Monday 28 June 2010

Summertime.... and the swimming is easy (well, sort of)

The summer holidays are in full swing here - all the schools have finished, the temperatures are soraring into the mid 30s, and the smell of barbecue smoke permeates the evening air. The mommies and kids of Long Island have hit the pools, sprinklers and beaches with a vengeance.

We've become members of the town swimming pool this year, and having proved with a zillion pieces of paper and ID that we are residents (it was just too complicated last year, when I didn't even have a driving licence), we can now pop down for a swim whenever we like. One of the 'rules' in this particular area of New York is that kids can't swim using arm-bands in public pools or at beaches. This is because it creates a false sense of security, apparently - all very well, but when you have two children who can't swim, it makes going in the adult pool impossible. So, we usually head to the baby pool, or occasionally the adult pool if The Doctor is going too. The baby pool is great fun for them, but crazily busy with manic toddlers and their water toys. I spend my time there policing the craziness, retrieving our toys or preventing my children from playing with other people's, and being doused with water by my younger son, who has an obsession with watering cans.

Last week, however, we went swimming at another pool, kindly invited by a friend who belongs to a private yacht club. As we headed out from the changing room I realised two things: that there was only a 'big' pool, and also that at this club you COULD wear arm-bands (which of course I had not brought). In the second that I realised this, (and bear in mind that I was carrying an armful of towels, plus a handbag) both Littleboys managed to charge at full pelt down the steps into the big pool, and immediately get out of their depth.

A lifeguard jumped in immediately to grab Littleboy 2, as I and my friend dropped our stuff and crashed inelegantly into the water (watch, sunglasses and all).

Littleboy 1, however, managed to prove that a year and a half of swimming lessons are finally paying off. He got half away across the pool, doggy-paddling, before he realised that, er, he didn't really know how to swim. Luckily at this point I reached him.

Meanwhile all the glamorous mothers around the pool were staring, no doubt in horror at this crazy British woman pitching with up two manic kids and an armful of grotty towels and immediately requiring lifeguard rescue.

Anyway, aside from the embarrassment, the incident has made me even more determined to teach them to swim ASAP. They already have lessons, but now every time we go to the pool I'm going to be instructing Littleboy 1 myself. If he doesn't swim properly by the end of the summer, it will be mission fail.

So our summer days at the moment smell of chlorine and suncream, and at night I am exhausted from chasing overexcited Littleboys round changing rooms and barking at my firstborn to tread water and kick.

But there is another real plus to pool membership. The pool is open till 9pm, so, at the end of the day, The Doctor and I can take off individually and have a serene evening swim, by ourselves. As I plough up and down the lanes, I can hear the screaming of other people's kids in the distance - and smugly close my mind to it.......

Wednesday 23 June 2010

The Gallery: Feeling crabby?

This is a Horseshoe crab (or at least, I fear, an ex-Horseshoe crab) being held by Littleboy 2. You find the shells all over the beaches here, and they are beloved of the boys, especially my younger son, who has no fear of creatures*.
I do wonder sometimes if he will have a career as a naturalist. He will pick up ants, ladybirds, beetles and bugs, and inspect them gently, before putting them back on the ground - not pulling their legs off or harming them in any way. He always wants to pet dogs, stroke cats and look at birds (although the latter he is also inclined to chase...).
He adores crabs, and the other day at the beach, pulled a live one of these crabs out of the water and started waving it around, while we lamely advised from the shore: "Er, put it back, darling." Considering these creatures are pretty huge and rather prehistoric-looking (my brother-in-law, visiting this weekend, said they reminded him of Doctor Who monsters), this was remarkably fearless of him.
The fascination with crabs also extends to wanting to eat one - so I have had to promise him dinner at a 'crab restaurant'. Whether or not he will actually put one in his mouth once we are there, remains to be seen........
*This post is for this week's Gallery over at Tara's. Subject: Creatures.

Monday 21 June 2010

Orientations and Graduations

Americans love orientations. Since we've been here, we've had: preschool orientation, two separate elementary school orientations (for next term) and now, last week, two summer camp orientations, one for each boy. In the summer there will be schoolbus orientation. I've just seen my neighbour on the way to her son's high school orientation......

The Doctor had two full days of orientation when he started work last year. This involved an address /pep talk from the chief executive of the hospital (who gives the same speech every week on a Monday) plus several hours of lectures about the hospital culture. He laughs about it because, despite working in about 10 different NHS hospitals in the UK and at one point changing jobs every six months as a junior doctor, he never once had any kind of orientation and was just supposed to turn up and get on with it.

But, although they can be time-consuming, I've grown to like the orientations for the children. It is, after all, quite comforting to know where your children are going to be taught next year, meet the teachers and read through a set of guidelines with the other parents, even if you could have read it all in the handbook. Camp orientation mainly consisted of filling out forms, but at least you could discuss with the other parents the ins and outs of whether boys should wear their swimming trunks all day with or without underwear (the consensus being without). It does make you feel much more comfortable about turning up on the first day of school or nursery (something which always makes me feel nervous even if the Littleboys are oblivious).

