday. Sniff it; still seems OK. Decide to make yellow layer cake from recipe book; Littleboys help by joyfully cracking eggs and sifting flour.
4. Realise have run out of vanilla so substitute lemon in recipe. Not being best baker in the world not sure what to do with parchment paper described in recipe. Put a big sheet under cake and around sides.
5. Bake cake. Comes out with rather weird uneven edges thanks to parchment paper crinkling up. Oh well. Put on a chopping board to cool. Rush outside to keep an eye on Littleboys who are picking up caterpillars and taking them round to show them to the neighbours.
6. Return an hour later after coffee at neighbour's house to find over-excited husband home early from work and glued to BBC World. He tells me cake has stuck to chopping board. However, not to worry. It can be saved from total oblivion by frosting.
7. Cake is finished just as first Exit Polls come in. Like them, it looks messy and lopsided.
8. Stop worrying about cake and pour margaritas, to be eaten with guacamole and tortilla chips. (Where the Mexican theme came in, I am not sure...). Littleboys rampaging around neighbours' garden at way past bedtime. We let them.
9. Friend arrives with Pimms (hurray!), Sticky Toffee Pudding in a tin, and custard. Cake is now superflous to requirements, but never mind. Sit outside enjoying Pimms and watching Paxman insult people on a laptop while The Doctor barbecues the bangers.
10. Finally wrestle Littleboys to bed. Proceed to gorge on far too much food and drink as we watch BBC Election Coverage deep into the night. Cake is served at 11pm, around the time Lembit Opik and Jacqui Smith lose their seats. Despite not being particularly beautiful (see picture) it tastes pretty good (but it might be all that Pimms.....)
11. Realise at half past midnight that there is no way we were are going to be up for the results, which are still as clear as mud. Friend reluctantly heads off to railway station for train back to Manhattan.
12. Go to bed at 1am, still listening on laptop. Last thing we hear before we switch off is headlines of the Today Programme, at 6am in Britain. Weird to think that we are going to sleep just as the UK wakes up. Results are STILL uneven and messy. A bit like my cake.
How was your Election Night?

Wednesday 5 May 2010

The Gallery: The lesser known Long Island

I don't know how much those outside of New York know about Long Island. I didn't know much before I came here; I'd heard of the Hamptons, Long Island Iced Tea and recalled a few lyrics from Billy Joel songs about the Island (he hails from here and is a massive local hero).
The island is appropriately named -it's over 100 miles long. At the New York end sit the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens; JFK and La Guardia airports are both on Long Island, as is Coney Island. The South shore consists mainly of endless long, white sand beaches, including the Fire Island barrier island, famous as a summer hippy hangout, while the North Shore (where we live) is more wooded and hilly, with little coves and inlets.
At the far end, the island divides into two forks, the North and South forks. The South is where the Hamptons are situated, with their exclusive beachfront mansions, expensive restaurants and chichi boutiques. I'm sure they are lovely, but you really have to have an awful lot of money to live there - and the traffic, in the summer, is hellish, as a combination of New York weekenders and summer tourists crowd the tiny roads.
These pictures were taken at the very end of the North Fork; Orient Point. The North fork is much quieter but just as beautiful in a wild and less populated way. There are vineyards, farmhouses and farm stands by the roadside. On an ice cold January day, the sea (and part of the beach) was still frozen and we were the only people there. The shore is lined with red cedars, a particularly unusual protected species; the views of Long Island Sound over to the Connecticut shore are fantastic. The light was amazing; it is no surprise that the area is famous for artists.
So, while I'd love to experience hanging out in the Hamptons, I think I'd choose the North Fork if I had the money to buy a house out here. And I'd come here in the winter, just as much as the summer, and have the beach all to myself.
This post is for The Gallery; the prompt this week was The world Around Us.

Monday 3 May 2010

It's my party and I'll rant if I want to....

As mentioned in previous posts, I've never been one for big birthday parties for tiny children. It all seems a lot of money and work for something they won't really appreciate, and mine have always been happy with a few friends and family coming over for tea and cake.

Nevertheless, Littleboy 1 has been invited to a number of birthday bashes here by children in his class, and I felt maybe we should reciprocate. Five is also a pretty major birthday, plus he's much more aware now about his birthday and I knew he would definitely enjoy a bigger party.

The problem was where to have it. Our house is pretty small, and the idea of fifteen or so five year old boys rampaging around it was not exactly appealing. Nor is the changeable Long Island spring weather reliable enough to hold it outside; this weekend was beautiful, with temperatures around 30 degrees celsius, but today is pouring with rain and thundery.

I decided, therefore, to hold it in a local gymnastics centre, which provides sports and games and pizza for the kids. It would be by far the most expensive party we've ever given, but I thought it would be worth it for Littleboy1 if his preschool friends could come.

I found a suitable time when the place was free - 4pm on a Sunday, when I thought most people would be around. I did notice as I booked it that it fell on US Mother's Day - the 9th of May - but, that date also being my wedding anniversary, my thoughts were more along the lines of 'oh well, won't be going out for an anniversary meal on the day this year' than worrying about that.

So now....two weeks after sending out the invitations. Out of the 14 boys invited, half the parents have yet to reply. At least two have turned down the invitation 'because it is Mother's Day'. I've managed to rustle up another friend's son, so we are now up to 8, but I have paid for a party for 12 kids, so 12 I am going to have to have, dammit.

I have spent the morning phoning up people on the class list to chase them. I left six answerphone messages, and got through to one father, who rather grumpily (I thought) asked "Is it Mother's Day?'" and when I replied, "Er, yes," said: "He won't be able to come." No "sorry, we didn't get back to you earlier" (the invtation had stated RSVP by last Friday); no "thanks for the invitation".

Now, I don't know if I'm just being unrealistic, but isn't that just bloody rude? I know people are busy, I know people forget, but for half the people not to reply? These are, after all, the same crowd who turned up to the class show VERY early, all organised with their cupcakes and everything. They are obviously not total ditzes.

And, if you have forgotten, surely an apology is in order?

The other point is about Mother's Day - is it really such a faux pas to have organised a kid's birthday party at 4pm on Mother's Day? This never would have occurred to me in the UK. And, as The Doctor says, there's some kind of holiday/celebration almost every weekend here, so you'd be hard pressed to find a weekend when there wasn't something going on......

OK rant over. I'm tired (no-one slept last night due to the heat), I was icing cupcakes to take to preschool at 7am this morning, and ...oh wait.

Someone just did phone back. And apologise for not having replied earlier. And say thanks for the invitation.

The world is not all bad.