Anyway, last Friday school finished for the summer with a flourish - the preschool graduation day. Again, if you'd told me a year ago my child would have been 'graduating' and receiving a rolled up piece of paper as their 'diploma' from preschool I probably would have guffawed. But it was an incredibly sweet occasion.

All the parents gathered in the preschool garden and watched as each class trooped out in turn and performed a series of songs. Littleboy 2 for some reason refused to join in with the songs (despite the fact that he sings them all day long at home) and sat looking mutinous while the little girls next to him sang and danced as if auditioning for 42nd street. Littleboy1, however, who had denied until the previous evening that he was even DOING a show, performed beautifully, knowing all the words and actions to five different songs. I have never been quite so proud of him.

We had all been asked to bring something to eat at the 'graduation picnic' after the show and told that it would be good if it was something that reflected our heritage. The picnic being at 10.30am, I thought that a couple of packets of Jaffa Cakes would do, fulfilling the British part of the bargain. Until, that is, we turned up to find parents bearing huge covered dishes full of salads, tandoori chicken, sushi, samosas and other delicious treats - not to mention the homemade cakes and cookies. One father was even grilling hotdogs (which the boys dived on with cries of delight). So, once again, we let the side down. Another lesson learned for next year.

Anyway, school's out and there are two weeks before camp starts. Two hot weeks in which I need both to finish a feature and entertain the Littleboys. If only there were orientations on how to be a working-from-home Mother.....

Wednesday 16 June 2010

What is Motherhood?

Motherhood is queuing up for an hour to go on the Disney Dumbo ride that lasts five minutes - but it made your children so, so happy.

Motherhood is the instinct that prompts you to always grab hold of their hand when you sense danger, however much they protest.

Motherhood means that you will never really go anywhere alone again. But everywhere you go, you see the beauty of the world anew with their eyes.

This post is for this week's Gallery, at Sticky Fingers.

Friday 11 June 2010

Time to have a ball...

I'm not a big football fan. I don't support any particular team in the UK, and even though I used to live down the road from Arsenal stadium (the old one, that is), I have to admit I've never actually been to a live footie match.

But World Cup time is different. Watching the new YouTube video of Three Lions featuring Robbie and Russell Brand, courtesy of Potty Mummy (thank you!) I was reliving so many moments from the past twenty years of my life. From Gazza crying to Beckham being sent off - all those moments are etched in my memory. From a 17 year old watching football for the first time ever to the strains of Nessun Dorma (1989)to the 30 year old knocking back beers at a party in a trendy London ad agency watching England/Argentina at 11 in the morning (2002) to the new mother breastfeeding her firstborn in front of the TV while England played Brazil (2006) I've been there, I've lived it. I remember the first time Three Lions was released (for Euro, 96 - not the World Cup, but near enough); a party where a friend was waving the single round excitedly (yes, we still bought singles in 1996) and saying: "This is the best football song EVER." And I remember the riot that nearly ensued in a bar in Spitalfields that year when England were playing Portugal. Just as it got to penalty shoot-out time, the manager tried to switch off the TV because they were about to have a 'poetry reading'. You can imagine the scene......

Oh yes, come the World Cup, I am an avid footie fan - even though to be honest I don't even know who's in the team this time (which reminds me of that brilliant Billy Bragg lyric: 'How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?). I suppose it's a bit like only going to church on Christmas day, but ah, well, I've been guilty of that too in my time.......

So tomorrow I too will be popping the boys into England shirts and settling down to watch England vs USA. I doubt that any of our neighbours will join us - because, although all the kids seem to play soccer here, there the interest ends - but, if we do manage to win, I'm going to be dancing in the streets.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Things I have learned in the past week.....

1. Never, ever open a window which contains an airconditioning unit. Not unless you want to be standing there hanging for dear life to the power cord, shouting at your husband to 'come quickly', while the huge metal box lies precariously on the porch roof below your bedroom window. Or spend the next ten minutes watching your husband wrestling with the damn thing and muttering 'what were you doing?'. Until he confesses that he nearly did the same thing himself last year and never told you......

2. A toy car, flushed down the loo, will not necessarily block it. Despite the fact that the loo seems to be blocked by anything and everything else. Therefore, there was no need to go insane at your husband for flushing it rather than putting his hand in the wee and picking it up (he thought it wouldn't go down....). And, remember, you don't really have a leg to stand on after the aircon/window incident....

3. Taking time off from your husband and kids at the weekend is a great idea in theory. But taking time off to stand on a stall at the town festival and give out rubber duckies to other people's kids is exhausting. Especially in 34 degree heat....

4. When said fair is called off by a tornado warning, don't get all excited. The forecasters can get these things wrong, you know. You will still be sitting outside to eat on a lovely, albeit much windier, evening as the weather cools off dramatically. Although the boys will then complain that they are cold.....

5. The trampoline bought for Littleboy1's birthday is a huge success. Not only is it excellent entertainment and exercise for your kids, it also attracts hoards of other kids to the garden and the Littleboys have soared in the local popularity stakes. This is a bit of a problem when your neighbours have a party and hundreds of kids appear and want to jump on it. However, you can also be proud that you are doing your bit to reduce America's obesity problem, as the neighbouring teenagers are spending time hurling themselves around a bouncy mat rather than playing video games indoors....

6. When preschool has an ABC picnic, encourage your child in advance NOT to be the one who picks the letter 'x'. Finding a food beginning with X is not easy. In the end you go for Xtra chewing gum, which does not fulfil the 'try not to bring junk food' advice, but never mind.

7. Your elder son now officially has a better social life than you. Three birthday parties in the past week.....

8. And even the three-year-old has a party invitation. For 9.15 am on a Sunday morning. Clearly lie-ins are not a priority for these parents.....

9. The new Doctor Who is quite good. But I miss David Tennant.....and there is nothing else of much note on BBC America. Unless you like Top Gear...

10. Sod's law means that you will always get offered freelance work just as your children are about to break up for the summer. Gah.......

Thursday 3 June 2010

Please understand me....

I found myself speaking American today at the supermarket, even without realising it.

Standing at the deli counter, I ordered 'a half pound of toona salad'. And I said "Can I get" instead of "please can I have", in my polite British accent. But, the man understood everything I said, rather than peering at me as if I was an alien and asking me to repeat myself. I realised that I must have been listening in to what the other deli counter customers say, and attuning myself to it over time......

Similarly, when I go to Starbucks now and order a Tall Latte, I pronounce Tall 'Tarl' rather than 'Tawl'. Otherwise no-one will understand me - they all think I want two lattes.

And when people ask me how I am, I often restrain myself from replying 'fine' and answer "I'm good." Which is definitely bad grammar, but doesn't instantly mark me out as a Brit.

But I still find myself using the wrong words. The other day I mentioned to another woman that we have friends in Norway who are 'vets'. She stared at me. "You mean veterans?" Then it dawned on her..."Oh, veterinarians..."

And, more embarrassingly, I complained to a neighbour the other night about the amount of midges around at the moment.

"Midgets?" she spluttered, horrified, no doubt thinking I'd made some horrific un-PC faux pass.

So, you see, I haven't quite yet gone native.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

A very American weekend

This time last year on Memorial Day weekend, we were househunting on Long Island and stumbling jet-lagged around Brooklyn and Manhattan. We knew nobody here and, awash with forms to fill in, lines to queue in and cheques to write, the US seemed fairly threatening and intimidating.
What a difference a year makes.
This year we celebrated the official start of summer in style. On Saturday night, we went to a fireworks display at a local beach park. Thousands of families gathered at dusk on the sands with picnic baskets, rugs, deckchairs and beach toys, waiting for darkness to fall and the display to begin. We arrived late, around 7.30, having been to a lunch party in Queens during the day, but to our relief found that despite the huge throng of people it was still possible to park (now I begin to appreciate the massiveness of American parking lots). We met our neighbours, and sat and chatted on the beach eating and drinking as the sun went down, hoping the distant squally clouds and rumbles of thunder over Connecticut wouldn't reach Long Island before 9pm. A few drops of rain fell, but the storm held off and it was pleasantly warm.
As the first fireworks went off in the harbour, a woman behind us exlaimed 'Summer's here!" And, sitting there watching the sky light up with my feet in the sand, I could not have imagined a better place to be. (My delight at the evening was only slightly marred by my attempt at breaking an airconditioning unit by mistake when we got home as I enthusiastically threw open a window - a ridiculously shameful episode to be related another time...).
Yesterday was Memorial Day itself (the remembrance is of troops killed from the Civil War onwards). We marched in our very first parade through the town, in support of the community centre we belong to. The Littleboys were given US flags to wave and we marched the length of Main Street to the harbour (about a mile) following lines of cheerleaders, scouts, military servicemen, policemen and masonic lodges. Brass bands and bagpipes played, and the whole thing ended with a procession that seemed to involve every fire truck in town (Lord knows what would have happened if there had been an actual fire somewhere), plus the town's fire marshal decked out in most splendid uniform and a huge white hat, waving from a car like the Queen. (Firefighters are like gods here - no wonder, when every summer evening seems to prompt a succession of sirens racing to the rescue of another clapboard house that has caught fire). The street was lined with spectators who had come out to sit in deckchairs and cheer everyone on, basking in the beautiful summery heat.
There is nothing like this in England, and if you'd asked me a year ago, I probably would have been quite cynical about American parading and flag-waving. But it seemed entirely appropriate, and, I have to say, was great fun. Americans know how to celebrate in style.
So, very different from a year ago. We are no longer the newbies - although we were still wide-eyed enough to take touristy photos of the parade. This summer we will have our essential equipment at the ready - new barbecue, ice box, picnic rug - and, hopefully, not every weekend will necessitate a visit to Bed, Bath and Beyond. We won't rush off to the beach at every peep of sunshine, like heat-seeking British missiles; I've bought our mosquito coils for evening meals outdoors; the boys will be at summer camp instead of hanging around the playground with me. Bring it on......